A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists


By Quill

Homeland Security Office loses lawsuit

The Office of Homeland Security cannot keep its activities secret, according to a federal judge, and must answer questions about the power it exerts over federal agencies.

U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said that if the office wants the lawsuit dismissed, it must prove it has no authority, but instead only helps and advises the president. The ruling was in favor of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, which wants to get records on proposals for a national driver’s license and also a “trusted flyer” program. That program will rely on biometric information, which will be used to identify airline passengers.

The center, Kollar-Kotelly said, “may inquire into the nature of the authority delegated to (the Office of Homeland Security) to determine whether or not it possesses independent authority.”

Homeland Security claimed it did not have to release records because it has no authority as an agency, and it tried to have the lawsuit dismissed. The privacy group could not prove otherwise with its own information, and asked the court to allow it to find out how the group exercises authority. EPIC had until late February to find out if instructions or directions are received from Homeland Security by other groups, and if they must have that office’s approval for any activities or policies.

Maine audit finds police least cooperative

In a test of local government agencies’ compliance with Maine’s Freedom of Access law, more than one-third of police departments denied requests for routine records. The test was the first for the entire state.

Participants in the audit visited 16 counties, 74 police departments, 157 municipal offices and 79 school districts. The Freedom of Information Coalition, which conducted the audit, also mailed letters to almost 500 municipalities.

The audit was to determine if the average citizen could walk into any town office, school district or police department to review public records. By far, the groups that showed the least amount of compliance with the law were the police departments. Only two-thirds allowed accessed to their most recent daily incident report.

Kansas judge OKs secret meetings of governor’s team

Teams reviewing state government efficiency for the Kansas governor-elect can meet secretly, a judge said. The decision on the lawsuit, rejected by media organizations including The Associated Press, will be appealed.

Shawnee County District Judge Eric Rosen said the teams are not covered by the Kansas Open Meetings Act because Gov.-elect Kathleen Sebelius did not receive full power until taking office Jan. 13. Rosen did rebuke the Gov.-elect, however, and said that “when meetings that directly impact public policy of our state occur out of the public eye or ear, our democracy is put in jeopardy. Had the court been provided with a legal option to do so, it would have most certainly ordered the BEST team meetings open.”

According to Sebelius policy director Jeremy Anderson, BEST (Budget, Efficiency, Savings Team) met 18 times from November on. The group is conducting a “top-to-bottom” review of government, which was part of Sebelius’ campaign for election.

The team provided Sebelius with 105 ideas to make government more efficient, although most ideas included ways of increasing fees to offset costs. Sebelius said she might use some ideas in the budget she will submit to legislators.