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".
I love the Freedom of Information Act (United States) (FOIA)! It's a vital tool to researchers, journalists and the public -- so much so that there are now several sites that try to help manage the sometimes long and arduous FOIA process (see MuckRock and FOIA Machine). So I'm constantly on the lookout for sites that post FOIA'd documents that I can add to my FOIA web harvesting archive.
One such site that has long had a place in my govt documents heart is the Government Attic. This is a truly amazing site in which to "rummage." The site has posted thousands of documents(!) from their many FOIA requests including:
- FOIA logs (FOIAs about FOIAs are really handy!)
- documents across a wide swath of government activity like Inspector Generals of various agencies
- internal agency Websites
- agencies' self-identified interesting documents
- FBI high visibility memos
- DoD resale activities border review (reviews which videos and magazines could be sold on military bases)
- a compilation of FBI documents concerning the security of telephone services, 1952-1995 (this one was so interesting that I have stored a local copy and had it cataloged for our library!).
They also have a Links page which includes information about FOIA, guides on how to submit FOIA requests, etc.
FOIAmachine will help journalists, researchers and the public submit FOIA requests, track their progress through the Federal government bureaucracy, and post documents from successful FOIA requests online for public access. While they've made their original goal, they're looking to stretch it in order to build out additional features and host open records training in 5 states. I'm a backer and you should be too. You've got 3 days to help CIR meet their goal and help make FOIAmachine a reality.
According to this story on /., the GovernmentAttic website has just published a dossier of reports produced by the Defense Intelligence Agency describing biological weapons development in nations throughout the world.
"These sixteen documents comprise a set of U.S. Army Medical Intelligence reports from the 1970s and 1980s concerning the extent of research into and deployment of biological and chemical weapons activities in various nations.
These reports were requested under Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR), administratively processed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and released by the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM)."
be sure to take a look at the GovernmentAttic, they've got a ton of FOIA'd and very interesting publications available.
Migration Declassified is a product of the Mexico/Migration Project at the National Security Archive, an independent research center and repository of declassified documents based at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. It supports the rights of migrants in North America by increasing transparency around security and law enforcement institutions in Mexico and the United States. The site serves as a dissemination point for recently declassified documents that shed light on such issues as migration policy, border enforcement, migrant detention programs, and deportation policies. Its blog will feature commentary on migration-related news items and links to related resources.
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.
House bill 1211 amends the Freedom of Information Act with the intended purpose being to provide for greater public access to information. The bill would require federal agencies to make public information disclosed under FOIA available in an electronic, publicly accessible format and require the OMB to ensure the existence and operation of a single, free website for submitting requests for records and receiving automated information about the status of a FOIA request.
- H. R. 1211 To amend section 552 of title 5, United States Code (commonly known as the Freedom of Information Act), to provide for greater public access to information, and for other purposes., [pdf] Mr. ISSA (for himself and Mr. CUMMINGS), 113TH Congress 1st session, March 15, 2013.
- Bill Summary & Status, Thomas.
- Cost Estimate, H.R. 1211 FOIA Act, by Matthew Pickford, Elizabeth Cove Delisle, Paige Piper/Bach, Theresa Gullo. Congressional Budget Office (May 21, 2013).
"The Supreme Court on Monday said states are free to allow public records access only to their own citizens, delivering a blow to freedom of information advocates who had challenged a Virginia law.... Various other states, including Tennessee, Arkansas and Delaware, have similar laws, although some do not enforce them."
- Justices say states can limit access to public records, By Lawrence Hurley, Reuters (April 29, 2013).
In the ruling, Justice Samuel Alito said the provision of the Constitution in question, known as the "privileges and immunities clause," does not extend a sweeping right to all the information made available via freedom of information laws.
I just noticed this post over at Wired Magazine's Threat Level blog, Activists Flood Government Agencies With FOIA Requests in Tribute to Aaron Swartz. Last week, Muckrock, the site that helps journalists, lawyers, and the public submit FOIA requests for a small fee ($20 for 5 requests), waived their fees in tribute to the transparency fights of computer programmer and internet activist Aaron Swartz who committed suicide a few weeks ago. I hope Muckrock will post all of the documents received via these requests. According to Muckrock:
MuckRock has begun processing 153 free FOIA requests submitted in honor of Internet pioneer and transparency activist Aaron Swartz, who died earlier this month at age 26.
Swartz, among MuckRock's first users and supporters, used public records laws to attempt to find out more about why the federal government was pursuing Internet piracy charges against him. He also filed requests related to alleged WikiLeaks collaborator Bradley Manning and the U.S. Mint, among many other topics.
In a Jan. 18 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking about Swartz’s prosecution, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) asked, “was the prosecution of Mr. Swartz in any way retaliation for his exercise of his rights as a citizen under the Freedom of Information Act?”
As a way to honor Swartz’s legacy and to further his transparency work, MuckRock encouraged users to file requests in his honor free of charge. The requests cover all corners of government, ranging from the Department of Homeland Security’s documents relating to the high profile Tar Sands Blockade to the city payroll for Everett, Mass.