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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Digital Deposit And The Biennial Survey: context and actions

It is time for the biennial survey of FDLP libraries and, therefore, a good time to review “digital deposit.”

Digital deposit is a very simple concept: It simply means that GPO should treat digital and non-digital government information the same way. In so doing, GPO would allow FDLP libraries to select digital government information and GPO would deposit that digital information with the library. Libraries could then build their own digital collections and provide their own digital services for those collections. This is completely different from GPO’s definition of “online depositories” that point to, but do not have, digital files. In the digital deposit scenario, libraries would continue to be depositories regardless of format. [1]

Over the last twelve years, GPO has asked questions on the the biennial surveys that reveal meaningful FDLP library interest in digital deposit. GPO did not ask the same question on every survey and this makes it difficult to compare results over time. In spite of this, the responses from the FDLP community were remarkably consistent.

For example, when asked (in various ways) if libraries were interested in receiving files via digital deposit, hundreds of FDLP libraries consistently said they were interested: 394 in 2005, 453 in 2007, 416 in 2009, and 300 in 2015. (See the Appendix, below, for the details of all the numbers quoted in this post.)

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FGI Webinar “Disappearing govt information” to GPLNE tomorrow 10/24 @ 2pm EST

UPDATE 10/25/17: Our slides and notes are now up. You can view them in Google slides (go into the settings to view both the slides and speaker notes) or if you prefer, you can download the powerpoint slides + notes or as PDF+notes (smaller file) directly from us! And here’s the link to the audio recording.

Tune in tomorrow at 2pm EST for the FGI Webinar “Disappearing govt information” (our actual title will be “Government information: everywhere and nowhere”) to GPLNE – Government Publications of New England tomorrow 10/24 @ 2pm EST. You can log in to the public link hosted by GPO. We’ll be sure to post the slides, notes and audio here as soon as they’re available.

Discussing DLC’s Title 44 Recommendations. Thoughts and questions

Depository Library Council (DLC) released its recommendations for Title 44 reform yesterday.

  • Title 44 Reform Recommendations from the DLC (October 03 2017) [PDF file].

These recommendations will be at the center of discussions at the upcoming Fall 2017 Depository Library Conference. The entire Monday afternoon session (October 16) will be devoted to a discussion of Title 44 with Depository Library Council (DLC).

A context for discussion

When we proposed changes to Title 44, we suggest that any recommendation for such change should address at least one of the following four principles.

  1. privacy
  2. free access and use
  3. preservation
  4. modernizing the scope of the FDLP

As we head into discussions of Title 44 at the upcoming DLC meeting, we suggest that attendees evaluate any Title 44 changes being recommended by turning those principles into questions:

    Does this recommendation…

  • protect the privacy of users?
  • help ensure long-term, free public access and use of government information?
  • help ensure the long-term preservation of government information?
  • modernize the scope of the FDLP for the digital age?

Analysis of DLC recommendations

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Strengthening Title 44, part 4: Preservation

Preservation

This is the fourth in a series of four posts in which we elaborate on the reasons behind our recent recommendations for strengthening Title 44 of the U.S. Code.

We recommend changes to chapters 19 and 41 of Title 44 that will require the preservation of digital government information.

Recommendation

Require Preservation

Make changes to §1904 and §1905 to explicitly include “digital public information” that GPO will deposit by sending digital files (including metadata) to FDLP libraries. Define “digital depositories” as FDLP libraries that receive, store, preserve, and provide access to digital government information they acquire through the Depository Program. (GPO’s current use of terms such as “digital-only depositories” and “All or Mostly Online depositories” for libraries into which nothing is deposited are misleading to Congress and the public.) In addition, modify the text of §1911 to define a class of FDLP digital preservation libraries. Those FDLP libraries will agree to retain all digital content sent through the depository program, will preserve that content, and will make it available for the free use of the general public. Add text to §4101 requiring GPO to preserve and provide free public access to all the digital content that it adds to its “electronic storage facility for Federal electronic information.”

Current Law

Neither Chapter 19 (FDLP) nor Chapter 41 (govinfo.gov) use the word “preservation” or contain any requirements for the long term preservation of digital government information.

There are retention requirements for selective depositories in §1911 and for regional depositories in §1912, but, by GPO policy, these requirements currently only apply to so-called “tangible” items and exclude so-called “online” items. GPO’s persistent attempts over the last decade to weaken the current retention requirements suggest that it may want to change the law to further weaken or even scrap the existing retention requirements (Jacobs and Jacobs 2017b).

Chapter 41 can be read as implying that digital information will be preserved, but even that is limited in scope. Section 4101 requires GPO to provide access to and store only two digital titles, the Congressional Record and the Federal Register. It leaves it up to the Superintendent of Documents to determine what content is added to — or withdrawn from — govinfo.gov.

Title 44 does have provisions for the preservation of some government information, but these are limited. Chapter 21 establishes the National Archives And Records Administration (NARA) in Chapters 29, 31 and 33 defines the scope of preservation. Chapter 36 gives the Office of Electronic Government some responsibility for overseeing preservation of government information.

Analysis

Chapter 41 of Title 44 does not require GPO to preserve anything. The law can and should be strengthened to make preservation an explicit requirement, not a policy option that could change with the political exigencies of the moment. The law should also be modernized to reflect the reality of born-digital publishing by expanding the scope of what is preserved.

