Month of April, 2008
Maybe I should name this west coast lunchtime listen ;-) Be that as it may, Clay Shirky gave a talk last month (click on the image to get to the video) at the Berkman Center for internet and Society covering some of the ideas from his incredible new book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. The focus of the talk is Shirky's notions about the enabling power of the Web and along the way he has a lot of interesting things to say about sharing, conversation, collaboration and collective action. There's a lot of power in sharing and Shirky points to several interesting examples of that power.
Agencies not complying with record preservation policies, By Jill R. Aitoro, NextGov, April 24, 2008.
At the hearing, Linda Koontz, director of information management issues at the Government Accountability Office, released preliminary results from an ongoing GAO study of how four agencies managed e-mail and electronic records. ...Koontz said the agencies print and then file e-mails, but about half of senior officials were not following these procedures, and the e-mails for these officials were maintained in e-mail systems that lacked record-keeping capabilities, such as the ability to group the e-mails using a classification system.
The House is considering the Electronic Communications Preservation Act, which would strengthen policies for preservation of government records including White House e-mails.
Gary Stern, general counsel for NARA said that the legislation's potential cost to agencies could be "astronomical," and noted the bill's requirement that the National Archives would maintain authority over the White House's electronic records might be unconstitutional.
Patrice McDermott, director of OpentheGovernment.org, said:
"I understand the constitutional issues, and I don't have a good answer for that.... But one of the concerns is that there is no way to enforce accountability [of] records management in the White House. We understand it's a difficult dance [for NARA]. They're there at the invitation of the White House in many cases, but there needs to be some way for the outside community to hold the White House accountable."
All governments manipulate the media to garner favorable news coverage and spin the flow of information to put their actions in a positive light. But in a story in Sunday's NY Times (April 20, 2008) entitled "Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand," David Barstow describes a concerted effort by the Bush Administration who used ostensibly objective military analysts to spread propaganda and dupe the American public in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance in Iraq. It turns out that those "independent military experts" consisted of “more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants.”
Once again, John Stewart describes this event with wit so that we'll laugh rather than scream. So I'll let him have the last word. And he mentions a GAO report called "Combating Terrorism: The United States Lacks Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas" that you can now get your hands on via the Internet Archive.
Five years into the Iraq war, most details of the architecture and execution of the Pentagon’s campaign have never been disclosed. But The Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and Guantánamo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation.
These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.
Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who could be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.”...
...Over time, the Pentagon recruited more than 75 retired officers, although some participated only briefly or sporadically. The largest contingent was affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the other networks with 24-hour cable outlets. But analysts from CBS and ABC were included, too. Some recruits, though not on any network payroll, were influential in other ways — either because they were sought out by radio hosts, or because they often published op-ed articles or were quoted in magazines, Web sites and newspapers. At least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.
Is there a cataloger in the house?! The fine folks over at radical reference are having a Library of Congress Subject Heading Suggestion Blog-a-Thon. Between now and Sunday, April 27, you can suggest subject headings and/or cross-references which will then be compiled and sent to the Library of Congress. Uber-cataloger Sandy Berman has been doing this for years, so it's great to see others taking on the challenge of collaborative subject description!
Some time between now and Sunday, April 27 at 6pm Eastern:
- Select one or more subject headings or cross-references to suggest
- Provide material to support your suggestion (in the form of a link and excerpted text/image)
- Blog it somewhere (your own site; Radical Reference--if you're a registered and authenticated user on the site, you can create your own blog post, if not, just make it a comment to this post; an online file sharing service like Google Docs or Zoho)
- Tag it for del.icio.us: rr_lcsh2008 and for:radical_reference. If you don't have a delicious account email me, and I'll tag it for you.
- If you are suggesting a subject heading not previously submitted to LC (e.g. not on Sandy's scorecard), also submit your proposal to the Program for Cooperative Cataloging.
- For discussion and help, join the Meebo and/or Skype chat,which will be active on Sunday from 4-6 ET for sure, and other times, as staffed.
- If you are in the NYC area, you can come to the ABC No Rio Computer Center on Manhattan's Lower East Side for some in person collaboration.
- We will email a link to the tagged items to LC, print out a copy of each blog post and mail it to Sandy, and we're kinda hoping that the members of the RADCAT (radical cataloging) discussion list will consider entering some of the suggested headings properly into the proposal form
Erik Ringmar, professor of social and cultural studies at the National Chiao Tung University, Hsinchu, Taiwan, wants others to join him in putting restricted government documents on the web.
I say this is awesome! There's certainly precedent for this kind of activism: Jared Benedict liberated a bunch of USGS maps and just last week, I uploaded the Iraqi Perspectives Report to the Internet Archive. Anyone else out there set free a government document? Leave us a comment.
So, I've taken it upon myself to start an organisation called MLOP, the "Movement for the Liberation of Old Papers". What I do is hack into restricted websites, download the documents I'm interested in, and then use my favourite open-source paint program to remove the copyright statements from each page. Next I assemble the pages into one single pdf file and upload it to the Internet Archive, where it will become universally available to both researchers and citizens. Yes, it does take a bit of time, but it's a very worthy cause (and I have a hardworking research assistant to help me).
I feel strongly about this, and I'm prepared to live with the legal consequences of my actions. This, after all, is the new frontier of civil rights - the right of access to information. How else can corruption be stopped and falsehoods exposed? How else can people in power be held accountable? I'd go to prison for the old parliamentary papers if I had to. Ever after I would proudly brag about having liberated an old House of Commons report from the clutches of market capitalism.
