Monday, November 5, 2007



More and more public information is being withheld from the public. This is not about security, it's about secrecy in state and local government - reports and activities kept behind an opaque veil of bureaucracy and political expediency. MnDOT's engineering and administrative reports on the I-35W bridge are merely one example of public employees refusing to disclose information that could save lives, injuries, and money. Contracts and deals are struck without bidding or scrutiny and reports of dangerous infrastructure flaws are kept under wraps. Who will break open the political cocoon that is becoming our government and let the butterfly free to allow citizens to access and control their government once again? Join TTT's Andy Driscoll and Lynnell Mickelsen for a discussion with Minnesota's most prominent advocates for open government, access and a free press.

JOHN R. FINNEGAN, retired Editorial Page Editor, St. Paul Pioneer Press

DON GEMBERLING, Attorney and Retired Administrator, Minnesota Data Privacy Office

Grants awarded to Minnesota health care providers

The Minnesota Department of Health’s Office of Rural Health and Primary Care today announced they have awarded grants totaling $3.5 million to help Minnesota providers develop electronic patient health records systems.

Minnesota law requires all Minnesota health care providers to use electronic patient health records by January 1, 2015. The Interconnected Electronic Health Record Grant Program is intended to help community collaboratives, community clinics, rural hospitals, small town physician clinics, nursing homes, and other small health care providers transition from paper records to electronic systems. These interoperable electronic health records will allow health care providers to exchange patient health information and deliver optimal care at all points of the health care system.

Learn more...

Sunday, November 4, 2007

2007 Awards: Data, Information and Knowledge Management

The state of Minnesota recognizes that it is critical for taxpayers to trust in the overall honesty and integrity of public assistance programs for the state’s neediest citizens. Minnesota’s Family Investment Program (MFIP) is the state’s primary vehicle for helping low-income families with children make the transition from poverty into the workplace.

(Read more...)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Notice of Intent to Collect Stakeholder Input on Preservation of Electronic Documents

The following announcement was published in the Minnesota State Register September 24, 2007

Office of Enterprise Technology
Chief Information Officer
Notice of Intent to Collect Stakeholder Input on Preservation of Electronic Documents

Under the provisions of Minnesota Laws 2007, Chapter 148, Article 2, Section 77, the state’s Chief Information Officer, Gopal Khanna, is to undertake a study related to preservation of electronic documents. The pertinent legislative language reads:

The chief information officer of the state, in consultation with the state archivist and legislative reference librarian, shall study how electronic documents and the mechanisms and processes for accessing and reading electronic data can be created, maintained, exchanged, and preserved by the state in a manner that encourages appropriate government control, access, choice, and interoperability. The CIO must report back through the CIO to the Legislature on findings and recommendations by January 15, 2008.

The law further requires that: The chief information officer shall solicit comments from stakeholders, including, but not limited to, the legislative auditor, attorney general, librarians, state services for the blind, representatives of the Minnesota Historical Society, other historians, and the media. The chief information officer shall also solicit comments from members of the public. To allow all citizens and stakeholders equal opportunity to submit comments, a web-enabled process will allow for structured input by use of an electronic survey accessible from the Office of Enterprise Technology (OET) website:
or directly from the URL below.

The survey instrument will be available from Monday, September 24, 2007 until Monday, October 15,2007. At the conclusion of the survey period, all comments will be published on the OET website. To use the survey, go to

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

International Right to Know Day September 28, 2007

Though the annual recognition of International Right to Know Day is just five years old these have been five years of change – expansion and contraction of rights both within and among the nations of the world. The brief history of International Right to Know Day is recounted in a 2004 statement from the US Department of Justice FOIA Post.

An excellent map showing nation-by-nation steps is a bit dated, but useful.

The Canadians have mounted an energetic national campaign for 2007.

The political, human rights, technology and justice aspects of the universal Right to Know are tracked by numerous websites and rights organizations, including these and many more.
National Security Archives
International Right to Know

Check under the term “International Right to Know Day” to learn what a Big Deal this is around the world – Pakistan to the Cayman Islands to Moldova…..

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Oct 18, 5:00 to 7:00 - Mark Ritchie, MN Sec of State

Mark Ritchie - Minnesota Secretary of State

Management of Information – Minnesota’s Renewable Asset

Thursday, October 18, 2007
5:00 – 7:00 p.m.

Retirement Systems of Minnesota Building
60 Empire Drive, St Paul, MN

Free and open

Sponsored by the
Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MnCOGI),
Telecommunications and Information Policy Roundtable (TIPR)
Minnesota Chapter, American Society of Information Science & Technology (ASIST)

Oct 9th, 5:00 to 7:00 - What is happening with St. Paul Broadband?


Tuesday, October 9, 2007
5:00 - 7:00 p.m.

Andrea Casselton - What’s Happening with St Paul Broadband?
Andrea is Director of Technology and Communication, City of St. Paul

Free and open

Rondo Community Outreach Library
NOTE CORRECT ADDESS -- University and Dale in St. Paul

Sponsored by the Telecommunications and Information Policy Roundtable (TIPR)
Minnesota Chapter of the American Society for Information Science & Technology (ASIST)
Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MnCOGI)

18 August to 27 August

PPD=St Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch
Strib=Star Tribune

PPD, 8/4/07, p. 1C: "Now who do I sue" is a story about possible lawsuits stemming from bridge collapse. It also includes discussion about a City of Mpls. lawsuit settlement that should have been public but was not.

Strib, 8/7/07, p. A1: "Buzz begins over the future of state transportation Comm'r" includes note about MnDOT taking the names and phone numbers (public data) of bridge inspectors off its website because of "possibly threatening calls". (Emphasis added.)

PPD, 8/8/07, p. 1A: "As bridge aged, its rating improved inexplicably" includes following statement: "What prompted the [rating] increase is unclear . . . . " Illustrates need for complete government data.

Strib, 8/9/07, p. B1; 'Popular North Side police official demoted" includes statement by Chief Dolan that reasons were between him and Edwards. Thought this was public data.

Strib, 8/12/07, p. A14: "Out east, E-Z pass gives drivers a fast lane to divorce court" illustrates the unintended consequence of surveillance type electronic "convenience".

PPD, 8/12/07, p. 6A: "Chinese city tracks its citizens" using a system being bankrolled by banks in the United States. (1984 meets Wall Street.)

PPD, 8/15/07, p. 7B: "Teen charged in 15 year old's death" includes statement from sheriff that he is withholding the identity of the victim because "data practices issues". (Names of victims of crimes are almost always public.)

Strib, 8/15/07, p. B5: "Body found near Backus was of girl, 15" contains same statement as above.

Strib, 8/16/07, p. A11: "Rumsfeld quit day before election" does not explain that his resignation letter was obtained using the federal FOIA (Freedom of Information Act.)

PPD, 8/16/07, p. 8A: In Iraq update story about Rumsfeld resignation letter, "The word Iraq doesn't appear. . . ." it does explain letter obtained under FOIA.

PPD, 8/17/07, p. 6A: "FBI director's notes detail meeting a 'feeble' Ashcroft" is based on government data. Similar story in 8/17 Strib.

4 August to 17 August

PPD, 8/4/07, p. 1C: "Now who do I sue" is a story about possible lawsuits stemming from bridge collapse. It also includes discussion about a City of Mpls. lawsuit settlement that should have been public but was not.

Strib, 8/7/07, p. A1: "Buzz begins over the future of state transportation Comm'r" includes note about MnDOT taking the names and phone numbers (public data) of bridge inspectors off its website because of "possibly threatening calls". (Emphasis added.)

PPD, 8/8/07, p. 1A: "As bridge aged, its rating improved inexplicably" includes following statement:
"What prompted the [rating] increase is unclear . . . . " Illustrates need for complete government data.

Strib, 8/9/07, p. B1; 'Popular North Side police official demoted" includes statement by Chief Dolan that reasons were between him and Edwards. Thought this was public data.

Strib, 8/12/07, p. A14: "Out east, E-Z pass gives drivers a fast lane to divorce court" illustrates the unintended consequence of surveillance type electronic "convenience".

