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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.

University of Washington Gov Pubs Finds

It is hard to keep up with everything even just in the world of government information. FGI provides a list of recommendations in its “blogroll” (look in the right column just below the list of recent comments). These are people, and blogs, and organizations that we find useful if you want to keep up with government information issues.

Today we add a link to the RSS feed for the University of Washington Gov Pubs Finds tumblr. I have been following it every day for some time and find it just wonderful. It provides a wonderful mix of interesting finds, historic documents, and just plain inspiration. It started with an examination of discarded federal documents. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Enjoy!

The description of the U.WA. tumblr:

This site originates from a final project for a Government Publications course taught at the University of Washington in the Fall of 2013. The students, both in the MLIS program, were given access to over 2,000 boxes containing discarded federal documents donated to the UW by the Seattle Public Library. In browsing through the boxes during the quarter, items were found that fit a theme of government research, policies, and programs investigating youth and family advocacy, health, and safety.

After the conclusion of the course this site will continue to be updated with items from the above-mentioned SPL gift collection, as well as other areas within the government publications holdings of the UW Libraries, that speak to the history of Seattle, the Pacific Northwest, and of the unique and oftentimes overlooked qualities of government information.

EPA mirrors its own pre-Trump website

Gizmodo and TechCrunch are reporting that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has put a mirror of its own website online — a “snapshot” from January 19, the day before Trump was sworn in as president.

  • The EPA posted a backup of its website dated just before inauguration day, by Devin Coldewey techcrunch (Feb 16, 2017).

    “It’s still technically an EPA website, and so could be removed through executive action, but the fact that it was much-requested via FOIA should make it pretty robust against takedown.”

  • The EPA Just Posted A Mirror Website Of The One Trump Plans To Censor by Matt Novak, Gizmodo (Feb 17, 2017).

    “… after individual efforts to backup the website, along with plenty of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the EPA just posted a snapshot of the site as it existed on 19 January 2017, the day before Trump was sworn in.

    “‘The genius of this approach is that, because they were required by federal law to post the mirror site (because it’s a frequently requested record), it’s harder now to force it down,’ writer and anthologist Russ Kick told Gizmodo over email.”

  • 19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/

    “This is not the current EPA website. To navigate to the current EPA website, please go to www.epa.gov. This website is historical material reflecting the EPA website as it existed on January 19, 2017. This website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.”

Gizmodo reports that “there are elements of the website that aren’t backed up because of size constraints” and provides links to those sections of the current epa.gov website.

White House and Agencies Close Channels of Public Communications

The trump administration seems to be systematically making it more difficult for the public to communicate with the government.

Blog posts scrubbed from U.S. Department of Labor Blog. Why?!

Here’s an oddity. On the Department of Labor’s blog, there was a post on september 6, 2016 titled “What is the ‘Real’ Unemployment Rate?” that described the “huge array of measures, which together provide a comprehensive picture of the state of job opportunities” in the US. As you’ll see if you click on that link, the post is now “404 page not found.” You’ll not find the post in the blog’s archive for September 2016 either. However, the post was archived by the Internet Archive on October 17, 2016, the last time that IA crawled the blog. So sometime between October, 2016 and today (February 16, 2017) that post was scrubbed from the Department of Labor’s blog.

What’s more strange is that the archived site showed 26 posts in September, 2016, but the live site’s blog’s archive for September 2016 shows only 10 posts. Unfortunately, IA didn’t crawl the monthly archive urls, so there’s no way to know what those missing 10 posts were about. There are also discrepancies for other months (eg, the archived site shows 30 posts in August 2016, while the live site shows 17 posts!).

There’s nothing that I can discern in this one found post that could be considered controversial. It’s not a CRS Report that found no correlation between the top tax rates and economic growth, thereby destroying a key tenet of conservative economic theory that was subsequently suppressed in 2012. It was written by Dr. Heidi Stierholz, the department’s chief economist.

So what gives? Why is the Department of Labor disappearing selective blog posts? We’ll let you know if we find out.

Internet Archive offers to host PACER in perpetuity FOR FREE!

This is an amazing offer from Brewster Kahle and the internet Archive. Kahle just wrote a letter to the House Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Committee on the Judiciary stating unequivocally that they will “archive and host — for free, forever, and without restriction on access to the public — all records contained in PACER.” The “Public Access to Court Electronic Records” or PACER system is the supposedly publicly accessible system of federal court records that charges exorbitant fees to download, thus making it for all intents and purposes blocking meaningful access to federal court records. But with this letter, the whole system could become actually accessible, for free and in perpetuity!

By this submission, tile Internet Archive would like to clearly state to the Judiciary Committee, as well as to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and the Judicial Conference of the United States, that we would be delighted to archive and host — for free, forever, and without restriction on access to the public — all records contained in PACER…

In order to recognize the vision of universal free access to public court records, the Federal Judiciary would essentially have to do nothing. We are experts at “crawling” online databases in an efficient and careful fashion that does not burden those systems. We are already able to comprehensively crawl PACER from a technical perspective, but the resulting fees would be astronomical. The Federal Judiciary has a Memorandum of Understanding with both the Executive Office for us Trustees and with the Government Printing Office that gives each entity no-fee access for the public benefit. The collection we would provide to the public would be far more comprehensive than the GPO’s current court opinion program- although I must laud that program for providing a digitally-authenticated collection of many opinions.

By making federal judicial dockets available in this manner, the Federal Judiciary would enable free and unlimited public access to all records that exist in PACER, finally living up to the name of the program. In today’s world, public access means access on the Internet. Public access also means that people can work with big data without having to pass a cash register for each document.

The OpenGov Foundation wrote just released their “Statement on Internet Archive Offer to Deliver Free and Perpetual Public Access to PACER” in which they said:

“The vital public information in PACER is the property of the American people. Public information, from laws to court records, should never be locked away behind paywalls, never be stashed behind arbitrary barriers and never be covered in artificial restrictions. Forcing Americans to pay hard-earned money to access public court records is no better than forcing them to pay a poll tax.

“The Internet Archive’s offer to archive and deliver unrestricted public access to PACER for free and forever is the best possible Valentine’s Day gift to the American people. The Internet Archive is proposing a cost-effective and innovative public-private partnership that will finally fix a clear injustice. There is no reason to do anything but accept this offer in a heartbeat.”

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