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Local FOIA and Open Government

The San Francisco Bay Guardian has a special issue on open government and freedom of information.

It begins this way:

“On one front, the advocates of secrecy are pushing hard to keep electronic data under strict controls. The state Legislature is considering a bill that would prohibit the release of electronic data embedded in a public record. The county of Santa Clara tried to set a $100,000 price on access to a public database.

But on the other hand, sunshine advocates are pushing for ways to use the same technology to make government more open.

The special issue includes articles on “A citizen’s guide to fighting secret government”; “Virtual meetings”; a “Sunshine experiment in Palo Alto” (Posting e-mails from council members on the city’s Web site); and more. Of particular interest are these two:

  • More sunshine — easily and at no cost, Technology can allow the city to take a huge step forward in public access — right now. By Kimo Crossman, San Francisco Bay Guardian (March 12, 2008)
  • Battleship metadata, Legislation on mapping software would create an expensive new category of public records. By Sarah Phelan, San Francisco Bay Guardian (March 12, 2008)

Crossman notes:

…video recordings of city meetings can’t be downloaded — the only way to review it or post a clip to YouTube is to order a $10 DVD, which arrives a week after you send a check (and no, they don’t take PayPal). And while many other city meetings make audio recordings, you have to pay $1 for an audio tape and pick it up during business hours or pay more for postage. They all should be available as free podcasts.

…In fact, we all know storage continues to get cheaper and smaller — so San Francisco should abolish any retention timeframes for electronic records and keep them all into the foreseeable future. The world-famous Internet Archive is right here in the Presidio: I suspect that group would love to archive all the city information, and keep it online, free and forever.

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