PPD, 8/12/07, p. 6A: "Chinese city tracks its citizens" using a system being bankrolled by banks in the United States. (1984 meets Wall Street.)

PPD, 8/15/07, p. 7B: "Teen charged in 15 year old's death" includes statement from sheriff that he is withholding the identity of the victim because "data practices issues". (Names of victims of crimes are almost always public.)

Strib, 8/15/07, p. B5: "Body found near Backus was of girl, 15" contains same statement as above.

Strib, 8/16/07, p. A11: "Rumsfeld quite day before election" does not explain that his resignation letter was obtained using the federal FOIA.

PPD, 8/16/07, p. 8A: In Iraq update story about Rumsfeld resignation letter, "The word Iraq doesn't appear. . . ." does explain letter obtained under FOIA.

PPD, 8/17/07, p. 6A: "FBI director's notes detail meeting a 'feeble' Ashcroft" is based on government data. Similar story in 8/17 Strib.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Citizen-centered Government - Event Sept 27, 2007

Thursday, September 27, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.:* The Center for Science, Technology, and Public Policy will co-host a daylong conference on Thursday, September 27, to promote enhancing the role of citizens in a digital world.

"Citizen-centered Government Websites: The User Experience, E-Democracy, and Web 2.0" will feature speakers who will talk about how government websites and tools can further engage citizens in problem solving while improving their experience with a government agency. All are invited to attend. The conference is free and open to the public, but registration is required.
Find out more and register online.

The free event celebrates the 100th anniversary of the University's Government Publications Library's status as an official federal repository.

Access to White House Records - Event Sept 17, 2007

Monday, September 17, 5:30 p.m.

Access to White House records is being narrowed as more types of communications are not being preserved (including e-mail) or are being removed by the White House from public viewing.

Professor Larry Jacobs will talk about the importance of maintaining robust access to presidential communications and its implications for American democracy at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, September 17, in Wilson Library on the West Bank.

Monday, August 6, 2007

July 27 to August 4 - Bridge Collaspe included

Strib=Star Tribune of Minneapolis PPD=St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch

Strib. 7/27, p. B1: "Pension case settled for 1% of losses" is a story based on government data.

Strib, 7/27, p. B1: "Three trucking firms falsified reports, official affidavits say" is a story based on government data.

PPD. 7/29, p. 9A: "Bush appointee blocked health report" is another instance of suppression of government information. (Similar story on in Strib. on 7/28.)

PPD, 7/31, p. 1B: "Prosecutors admit key evidence withheld" illustrates game playing with government data and inattention to retention policies. It also includes an incorrect interpretation of the Data Practices Act. (Similar story same day on p. B4 of Strib.)

PPD, 7/31, p.3B: "Medication errors cited in Veterans home report" is a story based on government data.

Strib, 7/31, p B1: "City report warned of times to be out of the sewer" is a story based on a government report.

PPD, 8/1, p.1A: "Key bridge in light rail plan can't hold trains" is a story based on a draft report ob trained under the MGDPA.

PPD, 8/3, p. 1B: "High court upholds breath test challenge" illustrates the growth of difficult government information issues when you combine the government with technology and copyrighted computer code.

PPD, 8/4, p. 1C: "Now, who do I sue" is a discussion of the fallout from the bridge collapse. However, it also contains information about a secret settlement in a previous lawsuit.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Government Data News Summary July 17 to July 21

Strib = Star Tribune and PPD = St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch

Strib, 7/17, p. A10: In Nation and World section, story headlined "University President, two others forced out" is about what happened after these officials covered up a rape and murder in a dorm at Eastern Michigan University.
(Same/similar story on page 2A of 7/17 PPD.)
University president, two others forced out
Three Eastern Michigan University administrators -- President John Fallon, Vice President of Student Affairs Jim Vick and Public Safety Director Cindy Hall -- lost their jobs at the 23,500-student university, months after they were accused of covering up the rape and slaying of a student. The school officials publicly ruled out foul play in the Dec. 15 death of Laura Dickinson, 22, despite evidence to the contrary. It was not until another student, Orange Taylor III, was arrested in February and charged with murder that Dickinson's family and other students learned that she had been raped and killed. Taylor has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for trial Oct. 15.

Strib, 7/19, p. 1B: "Folks still flocking to Cities? Maybe not" is a story based on government data and disagreements between agencies about how to count migration.

PPD, 7/20, p. 1A: "Reported dog attacks on rise" is a story based on government data. Similar story in Strib on same day.

PPD, 7/21, p. 4B: "Couple exposes drug raid error" is a story about a drug raid gone awry. This story presents an interesting public data issue because the police agencies refuse to name the officers involved.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

News Summary - July 4th to July 8th

Strib=Star Tribune PPD=St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch

Strib, 7/4, p A7. In "World and Nation" section, a story headlined "Michigan university breaks law in handling killing" describes a cover up of information about an on campus murder. The cover up violates a federal law that requires public reports of incidents of violence on campuses.

Strib, 7/4, p. A11. "She wrote a check, became a target" is a story about use of federal campaign contribution information to harass someone because they worked for a company that does testing using animals.

PPD, 7/4, p. 3A. "Private contractors outnumber troops in Iraq" is based on government data.

Strib, 7/5, p. A3. "Contractors exceed troop level in Iraq" is the Strib version of the story noted above.

Strib, 7/5, p. A8. "Passport crisis diverts diplomats" is based on government data.

PPD, 7/5, p. 1B. "Background checks for volunteers will be free" describes another creative use of government data, i.e. checking up on the backgrounds of school dance chaperones and other volunteers.

PPD, 7/8, p. 1A. "From dreams to desolation" is a story based on government data.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Recent Freedom of Information Act article

FOIA Facts: Two Steps Forward, (At Least) One Step BackBy Scott A. Hodes, Published on June 25, 2007
[Mr. Hodes served at the Department of Justice's Office of Information and Privacy from 1991 until 1998. His website is, and he is a member of the DC and Maryland bars.]

Public Access to government records is moving forward in at least a couple of areas. The Department of Justice has released a searchable Foreign Agents Registration Act database, available here. While not all FARA documents are available due to some privacy issues that the Department of Justice is still working out, a publicly available database is a great step in the direction of public access to documents.
And the FOIA amendments continue to move along in Congress. The House has passed its version, and Senate approval is pending the removal of a once secret hold put on the legislation by Sen. Jon Kyle of Arizona. Kyle claims he put the hold on the bill because of Department of Justice objections to the bill (which makes me think that the Department of Justice folks all failed civics class because they can offer changes to the bill through different legislators such as the previously mentioned Sen. Kyle). While I have some trepidation about some parts of the amendments, overall they are another step in the right direction in fixing some of the problems in FOIA processing. And I also believe that, eventually, the amendments will pass in some form and become law.
However, recent moves by the administration are at least one step back in public access to government records. The White House has recently taken steps to make visitor logs to the White House inaccessible through the Freedom of Information Act. In the past, the logs were maintained by the Secret Service, which is a component agency of the Department of Homeland Security. A requester could seek the records through a FOIA request to the Secret Service. However, the administration recently brokered a deal through the National Archives in which the logs for the White House and the Vice President's residence are no longer considered to be maintained by the Secret Service, but by a component of the White House that is not subject to the FOIA. Thus, the only means of access to these logs is through the Presidential Records Act, which withholds the documents until the current administration is long gone from Washington, D.C.
These maneuverings, have been, and continue to be contested by a number of plaintiffs. The issues are whose records are they (White House or Secret Service); and if they belong to the Secret Service, must they be released pursuant to the FOIA. Regardless of the outcome of the litigation, the mere fact that groups have had to go to court to get access to the identity of visitors to the White House and the Vice-President's residence and office is a huge step back for public access to information. And the bigger question is, what other government records formerly covered by FOIA have been transferred to non-FOIA status recently? The answer to that determines how many steps back have been taken, not just for the FOIA, but for democracy itself.
Copyright © 1996-2007 LLRX, LLC.
Justia Legal WebSite Design

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

News about government information

Strib=Star Tribune and PPD=St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch

Strib, 6/24, p. A9: "The silent influence of Dick Cheney" contains interesting comments about how the V.P.'s office handles government information.

