Open Government

Knowing as a Right

While Flint residents now know that their water is no good, they still don’t know how exactly their water was contaminated— because exemptions to Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allow the governor and state legislators to keep that truth hidden.

During his State of the State address, Gov. Snyder announced that he would release his emails from 2014 and 2015 as a show of good faith and transparency. But this story began even before Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley signed a 2014 order forcing the city to drink harsh river water….

Via Flint’s Poisoned Children Deserve the Truth @ American Civil Liberties Union.

Keeping Government from the Governed 

According to the government, this information is exempt from public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act pursuant to Exemption 7e, the part of the federal statute that says agencies do not have to disclose records that would reveal law enforcement “techniques” or “procedures.” But as ACLU of Massachusetts staff attorney Jessie Rossman argues, staffing, budgetary, and statistical information about caseloads do not reveal techniques or procedures.

Via The FBI Says It Can’t Disclose Its Records Because Then the Public Would Know How the Bureau Works @ American Civil Liberties Union.

Exclusive: Lawyers Went to Rahm Emanuel, Then Quashed the Laquan McDonald Video @ The Daily Beast

Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department also said, “since April of last year the administration has said publicly that the city always intended to release the video as soon as the investigation was complete.”

But the settlement agreement never required the McDonald family’s attorneys to hold the video until an investigation was completed. Instead, over the objections of the McDonald estate, Platt and the city pressed for language that would keep the video hidden far beyond the end of investigations and until as long as a criminal trial was concluded.

Not only do the emails show the effort to cover up what really happened to Laquan McDonald went to the top of the Emanuel administration, they also show the mayor’s office was pulling strings at the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), which, as its name indicates, should be independent….

Via Exclusive: Lawyers Went to Rahm Emanuel, Then Quashed the Laquan McDonald Video @ The Daily Beast.

Transparency in Accountability

California will no longer use grand juries in cases involving police shootings of civilians after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill Tuesday banning the secret deliberations.SB 227, authored by state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), makes California the first state to ban the use of grand juries to decide whether law enforcement should face criminal charges in use-of-force cases.

The ban, which will go into effect next year, comes after grand juries failed to indict police officers who killed unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, last year, heightening scrutiny of the process. Mitchell argues that the grand jury process, during which evidence is presented to a panel of civilians in secret, fosters a lack of trust in the system.

Via California Bans Use Of Grand Juries In Police Shooting Cases @ Huffington Post.

New York 2015

The uniquely restrictive New York State law that is used to conceal the disciplinary histories of police officers — even some who have committed crimes — reared its head again last week in misconduct proceedings against the officer who brutalized the retired tennis player James Blake during a mistaken arrest in Manhattan last month.

The public has the right to be kept informed of police misconduct cases, especially at a time of heightened concern over police brutality. But when the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board substantiated excessive force charges against James Frascatore, the officer who attacked Mr. Blake, it was allowed to release its findings to Mr. Blake’s lawyer but was barred from making them available to the public. Had Mr. Blake’s attorney not released the information, the public would still be in the dark.

Via A Law That Hides Police Misconduct From the Public @ New York Times Editorial.

Snowden @ Cato Surveillance Summit

This inaugural Cato Institute Surveillance Conference will explore these questions, guided by a diverse array of experts: top journalists and privacy advocates; lawyers and technologists; intelligence officials … and those who’ve been targets of surveillance. Most notably is Edward Snowden, a former NSA Contractor and renowned whistleblower who leaked classified information from the National Security…

The couple that discards together…

Guess Mr. Wolf wasn’t available: Police were called to an Oregon landfill on Feb. 20 after the state’s former Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) and his fiancee were spotted there dumping trash amid a federal investigation surrounding his time in office, The Oregonian newspaper reported on Friday. Kitzhaber and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, had rarely been seen in…

Reason’s Nanny of the Year 2014

Don’t believe in complying with local open records requests? Blame the president of the United States. Don’t want to be caught on video blaming the president? Blame people who record public events in public places.

Ferguson Officials Charge High for Public Records

Where once Americans faced poll taxes to dissuade voting, now they face Dr facto records taxes for public documents: Bureaucrats in Ferguson, Missouri, responding to requests under the state’s Sunshine Act to turn over government files about the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, are charging nearly 10 times the cost of some of their…

Right to Information Worldwide Improves, but Europe Lags

“Our report shows that RTI laws have steadily improved over time, with the average score climbing from just 78 out of a possible total of 150 in 1995 to an average of 91 for the laws adopted since 2010,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy. “This is probably due…

‘A Long Ride Toward a New China’

Looking for inspiration? Chinese blogger Zhang Shihe, writing under the pseudonym ‘Tiger Temple,’ defies an oppressive state to report on the hardships and corruption of rural life in China. It’s an understatement to say that he goes to extraordinary lengths – quite literally – to tell others’ stories and reveal injustices done to them. There…

A Grinning Poster Boy for Closed Government

Gary Bies, R-Sister Bay, a member of Wisconsin’s Assembly majority, is doing what majorities of both major parties do: trying to limit knowledge of government’s action from their own constituents.   Bies proposes to make open government that much more closed: A state Republican wants to allow government entities to charge members of the public…