In Mother Jones, Will Potter profiles Ryan Shapiro, a punk rocker-turned-PhD student who wanted to study how the FBI monitors animal-rights activists. Through trial and error, and a lot of digging, he devised a perfectly legal, highly effective strategy to unearth sensitive documents from the bureau's 'byzantine' filing system. So now the FBI is petitioning the United States District Court in Washington, DC, to prevent the release of 350,000 pages of documents he's after. If the court buys the FBI's argument here, it could make it harder for scholars and journalists to keep tabs on federal agencies.
Meet the Punk Rocker Who Can Liberate Your FBI File. By Will Potter. Mother Jones. Wed Nov. 13, 2013
According to the Justice Department, this tattooed activist-turned-academic is the FBI's "most prolific" Freedom of Information Act requester—filing, during one period in 2011, upward of two documents requests a day. In the course of his doctoral work, which examines how the FBI monitors and investigates protesters, Shapiro has developed a novel, legal, and highly effective approach to mining the agency's records. Which is why the government is petitioning the United States District Court in Washington, DC, to prevent the release of 350,000 pages of documents he's after.
According to the American Assn of Law Libraries (AALL) "blawg:"
During last week’s Open Government Partnership (OGP) meeting in London, the Obama administration released a preview of its U.S. Open Government National Action Plan 2.0 (NAP). While the second NAP will not be finalized until December 2013, six new commitments to further advance the goals of transparency and accountability in the federal government were announced:
- Expand Open Data
- Modernize the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
- Increase Fiscal Transparency
- Increase Corporate Transparency
- Advance Citizen Engagement and Empowerment
- More Effectively Manage Public Resources
This is great news for open government (though it's still troubling how the administration is walking a very thin, troubling line in re to the NSA and their attacks on whistleblowers). I hope the administration and policy makers on open government will take some cues from our 2010 Letter to Deputy CTO Noveck: "Open Government Publications".
The Sunlight Foundation is compiling a list of "transparency advocates" (CSOs, groups, networks, government projects) from all around the world. They are making their findings public as a spreadsheet available as a google doc ( https://docs.google.com/a/sunlightfoundation.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Ao... ). In addition to name and URL, the list includes focus areas and social media links and much more.
So far they have a list of over 500 opengov groups across the globe. If you don't see your transparency organization in the list, submit information about it to Sunlight Foundation here: http://snlg.ht/19tUoCS
- International Transparency Organizations, Sunlight Foundation.
Shinjoung and I were stunned when we heard the news early yesterday morning that our friend -- and supreme friend of libraries and the Internet! -- Aaron Swartz left this world late friday evening. Aaron was deeply committed to and passionate about internet freedom and making information and knowledge as available as possible. To those ends, he worked on many projects large and small in his short but influential life. He was 26.
The *many* heartfelt remembrances from communities as diverse as journalism, law and open source tech -- witness Rick Perlstein, Lawrence Lessig, Glenn Greenwald, Karl Fogel -- attest to Aaron's supreme impact on the world at large (and that's no hyperbole!).
Before I had even heard of his tragic demise, a few colleagues and I were in the midst of writing letters of support for Aaron's nomination for this year's James Madison award from the American Library Association (ALA). This award, named in honor of President James Madison, was established by the ALA in 1986 to honor individuals or groups who have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s “right to know” on the national level. I hope now that ALA will award Aaron posthumously!
We're helping Archive-it staff harvest a Web archive of Aaron's work, writings, images, videos, and remembrances. If you've got a URI that you'd like to be included in the archive, please paste it to this Google Doc.
Remembrances of Aaron, as well as donations in his memory, can be submitted at http://rememberaaronsw.com
The world will miss you Aaron. Be at peace my friend!
The Congressional Research Service has a new report on government government transparency, which, ironically, does not mention the fact that the report is available to the public in spite of the congressional policy that bars CRS from making this report public. Thanks and a big hat tip to Secrecy News, a publication of the Federation of American Scientists, for making the report available!