Strib, 6/25, p. A8: "The silent influence of Dick Cheney" is the second part of this series with more information related comments. This article focuses in part on the role secrecy played int he development of the administration's position on torture. Both these stories raise difficult questions about how the history of the Bush administration will be written given the penchant for secrecy and keeping information "off the books".

Strib, 6/26, p. A8: "Cheney's secrecy fits long pattern" is an editorial discussing the V.P. and secrecy. It contains the following quote. "Secrecy is antithetical to the American values of government openness and public access."

Strib, 6/27, p. A1: "CIA releases files on illegal spying in U.S." is largely focused on CIA activities in the 1970's. Can we imagine what kind of spying is going on now that a lot of it has been legalized by the Patriot Act?

Strib, 6/27, P. A3: "Prisoner's bid draws big costs, experts" is a story about a Massachusetts' convict's demand to have a sex change operation. Much of the story is based on documents obtained under the Mass. FOIA with interesting results. For example, the operation would have cost $20K. So far, the State's fight has cost $52K.

Strib, 6/27, p. B1: "Health chief grilled for four hours" describes the hearing about the Health Department's Commissioner withholding information. There was testimony from a Health Department employee that she was told not to put information about these the issue in writing. (Clear attempt to evade the Data Practices Act?)

Strib, 6/27, p. B2: "Court rules doctor's rights were violated, but he may get license back" includes a discussion of part of the Court's decision upholding release of data about doctors under the Data Practices Act.

PPD, 6/27, p. 1B "Told to quit, health chief apologizes" is the PPD's story about the hearing discussed above.

PPD, 6/27, p. 5B. "Court rules for board in cancer doctor case" is PPD story about the doctor issue discussed above.

PPD, 6/27, p. 3A, "CIA domestic spying detailed" is the PPD story about the CIA 1970's spying.

Strib, 6/28, p. A1, "State's drug law goes to Congress" continues the discussion about the drug company payments to doctor's data base. This story includes information that when the reporters first started looking for these reports, they were found in dust covered boxes.

Strib., 7/1, p. A5: Garrision Keillor's column, entitled "The public library: A place of respite, still" is a reminder of why many of us LOVE libraries.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 10-16.

Some stories have links to the online version.
Strib=Star Tribune
PPD=St. Pauo Pioneer Press Dispatch

Strib, 6/10, p. B1. "Chasing a cold case" is a story that illustrates the importance of retaining old records in criminal matters.

Strib, 6/11. p. A8. "Immigration judges often picked based on GOP ties, records show" is a story based government data.

Strib, 6/11 p. B1, "Drivers, MnDOT feel more bumps in the road" is a story based on government data.

Strib, 6/11, p. E4. In the "Fixit" column, which is headlined "Road repair crews are on a roll with TP", there is a question about access to police incident data. The answer says nothing about the access under the Data Practices Act. Another teaching moment lost.

Strib, 6/12, p. B1. "Integration effort can't stop old patterns" is a story based on government data.

Strib, 6/12, p. D1. "Farm subsidies for the rich" is a story based on government data.

PPD, 6/12, p. 1C. "Who gets all that farm aid" is a story based on government data.

PPD, 6/12, p. 2A. "Official accused on unlawful advocacy" is a story based on government documents.

PPD, 6/12, p. 3B "Two arrested in master key prank" includes information about police refusing to release public arrest data.

Strib, 6/12, p. A11. In a column headlined "Shine more light on drug clinical trials", a Minnesota legislator advocates establishment of a publicly accessible data base.

PPD, 6/13, p. 2A. "Congressmen question FBI's proposed data base" is about a plan to create a terrorism data base that would have six billion records. A similar story appears in the Strib, on 6/13 at page A12.

PPD, 6/13, p. 1A. "State cops seize more property, cash in '06" is a story based on government data.

PPD, 6/13, p. 5A. "Hurricane satellite on last legs" is a story based on government documents.

PPD, 6/13, p. 8B. "Agency: Drinking water in good shape" is a story based on a government report.

PPD, 6/13, p. 1C. "State jobless rate edges up" is based on a government report.

Strib, 6/13, p. B1. "A big disparity in graduation rates: is a story based on government data.

Strib, 6/13, p. A1. "State tops U.S. jobless rate for first time in 31 years" is based on government data.

Strib, 6/13, p. A11. "Poisoned patriots" is a story based on government data.

PPD, 6/14, p. 1A. "Drivers shun car pools despite high gas prices" is a story based on government data. A similar story is in the Strib. for 6/14 at p. B5.

PPD, 6/14, p. 3A. "House votes to fix gun check system" is a story about a development that will enhance government data collection and sharing. A similar story appears in the Strib. for 6/14 at p. A3.

PPD, 6/14, p. 6A. "FBI finds it overstepped bounds in data collection" is a story based on government data.

Strib, 6/14, p. A1. "Victims' advocate being investigated for selling government data" is a story about the alleged theft of government data.

Strib, 6/14, p. E5. In "News of the Weird" there is an item about the malfunction of computerized data in Alaska which results in two months of round the clock work to use paper records to re-create a data base.

PPD, 6/14, p. 1C. "Farm subsidy database is only part of the story" is an opinion column based on government data.

PPD, 6/14, p. 1C. "IRS to revive random tax audits" is a story based on government data which tells us that the IRS often uses random audits not to check on tax compliance but to collect personal data to build better tax compliance systems.

Strib, 6/14, p. D1. "Fed survey sees solid growth, including in Upper Midwest" is a story based on a government report.

PPD, 6/15, p. 3A. "Money rolls in for Clintons" is a story based on filings with the Federal Elections Commission.

PPD, 6/16, p. 5A. In "Nation and World Briefing" section is a story headlined "Intern loses device with state data" about a missing disc with social security numbers and other information about Ohio state employees.

PPD, 6/16, p. 8B. "Scientist says state retaliated against him" includes an allegation that a fired state employee destroyed government data.

Friday, June 15, 2007

June 6th to June 9th

Strib=Star Tribune and PPD=St. Paul Pioneer Press

Strib, 6/6, p. D1. "Minneapolis Wi-Fi boots up."

PPD, 6/7, 10B. "Maybe it should be called Homeland Insecurity Department" is an opinion column including a discussion of a highly redacted Inspector General's report on the Homeland Security Department.

PPD, 6/7, 1A . "U, Google unite to put books on-line" describes the new agreement between the U and Google to computerize books in the U collection.
See whole article below as copied from this link:

U, Google unite to put books online
Pioneer Press - Article Last Updated: 06/06/2007 11:54:20 PM CDT

The University of Minnesota and other Big Ten schools will team up with Google to digitize as many as 10 million books, including 1 million from the U.
U officials Wednesday called the deal a big step in preserving important works - including its Scandinavian and forestry collections - and improving scholarly research by making materials easy to find and search on the Web. Google picks up the digitizing tab, estimated at $60 a volume; the schools pay to get the books ready.
Google will post "snippets" of copyrighted materials and point viewers to places where they can buy the book or get it at a local library. Entire books in the public domain can be searched or downloaded; generally, that means government documents and material published in the United States before 1923.
Visit library.html to read more.
- Paul Tosto

PPD, 6/7, 6A, In a story, headlined "Rights groups seek end to secret U.S. detentions" includes descriptions about FOIA brought which try to reveal the extent of the detentions.

Strib, 6/7, A1 "Study of 3M chemicals, no cancer cluster is found" summarizes the results of a government study.

Strib, 6/7, A1. "U deems its library collection Googleworthy" is similar to the PPD story noted above.

PPD, 6/8, 5A. "Report: CIA prisons in Poland, Romania" is a story based on a report of a European government agency.

PPD, 6/8, 5A. In a mini-editorial, headlined "Make FOIA Stronger", paper calls on Congress to enact pending improvements to FOIA

PPD, 6/9, 5A. Story, headlined "Why withhold officer's name?", discusses, among other things, the basis in the Data Practices Act for not releasing the name of the undercover officer involved in a road rage incident.

