This week's FOIA roundup: Shady police tech and legislation to watch

This week’s FOIA roundup: Shady police tech and legislation to watch

The week in transparency and accountability battles, threats, and wins

Written by
Edited by Sarah Alvarez

Every week, MuckRock brings to you this roundup of transparency and accountability battles, threats and wins. Have you recently read a news story about why government transparency — or a lack of it — matters? Let us know, and we could include it in our next roundup!

FOIA finds

California has banned the use of facial recognition on police body cameras, and the largest purveyor of these cameras, a company called Axon, said it won’t be adding the technology to their equipment until there’s a better grasp of facial recognition’s shortcomings and risks. But one company’s caution is another’s money making opportunity, and OneZero, Medium’s tech and science site, used public records requests to find another company, Wolfcom, is now marketing body cameras with live facial recognition capabilities to its 1,500+ police department customers. Read more on OneZero.

FOIA fights

Police unions have worked hard to protect their members, going so far as to move for the destruction of disciplinary records that could protect the public from abusive actors and civil rights violations. Dan Papscun wrote about the issue challenging accountability efforts in law enforcement for Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The FOIA Advisory Committee met yesterday to continue discussion of recommendation to improve the Freedom of Information Act. You can catch up on the conversation via Youtube and review the group’s notes on the website of the National Archives. The next meeting will be held on May 1, 2020.


Ty West, Editor-in-Chief of the Birmingham Business Journal, is frustrated with the state of records access in Alabama. Even basic, uncontroversial records in Alabama like contracts outlining how taxpayer dollars are being spent are often withheld.

“Currently, public officials in Alabama have little incentive to comply with public records requests because the law is one of the weakest in the nation,” West wrote this week in support of an Alabama bill to overhaul the records law. “They can essentially ignore the request and dare media outlets or members of the public to file suit to obtain records that should be available for public inspection.”

MuckRock has had its share of trouble with requesting in Alabama, one of the few states to require requesters to be state residents and also permits agencies to charge an upfront fee before beginning any processing.

By the way, are you a resident of Alabama interested in helping MuckRock and our users file within your state? Please get in touch.

Legislation to look at

A committee in the Utah Senate has approved a bill making standards and inspection reports at county jails public record, bringing it one step closer to law.

Amye Bensenhaver, a co-founder of the Kentucky Open Government Coalition, warned readers of the Advocate-Messenger about plans from the Kentucky League of Cities to push efforts limiting the state’s records to only its residents.

FOI your information

Members of the legal profession are increasingly stepping up to help fund-strapped freedom of information fighters in journalism. Do you know of some resources that could help our community? Please let us know!

Costal Sunrise by formulanone from Huntsville, United States is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0