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.
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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.