PPD, 6/9, 5A. Story, headlined "Rash of suicides, attempts infect Indian reservation." is based on government data. However, the story points out the data is incomplete because the computer tracking suicides and attempts was down for six weeks.

Strib, 6/9, A16. "Senate should pass open-government bill" is an editorial supporting changes to FOIA.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Catching-up on Government Info in the News

Strib= Star Tribune of Minneapolis and PPD = St. Paul Pioneer Press

Strib, 5/20. p. A1. "High hopes. Sad Reality" is a story about what has happened to the Minneapolis Public Library system. Much of the story is based on government data.

Strib, 5/20. p. A19. "Justices' questions reveal the people behind the law" is a story based on analysis of U.S. Supreme Court transcripts of Court proceedings.

Strib, 5/22. p. E2. "Tracking the cost of war" is a story about websites, using government information, that are devoted to reporting on the dollar and other costs of the war in Iraq.

PPD, 5/28. p. 4A "Anti-terror track record scrutinized" is a story based about the Department of Homeland Security based on a study of government information.

PPD, 5/28. p. 1B. Although the story headlined "Files stolen and identities used" does not involve government data, it does involve the College of St. Catherine's with which many COGI folks have strong associations.

PPD, 5/30. p. 12B. In the Metro/Regional section, a story headlined "City unveils new online crime map" describes how the City of Eagan has put some crime data on line. The City's decisions about what to put up indicate either confusion about what is public under the Data Practices Act, timidity or something else.

Strib, 5/31. p. D1 Story, headlined "Thomson, U to connect using speedy Internet 2" describes a coming development by which Thomson West and the University of Minnesota will stream court proceedings to law firms. Given the Minnesota judiciary's long term resistance to cameras in the courtroom, this is an interesting development.

Strib, 6/3. p. A6. This story, headlined "State-disciplined doctors still on drug payroll", describes another use, this time by the N.Y. Times, of the State of Minnesota data base into which doctors are required to report their contracts with drug companies. The story illustrates what can be done with government data and some creative analytical work.

PPD, 6/3. p. 11A "Doomsday plan shifts control to White House" is another story, based on government information, about expansion of executive authority by the Bush administration.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

May 4th and 5th

Star Tribune, 5/4, p. B1. Nick Coleman's column, headlined "The Ballpark Boys? They're batting .000 on good public policy", includes comments about Hennepin County treating the amount of Twin's contribution as not public.

Star Tribune, 5/5, p. D1. Story, headlined "Minneapolis Wi-Fi starts next week in Seward", describes the rollout of the City's wi-fi network.

Star Tribune, 5/5, p. A13. Story, headlined "TSA loses hard drive with employee data", documents another government agency losing personal data. Some irony here as the agency is the Transportation Security Agency.

May 1, 2, 3

Strib=Star Tribune and PPD=St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch

5/1. Strib. p. A6. "Olmert rejects call for resignation". The aforementioned call is in an Israeli government report.

5/1, Strib. p. A6. "Study: Arctic sea ice melting 30 years faster than expected" is based on a government study.

5/1, Strib. p. A3. "Report shows sharp increase in terror attacks in 06" is based on a State Department report. Surprise, surprise, the largest number of attacks were in Iraq.

5/1, Strib. p. A5. "Gonzales gave aides power to hire/fire appointees" describes a "secret" signed by Mr. Gonzales.

5/1, Strib. p. D1. "U.S. wants options data withheld" concerns access to the alleged backdated stock options in the United Healthcare case.

5/1, PPD. p. 1C. "CEO'S pay raises hackles at NWA" is based on filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission [SED].

5/2, Strib. p. A10. In Nation subsection, story, headlined "Interior official resigns before inquiry" is the latest development in the case of the Bush appointee who was changing government reports for alleged political purposes.

5/2, PPD. p. 3B. "Dog bites actually declining in city" is based on government records.

5/2, PPD. p. 2A. In Nation and World Briefing subsection, story, headlined "Court widely OK'd wiretaps warrant, among others states that only one wiretap request was disapproved.

Also on page 2A of the PPD are stories similar to those above about the Olmert report and the Interior official's resignation.

5/3, Strib. p. B5. Story, headlined "Keep month of supplies handy", is about a new Minnesota Department of Health website that helps prepare for emergencies. In order to use the site, the user must provide detailed personal information. Similar story in PPD, 5/3, on p. 12B.

5/3 Strib. p. B1 Story, headlined "3M did research on water in 1990's", see the light of day because of documents provided to the state.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

April 29 and 30

St.Paul Pioneer Press, 4/29, p. 4A. "Katrina aid largely unused. Documents and interviews paint picture of government bumbling and waste". And so, the Katrina saga of horrible mismanagement continues.

StarTribune, 4/29, p. A6. "'Successful rebuilding didn't last", is a story, based on a government report on shoddy construction in Iraq.

St.Paul Pioneer Press, 4/30, p. 1B. "Victim sought high security" is a story about the alleged failure of a home security system which led to the murder of two people in a domestic dispute. The government information angle is that the security system companies want access to active criminal investigative data which law enforcement will not give them until after any appeals of the alleged perpetrator.

St.Paul Pioneer Press, 4/30, p. 5B. "Wolfowitz bank seek graceful parting" updates us about the Wolfowitz scandal at the World Bank and includes an information aspect in that Wolfowitz's attorney is threatening to get information about Bank salaries and perks and make that information public.

St.Paul Pioneer Press, 4/30, p. 2A. Story, headlined "Google pushes for public data", describes how Google, with changes in its software, wants to work more closely with state governments to have Google used as a public access tool.

St.Paul Pioneer Press, 4/30, p. 2A. Story, headlined "Traffic stops still target minorities", is based on a federal study. Similar story appears in 4/30 StarTribune on p. A3.

St.Paul Pioneer Press, 4/30, p. 3A. Story, headlined "Report will increase pressure on Olmert", about a soon to be published Israeli government report on the latest war in Lebanon. Similar story appear in 4/30 StarTribune on p. A9.

Monday, April 30, 2007

One story in particular is incredible.

Fairly quiet lately but one in particular is incredible.

St.Paul Pioneer Press 4/25, p. 1A. Story, headlined "U archives unvarnished look at war detainees", describes an archive of government documents that are on a U web site that is describing some terrible things that have happened to some of the Guantanamo detainees and their families. The story also contains the following comment on what some federal flacks think of freedom of information.

" A Defense Department spokeswoman acknowledged the U documents were originals sent to the ACLU, but she declined further comment.

'Further dissemination of this material isn't in the spirit of the FOIA program,'
spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said."

St.Paul Pioneer Press 4/25, p. 4A. Story, headlined "Stories of war 'war heroics' criticized", illustrates why actual records of government are needed to check against official lies.

St.Paul Pioneer Press 4/25, p. 4A. Story, headlined "America marks 500 years on map", is about the 500th anniversary of the creation of the first map that used the term America to describe this hemisphere and illustrates why government archives and the money for them are so important.

St.Paul Pioneer Press 4/26 10B, Editorial, headlined "Strong enough to face the facts about threats", commends the U for putting up the document archive.

St.Paul Pioneer Press 4/26 1B. Story, headlined "Sheriff forms 'rat squad' to home in on bad guys", describes a Washington County web site of the County's most wanted criminals.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

I am trying, except in special instances, to stay focused on stories about government information. So, here is the latest.

StarTribune, 4/21, p. A11. Story in Nation section, headlined "Social security numbers exposed", is about another poorly protected government website.

StarTribune, 4/21, p. B3. Story, headlined "Twins' extra money for stadium is confidential", is about Hennepin County refusing to disclose how much extra money the Twins are kicking in to pay for the stadium site.

St. Paul Pioneer Press, 4/21, p. 4C. Story, headlined "Google deal hits privacy question", discusses some of the privacy implications of Google buying Doubleclick which has a bad reputation for tracking and selling information about people's Internet usage.

St. Paul Pioneer Press, 4/21. p. 4A. Story, headlined "Social Security data found online", is the St Paul take on the Department of Ag. data.

