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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

We Have 24 Hours to Save Online Privacy Rules

We Have 24 Hours to Save Online Privacy Rules BY KATE TUMMARELLO, Electronic Frontier Foundation.

We are one vote away from a world where your ISP can track your every move online and sell that information to the highest bidder. Call your lawmakers now and tell them to protect federal online privacy rules.

The Senate voted last week 50-48 on a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to repeal the FCC’s privacy rules. Now the resolution heads over the House, where it’s scheduled to get a vote on Tuesday.

Activists Use FOIA to Ensure Availability of Thousands of Federal Datasets

The Center for Biological Diversity has announced an effort to prevent hundreds of environmental datasets on government websites from being removed by the Trump administration. Three separate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for data sets have been submitted to eight federal agencies. Many (perhaps most) of the datasets requested are currently available on government websites. A provision (5 U.S.C. 552(a)(2)(D)) of the 2016 FOIA Amendments requires agencies to post online in the agency’s FOIA Reading Room documents that are requested "3 or more times."

The FOIA requests were filed by The Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Media and Democracy, and conservation biologist Stuart Pimm.

The eight agencies are: the Army Corps of Engineers, the Council on Environmental Quality, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, and the departments of agriculture, commerce, energy and interior.

The FOIA requests seek hundreds of data sets on energy usage, renewables, oil and gas projections, coal reserves, climate data, sea-level rise, human population, environmental justice and the status of scores of endangered and threatened species and other wildlife.

Cuts to Environmental Monitoring “Willfully Blinding” the Nation

Scientific American reports that many science policy experts are "startled" by the Trump administration’s proposed budget for 2018 that envisions dramatic cuts in funds for monitoring air and water quality, climate change and more.

Pres. Donald Trump’s administration could be willfully blinding itself—and the nation—when it comes to the environment…

[T]he consequences of weakening U.S. environmental monitoring abilities would be serious for everyone, says Brenda Ekwurzel, director of climate science for the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists’ Climate and Energy Program, echoing other policy experts. “So many people need our environmental intelligence," she says. “It’s saving lives, saving businesses money and reducing harm.”

Noting that the budget proposes cutting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 31 percent, which would eliminate 3,200 EPA positions, and would reduce its Office of Research and Development budget by almost half, Kei Koizumi, visiting scholar at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) says, “Even if the agency is able to get data about the environment, it wouldn’t have the scientists and research conditions to make sense of it.” The article also says that the EPA cuts would affect grants to outside groups that track the environment.

Key Press Offices Still Not Staffed

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting says that the Trump administration has not filled key staff positions in public affairs offices, newsrooms, and media offices of many government departments and agencies. This is consistent with the administration’s well reported "glacial pace" in filling 2,000 mid-level political-appointee positions in the Executive branch.

[R]eporters in both Washington bureaus and in newsrooms around the country depend on [these offices] to get routine information about what these departments and agencies are doing, or, in the case of more investigative assignments, to ask basic questions and set up interviews with key personnel.

Some departments, like Defense, Homeland Security and Justice, have well-staffed press offices listed on their websites, making access easier, but others, like Agriculture and Interior, do not. (Interior got a special thumbs down.)

The article speculates that this inactivity may be part of "a Trump war against the … media. The unprecedented barring of major news organizations at White House press briefings, the barring of press from what are nevertheless called media events, the barring of the press from the secretary of State’s plane on international trips, and the president’s reference to the media as an ‘enemy of the people’ certainly suggest that it also may be a case of being in no hurry to open up government to inspection."

Examples from the article:

  • No press officer at EPA and no response to questions from "a receptionist" who took questions.
  • The phone at the public information at the Interior Dept. is answered by a recording, not a person. You can leave a message.
  • The Interior Dept. website lists no press office; press releases provide no contact person.
  • The Commerce Department’s website still lists the offices of director of public affairs and press secretary as "vacant."

Congress Set to Kill FCC Privacy Rule

Politico reports that Congress is set to cancel the privacy rules that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established in December. The rule is intended to to implement the Congressional requirement that "telecommunications carriers protect the confidentiality of customer proprietary information."

TICK, TOCK ON CRA – Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune said Tuesday the votes to rescind the FCC broadband privacy rules under the Congressional Review Act are being "whipped as we speak," and he expects the resolution will have the support it needs "in the end." Thune also said a vote on the CRA could come as early as this week…. "We’re very committed to continuing to go down that path of using the Congressional Review Act resolutions of disapproval to undo a lot of what we think is the regulatory damage done by the previous administration," Thune told reporters. [POLITICO’s Morning Tech, 03/22/2017].

S.J.Res.34 would cancel the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule relating to "Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services" (81 Fed. Reg. 87274 (December 2, 2016)).

From the rule summary:

The rules require carriers to provide privacy notices that clearly and accurately inform customers; obtain opt-in or opt-out customer approval to use and share sensitive or non-sensitive customer proprietary information, respectively; take reasonable measures to secure customer proprietary information; provide notification to customers, the Commission, and law enforcement in the event of data breaches that could result in harm; not condition provision of service on the surrender of privacy rights; and provide heightened notice and obtain affirmative consent when offering financial incentives in exchange for the right to use a customer’s confidential information.