Transparency News 5/2/14

Friday, May 2, 2014

State and Local Stories

A reporter found herself at the center of a story when she uncovered someone had been tracking her movements over a 6-month period. reporter Kathryn Watson asked for a Freedom of Information Act request from the government -- which returned more than a dozen photos of her car and license plate. Watson kept digging and found out police are tracking anyone driving through Alexandria in similar ways. "[I realized], 'Wow. This isn't just that this is happening somewhere to some people, this was actually my car that was photographed,'" Watson said. Alexandria police say LPRs are a great investigative tool, though they may cause discomfort for some residents. According to Crystal Nosal with the department, the records are kept even if they're not immediately linked to a crime. If you want to see if your license plate has been photographed, go to the FOIA Council [or VCOG] for information on how to submit a FOIA request. 
NBC Washington

National Stories

On April 10, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled 4-1 that government agencies can charge hourly fees for searching public documents requested under the state’s open records law. Allowing public bodies to charge for search time is “the killer of public record laws,” according David Cuillier, president of the Society of Professional Journalists who researches FOI issues as director of the University of Arizona’s School of Journalism. He considers such fees the equivalent of a poll tax, which in the Jim Crow South kept blacks and poor people from voting. “This is charging people to participate in their government,” Cuillier says. “Really, what they’ve done is set up a system that excludes the poor from participating in West Virginia government. And I think it’s unconscionable. I think it’s immoral.”
Columbia Journalism Review

Supreme Court opinions are rarely susceptible to the kind of fact-checking that reporters usually employ on politics. But Justice Antonin Scalia's hearty dissent in an environmental case Tuesdaycontained such a glaring error of fact — misreporting an earlier case in which Scalia himself wrote the majority opinion — that the justice changed the opinion. The court quietly posted the corrected version on its website without notice.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage, commander in chief of the 2,100-person Maine Army National Guard, says he was unaware of a plan to reassign Maine’s 133rd Engineer Battalion to Pennsylvania in exchange for an infantry unit until details of the plan were published Wednesday in the Portland Press Herald. The call, which lasted about a minute, started with the governor saying, “This is the commander in chief of the Maine National Guard.” LePage then said he was surprised by the plan and asked for the source of the information. The reporter declined to give it.
Portland Press Herald

The Campaign Legal Center and the Sunlight Foundation filed complaints with the Federal Communications Commission, charging 11 television stations failed to disclose required information about political ads they ran this year. The two groups said in a press release Thursday that without such disclosures, “viewers are denied important information about the organizations and individuals seeking to influence their vote through these ads.”

The Obama administration has failed to turn over documents under public-records requests detailing still-secret court orders about the scope and legality of National Security Agency surveillance, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, said the Justice Department failed under its legally prescribed deadline to hand over documents in four requests since last year under the Freedom of Information Act. The requests sought, among other documents, secret opinions from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court exploring whether the NSA violated the law in collecting Americans’ Internet communications.
Washington Post

The White House, hoping to move the national debate over privacy beyond the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities to the practices of companies like Google and Facebook, released a long-anticipated report on Thursday that recommends developing government limits on how private companies make use of the torrent of information they gather from their customers online. The report, whose chief author is John D. Podesta, a senior White House adviser, is the next step in the administration’s response to the disclosures by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor, that began the debate.
New York Times

Testing the awkward boundaries of social media, Prince George's County, Maryland, police plan to become the first department in the nation to “live-tweet” a prostitution sting. The agency made the attention-grabbing announcement Thursday but wouldn’t say when the sting itself would take place. “The PGPD’s Vice Unit will conduct a prostitution sting that targets those soliciting prostitutes and we’ll tweet it out as it happens,” the announcement states. “From the ads to the arrests, we’ll show you how the PGPD is battling the oldest profession.”
Washington Times

A new website launched by the police department in Roseville, Calif., helps victims of theft recover their stolen goods. Launched this April, the website features photos of stolen items like bicycles, computer equipment and jewelry that users can claim by offering serial numbers or a detailed description. Police say the website was created so more people can get their stolen property back, rather than having it auctioned off online. Stolen property found by the department that goes unclaimed for 90 days is typically sold through, and 50 percent of the proceeds go back to the department. The funds the department receives are insignificant, so they might as well try harder to get the property back into the hands of its owners, a department spokesperson said, the Sacramento Bee reported. Roseville’s approach to stolen property is uncommon, but not unique. The police department in Redwood City, Calif., maintains a Pinterest account to share images of stolen property. Watches, jewelry and bicycles are shown alongside the department’s phone number for recovery. After 30 days, found items “may be purged at the discretion of the agency.”


In the wake of the Donald Sterling story – in which the NBA banned a billionaire team owner after a tape surfaced in which he speaks at length of his hatred of minorities and how he wishes they wouldn't come to his games – we heard the inevitable cries that the punishment was a violation of Mr. Sterling's right to free speech. Here is a quick explanation of what freedom of speech means, as protected by the First Amendment: It means a citizen cannot be prosecuted by the government for his or her speech. It does not mean that citizens can never face consequences for what they say. If you cuss out your boss in a meeting, you can get fired. Same thing if you are in the habit of telling racist jokes to clients on sales calls, or standing in a busy mall and shouting about the incompetence of your employer and the ineffectiveness of its product. You can get fired for those things, and it is not a violation of your First Amendment rights. If someone suggested that Mr. Sterling should face criminal charges for his ugly comments, we would argue for his right to free speech. But if a pro sports league wants to punish one of its team owners for disastrously alienating its fan base, its TV viewers, and the great majority of its players, the commissioner has our complete support.
Daily Press