StarTribune, 4/22. p. A21. Story, headlined "Report: penalties for abuse nursing home inadequate", summarizes another GAO report the problem of nursing home abuse.

St. Paul Pioneer Press, 4/23. p.3A. In Nation/Word section, story, headlined "Audit finds more waste by FEMA", is another government report documenting federal management failure and possible corruption.

St. Paul Pioneer Press, 4/23. p. 3B. Story, headlined "AT&T backs cable bill to expand market", is a Wisconsin story based on campaign contribution reports.

St. Paul Pioneer Press, 4/23. p. 8B. Story, headlined "Librarians boost immigrant services", describes how out-state libraries are helping immigrants particularly with bilingual materials.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Recommended reading on the MN Data Practices Act

The recent issue of Minnesota Cities from the League of Minnesota Cities includes a useful overview of the Minnesota Data Practices Act, "Dealing with Data Requests," by Tracie Chamberlain. The clear information is geared to the needs of city employees, but interesting to a broader audience.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Two thoughts on Web filtering

I was skimming last month's issue of Government Technology. An essay, "The Cost of Free Wi-fi," discusses the use of filtering software by cities providing free wi-fi access, fearing liability for the actions of users on the network. I am guessing that most MNCOGI supporters would agree with the author's thoughts.

Shane Peterson writes, "I pay taxes, and I don't care about who does what on a Wi-Fi network supported by my tax dollars. I don't think I'm alone. It's like being offended that some people use taxpayer-funded interstate highways to drive to Nevada to gamble or engage in other, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" activities."

His essay ends with, "It's not for government to say what Web sites a person visits. Unless, of course, that government's headquartered in Beijing."

Second, as Director of the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, I have been asked a few times in past years whether the Legislative Reference Library public access computers have filtering software. They do not - what if users were searching for information on breast cancer, or sex education, or many other things that might be blocked? This morning I noted a book being returned to our library, one that certainly would get filtered out, a 1994 report from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, Sex and America's Teenagers." Robbie LaFleur

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The latest update from two local papers.

4/7 PPD, p. 6A. Story, headlined "Global warning papers softened by U.S., China", is another example of politics trumping science in government information.

4/8 PPD, p. 1A. Story, headlined "When drug firms pay doctors, what do they get?", illustrates what we can all learn from state information.

4/8 PPD, p. 1B. Ruben Rosario's column, headlined "Prosecutor's office loses its way" illustrates the reluctance of government agencies to provide access to embarrassing information.

4/8 PPD, p. 3D, Story, headlined IRS Lax in preventing ID Theft", is another in a continuing series of instances of government computers,full of personal information,being lost or stolen. (500 IRS laptops lost or stolen over a 3.5 year period.

4/8 Strib, p. A3. Story, headlined "Scientists feel climate report is too weak", is also about politics interfering with science.

4/9 Strib, p. A9. Story, headlined "Iraq's resilient symbol of hope: the library" includes information about a unique role for a library director - finding guns and ammo to protect the library.

4/9 Strib, p. A3. Story, headlined "Army prosecutions for desertion up sharply", is based on a government report.

4/9 Strib. p. A8. Story in Nation subsection, headlined Effort to catalog all species living tops 1 million", is about the work of the National Museum of National History.

4/9 PPD, p. 2A. Story: headlined "Army cracks down on targets deserters", is similar to Strib story above.

4/9 PPD. p. 4B, Story, headlined "Used car title search settlement criticized", is about Carfax and its access or lack thereof to public records that it uses to develop car histories.

4/10 Strib, p. A1 Story, headlined "Ex-Viking Marshall gets pardon for drugs", illustrates the affect of public records.

4/10 Strib, p. A1. Story, headlined "Minnesota joins states backing ban for a national ID", is about legislation opposing the national ID, i.e. driver license, federal mandate.

Hands-on Access to Government Information

An article in the Star Tribune, "Of, and For, The People," discusses citizens academies run by cities. Attendees learn about all the departments and budgeting - it is an example of hands-on access to government information! The picture at left is a group from the Hopkins Citizens Academy. From the article: "The goal is to give residents insight into what the city does behind the scenes. But there are side benefits. Participants are likely candidates the city can pluck for its police reserves, boards or commissions. And they often have fun."

Monday, April 9, 2007

This weekend there was a fairly chunky update from our two local papers.

4/4, Strib, p. H3. Story, headlined "Rain barrels for city residents", presents the interesting problem of only being able to order something from the government if you can go to a web site.

4/5, Strib. p. A5. Story, headlined "Sun is threat to Global Positioning System" demonstrates that nature sometimes will overcome technology.

4/5 Strib. p. A7, Story in Nation subsection, headlined "Man pleads guilty to National Archive theft", is about an intern stealing historical documents and putting them on E-bay.

4/5 PPD. p. 6B. Story, headlined "Surveillance operation alleged by a fired Wal-Mart worker", discusses possible spying by Wal-Mart on a number of people including critics.

4/5 PPD. p. 1A. Story, headlined "Mammograms best read by human eyes", is another story about the limits of technology.

4/5 PPD p. 6A. Story, headlined "National Archives intern admits theft", is same as story described above.

4/6 PPD p, 1A, Story, headlined "Justices strike down Photo Cop in Minneapolis, is about the end of the photo cop lawsuit.

4/6 PPD p. 1A. Story, headlined "Pentagon debunks Saddam ties to al-Qaida, is about a government report help us understand reality between truth and fiction.

4/6 PPD p. 9A. Story, headlined "FCC wants better tracking of 911 cellular calls", is one of those good/news bad news technology stories.

4/6 PPD. p. 1B Story, headlined "Metro leans hard on water reserves", summarizes a state study of water use.

4/6 PPD. p. 1B Story, headlined "2 pawn chains sue city and police", describes a lawsuit in which collection and use of customer data is part of the dispute.

4/6 Strib. p.B1. Story, headlined "Caution: Lots of road work ahead", includes a brief description of a MNDOT spokesperson decision to withhold MNDOT ratings of construction impoact from the public until challenged.

4/6 Strib. p. B3. Story, headlined "Pawnshop firms sue St. Paul", is similar to story described above.

4/6 Strib. p. A1. Story, headlined "Red-light cameras illegal, state high court rules", is similar to other photo cop story described above.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Google seeks better access to gov't info

Google seeks better access to government information

Oct 25, 2006

Officials from the leading Internet search engine are working to remove barriers that prevent their technology from reaching vast troves of information buried in government databases.

Internet users want government information because it has a reputation for being reliable and accurate, said J.L. Needham, a strategic partner development manager at Google. But while portions of agency Web sites are easily indexed by Google and other common search engines, the engines cannot search other areas, known as the deep Web.

For instance, Google cannot scan information in the database housed at the Environmental Protection Agency's Web site, Needham said. The site allows users to view government regulations and post comments on proposed agency rules.

"If you were a business owner and found out you were potentially subject to a new regulation that you wanted to find out more information on, it may be difficult to find this information using a search engine like Google," Needham said. "The problem is that search engines are unable to crawl the full text of many government agencies' databases."

As much as 40 percent of the content on agency Web sites is invisible to Google's crawlers, Needham said. This means that for a majority of Internet users who do not know how to look beyond a search engine site, that information is effectively invisible.

Needham said he is meeting with a variety of agencies to discuss how the information housed in their databases can be made available in the search results from engines such as Google, Yahoo or MSN. One method would be to use Google Sitemaps, which enhances Google's search results, Needham said.

Implementation of Google Sitemaps by a federal institution that maintains one of the world's largest networks of sites, including many databases, doubled the number of Web links found by Google, Needham said. This allowed for millions of new documents to be included in search engine results, he said.

A Dec. 16, 2005, memorandum from Clay Johnson, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, required all agencies by Sept. 1, 2006, to set up their public information so that it is searchable. It stated that "increasingly sophisticated Internet search functions" can "greatly assist agencies in this area."

Agencies also were required to provide all public data in an open format that allows the public to aggregate "or otherwise manipulate and analyze the data to meet their needs" by Dec. 31, 2005, according to a separate OMB memorandum signed by Johnson on Dec. 17, 2004.