- Government Transparency and Secrecy: An Examination of Meaning and Its Use in the Executive Branch, by Wendy Ginsberg, Maeve P. Carey, L. Elaine Halchin, Natalie Keegan, Congressional Research Service, R42817 (November 8, 2012).
Also see the Secrecy News article about this and other recent CRS reports:
- The Meaning of Transparency, and More from CRS, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News, (November 13th, 2012).
It also does not consider in any depth how technological changes are affecting government information policy, perturbing or mooting longstanding official positions on disclosure and non-disclosure. Nor does it explore political obstacles to greater transparency (such as the congressional policy that bars CRS publication of this very report on transparency).
This is great news indeed! The Sunlight Foundation reported today that the "Public Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Resolution of 2012" (aka H. Res 727) has just been introduced by Representatives Quigley (D-IL) and Lance (R-NJ) -- many thanks to both of them.
The resolution would ensure that reports by Congress's $100 million-a-year think tank will become available to the public on a website maintained by the House Clerk. Numerous good government groups and advocates for more congressional transparency -- including FGI! -- have endorsed the measure. Please contact your Representative and ask them to vote HELL YEAH! on H. Res 727.
The reports, prepared by the Congressional Research Service, are frequently cited by the courts and the media and requested by members of the public, but CRS does not release them to the public. Instead, they come to widespread attention after they are released in dribs and drabs by Congressional offices and painstakingly collected by researchers. Some are collected and sold for $20 a copy, while others are made available by non-profit organizations for public consumption. By the time they become publicly available, the reports can become outdated, especially when an issue is moving quickly in Congress.
Reliable access to CRS Reports would ensure that everyone has timely and comprehensive access to the collective wisdom of hundreds of analysts and experts on political issues when they're at their most salient. This is already common practice in other support arms of the Congress, like the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office.
In the past CRS reports have been more widely available, but relatively recent CRS-imposed policies are increasing limiting access even as the Internet has made the documents easier to share. In fact, the original limitation on public access was imposed in the 1950s on CRS's predecessor agency and arose from a concern about the costs of printing and mailing the reports -- not their confidentiality. In the Internet age, this limitation no longer makes sense, especially as these reports are already available on CRS's internal website in electronic form.
The National Security Archive has a roundup of stories from this year's Sunshine Week:
- Sunshine Week Round-Up, by Lauren Harper, Unredacted The National Security Archive blog (March 15, 2012).
Sunshine Week, the annual celebration of the importance of open government and freedom of information, is in full swing. Every year, the news media, nonprofits, libraries, schools, and the government debate the public’s right to know.
On March 19, OMB Watch released a new report that evaluates state and federal websites designed to ensure the accountability of public officials. The report, Upholding the Public's Trust: Key Features for Effective State Accountability Websites, examines state efforts to release public officials' integrity information online. Such transparency is crucial to guard against self-dealing and patronage. While states and the federal government have made progress in this area, more work lies ahead.
This report considers four key areas of transparency in the U.S. state and federal governments: campaign finance, lobbying, procurement, and public officials’ assets. The report describes the key features needed for effective online disclosure in these areas and highlights leading practices in the states.
- annoucnement, OMB Watch (March 19, 2012).
- Upholding the Public's Trust: Key Features for Effective State Accountability Websites, by Sean Moulton, Gavin Baker, and Charles N. O’Neill, OMB Watch, (March 2012). [pdf]
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, in their year in review, summed up 2011 as the year that secrecy jumped the shark. A sad state of affairs for the Obama Administration, which was supposed to be the most transparent ever.
- Government report concludes the government classified 77 million documents in 2010, a 40% increase on the year before. The number of people with security clearances exceeded 4.2. million, more people than the city of Los Angeles.
- Government tells Air Force families, including their kids, it’s illegal to read WikiLeaks. The month before, the Air Force barred its service members fighting abroad from reading the New York Times—the country’s Paper of Record.
- Lawyers for Guantanamo detainees were barred from reading the WikiLeaks Guantanamo files, despite their contents being plastered on the front page of the New York Times.
