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Author Archives: Rachel Dobkin, GISIG: Gov Info Student Interest Group
- CRS: Freedom of Information Act Legislation in the 114th Congress: Issue Summary and Side-by-Side Analysis
- CRS: The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): Background, Legislation, and Policy Issues
CBO Gov Doc: H.R. 653, FOIA Act
- “H.R. 653 would amend the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). FOIA generally allows any person to obtain records from federal agencies. Specifically, the legislation would: establish a single website for making FOIA requests; direct agencies to make records available in an electronic format; require courts to pay some attorney fees and other litigation costs related to FOIA disputes; reduce the number of exemptions agencies can use to withhold information from the public; clarify procedures for handling frequently requested documents and charging fees; establish the Chief FOIA Officers Council; and require agencies to prepare additional reports for the Congress…. CBO estimates that implementing H.R. 653 would cost $22 million over the 2016-2020 period, assuming appropriation of the necessary amounts…”
Agency Reg Updates: CIA & DOJ
- CIA Reviews “Operational Files” Exemptions from FOIA [fas.org overview*]
- Justice Dept. Updates its FOIA Regulations [fas.org overview]
- Updates regulations to lower copying fees, recognize Internet news organizations as representatives of the news media making them exempt from search fees, and increase responsiveness to requests for classified information by determining whether continuing classification is proper**
- NARA Special Access and FOIA unit: Second Assessment of the National Archives and Records Administration’s FOIA Program
- Blog: Let’s Make It Easier for Requesters to Use the FOIA Process
House of Representatives [fas.org overview]
- House Defense Bill Seeks Expedited Declassification of POW Records
- House Armed Services Committee instructed the National Nuclear Security Administration to report on “the measures taken to improve the effectiveness of the classification process and related oversight.”
Department of Homeland Security
1. Senate Letter:
March 9, 2015
It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system. Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution-the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices-which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress.
First, under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them. In the case of a treaty, the Senate must ratify it by a two-thirds vote. A so-called congressional executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate (which, because of procedural rules, effectively means a three-fifths vote in the Senate). Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.
Second, the offices of our Constitution have different characteristics. For example,the president may serve only two 4-year terms, whereas senators may serve an unlimited number of 6-year terms. As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then-perhaps decades.
What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.
We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress.
(Seven Senate Republicans did not sign the letter: Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Dan Coats (Ind.), Susan Collins (Maine), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.).)
Asked about the open letter of 47 US Senators to Iranian leaders, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr. Javad Zarif, responded that “in our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy. It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history. This indicates that like Netanyahu, who considers peace as an existential threat, some are opposed to any agreement, regardless of its content.
Zarif expressed astonishment that some members of US Congress find it appropriate to write to leaders of another country against their own President and administration. He pointed out that from reading the open letter, it seems that the authors not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.
Foreign Minister Zarif added that “I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law. The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfil the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.
The Iranian Foreign Minister added that “Change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor in a possible agreement about Iran`s peaceful nuclear program.” He continued “I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law.
He emphasized that if the current negotiation with P5+1 result in a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it will not be a bilateral agreement between Iran and the US, but rather one that will be concluded with the participation of five other countries, including all permanent members of the Security Council, and will also be endorsed by a Security Council resolution.
Zarif expressed the hope that his comments “may enrich the knowledge of the authors to recognize that according to international law, Congress may not modify the terms of the agreement at any time as they claim, and if Congress adopts any measure to impede its implementation, it will have committed a material breach of US obligations.
The Foreign Minister also informed the authors that majority of US international agreements in recent decades are in fact what the signatories describe as “mere executive agreements” and not treaties ratified by the Senate.
He reminded them that “their letter in fact undermines the credibility of thousands of such mere executive agreements that have been or will be entered into by the US with various other governments.
Zarif concluded by stating that “the Islamic Republic of Iran has entered these negotiations in good faith and with the political will to reach an agreement, and it is imperative for our counterparts to prove similar good faith and political will in order to make an agreement possible.”
Note: Dr. Zarif’s response is presented as an official government statement, so it’s written in the third person. [Vox]
…Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs. This emphasis on revenue has compromised the institutional character of Ferguson’s police department, contributing to a pattern of unconstitutional policing, and has also shaped its municipal court, leading to procedures that raise due process concerns and inflict unnecessary harm on members of the Ferguson community. Further, Ferguson’s police and municipal court practices both reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias, including racial stereotypes. Ferguson’s own data establish clear racial disparities that adversely impact African Americans. The evidence shows that discriminatory intent is part of the reason for these disparities. Over time, Ferguson’s police and municipal court practices have sown deep mistrust between parts of the community and the police department, undermining law enforcement legitimacy among African Americans in particular.