Mark Luttner, director of EPA's Office of Information Collection in the Office of Environmental Information, said the agency's e-rulemaking program management office is working with OMB to respond to a recent request from a search engine company that wants to index the data.

In addition to the technical challenges presented by the company's request, EPA has to consider whether a commercial company could assert proprietary ownership on federal data and whether providing government data to one company would provide an unequal playing field for other companies, Luttner said.

Needham said Google, for one, does not want to assert ownership over any information obtained from agencies, and agency efforts to improve the ability to search their Web sites would likely be equally beneficial to its competitors.

Commonly used search engines like Google are able to index other agency Web sites used to disseminate information, such as the Small Business Administration's Business Gateway e-government initiative.

Nancy Sternberg, the program manager for Business Gateway, said the initiative's Web site,, has been optimized for all major search engines. But does not contain a separate database, Sternberg said, which would make indexing much more challenging.

Search engines cannot index the database housed at the Health and Human Services Department, according to John Etcheverry, director of grants systems modernization at HHS. But in 2007, will implement a Google search appliance that will let Google scan specified database tables with grant synopsis information, he said. Allowing search engines to crawl the entire database would create security vulnerabilities since it contains sensitive applicant information, he noted.

Google's forays into the government include a U.S. Government Search Web page, which is intended to provide a single location for searching across agency information and for keeping up-to-date on government news. Google maintains the site is not intended to compete with the government search site hosted by the General Services Administration, called Rather, it is intended to complement it, company officials say.

John Murphy, director of technologies, said the pages are optimized for all search engines, but the MSN-run search tool is specifically directed to searching government Web pages, including those hosted by state and local governments.

©2007 by National Journal Group Inc. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Following is a clip describing an interesting initiative of the Citizens League 0 Facts Unfiltered offers an ideal opportunity to contribute public information to the discussion. Depository librarians and others familiar with goverment information sources may be willing to post info about sources, access, finding tools to this public discussion of issues -- issues discussed more knowledgeably by those who have identified and checked public information sources.

Main Page

From MAP150 Wiki

Jump to: navigation, search

MediaWiki has been successfully installed.

Consult the User's Guide for information on using the wiki software.

Facts Unfiltered

One of the facets of MAP 150 this fall is to gather facts around key policy issues. The questions we’re posing focus on the capacity of different aspects of Minnesota in the future. The facts that we gather will be used to supplement our interviews with Minnesotans to better understand what Minnesota’s policy environment. These are the questions that we’re looking to put facts to.

Family’s capacity: What are the future prospects for Minnesota families in making ends meet?

State’s capacity: What does the fiscal health of the state budget hold for Minnesotans: can they continue to expect the same level of services at the same tax rates in the future?

Economy’s capacity in terms of human capital: Is the state’s educational system producing the labor force we’ll need to maintain Minnesota’s strong economic growth?

Capacity of the natural and built environments: Given Minnesota’s projected population growth, is Minnesota creating and preserving built and natural environments that will sustain Minnesota’s prized quality of life?

Capacity for innovation in the public interest: Is Minnesota retaining its capacity for civic and political innovation, especially in ways that reflect the growing diversification of the state population?

Government Information has wide impacts

Anyone paying attention to the news recently ahs noticed that the topic of home mortgage foreclosures is hot. Lots of ink (and electricity for pixels) has been used to document the tide of mortgage foreclosures and their impact on families, cities and the international financial markets.

If you (as a memebr of the public) want to udnerstand where all this is coming from, you need government information. Data on foreclosure sales comes from local sheriff's departments (Hennepin & Ramsey Counties locally). Data on home mortgages, borrowers and lenders comes from Home Mortgaged Disclosure data (HMDA) compiled by the federal government.

Analyses of these data show who is being afffected, how it is impacting our communities and what's likely to happen in the next few years.

If you want to do something about this problem (either as a softhearted liberal or a tough minded investor), you should thank the public agencies who collect and report this information.

Public access - it's not academic, it's the real world, the real economy.

Imagine if this information was NOT public!

CRS reports - action needed

From Open the Government --

Policy and News Updates for March 20, 2007

[new] Accessing Congressional research
American taxpayers spend nearly $100 million a year to fund the Congressional Research Service (CRS), an arm of the Library of Congress whose 700 researchers provide reports to members of Congress on a variety of topics relevant to current political events. However, these reports are not open to the public. The best way for the public to obtain a CRS report is through their member of Congress, but the process is slow and it requires that the requester know the report exists.

On March 28, coalition partners of, along with the Center for Democracy and Technology and others, sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-CA], the Senate Rules Committee, and the Committee on House Administration asking that CRS reports be made available to the public. According the letter, "Public demand for these reports has never been higher. In a little more than a year, members of the public have downloaded more than 3.5 million CRS reports from, a Web site that provides a searchable database of CRS reports that have been obtained by various archivists and members of the public."

Making CRS reports available to the public makes sense. According to the letter, "CRS already maintains a fully searchable, password-protected Web site for members of Congress... Increasing capacity and providing public access to that site would constitute a trivial expense for the Library of Congress or for the House in light of their current levels of traffic." As Paul M. Weyrich, Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation, notes in a commentary piece, "The proliferation of free information online has only strengthened the argument that CRS also should offer free information."

Focus has turned to CRS recently, due to two memos CRS Director Daniel P. Mulhollan issued noting changes in CRS policies. On March 20, Mulhollan issued a memo to all CRS staff saying, "I have concluded that prior approval should now be required at the division or office level before products are distributed to members of the public. This policy is effective immediately." In the past, it was possible for members of the press, other researchers, and other government officials to request specific reports from the congressional support agency. However, as Secrecy News reports, this memo changes that policy. A staffer told Secrecy News, "We're all sort of shaking. I can't do my work."

In addition, some members of Congress have criticized CRS for its recent decision to stop its reports on earmarks. In a Wall Street Journal Editorial titled "Earmark Cover-Up", John Fund accuses CRS of "helping its masters hide wasteful spending." Despite requests from Sen. Coburn [R-OK] and Sen. Jim DeMint [R-SC], a private Feb. 22 directive from Director Mulhollan states that, "CRS will no longer identify earmarks for individual programs, activities, entities, or individuals," ending its 12-year practice of reporting on earmark data. Mulhollan responded to the editorial in a memo to CRS staff and a letter to the editor, available through Secrecy News.

TAKE ACTION: Help add to the Open CRS collection! Call your member of Congress and request a PDF copy of the following CRS Report. Once you receive it, submit it to Open CRS.
Report Order Code: RL31686
Title: Demilitarization of Significant Military Equipment

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Lots of news on government information

3/28 PPD, p. 2C. In the National subsection, a story headlined "Research firm sues to see auto safety data", is about a group that studies tire failures suing the U.S. Department of Transportation.

3/29 Strib, p. E4. in "News of the Weird", the first item describes a website being operated in Finland that allows voters to match their physical appearance with the appearance of candidates so they can vote for people who look like them.

3/30 Strib. p. A10. Story, headlined "Soldiers' VA cure hindered by lapses in use of digital medical data".

3/30 Strib. p. A12. Story, headlined "Interior official altered reports, inspector says", is about another instance of government reports being altered for political reasons. The story also describes release of confidential information to selected businesses.

3/30 PPD, p.1C. Story, headlined "Ridder's clear break scuffed" includes allegations that the new publisher of the Strib took confidential data from the PPD.

3/30 PPD, p. 1A. Story, headlined "St. Paul candidates join You Tube nation".

3/30 PPD, p. 7a. Story, headlined "Bush appointee altered species reports to benefit landowners", is the same story as described above but with a more direct headline.

3/31 PPD, p. 2C. Story, headlined "Technology 'xxx' hits red light again", is about defeat of a proposal to give pornography its own address on the web.

3/31 PPD, p. 1C. Story, headlined "Ridder says exit made in good faith", continues the saga of what Rider took from St. Paul to Minneapolis on his laptop.

4/1 PPD, p. 3A. Story, headlined "Bush fills attorney post with insider" is based on analysis of the resumes of new U.S. attorneys.