- President Obama refuses to say the words “drone” or “C.I.A” despite the C.I.A. drone program being on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers every day.
- CIA refuses to release even a single passage from its center studying global warming, claiming it would damage national security. As Secrecy News' Steven Aftergood said, “That’s a familiar song, and it became tiresome long ago.”
- The CIA demands former FBI agent Ali Soufan censor his book criticizing the CIA’s post 9/11 interrogation tactics of terrorism suspects. Much of the material, according to the New York Times, “has previously been disclosed in open Congressional hearings, the report of the national commission on 9/11 and even the 2007 memoir of George J. Tenet, the former C.I.A. director.”
- Department of Homeland Security has become so bloated with secrecy that even the “office's budget, including how many employees and contractors it has, is classified,” according to the Center for Investigative reporting. Yet their intelligence reports “produce almost nothing you can’t find on Google,” said a former undersecretary.
- Headline from the Wall Street Journal in September: “Anonymous US officials push open government.”
- NSA declassified a 200 year old report which they said demonstrated its “commitment to meeting the requirements” of President Obama’s transparency agenda. Unfortunately, the document “had not met the government's own standards for classification in the first place,” according to J. William Leonard, former classification czar.
- Government finally declassifies the Pentagon Papers 40 years after they appeared on the front page of the New York Times and were published by the House’s Armed Services Committee.
- Secrecy expert Steve Aftergood concludes after two years “An Obama Administration initiative to curb overclassification of national security information… has produced no known results to date.”
- President Obama accepts a transparency award…behind closed doors.
- Government attorneys insist in court they can censor a book which was already published and freely available online.
- Department of Justice refuses to release its interpretation of section 215 of the Patriot Act, a public law.
- U.S. refuses to release its legal justification for killing an American citizen abroad without a trial, despite announcing the killing in a press conference.
- U.S. won’t declassify legal opinion on 2001’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program.
- National Archive announced it was working on declassifying “a backlog of nearly 400 million pages of material that should have been declassified a long time ago.”
- The CIA refused to declassify Open Source Works, “which is the CIA’s in-house open source analysis component, is devoted to intelligence analysis of unclassified, open source information” according to Steve Aftergood.
- Twenty-three year State Department veteran gets his security clearance revoked for linking to a WikiLeaks document on his blog.
- The ACLU sued asking the State Department to declassify 23 cables out of the more than 250,000 released by WikiLeaks. After more than a year, the government withheld 12 in their entirety. You can see the other 11, heavily redacted, next to the unredacted copies on the ACLU website.
- The ACLU said it sued the State Department in part to show the "absurdity of the US secrecy regime." Mission accomplished.
[HT to Glen Greenwald]
Our friends at OMBWatch just published an interesting post highlighting several studies that compare and contrast the policy and practice of transparency of the US and other countries based on comparative analysis of FOIA, foreign aid, and budgets and revenues. The post, entitled "Global Studies Highlight U.S. Transparency Strengths, Weaknesses" "...provide[s] useful measures of U.S. openness relative to real-world conditions, in addition to highlighting global best practices and alternative approaches." It also references a group created in September 2011 called the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and highlights the US' role in the group and their joint Open Government Declaration signed by the US and 7 other countries -- with 38 more countries signing in March 2012. Read the rest of the post to find out where the US ranks among the countries of the world in terms of transparency and open government.
Here's the list of studies cited by OMBwatch:
- audit of FOIA laws in 105 countries and the European Union by the Associated Press (AP)
- Global Right to Information Rating released by Access Info Europe and the Centre for Law and Democracy
- Quality of Official Development Assistance report, published Nov. 14 by the Brookings Institution and the Center for Global Development
- "The Money Trail: Ranking Donor Transparency in Foreign Aid" by Anirban Ghosh and Homi Kharas, published in the November issue of the journal World Development (available to subscribers only :-( )
- Aid Transparency Index 2011 by the organization Publish What You Fund