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Sla03tt Sla03tt Presentation Transcript

  • Tracking Down Public Records SLA - June, 2003
  • A Primer on Freedom of Information
  • What are these FOIA laws?
    • one federal
    • 50 state laws
    • if gov’t has a record, you can see it
  • Why have them?
    • informed citizens=better democracy
      • citizens and media can watchdog gov’t
      • citizens can track how taxes are spent
      • i.e. these are the citizen’s records!
  • What can you get?
    • Information?
  • What can you get?
    • Information?
  • What can you get?
    • Information?
    • Records!
      • -documents, photos, film, video, discs
  • What can you get?
    • Information?
    • Records!
      • documents, photos, film, video, discs
    • always presume you have a right – make them prove you don’t
  • Is nothing sacred?
    • Yes, a few exemptions
    • State laws:
    • personal medical info negotiations
    • trade secrets crime info during invest.
    • names of informants exam answers
  • Federal law exemptions
    • nat’l security
    • internal agency personnel rules
    • catch-all – recs exempted by other laws
    • trade secrets
    • internal agency memoranda/policy
    • personal privacy
    • law enforcement investigations
    • federally regulated banks
    • oil and gas wells
  • Federal law exemptions
    • nat’l security
    • internal agency personnel rules
    • catch-all – recs exempted by other laws
    • trade secrets
    • internal agency memoranda/policy
    • personal privacy
    • law enforcement investigations
    • federally regulated banks
    • oil and gas wells
            • not mandatory!
  • Who has access?
    • citizens, not just media
  • Records from whom?
    • public bodies and gov’t agencies of executive branch
      • fed FOIA doesn’t cover Congress
      • most state laws don’t cover state legislature or judicial branches
        • other laws may cover them, however
  • How?
    • Oral request
  • How?
    • Oral request
    • Written request more common
  • When can you get records?
    • Fed: 20 business days
      • but…..
    • States: most are 10 business days
  • Common Problems
    • officials don’t know law
    • staff overworked and behind
    • stalling on newsworthy or embarrassing records
  • Archive of all records audits at Univ. of Missouri
    • Practical Tips and Strategies
  • 1. Take a positive approach
    • Presume you can get the record!
      • make them prove what law says you can’t!
    • Maintain a can-do attitude
  • 2. Do your homework on the law
    • Have a copy of the law
    • Learn previous rulings/practices on specific records
      • “ Tapping Officials’ Secrets”
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  • 2. Do your homework on the law
    • Get the state guidebook
    • Check for other state resources
      • www.nfoic.org
    • Have a copy of the law
    • Learn the law on specific records
      • “ Tapping Officials’ Secrets”
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  • 2. Know the law
    • Get resources
    • Check for other state resources:
      • www.nfoic.org
    • Compare state laws:
      • www.citizenaccess.org
    • Review law and exemptions
    • Learn the law on specific records
      • states: “ Tapping Officials’ Secrets”
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  • RE: Security and Safety Plans/Procedures
  • RE: Security and Safety Plans/Procedures
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  • Federal E-FOIA (1996)
    • multi-track processing (some agencies)
        • simple – complex – expedited
    • requires new databases be designed for easy retrieval
    • requires on-line info
      • index & description of “major information systems”
      • description of the “record locator systems”
      • frequently requested records
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    • 1. Keep positive approach
    • 2. Do your homework on the law
  • 3. Write a simple letter
    • Right agency (ies); Right person
      • state: records access officer or a manager
      • fed: agency contact person
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  • 3. Tips on letter writing
    • Right agency (ies); Right person
      • records access officer or a manager
    • The more specific, the faster (usually)
      • “ any and all documents related to…”
      • send a copy of the form needed
    • Expect to pay minimal copying costs
      • Fed: ask for a fee waiver
      • see sample letter in packet
    • Letter generators
      • states: Student Press Law Center
        • http://www.splc.org
      • federal: Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
        • http://www.rcfp.org
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  • 4. Be persistent
    • Call for the status
    • Find out who’s handling it
    • If turned down: demand a reason
    • Negotiate
      • A look, rather than a copy
      • A summary first
      • Okay deletions of unnecessary info
    • Appeal
  • 5. Try other routes
    • An inside source
    • Another department at same level
    • An agency at a higher level
    • Gov’t library
    • On-line sources
    • Bonus: state ombudsperson if you’re working in:
      • Connecticut Hawaii
      • Indiana Minnesota
      • New Jersey New York
      • Virginia
  • 6. Other techniques media can use
    • Alert managers to denials
      • News and Observer; Dayton Daily News
    • Nudge the editorial writers to write it up
    • Enlist media to tell the public the problem
      • column, PSA, cartoon, news series
      • add notation in news story that info gained through FOI law
    • Network with other media
    • Monitor legislation re: e-access
    • Bob-bug-’em idea
    • Sue
  • Susan Long, TRAC:
      • “ Delay is their ally. Try not to reward them for it!”
  • Top Resources
    • Citizen Access [Brechner Center,U. of Fla]
        • http://www.citizenaccess.org
    • Dept. of Justice
        • http://www.usdoj.gov/04foia/
    • FOI Center, Univ of Missouri
        • http://foi.missouri.edu/
    • National FOI Coalition
        • http://www.nfoic.org
    • Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press
        • http://www.rcfp.org
    • Society of Professional Journalists
        • http://www.spj.org/foia.asp
    • Student Press Law Center
        • http://www.splc.org
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  • Hot Issues in States
    • Medical records (HIPAA)
    • Anti-terrorism legislation
      • Limits on info re: security, emergencies, infrastructure since 9/11
    • Tendency toward privacy versus openness
    • Outsourcing records to private vendors
  • TV News Directors: Since 9/11 which best characterizes news gathering related to gov’t and security issues?
    • RTNDF Survey by Prof. Bob Papper, Indiana Univ.
    • 262 NDs Jan-Feb, 2003
  • GOOD NEWS
    • More states putting records online
      • from GSA report, May ‘03 on e-government:
        • “ reduced cost and enhanced revenue
        • aids economic development
        • reduces redundancy
        • fosters democratic principles …”
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  • Hippo
  • Hippo HIPAA
  • When fed agency should deny:
    • Reno: if “foreseeable harm”
    • Ashcroft: for any “sound legal basis”