4/1 Strib. p. A9. Story, headlined "Many prosecutors had inside track", is the same as the Pioneer Press story mentioned above.

4/1 Strib. p. D1. Story, headlined "In a hurry for ultrafast Internet", is about the City of Eagan looking for high speed internet for the entire city including the possibility of laying fiber citywide.

4/1 Strib. p. B1. Nick Coleman's column, headlined "If Heffelfinger hadn't quit would he have been purged", is Coleman's take, using public e-mails, on the local effect of the U.S. attorney fiasco.

4/2 Strib, p. A11. Story, headlined "From cabarets in Cyprus to drivers in Qatar, dangers abound for Americans abroad, the State Dept. warns", is about a state department cataloging dangers of foreign travel, which is put up mostly for businesses, according to a spokesperson, but is available to anyone.

4/2 PPD, p. 2B. In the "Bulletin Board" feature is an item, headlined "Will the library let me borrow this book? It's 'TOO SOON TO TELL'", is about a technology twist in libraries.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Newspaper Stories Overview

3/22 PPD, p. 9B. Story, headlined "Railroad accused of destroying documents", is about the Canadian Pacific RR allegedly destroying documents and e-mails to avoid their being used in a law suit involving chemical spills in Minot, ND.

3/22 PPD, p. 2A. Story, headlined "Inefficiency curbs world food aid", is another government report documenting how poorly a government program to feed the hungry has been run for the last few years including a 43% drop in food delivered.

3/22 PPD, p. 5a. Story, headlined "Anti-Clinton online ad creator unmasked", is another demonstration of the power of the net and poor judgement of some of the young ones who are adept at using the net.

3/22 Strib. p. A1. Story, headlined "Huckleberry Finn wins first round in St. Louis Park", documents the latest attempt to censor Twain's classic.

3/23 PPD. p. 2C. In the "Technology" subsection there is a story, headlined "Net neutrality studied", about the beginning of an FCC study which will look at how to keep the net available to everyone.

3/23 Strib. p. B5. Story, headlined "Traffic camera bill hits red light", is about the photo cop bill dying (perhaps) in a House of Reps. committee.

3/23 Strib. p. B5. Story, headlined "Funding sought for program to protect battered women", is about another instance of a good program, protecting addresses of battered women, which has not been started because of lack of funding.

3/23 Strib. p. A1. Story, headlined "Doctors ties to drug firms raise concerns", is about reports that drug companies have been required to file with the state Board of Pharmacy describing payments to doctors and for what. It was only recently that anyone looked at the reports. The executive director of the Board is quoted in the article as saying that now that they know there is interest in the reports they may be posted on their web site.

2/24 Strib. p. A7. Story, headlined "Memo shows Gonzalez approved of Attorneys' firings", continues to show the importance of actual data in sorting out what our government is doing.

2/24 Strib. p. A6. Story, headlined "France's X-files - first country to put UFO sightings on a web site" is about another interesting use of the net.

2/24 PPD. p. 1A. Story, headlined "Gonzales, aides met to discuss firing attorneys", is similar to the Strib story noted above.

2/25 PPD. p. 2C. Story, in Technology subsection and headlined "Search suit dismissed" is about a lawsuit brought by a web site alleging Google intentionally designed its index to make the site difficult to find.

2/25 PPD. p. 1E. The Watchdog column has a story entitled "Travel Insurance" which includes commentary about how credit card companies monitor the uses of cards in real time.

Friday, March 23, 2007

3/19 PPD, p. 6B. This is David Broder's column, which is headlined "Accountability matters, but voters wanted a lot more than investigations", in which, among other things, Broder reports on changes to the federal FOIA [Freedom of Information Act.]

3/19 Strib, p. A3. Story, headlined "Smithsonian records show off curator's champagne lifestyle", demonstrates why public records that show how taxpayers money is spent must be public.

3/18 PPD, p. 14A. Story, headlined "Young woman's DNA points to an inevitably grim fate", is about the affect of DNA testing on actual individuals.

Government information in the news

PPD=St. Paul and Strib is Mpls Star Tribune

3/20, PPD, p. 1A. Story, headlined "E-mails shed new light on prosecutor firings", is the latest in the ongoing saga which, from an access perspective, demonstrates how important access is.

3/20, PPD, p. 1B. Story, headlined "Racial gap found in juvenile sentencing", once again shows how records can be used to identify racism in the criminal "justice" system.

3/21, PPD, p, 3A. Story, headlined "FBI data collection may have broken law up to 3000 times", is the latest chapter in this story about how law enforcement violates the law when it goes after information.

3/21, PPD, p. 6B. Story, headlined "Watchdog group faults drug company reporting", is about records on how much drug companies pay doctors and how little anyone notices.

3/21, PPD. p. 12B. Column, headlined "Brain becomes just another scannable, searchable body part", is about technology which scans how the brain works and potentially reveals much.

3/21, Strib, p. A1. Story, headlined "How much do drug companies pay doctors?", provides a little more detail about reports sitting at the state Board of Pharmacy which have been rarely used.

3/21, Strib. p. A6. Story, headlined "Six ranked in top third of prosecutions filed", is based on analysis of the actual performance records of the fired U.S. attorneys.

3/21, Strib. p. A9. Story, headlined "Law makers warn FBI it could lose broad spying powers because of abuse, is similar to PPD story described above but includes more details including an allegation that 600 of the record searches were because of misconduct.

3/21, Strib. p. A12. Letter to the editor, headlined, "Medical Records Bill. Redefines Privacy Right", is a letter describing a bill going through the legislature which the writer believes diminishes medical privacy.

Don G.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sunshine Week in the News

We have seen quite a few mentions of Sunshine week in various media and web sites, including the following:

Minnesota Based Sites:


Charlotte Observer

News of Interest-St. Paul Pioneer Press & Star Tribune

Pioneer Press 3/11, p. 3B. Story, headlined "Bismarck, N.D. / NCAA can keep suit documents private", is about a judge's decision, in the lawsuit brought against the University of North Dakota by the NCAA, to make certain documents provided in the lawsuit by the NCAA not public. The article describes a publication of the North Dakota Attorney General's Office which summarizes the North Dakota public records law.

Pioneer Press, 3/11, p. 4B. Story, headlined "Journalists petition for cameras in the courtroom", describes efforts by the media community to liberalize use of cameras in courtrooms. This is a Sunshine Week activity for the media.

Pioneer Press, 3/11, p. 2A. Story, headlined "Privatization Comes Under Fire", describes criticism of the company with ties to the Bush administration, that was managing some of the bad facilities at Walter Reed. Privatization almost always raises information access issues.

Pioneer Press, 3/11, p. 5A. Story, headlined "South Korea reviews painful past", is about individuals in South Korea who, during the time of military dictatorship, were tortured into confessing to being subversives and who are now trying to clear their records.

Star Tribune, 3/11, p.AA2. This is a column by the Strib's reader rep, Kate Perry, entitled "It's time for more access to Minnesota's courts". It is about the petition submitted to the Supreme Court asking for changes to the rules about cameras in the court room.

Pioneer Press, 3/12, p. 3A. Story, headlined "Feds fall short on e-record access", is about a study, done by the National Security Archive in D.C., about how well federal agencies are doing with the amendments to the federal foia that were supposed to improve public access. In short, those agencies are not doing well.

Pioneer Press, 3/13, p. 3B. Story, headlined "High Court Explores Photo Cop Conflict", is about yesterday's argument before the Supreme Court about the legality of the Minneapolis photo cop ordinance.

Star Tribune, 3/13, p. B4. Story, headlined "Justices Drill Down on Photocop's Issues", is also about argument before supreme court.

Friday, March 2, 2007

In this issue of the Utne (March 1, 2007) Mary O'Regan hits the proverbial nail on the head....

Censoring Our Educators
A nationwide effort is underway in statehouses to foster intellectual diversity by censoring professors

March 1, 2007 Issue

Political views in the United States are heavily divided, with each side worrying that the other is corrupting today's youth. And who has more access to fresh, young minds than teachers? That's why the latest argument about when and where free speech flies is taking place in the classroom. ....

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Format or content?

