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Police Body Camera Footage from Tucson Immigration March Raises Questions, Sunshine Week 2017, and More: FRINFORMSUM 3/2/2017

March 2, 2017

Body Cam Footage Won through FOIA Shows Tucson Police Shoving 86-Year-Old Woman to Ground at Immigration Protest

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Police body camera footage obtained from a FOIA request submitted by Tucson News Now shows a Tucson Police Department officer shoving an 86-year-old-woman to the ground at a National Day without Immigrants protest on February 16. The video also shows the police officer pepper-spraying a 65-year-old female retired schoolteacher who reached down to help the older woman up. The Washington Post reports that “Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus said the department is investigating but told reporters that he thinks his officers handled the crowd appropriately.”

Access to police body camera footage under state and local Freedom of Information laws varies by locality. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and NYU Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice each have helpful guides that can help requesters navigate the laws in their area.

“How Not to Build a FOIA Portal” by the FBI 

The FBI officially stopped receiving FOIA requests through email this week, in a move that will make it much more difficult for requesters.

The bureau is now forcing requesters who want to file electronic requests to use an inadequate FOIA portal that is not getting off to a good start. The FBI left restrictions that it had promised to remove in place – like requirements to provide a phone number with a request – until late in the day, and the portal still has no field for requester fee category (like “news media” for example) and doesn’t allow you to check the status of your request.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the FBI’s move is the House’s 2016 FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act (H.R. 653), which unanimously passed the House, but was ultimately not adopted into law, required agencies “at a minimum” to accept FOIA requests via email. This commonsense provision embodied the spirit of the transparency law by allowing requesters to submit FOIA requests via their preferred platform – increasingly email – over mailing in physical requests, faxing them, or using oft-clunky FOIA portals.

The FBI should work to increase access to its records by both bringing its FOIA portal up to snuff, and begin accepting requests via email again.

swlogo2-300x176Sunshine Week 2017 Begins on March 12

Sunshine Week, the national celebration of open government and freedom of information, kicks into full gear Monday, March 12th. Every year, the news media, nonprofits, libraries, schools, and the government debate the best ways to strengthen the public’s right to know and how to achieve a more democratic, transparent government.

On Monday March 13th the National Security Archive’s director Tom Blanton will join Ralph Nader, Dean of the University of Maryland’s College of Journalism Lucy Dalglish, and Tom Susman of the American Bar Association at the U.S. National Archives for a panel on FOIA After 50. NARA will also host Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Jason Chaffetz, and a panel on “Government at Your Fingertips,” featuring Adam Marshall of the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, co-founder of MuckRock Michael Morisy, and former Office of Government Information Services director Miriam Nisbet, among others. Space is limited for the event, which will be held in NARA’s McGowan theater, so please register here by March 10.

Other cool events, like the 3rd Annual Foilies Awards, the FOIA and Journalism Workshop, and Cops & Cameras: privacy, transparency and limitations, can be found on the Sunshine Week website.

37 Leaks

37 “crime reports” concerning leaks of classified information were submitted by agencies to the Justice Department last year. The figure comes from a FOIA request to the DOJ National Security Division. Steve Aftergood notes that this number is double the amount of cases from 2015, but on course with the average number of cases between 2009 and 2015, saying that “What makes the latest number of reported leaks interesting is not that it deviates sharply from past experience but that it does not. Evidently there is a baseline of leakiness that persists even in the face of strenuous official efforts to combat leaks.”

A separate post from Aftergood points out there “is no law that categorically prohibits all leaks of classified (or unclassified) information. Instead, there is a patchwork of statutes that outlaw some unauthorized disclosures under some circumstances.” Aftergood goes further into detail with the Washington Post here.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower (right) with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles: architects of a foreign policy identified with rhetorical calls for anti-Communist “rollback” but characterized more accurately by James Conant’s famous dictum to “keep the pot simmering.” (Photo credit: unknown)

President Dwight D. Eisenhower (right) with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. (Photo credit: unknown)

Eisenhower Concluded Neither U.S. Military Operations Nor Popular Uprisings Were Feasible in Soviet-Controlled Eastern Europe

President Dwight D. Eisenhower ruled out military intervention in Eastern Europe early in his administration, despite campaign rhetoric about rolling back world Communism, according to a U.S. Defense Department draft history published by the National Security Archive.

Fear of provoking war with the Soviet Union drove the decision, the study finds, based on research in a variety of government and public sources.

The Archive’s latest posting covers the period leading up to the Hungarian revolt of 1956. The author is Dr. Ronald D. Landa, formerly with the State Department’s Office of the Historian and the Historical Office of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. This is the second of three studies he prepared for the OSD during 2011 and early 2012. They were declassified over the next few years, albeit with a number of passages left heavily excised.

FOIA Search Survey Open Until March 8

The National Security Archive and the Project on Government Oversight’s search survey for both FOIA processors and FOIA requesters will remain open for one more week. The goal of the survey will be to collect data on disparate agency search methods and software – and the more people who fill it out, the more useful the collected data will be.

Please take 10-15 minutes to fill out the survey and help us circulate it as widely as possible.

TBT – A Different October Revolution

East German demonstrators take to the streets in Leipzig, October 9, 1989.

East German demonstrators take to the streets in Leipzig, October 9, 1989.

This week’s #TBT pick is a 2009 posting by Svetlana Savranskaya and Tom Blanton on dismantling the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. The posting marks the 20th anniversary of East German demonstrators taking “to the streets in Leipzig starting their own October revolution that would bring down the Berlin Wall a month later.” The documents published are the first in a series of document postings on the revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe and “show that the Berlin Wall actually started falling on March 3, 1989, when Hungarian Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth informed Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev of the decision of the Hungarian Central Committee to ‘completely remove the electronic and technological defenses from the Western and Southern borders of Hungary.’”

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Happy FOIA-ing!

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