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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.

EFF: Timeline of NSA Domestic Spying

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has created an extensive Timeline of NSA Domestic Spying that refers to legislation, reports, hearings, events, and leaked documents. It details laws and earlier programs (e.g. Total Information Awareness) that predate the most recent revelations. (It begins in 1791!) It has links to documents and hearings that make it a virtual bibliography and more than a simple list of events. EFF notes that:

All of the evidence found in this timeline can also be found in the Summary of Evidence we submitted to the court in Jewel v. National Security Agency (NSA). It is intended to recall all the credible accounts and information of the NSA’s domestic spying program found in the media, congressional testimony, books, and court actions. The timeline also includes documents leaked by the Guardian in June 2013 that confirmed the domestic spying by the NSA.

EFF: 2011 is the year secrecy jumped the shark

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, in their year in review, summed up 2011 as the year that secrecy [w: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]

FOIA news: FOIA.gov launches and how to be a cooperative FOIA reviewer for EFF

Because it’s Sunshine Week, there’s lots of news about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). First off, the US Department of Justice just announced their new site FOIA.gov as a central repository for FOIA compliance across the Federal government, agency FOIA data since 2008 (detailed reports here), and FOIA spotlight in the news. Interestingly, they haven’t put up a link to individual agency FOIA electronic reading rooms, but I’ve sent in that request and hopefully it’ll soon be added to the site.

Do you want to assist in the FOIA process? If so, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has a job for you. The EFF has so many liberated/FOIA’d documents in the realms of privacy, due process and civil liberties, that they’re seeking help from the public to pore over those liberated government docs as part of their cooperative FOIA review project.

Here’s how the Cooperating FOIA list will work: Send us an email to put your name on our list. When we get government documents in response to a FOIA request, we’ll post a note to the list with a basic description of the project (for example: “Documents from DHS detailing government use of social media – approximately 100 pages” or “Documents from FBI detailing misuse of National Security Letters – approximately 10,000 pages”). If you’re on the list and are interested, you contact us, and we’ll tell you how to access pdf versions of the documents and what we’re looking for in the information. Then you review the documents and let us know what you find.

Interested in being a Cooperating FOIA Reviewer? Send a note to coopfoia@eff.org with your name, email address, and some brief information on who you are and what you’re interested in, and we’ll add you to the list.

And finally, check out SunshineWeek.org for FOI news roundup and event listings around the country. You can also play the Ray of Sunshine game!

Tell Google Book Search to protect reader privacy

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), those defenders of online free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights, have begun an action to tell Google to protect reader privacy. Please sign the petition and send a clear message to Google CEO Eric Schmidt to protect reader privacy.

You shouldn’t be forced to pay for digital books with your privacy. Tell Google it needs to develop a robust privacy policy that gives you at least as much privacy in books online as you have in your neighborhood library or bookstore. Google must:

  • Protect your reading records from government and third party fishing expeditions by responding only to properly-issued warrants and court orders, and by letting you know if someone has demanded access to information Google has collected about you.
  • Make sure that you can still browse and read anonymously by not forcing you to register or give personal information and by deleting any logging information for all services after a maximum of 30 days.
  • Separate data related to Google Book Search from any other information the company collects about you, unless you give it express permission.
  • Give you the ability to edit and delete any information collected about you, transfer books from one account to another without tracking, and hide your “bookshelves” or other reading lists from others with access to your computer.
  • Keep Google Book Search information private from third parties like credit card processors, book publishers, and advertisers.

And since Google is clearly angling itself as a “library” — even publishing a “Google librarian newsletter”! — I would ask all who submit an EFF petition to include the American Library Association’s (ALA) Library Bill of Rights and a link to the ALA Intellectual Freedom Manual, which states:

Privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought, and free association. The courts have established a First Amendment right to receive information in a publicly funded library. Further, the courts have upheld the right to privacy based on the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. Many states provide guarantees of privacy in their constitutions and statute law. Numerous decisions in case law have defined and extended rights to privacy.

In a library (physical or virtual), the right to privacy is the right to open inquiry without having the subject of one’s interest examined or scrutinized by others. Confidentiality exists when a library is in possession of personally identifiable information about users and keeps that information private on their behalf.

Protecting user privacy and confidentiality has long been an integral part of the mission of libraries. The ALA has affirmed a right to privacy since 1939. Existing ALA policies affirm that confidentiality is crucial to freedom of inquiry. Rights to privacy and confidentiality also are implicit in the Library Bill of Rights’ guarantee of free access to library resources for all users.
Privacy: an interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights

Archive-It Wiretapping and the National Security Agency Collection

John Gilmore is an open software proponent, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and perhaps most importantly an Archive-It partner (as an independent researcher). His Archive-It collections focus on open access to government information and policy as well as free and open source software.

John has been archiving sites related to wiretapping and the National Security Agency since 2007. Describing the reasons for creating this collection, John says:

“I’m trying to record and make searchable some documents related to the controversy over NSA wiretapping domestically without warrants, or with general warrants, which the Fourth Amendment outlaws. ” 

This collection demonstrates how the recent change in administration has opened up further crawler access to the National Security Agency (NSA) website. Previously, most NSA web content was blocked to the Archive-It crawler (as well as other crawlers) using the robots.txt exclusion protocol. Looking at their old exclusion list, for example this one from 2008 you can just how much of their website was blocked from crawler access. (all the directories listed could not be accessed).

Since January 17, 2009 however crawlers have access to much more content.

At the Internet Archive, we have noticed similar changes in other .gov websites including www.whitehouse.gov (compare this version from 2006 to the current exclusion list).

Its exciting to know that moving forward John and other Archive-It partners will be able to collect more complete snapshots of government websites.

-Molly and Lori