Sen. Coleman's website voted a www.winner

Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., received a "Silver Mouse" award for having one of the 10 best websites in the Senate.

His site was chosen for the honor by the Congressional Management Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan management consulting and research organization in Washington. The group examined 615 congressional websites, including all Senate and House members, committees and official leadership sites.

Coleman said he was proud of the award and that he has placed "great emphasis" on his website.

ROB HOTAKAINEN - Star Tribune 2-28-07

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Star Tribune
2/25, page A3, article entitled "Assault Rifle Blog Backfires". This is another article illustrating the perils of blogging. It traces the fallout, including loss of several contracts, that came to a sport hunter and writer who suggested on his blog that no real sports hunter would use an assault rifle to hunt prairie dogs.

action alert

Sen. Kyl is pushing a vote in Congress this week on a broad amendment that would bring the United states an Official Secrets Act. The media hasn't focused any attention on this, with the exception of a blog post from Rebecca Carr (and my blog, which doesn’t count:) We are encouraging any and all ways of bringing this to public attention.

The following areas would be particularly helpful:


The Situation:

Sen. Kyl plans to push an amendment that would in effect create an Official Secrets Act in the U.S. by prohibiting disclosure and publication of information "concerning efforts by the United States to identify, investigate, or prevent terrorist activity."

The Kyl Amendment will come up this Thursday, February 29, during the Senate Judiciary Committee markup of S. 236, an unrelated bill dealing with data mining efforts.

As you can tell, it's very broad & would eviscerate the public's ability to learn about the federal government's anti-terorrism efforts. Virtually any story related to homeland security, the war on terror or public safety threats could fall under this broad definition. Despite lots of discussion last year about unauthorized disclosures, including several congressional hearings, there's been no public debate about this proposal.

Changes to 18 USC 798 as proposed in the Kyl Amendment

[Bold indicates proposed additions.]

TITLE 18 " href="">> > PART I " href="">> > CHAPTER 37 " href="">> > § 798
§ 798. Disclosure of classified information
(a) Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates, furnishes, transmits, or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes, or uses in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States or for the benefit of any foreign government to the detriment of the United States any classified information˜
(1) concerning the nature, preparation, or use of any code, cipher, or cryptographic system of the United States or any foreign government; or
(2) concerning the design, construction, use, maintenance, or repair of any device, apparatus, or appliance used or prepared or planned for use by the United States or any foreign government for cryptographic or communication intelligence purposes; or
(3) concerning the communication intelligence activities of the United States or any foreign government; or
(4) obtained by the processes of communication intelligence from the communications of any foreign government, knowing the same to have been obtained by such processes or
(5) concerning efforts by the United States to identify, investigate, or prevent terrorist activity" and
shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.

* * * * *

Sunshine in Government Initiative
Statement on Proposed Kyl Amendment to S. 236
February 26, 2007

The amendment that Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) intends to propose as an amendment to S. 236, a bill dealing with federal data mining efforts, would in effect create an "Official Secrets Act" that criminalizes the publication of classified information. There have been no public hearings or discussions about this proposal.

Specifically, the amendment would prohibit unauthorized disclosure, publication or use of any information "concerning efforts by the United States to identify, investigate, or prevent terrorist activity." It also doubles from 10 to 20 years in prison the criminal penalty for violating any aspect of Section 798 of the Espionage Act, which is very narrowly drawn to prohibit disclosures of information relating to communications intelligence.

The media understand that leaks of some government information about the war on terror can cause harm. But existing laws are adequate to protect the information that truly needs protecting. The Kyl amendment is so broad that it would make criminal the unauthorized disclosure of virtually any government information relating to terrorism. The amendment would also fundamentally alter the espionage statutes of the United States - a statutory regime that has served us well for over 80 years.

Easing tensions over media coverage of national security matters involves better dialogue between government and the media, not new laws. Some conflict between government and the media is inevitable, and even healthy, in our democracy. At the same time, representatives of the media have supported and continue to support ongoing discussions among media and government representatives to reduce some of the current tensions and better serve the interests in both our nation's security and an informed public. This dialogue has been formalized into an ongoing series of meetings now hosted by the Aspen Institute and involving high-level leaders in government and the media. This approach shows promise. We urge Congress' continued support of and involvement in these discussions as a constructive way to address concerns over the potential harm from disclosure of legitimate national security secrets.

Discussion Points

The amendment is vague and overbroad. By defining the information whose disclosure or publication is prohibited to include any information "concerning efforts by the United States to identify, investigate or prevent terrorist activity," virtually any activity by government plausibly linked to security and other anti-terrorism activities would be covered by the statute. Such information would include emergency response planning, security failures, public safety and health threats and government funding of related activities and other matters routinely discussed in the media. The amendment would provide government officials a powerful tool to hide actions or facts that could be embarrassing to an agency.

The proposed language is inconsistent with the existing statute it would amend.
This amendment is completely inconsistent with the information that Congress sought to protect by enacting Section 798. The statute is very narrowly limited to protection of communications intelligence information ˆ codes, ciphers and the like. In contrast, the proposed amendment encompasses a breathtakingly broad array of information that could plausibly be linked to anti-terrorism efforts.

Senator Kyl seeks to amend 18 USC 798, which is very narrowly drawn to criminalize the disclosure of communications intelligence information, or "COMINT" e.g., codes, cyphers and intercepted communications of our adversaries. When Congress enacted 798, they recognized the extremely important role that communications intelligence plays in our national security and so incorporated elements of proof that make it easier to prosecute an individual for disclosing COMINT than for disclosing other more routinely classified information - crimes that are prosecuted under 18 USC 793 and 794.

For the most part, sections 793 and 794 require the government to prove that the individual intended to harm the United States. By contrast, section 798 requires the government to prove only that the information was "classified" and that it relates to COMINT. If the Kyl amendment is adopted, the government would have vast power to prosecute an individual merely for "communicating" or "publishing" any information "concerning" terrorism. The potential for abuse is significant and the chilling affect on the public's - and Congress' - right to know would be substantial.

This amendment is so broad that it may be unconstitutional. At a minimum, its vagueness imperils the effectiveness of section 798, a statute that seeks to protect some of our most vital secrets. For example, if the amendment is adopted and the government seeks to prosecute an individual for disclosing COMINT relating to terrorism, the courts may well throw the prosecution on constitutional grounds.

The amendment would greatly increase the likelihood of prosecution under the Espionage Act. Anyone who discloses information related to efforts by the United States to identify, investigate or prevent terrorist activity ˆ whether related to communications or not ˆ could be punished.

This amendment may hamper the flow of information to the Congress and the general public. The amendment precludes the public from obtaining information about government activities of great public interest. The language prevents the American public and likely many members of Congress from being fully informed about and knowledgably discussing actions taken in the name of the "war on terror." The amendment would work to constrain critical reporting on homeland security ˆ even information as basic as homeland security grants ˆ as well as national security and foreign policy matters.

The published stories that have attracted the greatest criticism for revealing sensitive information are unquestionably within the public interest and were published after careful consideration of government arguments for protecting specific information. Individuals with knowledge of the government activities in question raised significant questions regarding to their legality. At the very least, the stories have triggered a healthy national debate as to tension between security and liberty.

The amendment hampers public involvement in anti-terrorism efforts. This will make the "war on terror" the exclusive province of a handful of intelligence agencies. It will further discourage information sharing in an area that has already been seriously hurt by a stovepipe culture within and among the agencies. The language runs counter to key 9/11 Commission recommendations that the federal government engage the public more effectively in anti-terrorism efforts.

A proposal of this magnitude should have full and open public debate. In fairness to the American people and the seriousness of the issues involved, a measure of this magnitude and consequence should not be appended to a totally unrelated piece of legislation. The proposal would dramatically alter the relationship between the government and the press. This relationship has been defined in the U.S. constitution and any significant change to it that is proposed should enjoy full and open debate.


-- Charles N. Davis. Ph.D.
Executive Director, National Freedom of Information Coalition
Associate Professor, University of Missouri School of Journalism
179B Gannett Hall
Columbia, MO 65211
(573) 882-5736