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House Judiciary Committee Web Page Labeled “Hilariously Terrible”

This is snarky fun. Brenda Barron on the Elegant Themes website recently wrote about Bad Web Design: A Look At The Most Hilariously Terrible Websites From Around The Web. She tags a lot of really bad, even painfully bad, web sites. Although she describes the House Judiciary Committee web site as “appropriate” for the US House of Representatives with a nice clean layout with good navigation, she focuses on one page that made her do a double take.

[T]he presence of Jenifer Lawrence asking “What?” on a page at the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee made me ask “What?” Then I scrolled down to see Ariel bounding her chin in the palm of her hand, and several others with surprised looks, pointing, and bounding around. None of this animated gif craziness fits the topic on the page. And it only takes 20 seconds to go from annoying to beyond annoying. Try it out and you’ll agree.

The article is a 10-point numbered list. What’s it about? IDK. Something about legislation. I couldn’t read it. Maybe that was the point. In that case it worked. Designers design pages as well as layouts, and this goes to show that even a well-designed layout can be ruined by an inappropriately designed page. Nothing on this page fits the theme of the site. Looking at it make my eyes hurt.

Have a look at this completely non-partisan, appropriately dignified and judicious page before it goes away: AT THE FLICK OF A SWITCH “Right now, one single person – the President of the United States – can turn off the enforcement of our immigration laws unilaterally. For real.” Press Release. (Mar 18 2015).

Government Health Web Sites Expose Personal Data

A new article in Communications of the ACM by Timothy Libert, a doctoral student in the Annenberg School for Communication, demonstrates that web sites – including government web sites such as CDC.gov and Healthcare.gov – pass personal health information to companies that are not subject to regulation or oversight.

Brian Merchant provides a non-technical summary and analysis of Libert’s paper:

Libert says that this health information may be inadvertently misused by some companies, sold by others, or even stolen by criminals. He identified more than eighty thousand unique health-related Web pages and monitored the HTTP requests initiated on the page to third parties by companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Experian, and Acxiom. Ninety-one percent of those pages make such third-party requests, putting user privacy at risk. Some 70% of those third-party requests transmit information on specific symptoms, treatments, and diseases to those companies.

Merchant explains: “[T]he CDC has installed Google Analytics to measure its traffic stats, and has, for some reason, included AddThis code which allows Facebook and Twitter sharing; … the CDC also sends a third party request to each of those companies. That request… makes explicit to those third party corporations in its HTTP referrer string [what you searched for]… From there, it becomes relatively easy for the companies receiving the requests, many of which are collecting other kinds of data (in cookies, say) about your browsing as well, to identify you and your illness. That URL, or URI, which very clearly contains the disease being searched for, is broadcast to Google, Twitter, and Facebook, along with your computer’s IP address and other identifying information.”

Libert makes clear that Government web pages are the least likely of all sites he studied to use third-party cookies, with only 21% of pages storing user data in this way, compared to 82% of dot-com sites. But fully 88% of government sites have some sort of third-party request and 86% download and execute third-party JavaScript.

Merchant notes that the use of third-party cookies and javascript and requests is not necessarily due to any insidious intent but is simply convenient “because developers are installing ‘free’ tools like Google Analytics and social media ‘share’ buttons on their sites, and most users have no idea that means information about their searches is being shared with third parties.” This potentially allows data brokers like Experian, which has information from other sources about loans and which provides credit scores, to combine health information with financial information on individuals. Merchant quotes Libert:

“Given that I found Experian tracking users on thousands of health-related web pages, it is entirely possible the company not only knows which individuals went bankrupt for medical reasons, but when they first went online to learn about their illness as well…”

Merchant also quotes Libert on alternative search engines:

“Even if you use an iPhone, DuckDuckGo, and Hotmail, the second you open your browser there is a huge chance Google gets your data.” That’s because Google is absorbing your information through a variety of hosted services and domain names, from Google Analytics, which measures site traffic, to DoubleClick, an advertising service, and YouTube, its video platform.

Wikipedia was one of the only sites that trafficked in health information that sent no third party requests to corporations.

Take Action to Support Library of Congress and GPO Funding

The American Association of Law Libraries’ Government Relations Committee (GRC) Access to Information Subcommittee has just put out an urgent call for action. We at FGI would echo this call and ask our readers to TAKE ACTION NOW to get Congress to adequately fund the Library of Congress and the Government Publishing Office (GPO)! DO IT NOW! For background information, see AALL’s action alert below.

Hello, Advocates!

This month’s post from the GRC Access to Information subcommittee contains an urgent message about legislative branch appropriations. Thanks in advance for taking action!

Action Needed! Funding for GPO’s FDsys Cut from Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill

The House Appropriations Committee just released the draft FY2016 Legislative Appropriations bill, which includes funding for the Government Publishing Office. GPO’s Revolving Fund, which funds FDsys upgrades (plus system upgrades and building repairs) has been completely cut out of the draft bill. At the Legislative Subcommittee mark up today, Ranking Member Debbie Wasserman Schultz eloquently expressed her concern, speaking about GPO’s vital role in transparency and access to democracy. She said the denial of GPO’s request to invest in its online system is a threat to free public access to legislative information. Her remarks can be viewed here, starting around the 11 minute mark. A summary of the bill can be found here, and the full text here.

Please contact your member of Congress to express your support for full funding of GPO, in particular the need to fund continued improvements to their online information system. You can use AALL’s Legislative Action Center on GPO and LC Funding. It’s a fast, easy way to advocate for this important funding. It’s particularly important if your representative serves on the House Appropriations Committee! You can read more about AALL’s support for GPO funding here.

Library of Congress

In case you missed this developing story, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a 127-page report of its year-long review of the Library of Congress IT management and resources: Strong Leadership Needed to Address Serious Information Technology Management Weakness, GAO-15-315, March 2015. GAO highlights and recommendations are here.

The Washington Post published two articles about the GAO report: America’s “National Library” is Lacking in Leadership, Yet Another Report Finds (3/31/15) and Lawmakers Want Library of Congress Reforms but not Librarian’s Resignation (4/2/15). The New York Times published an editorial, Digital Neglect at the Library of Congress (4/4/15).

Despite GAO’s critical report, the House Appropriations Legislative Branch bill provides LC with an increase of $510,000 above the fiscal year 2015 enacted level. You can read more about AALL’s support for Library of Congress funding here.

– Submitted by Peggy Jarrett, Gallagher Law Library, University of Washington School of Law.

Google moves some .gov sites to page 2

Here Are the Agency Websites Google Doesn’t Think are Mobile Friendly, By Hallie Golden NextGov (April 22, 2015).

Google’s newly implemented policy to adjust mobile search rankings based on a website’s mobile friendliness could leave some federal websites on a Google search engine’s dreaded second page — at least when users search from a smartphone.

Eleven sites were deemed “not mobile friendly” by Google including the EPA, the IRS, and NARA.

Aaron’s Law is back in Congress


Companion bipartisan bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The legislation was inspired by the late Internet innovator and activist Aaron Swartz, who faced up to 35 years in prison for an act of civil disobedience. Senator Wyden said:

“Violating a smartphone app’s terms of service or sharing academic articles should not be punished more harshly than a government agency hacking into Senate files,” [apparently referring to a CIA report acknowledging it infiltrated Senate computers]. “The CFAA is so inconsistently and capriciously applied it results in misguided, heavy-handed prosecution. Aaron’s Law would curb this abuse while still preserving the tools needed to prosecute malicious attacks.”


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