NFOIC: Key open government challenges in states emerge from 2017 FOI summit

This from the National Freedom of Information Coalition, which held its 2017 FOI Summit in Nashville Oct. 13-14:

Dan Bevarly, executive director of National Freedom of Information Coalition

The National Freedom of Information Coalition concluded its 2017 FOI Summit in Nashville over the weekend. The annual two-day event features presentations from FOI experts and practitioners on trending FOI and open government issues in public institutions at the state and local levels. Summit attendees include NFOIC’s state coalition directors, journalists, media lawyers and first amendment watchdogs. The Tennessee Coalition of Open Government served as summit co-host.

This year’s gathering highlighted key FOI challenges emerging in state and local governments including:

  • Growing use of private communication and information sharing devices (personal email, texting, cell phones and web apps) by public officials to conduct government business that circumvent public records laws;
  • Reverse FOI lawsuits where third parties intervene or governments sue the requester to block release of public records, forcing requesters to hire attorneys to defend themselves; and
  • A troubling development of government entities keeping information in government contracts with business secret, in some cases, even the dollar amount of the contracts.

Mal Leary, president of NFOIC

“The battle to assure all Americans have access to their government continues and is more important than ever,” said Mal Leary, President of the NFOIC. “In state after state we are seeing an assault on transparency that threatens the very foundation of democracy.”

Each year, the summit includes the induction ceremony of a new member into the State Open Government Hall of Fame, a joint initiative of NFOIC and the Society of Professional Journalists. This year’s inductee is Michael Giudicessi, a longtime First Amendment attorney from Iowa.  Jameel Jaffer, founding director of the Knight First Amendment Institute and expert on free speech, privacy, technology, national security, and international human rights provided the keynote address. 

NFOIC announced a new state affiliate from Nebraska to join the coalition, and two new board directors:

Colleen M. Murphy, Executive Director and general Counsel of the Connecticut FOI Commission

Tim Franklin, Senior Associate Dean at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University

Board member and secretary, Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition of Open Government, was elected to vice president of the board. Board member Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government was elected secretary.

NFOIC recognizes and greatly appreciates the summit’s financial and in-kind sponsors and thanks Bloomberg LP (Platinum), the Charles Koch Institute (Gold), John the John S. and James L Knight Foundation (Official), the Society of Professional Journalists/SDX Foundation (Official), and Ethics and Excellence in Journalism (Official) for their generous support.

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