Transparency News 11/14/13

Thursday, November 14, 2013
State and Local Stories


Yesterday afternoon a workgroup of the FOIA Council met to discuss the State Corporation Commission and the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  FOIA Council Executive Director Maria Everett noted that the workgroup was seeking agreement.  By the end of the meeting, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen.A clash of worldviews Attendees of the meeting heard four fundamentally different perspectives:
Open Virginia Law

The top vote-getter in an Alleghany County write-in contest is the winner despite his inability to take office, a state election official said Wednesday. State code states the candidate with the highest number of votes is elected even if he is ineligible to serve, said Nikki Sheridan, confidential policy adviser at the State Board of Elections. Stanley Cooke’s victory then creates a vacancy on the board of supervisors since he does not live in the Covington District and cannot represent it. The other members of the Alleghany County Board of Supervisors can appoint a representative once Supervisor Paige Morgan’s term expires Dec. 31. The supervisors will have 45 days to make an appointment. If they fail to do so, the task falls to the county’s Circuit Court judges, Sheridan said.
Roanoke Times

Elections officials in Arlington acknowledged Wednesday that the county’s electoral board accepted more than a dozen provisional ballots in which a voter’s name had been checked off mistakenly as already having voted, a discrepancy apparently chalked up to errors by poll workers. Registrar Linda Lindberg said a new system using bar codes this year might have confused poll workers and caused IDs to be scanned more than once. She said officials in the heavily Democratic county are looking more specifically into the source of the issue. The uncertainty over a reported 17 ballots — ordinarily a minor anomaly in a race in which 2.2 million ballots have been cast statewide — takes on added significance in a Virginia attorney general’s race in which just 164 votes separate the two candidates.
Washington Times

National Stories

MIT Ph.D. candidate Ryan Shapiro boasts the unusual title of the “most prolific” FOIA requester to the FBI. Using what Will Potter described in Mother Jones as a “a novel, legal, and highly effective approach,” Shapiro has obtained thousands upon thousands of documents for his research into government persecution of animal rights activists. As Potter reported, the FBI has gone so far as to call Shapiro’s entirely legal mass-FOIA-ing “irreparably damag[ing] to national security.” Much is at stake in Shapiro’s story: In its efforts to curb Shapiro’s work, the FBI may set a dangerous precedent in limiting the public’s right to government information through FOIA.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must disclose its plans for a so-called Internet “kill switch,” a federal court ruled on Tuesday. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia rejected the agency’s arguments that its protocols surrounding an Internet kill switch were exempt from public disclosure and ordered the agency to release the records in 30 days. However, the court left the door open for the agency to appeal the ruling. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is seeking “Standard Operating Procedure 303,” also known as the “Internet kill switch” from Homeland Security. The protocols govern shutting down wireless networks to prevent the remote detonation of bombs.
Washington Times

ProPublica and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed new motions requesting access to the Foreign Surveillance Surveillance Court opinions that explain the legal rationales for the American government's surveillance of private citizens. The ACLU, along with the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School, had filed a motion seeking access to the opinions back in June. The Reporters Committee and 14 media organizations filed an amicus brief in support of that motion. Since that time, many more aspects of the surveillance program have come to light, including the collection of internet metadata. So the groups filed a more expansive motion on Nov. 6, stating that "no proper basis exists to keep the legal discussion in these opinions secret."
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

The Global Language Monitor has announced that ‘404’ is the Top Word, ‘Toxic Politics’ the Top Phrase  and Pope Francis the Top Name of 2013 in its 14th annual global survey of the English language.  404 was followed by fail, hashtag, @pontifex, and the Optic.  Rounding out the top ten were surveillance, drones, deficit, sequestration, and emancipate.  404 is the near-universal numeric code for failure on the global Internet, augmenting its original use as ‘page not found’.  The single word fail is often used together with 404 to signify complete failure of an effort, project, or endeavor.
Global Language Monitor

Board members of the Idaho health insurance exchange said Tuesday that they will keep secret the findings of a $15,000 taxpayer-funded investigation into how one of its own members won a lucrative no-bid contract. Your Health Idaho board chairman Stephen Weeg said the two-week-long review by a private lawyer uncovered "lapses in judgment," though nothing illegal. Exchange executive director Amy Dowd last month awarded a technology contract worth up to $375,000 to board member Frank Chan, who quit the same day the contract was announced. Dowd gave Chan the contract without advertising it or allowing others to compete. It was later canceled after House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, joined critics who called Dowd's deal with an exchange insider "indefensible."
Idaho Statesman

Public bodies in Michigan would be limited in what they could charge for copying public records under the Freedom of Information Act under a bill passed by a House committee Tuesday. The bill would allow public bodies to charge $0.10 per page for documents requested by anyone under the Freedom of Information Act. They also could charge labor costs of up to three times the minimum wage in Michigan of $7.40 per hour.
Detroit Free Press


Patrice McDermott, Augusta Free Press: Families who live near or share waterways with large corporate farms or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have a critical need to know some basic facts about these operations. The public’s right to this information, however, could be stripped away by the farm bill currently under debate in Congress. Negotiators from the House and Senate are currently meeting to try to develop a compromise between the House-passed version of the farm bill and what was passed by the Senate. Among the differences between the bills, the House’s version includes language that unnecessarily cuts off public access to basic information livestock and agricultural operations.