The task of preserving enormous amounts of digital government information is daunting and probably beyond the ability of any single government agency. GPO has recognized and admitted in its National Plan that it needs partners. But GPO’s current policies have effectively blocked FDLP libraries from participating as digital preservation partners — and there is barely a trickle of FIPnet partner libraries agreeing to be “preservation stewards” preserve minuscule numbers of physical documents. GPO has, through policy, even attempted to redefine “depository” libraries as libraries into which nothing is deposited.

The existing laws that define preservation outside of FDLP are limited in scope and effect. The Chapters of Title 44 cited above and the Federal Records Act and similar laws and regulations cover only a portion of the huge amount of information gathered and created by the government. Most government agencies do not have a mission that includes either the long-term preservation of their information or free public access to it. The preservation plans that do exist are subject to interpretation by political appointees who may not always have preservation as their highest priority.

Our recommendations (including broadening the scope of FDLP) would give GPO, along with its FDLP library partners, a clear responsibility for the long-term preservation of and free public access to public government information.

Specifically, our recommendation would prevent GPO from removing content from govinfo.gov once it has been added. It would give FDLP libraries the flexibility to select digital government information and build their own digital collections and services. It would set up a new category of digital-depository preservation-partner that would strengthen long-term digital preservation without weakening GPO or govinfo.gov. These changes would complement, not replace govinfo.gov.

Effects

The recommended changes to Title 44 would have several positive effects.

  • The recommendation would modernize the law to recognize born-digital information by redefining the scope of Chapter 41 to include all federal digital “public information.”
  • By including digital public information in the depository program, GPO would immediately gain dedicated, legally-mandated partners for digital preservation and online access.
  • The changes would enhance access by promoting digital collections in FDLP libraries. When libraries have curated collections that they control, they can develop robust discovery and access services tailored to the needs of the communities they serve. (Jacobs and Jacobs 2016, Jacobs 2009)
  • By explicitly specifying retention requirements for deposited digital government information, the law would enhance digital preservation by putting many digital copies under different technical, administrative, and financial control.
  • The recommendation would modernize the law for the digital age by establishing a new class of FDLP digital preservation libraries.
  • The recommendation would close the loophole in the current law that allows GPO to withdraw content from its digital storage and access facility.
  • By focusing on digital preservation rather than on weakening the existing retention requirements for paper publications, these changes would enhance rather than weaken preservation of all government information.

Endnotes

Authors:
James A. Jacobs, University of California San Diego
James R. Jacobs, Stanford University

Strengthening Title 44 part 3: Privacy

Privacy

This is the third in a series of posts in which we elaborate on the reasons behind our recent recommendations for strengthening Title 44 of the U.S. Code.

We recommend strengthening the language of Title 44 to ensure the protection of the privacy of users of online government information.

Recommendation

Add a privacy provision for govinfo.gov

Add a privacy provision to §4101 (which defines the electronic directory and the system of online access — currently “govinfo.gov”). This provision would prohibit the use of technologies that track user individual-level activity. It would also prohibit GPO from cross-referencing any data gathered from web measurement and customization technologies against personally identifiable information to determine individual-level online activity, and from sharing any user data with other departments or agencies or non-government entities. It would also prohibit the use of third-party web measurement and customization technologies. Text for this section could be drawn from 5 USC 552a and from OMB memorandum M-10-22.

Current Law

Neither Chapter 19 nor Chapter 41 of Title 44 have any privacy provisions.

Some chapters of Title 44 explicitly refer to privacy protections provided in 5 USC 552a “Records maintained on individuals.”

Chapter 35 of Title 44 (“Coordination Of Federal Information Policy”) has a large section of privacy provisions — including agency websites (§3501 “Federal Management and Promotion of Electronic Government Services” popularly known as the “Paperwork Reduction Act”).

Analysis

Our recommendation fills a gap in the current law by adding privacy protections to Chapter 41.

It has become commonplace for websites to track user behavior and for companies to build user profiles based on user browsing across different websites. It is essential to assure the general public that it can search, browse, acquire and use government information without being tracked or profiled. Existing law is designed to allow government agencies to use modern web technologies to customize the behavior of websites while preventing those agencies from tracking indvidual-level activities. Chapter 41, which enables govinfo.gov, does not explicitly cite those privacy protections.

Our recommendation would make it clear that GPO’s online services are covered by existing legislation by incorporating some of the language from 5 USC 552a and OMB’s website privacy guidance memorandum directly into Chapter 41.

Our recommendation would also go further than existing legislation and guidance by prohibiting GPO from using third-party web measurement and customization technologies on govinfo.gov. Such technologies (e.g., Google Analytics) allow third-parties (e.g., Google) to collect information as users browse, search and access information from a website such as govinfo.gov. As far as we can tell, the only third-party customization that GPO currently uses on govinfo.gov is an html5 javascript library from Google. But GPO does still use Google Analytics on the Catalog of Government Publications and on its FDLP website. By adding to Chapter 41 an explicit prohibition of the use of third-party measurement and customization technologies, govinfo.gov would have the strongest privacy protection of any government agency.

Effects

Our recommendation would have several positive effects.

  • It would make user-privacy an integral part of GPO’s online services.
  • Instead of relying on existing laws and guidance, it would explicitly include privacy protections in Chapter 41 so that GPO’s online service would have privacy protections even if other privacy protections in the U.S. Code are weakened.
  • It would go further than existing law by protecting users of GPO services from being tracked by third-party services.

Endnotes

Authors:
James A. Jacobs, University of California San Diego
James R. Jacobs, Stanford University

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