Do You Have A Right-To-Know That…?
Should the public have access to old police files, use-of-force records, and messages sent by public servants over WhatsApp? Should there be limitations on who can access this information and when? The debate continues as legislative sessions continue to ramp up across the country and the chaotic year of 2020 moves further into the rearview mirror.
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The FBI is hiding an unpublished police use-of-force database from FOIA requesters
For the past several years, the FBI has been trying to collect information from police departments around the country on their use of force, but it has yet to publish any reports or statistics based on that data because of lackluster participation from law enforcement. Now, a civil rights group says the FBI and Justice Department are stonewalling its attempts to get the underlying reports submitted to the program.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has been trying to obtain raw reports from law enforcement agencies submitted to the FBI’s National Use-of-Force Data Collection program. However, the FBI has rejected its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and the Justice Department has denied the Leadership Conference’s appeal.
The FBI launched the program in 2019 to fill one of the biggest gaps in our understanding of criminal justice in America: how often and where police use force.
“Right now, police departments are not required to—and most do not—publicly report data, and what data does exist is often inconsistent and difficult to access,” Sakira Cook, senior director of the Justice Reform Program at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, says. “That means we don’t know enough about when, where, and how often police use force. This lack of transparency is unacceptable and hurts communities trying to advocate for change and hold law enforcement accountable.”
The FBI can’t force police departments to participate, though. In the three years since the new National Use-of-Force Data Collection program’s launch, police participation has steadily risen, but it has never met a threshold set by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to obtain data representing 60 percent of law enforcement officers in the country before the FBI can publish any statistics.
Read More | Reason.com
GovQA Achieves AICPA Soc2 Type 2 Certification
GovQA LLC, a Granicus company, recently earned Soc2® Type 2 certification from the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), confirming the company’s commitment to continuous security monitoring, oversight and world-class data protection.
The Soc2 framework is designed for service providers storing customer data in the cloud and evaluates the effectiveness of an organization’s controls as they relate to five AICPA-defined trust services criteria: security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality and privacy.
Virginia Legislators advance bill that closes inactive police files to the public
The bill would essentially undo a 2021 law that opened up inactive police files to the public. For years, the Virginia Freedom of Information Act allowed police and prosecutors to withhold all records in their discretion, even in cases that are closed and where release of records wouldn’t jeopardize any prosecution.
The 2021 change said police needed to release records in closed cases, while preventing release of certain things, like information about confidential sources or photos of a victim.
Some lawmakers appear to have been under the impression that photos of victims either have been released under the 2021 law or could be. But neither the bill’s sponsor, Del. Rob Bell (R-Albemarle) nor the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorney’s provided any evidence while the bill was debated this year that such photos had been released.
And some lawmakers didn’t seem to understand that the current law doesn’t allow photos of victims to be released.
Current law says: “No photographic, audio, video, or other record depicting a victim or allowing for a victim to be readily identified … shall be released” except to a victim or the victim’s immediate family if the victim is deceased.
Read More | Richmond Times-Dispatch
Oklahoma House Representative Jim Grego says he will address concerns on HB 3475 regarding Open Records and Open Meeting Acts
Section 24.A 5 of Oklahoma’s Open Records Act currently states all records of public bodies and public officials shall be open to any person for inspection, copying, or mechanical reproduction during regular business hours, with a few exceptions. Those exceptions include records specifically required by law to be kept confidential.
Grego’s House Bill 3475, as of Tuesday, March 1, has added language from Grego that if passed, will give every keeper of public records the right to deny an open records request if they choose to do so.
The new language in Grego’s bill regarding access to public records states “A request may be denied if a request places an excessive disruption in producing public records on the public body or if the custodian has reason to believe that repeated requests are intended to disrupt other essential functions of the public body.”
That means any keeper of public records in Oklahoma could deny a lawful request made under the Open Records Act simply by claiming the request was placing an “excessive disruption” on the public body or by claiming that “repeated requests” were made with the intention of disrupting the public body.
Read More | McAlester News-Capital
Washington DC Mayor snagged in WhatsApp debate
The D.C. Council unanimously approved an emergency measure on March 1 to regulate government employees’ communications via WhatsApp, after an Axios report confirmed Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s staff has been using the encrypted messaging app to conduct public business.
Unlike physical paperwork or emails sent over government servers, messages sent through WhatsApp and similar services are not automatically preserved as public records. Furthermore, these apps often have built-in features that delete conversations after a certain period of time. Without manually sending a copy, or providing screenshots of text exchanges, users can delete their conversations, leaving no record of the exchange for the public record.
The apps make it easier to hide official communications from Freedom of Information Act requests, critics say, and could allow officials to skirt the spirit, if not the letter, of open-records laws.
Read More | GCN News
Wisconsin Judge rules against Vos, Gableman in open records lawsuit
A Wisconsin judge on Wednesday [March 2] ruled that Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman denied or delayed access to requested public records related to the investigation into the 2020 presidential election.
Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington put his ruling on hold pending a hearing on [March 8].
Remington also ruled that Vos and Gableman would be responsible for covering legal costs of the liberal watchdog group American Oversight that brought the lawsuit. He also fined Vos, Gableman and the Assembly $1,000 each, fines that would likely be paid by taxpayers if they stand.
Remington in January ordered that records requested by American Oversight be turned over by Jan. 31 and he would decide at next week’s hearing whether to make them public. The judge described some of the records he received from Gableman in Wednesday’s [March 2] order and said they should not have been withheld from the open records request.
Read More | WIZM News
Security: Multi-Factor Authentication – what is it and why do you want it?
Cybersecurity has become an essential component of conducting business for government agencies. As criminals find new and destructive ways to manipulate and steal digital information, security enhancements to protect sensitive information are no longer a luxury; they are necessary to thwart costly and increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks.
Users of any organization, government or otherwise, are typically required to use a unique username and password to identify themselves and access systems. This basic “single layer” line of defense is no longer adequate and has proven to be frequently breached. Passwords can be guessed or leaked, allowing for breaches to grow in number and severity. In fact, a study conducted by the University of Maryland reports that a cyberattack occurs every 39 seconds.
The prevalence of these attacks means organizations with any amount of data in their care (particularly when it might contain PII) must take responsibility for its protection and increase security; that’s where multi-factor authentication comes in.
Read More | GovQA – Now Part of Granicus
GovQA's Upcoming Events
GovQA’s hosts and moderates events to create and expand opportunities for state and local government agency members to discuss the challenges they face.
FOIA Compliance in Education: Leveraging Stimulus Funds for Response Technology – TODAY!
California Public Records Small Group Virtual Roundtable
NAGARA Online Forum: Information Governance
Department of Health Public Records Small Group Virtual Roundtable
The Peers in Public Records Newsletter (formerly FOIA News) is a bi-monthly e-newsletter brought to you by GovQA. It is a collection of the latest trends in public record requests and government transparency initiatives, shared stories, informative case studies, and actionable knowledge that will help you calm the chaos and keep your organization compliant. Send your comments to email@example.com.