FOIA Roundup: Avenues to accountability in the age of COVID-19

FOIA Roundup: Avenues to accountability in the age of COVID-19

The update on FOIA resources, successes, and obstacles.

Written by
Edited by Michael Morisy

This week’s roundup features free training on using public records to understand the country’s COVID-19 response, updates to the federal FOIA, and a way to contribute to police transparency. See something we missed? Let us know.

New project, free training: Introducing COVID Public Info

COVID Public Info is a new non-profit news collaboration between Outlier Media, the MuckRock Foundation, Matt Kiefer and Garance Burke, and it is made possible through the support of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University.

Join us for the first of these sessions Friday at 3:00 pm Eastern, during which we’ll discuss basic requesting strategies to uncover important stories in your community. Register for this newsletter to get updates on upcoming trainings and resources.

Interested in getting more involved and helping dig through local data that tie into larger investigations with a national network of peers? Get in touch.

What’s there to see in New York’s police records?

After Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved a bill to repeal 50-a protections of police and correctional officer records earlier this month, MuckRock began to submit hundreds of records requests for each police department’s backlog of disciplinary records. On June 18, we received our first response containing disciplinary action reports from a New York police department, Allegany Village Police Department.

Multiple police departments, including the New York Police Department, have announced that they will be releasing disciplinary information publicly online.

Other elected officials are beginning to take a different approach. New York State Sen. George Borrello, after he learned that the Cuba Police Department had received a request from MuckRock, issued a press release questioning the purpose of releasing the information.

At the time, MuckRock had not yet received an acknowledgment letter from the police department. You can follow the Cuba PD request here by selecting “Follow” at the top of the page (you need to be logged in). Check out all of our New York requests on the project page.

Most federal FOIA agencies are facing COVID delays but aren’t telling requesters about it

The Office of Government Information Services recently reviewed 305 federal FOIA websites and found that 62.6 percent of them did not alert requesters to changes in agency FOIA processing caused by the shift to full-time teleworking. (OGIS FOIA Ombudsman)

New Mueller report details released after lawsuit brought by BuzzFeed and EPIC

Previously-redacted portions of the Mueller report have been released, revealing more details of conversations Roger Stone and President Trump had about WikiLeaks releases of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Jason Leopold, Ken Bensinger, and Anthony Cormier at BuzzFeed report.

Small Business Administration says it will release some details of PPP program recipients

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last week that his agency would not be providing details on who has received funding under the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program. But following backlash from lawmakers and the public, the Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department announced Friday that they would now disclose entities receiving more than $150,000 in loans, as reported by Mark Niquette for Bloomberg. More than $550 billion in spending has been approved under the PPP, and the majority of loans are not large enough to reach the current disclosure threshold.

Doggo’s feat is no state secret but its sex may be

Conan, the canine famous for its involvement in the raid on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is now the subject of a lawsuit to determine which pronouns to use for the patriot and how injuries sustained in the mission were treated, as Freddy Martinez writes for Motherboard).

Las Vegas police hike cost of body cam footage

Michael Scott Davidson, writing for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, reports that beginning July 1, Las Vegas police will charge $280 for each hour of body camera footage requested by the public, regardless of actual redaction or search time.

Chicago police still can’t delete old misconduct records, court rules

Despite efforts by the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled 6-1 on Thursday that complaints and other records, even those older than five years, must remain accessible to the public, as Jeremy Gorner, John Byrne, and Dan Hinkel report for the Chicago Tribune. “The contractual rights that were in our collective bargaining agreement for the better part of four decades were set in stone,” said Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara. The police union is considering additional challenges to the ruling.

See something we should include in our next update? Please let us know.

Image by CSPAN via Steven Mnuchin’s Twitter account.