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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.

Ruggles report on preservation and use of economic data liberated!

A few weeks back, we posted a story about an Atlantic article from November, 1967 called, “The National Data Center and Personal Privacy” in which was discussed the idea of a National Data Center, the precursor to Total Information Awareness. It was such a hot topic of the day that Congress held a hearing on computers and the invasion of privacy of US citizens (The computer and invasion of privacy. Hearings, Eighty-ninth Congress, second session. July 26, 27, and 28, 1966. by United States. Congress. House. Committee on Government Operations. Special Subcommittee on Invasion of Privacy.)

I started reading the hearing, and found that Yale Economics Professor Richard Ruggles (NYT obituary from 2001) had also testified before that hearing. So I started poking around about Ruggles, looking in WorldCat and Google Scholar. I found quite a few citations to a document entitled, Report of the Committee on the Preservation and Use of Economic Data submitted to the Social Science Research Council in 1965.

But for such a well-cited document that spawned a Congressional hearing and much worry in the mainstream press about computers and privacy, there were only 3 libraries in the whole country that held the report. Imagine that!

Well, I decided to liberate the report, so — after much finagling! — got a copy, scanned it, and uploaded it to the Internet Archive. Score one for the digital public domain!!

I hope to see more libraries listed as having a copy in WorldCat in the near future. And if you’ve got any fugitive documents laying around your hard drive, send them to us here at admin AT freegovinfo DOT info. We’ll make sure they get up on the open Web safe and secure in the Internet Archive!!

CIA’s Psychology of Intelligence Analysis book now online

The CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence has posted the full text of one of its guidebooks, Psychology of Intelligence Analysis originally published in 1999. you can get it on the CIA site, but I also took the liberty of downloading it and then uploading it to the Internet Archive’s government documents collection. That link is stable and would be appropriate for adding to the 856 field of your bib record. Wouldn’t it be really cool if all of those 4412 govt documents in the IA’s collection had downloadable MARC records?

Intelligence analysts, in seeking to make sound judgments, are always under challenge from the complexities of the issues they address and from the demands made on them for timeliness and volume of production…

How many times have we encountered situations in which completely plausible premises, based on solid expertise, have been used to construct a logically valid forecast–with virtually unanimous agreement–that turned out to be dead wrong?

A central focus of this book is to illuminate the role of the observer in determining what is observed and how it is interpreted. People construct their own version of “reality” on the basis of information provided by the senses, but this sensory input is mediated by complex mental processes that determine which information is attended to, how it is organized, and the meaning attributed to it. What people perceive, how readily they perceive it, and how they process this information after receiving it are all strongly influenced by past experience, education, cultural values, role requirements, and organizational norms, as well as by the specifics of the information received.

[Thanks BoingBoing!]

FOIA drop-box

A tweet from John Wonderlich (from the fabulously cool Open House Project!) yesterday got me thinking. He posted about submitting his first Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. I’m not sure what the request entails, but my thought was that it’d be cool if there was somewhere on the net that folks who got documents via a FOIA request could submit copies of both the request and the documents.

Now maybe there already is, although I don’t think the Memory Hole does this (hey Russ Kick, is MH defunct? I don’t see any new content since Oct 2006!). My library is already gobbling up and preserving the FOIA reading rooms, but I don’t have any sense about how many FOIA request documents make it into those agency sites. Does anyone have an answer to that?

So, if you’ve got any FOIA documents laying around your hard drive, send them over to FGI at admin AT freegovinfo DOT info. We’ll post them on this site and on the Internet Archive’s US Government Documents collection. We’ll make sure they get on the ‘net and get preserved for long-term access!

Pentagon imbeds defense contractors in media as “message force multipliers”

All governments manipulate the media to garner favorable news coverage and spin the flow of information to put their actions in a positive light. But in a story in Sunday’s NY Times (April 20, 2008) entitled “Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand,” David Barstow describes a concerted effort by the Bush Administration who used ostensibly objective military analysts to spread propaganda and dupe the American public in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance in Iraq. It turns out that those “independent military experts” consisted of “more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants.”

Once again, John Stewart describes this event with wit so that we’ll laugh rather than scream. So I’ll let him have the last word. And he mentions a GAO report called “Combating Terrorism: The United States Lacks Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas” that you can now get your hands on via the Internet Archive.

Five years into the Iraq war, most details of the architecture and execution of the Pentagon’s campaign have never been disclosed. But The Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and Guantánamo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation.

These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.

Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who could be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.”…

…Over time, the Pentagon recruited more than 75 retired officers, although some participated only briefly or sporadically. The largest contingent was affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the other networks with 24-hour cable outlets. But analysts from CBS and ABC were included, too. Some recruits, though not on any network payroll, were influential in other ways — either because they were sought out by radio hosts, or because they often published op-ed articles or were quoted in magazines, Web sites and newspapers. At least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.

Movement for the Liberation of Old Papers

Erik Ringmar, professor of social and cultural studies at the National Chiao Tung University, Hsinchu, Taiwan, wants others to join him in putting restricted government documents on the web.

I say this is awesome! There’s certainly precedent for this kind of activism: Jared Benedict liberated a bunch of USGS maps and just last week, I uploaded the Iraqi Perspectives Report to the Internet Archive. Anyone else out there set free a government document? Leave us a comment.

So, I’ve taken it upon myself to start an organisation called MLOP, the “Movement for the Liberation of Old Papers”. What I do is hack into restricted websites, download the documents I’m interested in, and then use my favourite open-source paint program to remove the copyright statements from each page. Next I assemble the pages into one single pdf file and upload it to the Internet Archive, where it will become universally available to both researchers and citizens. Yes, it does take a bit of time, but it’s a very worthy cause (and I have a hardworking research assistant to help me).

I feel strongly about this, and I’m prepared to live with the legal consequences of my actions. This, after all, is the new frontier of civil rights – the right of access to information. How else can corruption be stopped and falsehoods exposed? How else can people in power be held accountable? I’d go to prison for the old parliamentary papers if I had to. Ever after I would proudly brag about having liberated an old House of Commons report from the clutches of market capitalism.