Behold the Power of Participation; Regulation comments make a difference.
After more than a decade of debate and a record-setting proceeding that attracted nearly 4 million public comments, the time to settle the Net Neutrality question has arrived. This week, I will circulate to the members of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed new rules to preserve the internet as an open platform for innovation and free expression. [They will vote on February 26.] This proposal is rooted in long-standing regulatory principles, marketplace experience, and public input received over the last several months.
Broadband network operators have an understandable motivation to manage their network to maximize their business interests. But their actions may not always be optimal for network users. The Congress gave the FCC broad authority to update its rules to reflect changes in technology and marketplace behavior in a way that protects consumers. Over the years, the Commission has used this authority to the public’s great benefit.
The internet wouldn’t have emerged as it did, for instance, if the FCC hadn’t mandated open access for network equipment in the late 1960s. Before then, AT&T prohibited anyone from attaching non-AT&T equipment to the network. The modems that enabled the internet were usable only because the FCC required the network to be open…
The phone network’s openness did not happen by accident, but by FCC rule. How we precisely deliver that kind of openness for America’s broadband networks has been the subject of a debate over the last several months.
Originally, I believed that the FCC could assure internet openness through a determination of “commercial reasonableness” under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. While a recent court decision seemed to draw a roadmap for using this approach, I became concerned that this relatively new concept might, down the road, be interpreted to mean what is reasonable for commercial interests, not consumers.
That is why I am proposing that the FCC use its Title II authority to implement and enforce open internet protections.
Using this authority, I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply—for the first time ever—those bright-line rules to mobile broadband. My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.
All of this can be accomplished while encouraging investment in broadband networks. To preserve incentives for broadband operators to invest in their networks, my proposal will modernize Title II, tailoring it for the 21st century, in order to provide returns necessary to construct competitive networks. For example, there will be no rate regulation, no tariffs, no last-mile unbundling. Over the last 21 years, the wireless industry has invested almost $300 billion under similar rules, proving that modernized Title II regulation can encourage investment and competition.
Congress wisely gave the FCC the power to update its rules to keep pace with innovation. Under that authority my proposal includes a general conduct rule that can be used to stop new and novel threats to the internet.
This means the action we take will be strong enough and flexible enough not only to deal with the realities of today, but also to establish ground rules for the as yet unimagined.
The internet must be fast, fair and open. That is the message I’ve heard from consumers and innovators across this nation. That is the principle that has enabled the internet to become an unprecedented platform for innovation and human expression. And that is the lesson I learned heading a tech startup at the dawn of the internet age. The proposal I present to the commission will ensure the internet remains open, now and in the future, for all Americans.
- Read the Proposal
- Net Neutrality: President Obama’s Plan for a Free and Open Internet
- Vox: The FCC’s chairman just proposed the strongest network neutrality rules yet
- The Hill: FCC goes aggressive on net neutrality
- The Hill’s Full Coverage of Net Neutrality
Never Trust A Corporation to Do a Librarian’s Job (via lifeguardlibrarian.tumblr.com)
“We were having our own doubts, of course. How could you not? The Google Books project seemed to be letting itself go. Things any librarian would notice: bad scans; faulty metadata; narrowing the scope of public domain; having machines do jobs that should be done (or at least overseen) by humans. They seemed to be restricting and worsening access to cultural content, not expanding and improving it. Maybe we were going in different directions?” [full article]
I too have come across an increasing number of messy and illegible Google Books. Indeed, Google is a corporation, not an archivist, and we can’t rely on them to create preservation-worthy documents–especially Gov Docs. Don’t get me wrong–I have met really awesome and accomplished people who work on the Google Books project, but at the end of the day, Google[‘s] Books privilege/s commodity over content. Considering Gov Docs are instrumental to our Democracy, we need folks who will ensure scans are absolutely perfect. (On that note: GPO is embarking on a much-needed preservation project [announcement is the gov-info.tumblr queue]; I urge archivists to get get involved.)
However-as we know, digital files are much more fleeting & fragile than paper, so they should never, ever replace hard copy.