Mary Minow writes that a significant part of the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act of 1990 (CRCA) has been struck down by a California Southern District Court ruling.
In 2006, a marketing research firm sued the CSU system. It alleged that San Diego State University, which had been hired in 2004 to perform annual fiscal impact analyses for the Holiday Bowl games (SDSU had been hired because the marketing research firm, which had performed the analyses previously, had increased its fees), had misappropriated and plagiarized the marketing research firm's earlier reports.
The CRCA reads, in part, that "Any State, any instrumentality of a State, and any officer or employee of a State or instrumentality of a State ... shall not be immune, under the Eleventh Amendment ... from suit in Federal Court ... for a violation of any of the exclusive rights of a copyright owner ...."
In theory, this means that states are now in the clear from being targeted by the federal claims that the CRCA was worded to allow. As the District Court ruling states, "The CRCA was passed with the intent to subject states to liability for copyright infringement."
The major wrinkle is that the ruling appears to protect only state agents or employees who are acting in their "official capacity." As Minow's post points out, there are any number of steps that a plaintiff could take to establish legally that a state employee was not acting in his or her "official capacity." The most germane step would be that an individual sued under federal law (and the CRCA being federal law) can be classified as having acted in his or her "individual capacity" if the plaintiff can establish that an alleged violation was in contravention of protected federal copyright.
A new book is out entitled, "Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering" edited by Ronald Deibert, John Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski, and Jonathan Zittrain from the Berkman Center's OpenNet Initiative. This is a must-have for libraries -- many of whom deal with filtering at the personal computer level -- in order to inform the public on the more insidious filtering of internet traffic that happens at the country or backbone level. "Access Denied provides the definitive analysis of government justifications for denying their own people access to some information and also documents global Internet filtering practices on a country-by-country basis. (Jonathan Aronson, Annenberg School for Communication, USC)"
The site includes country profiles for those countries "in which it was believed that there was the most to learn about the extent and processes of Internet filtering." Read the BBC review and the Review in Nature.
In an investigation on how the Bush administration uses retired military officers to promote its message on the Iraq war, the New York Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and Guantanamo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation.
The story based on these documents (Behind Military Analysts, the Pentagon's Hidden Hand By David Barstow, New York Times, April 20, 2008) is supplemented online by "Audio, video and documents that show how the military’s talking points were disseminated" (How the Pentagon Spread Its Message and a "Document Archive," which allows users to read and download documents and parts of documents. Of the 8000 pages, only a few are available online, but these include emails, a "Talking Points Memo," excerpts from a Transcript of meeting with Mr. Rumsfeld, and a Pentagon document that reports "Monitoring of Analysts."
Together, the audio-visual presentation and the documents are a small model for how newspapers could be using the power of the web to enhance their coverage and utility. I would certainly like to see all 8000 pages online!
The story itself is a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of the daily news.
Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as "message force multipliers" or "surrogates" who could be counted on to deliver administration "themes and messages" to millions of Americans "in the form of their own opinions."
...Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence. They have been briefed by officials from the White House, State Department and Justice Department, including Mr. Cheney, Alberto R. Gonzales and Stephen J. Hadley.
In an odd addendum to the corruption case of (now former) Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, prosecutors are arguing that once the executive branch says something is classified, courts are virtually powerless to review or disagree.
The arguments are in the case of Thomas Kontogiannis, a New York financier who admitted to one charge of laundering bribe money for former Rep. Cunningham.
- Cunningham figure's plea deal was sealed, By Greg Moran, San Diego Union-Tribune, April 20, 2008
While portions of the case remain secret, a batch of previously sealed court filings was released this week that show the government arguing what media law experts said was an astounding position....
In essence, prosecutors argued that once the executive branch says something is classified, courts are virtually powerless to review or disagree. That is true, they argued, even when the information is part of court records - which historically have been considered open under the First Amendment.
There is an excellent post relevant to government information over at ArchivesNext. I recommend this highly.
- NARA and the web harvest: a discussion of the issues, ArchivesNext, April 14, 2008.
Kate does an excellent job, in my opinion, of analyzing the NARA decision to not do another web harvest of agency web sites at the end of the current administration. For example, she says, "For archivists, these web harvests should be troubling because they dispense with the process of appraisal. In effect, anything on the top four levels of an agency’s web site was determined to be of permanent value." Kate also includes links to articles about the issue and the NARA response.
It has excellent and informative comments that include, but go beyond, the specific issue of NARA and web harvesting. I found these comments particularly useful because they are mostly from the perspective of archivists and give insight into long-term preservation issues. Some of those making comments are well known in archival circles and speak from experience and with authority. Christine says that "it is very difficult to do item-level appraisal of web files, because the pages are usually so interconnected."
Of the original blog posting at .govwatch that started off the controversy and its claim that NARA is "Quietly Destroying Millions of Documents," Thomas E. Brown says "Nothing could be father the truth" and backs up what he says with facts.
Maarja discusses information gaps created when dynamic records are overwritten and not preserved. I found this comment by Maarja particularly interesting:
Depending on the agency, decisions on how best to share information might have been driven initially by technological factors more so than long term capture of knowledge. From reading records managers’ forums, I gather that in some agencies IT more so than RM may have driven adoption of solutions for dealing with electronic records.
No two organizations are going to have exactly the same culture and organizational climate. So it’s hard to predict how preservation of electronic information is going to play out throughout the government.