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D.C. body-cam access aired on Newseum TV

D.C. is at forefront of national debate over need to protect public access with sensitivity to crime victims' privacy concerns.

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Coalition updates nationwide body cam access report

Find out how states, cities are addressing thorny issues of collection, retention and public access.

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Coalition's first amicus brief tests Council exemption claim

Superior Court ruling would create 'FOIA black hole' from which Council records might never escape.

Posted on Saturday, March 16, 2019 - 5:04pm

In the week celebrated nationwide to draw attention to open government (coinciding with the birthday of James Madison, an early champion), the D.C. Council last Tuesday (12) talked with and about Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) for an hour behind closed doors.

According to Fenit Nirappil’s account in The Washington Post, following a 9-3 vote to close the meeting, Evans apologized, answered a few questions, and announced he was ending his outside consulting business. He and his attorney left after about 15 minutes. Council members continued talking among themselves for about an hour.

Council members told the Post the Evans session was on “personnel” matters and also to seek legal advice.

Posted on Thursday, February 28, 2019 - 6:06pm

Ten thousand record requests each year reach D.C. government agencies, invoking the iconic open government law, the D.C. Freedom of Information Act or FOIA. But the journey is needlessly difficult, open government advocates Thursday (29) told the D.C. Council. The "online portal" -- using software called FOIAXpress -- debuted in 2014 and advertised smooth sailing by one-stop submission followed by seamless request tracking, record review and redaction, ending in online delivery.

The reality instead has included

  • access to only some not all D.C. agencies,
  • online forms that without warning time out and destroy incomplete work,
  • functions that don't deliver (status messages stuck for months on "in progress" as deadlines are long past, a reading room for easy access to past requests with no records on file),
  • site pages unreadable and forms unfillable on mobile, and
  • a "help" tab offering only computer gibberish and no real help.

Yet "there’s no online feedback system like so many sites use, and we know of only one in-person meeting in four years where users were asked to give feedback and help make the system better," said Coalition witness Fritz Mulhauser.

The Coalition concluded D.C. officials had simply ignored the user experience--the cardinal sin in 21st century tech design--and even ignored their own internal agency staff who report they bypass unworkable parts of the system.