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Today in OpenGov: CIA mistakes trash can for classified documents folder

Monday, May 16, 2016 14:42
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(Before It's News)

By The Sunlight Foundation

TOP NEWS: Sunlight’s Libby Watson reported from the National Press Club this morning, where Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn) warned that “the future of our democracy depends on passage” of a bill that would prevent members of Congress from soliciting campaign contributions.

The Stop Act, introduced by Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., currently has eight co-sponsors, five Republicans and three Democrats. The bill would “prohibit individuals holding Federal office from directly soliciting contributions to or on behalf of any political committee.” It’s intended to allow members of Congress to focus on lawmaking rather than raising money. Jolly was interviewed in a recent 60 Minutes segment, featuring footage from a hidden camera in the National Republican Congressional Committee building, in which he claimed he was told to raise as much as $18,000 a day. [Sunlight]

OFF THE PACER: April Glaser looked at the problem with the federal judiciary system profiting from storing and publishing court proceedings. Reporting for Wired on a class action lawsuit that claims the profits far outweigh the costs of running the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system, Glaser notes that the Administrative Office of the US Courts — which administers PACER — has published figures that bolster the plaintiff’s claims. “In 2014, the Administrative Office reported collecting $145 million in PACER fees, five years after projecting annual operating costs of less than $30 million. Meanwhile, the agency reported that in 2012, it spent $12.2 million making PACER more accessible even as it used $28.9 million for courtroom technology upgrades.” PACER charges 10 cents per page for accessing court filings through its creaky website, if you’re not familiar with the experience.

That doesn’t sit well with open government advocate Carl Malamud, nor Sunlight. “My position is that PACER should cost zero cents per page and that’s because access to our courts is fundamental to the American system of law,” Malamud told Wired. “It’s the whole business about having open courtrooms, why we conduct our proceedings in the public, and how judges make their decisions based on precedent, not on whims.”

NOT SO YUGE? Sunlight’s Josh Stewart looked at spending against presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the primaries and put it in context against five 2014 Senate races. In other news from the trail, Trump did a 180 on self-funding his campaign.


THIS IS YUGE: “A new report released yesterday by the Wesleyan Media Project — produced in partnership with the Center for Responsive Politics — shows that the volume of presidential advertising has more than doubled over 2012.” [OpenSecrets] National

  • Michael Isikoff reported that “the CIA inspector general’s office — the spy agency’s internal watchdog — has acknowledged it “mistakenly” destroyed its only copy of a mammoth Senate torture report at the same time lawyers for the Justice Department were assuring a federal judge that copies of the document were being preserved.” [Yahoo News]
  • Reminder: We depend on you to keep track of campaign fundraisers for Political Party Time. Please send us event invitations, like this one for a “farm to fork” restaurant fundraiser with President Bill Clinton in Nashville.
  • Speaking of Clinton, the former president denied the accuracy of a Wall Street Journal report that his foundation enriched his friends. As Sunlight’s John Wonderlich noted to ABC, “like a lot of things around the Clintons, things quickly get polarized when really it’s a pretty complicated issue. The Clinton Foundation by its nature blurs charity, business, politics. It’s an initiative bigger than our nonprofit laws deal with.” The story highlights the power of an ex-president — whose wife happens to be running for president herself – to influence federal grant making and direct funds from a charity to the benefit of his friends. As such, it’s a nexus of power that merits scrutiny.
  • While his claim that “the 21st century has been a bust for government transparency” doesn’t hold water, Ron Fournier’s critique of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Trump on open government is sound. [The Atlantic]
  • On that count, Glenn Kessler examined Trump’s claim that there was nothing to learn from his tax returns and judged it to be false. We concur. [Washington Post]
  • So does Bloomberg editor Tim O’Brien, who has seen Trump’s tax returns, after a drawn-out legal battle, and wrote that “disclosing tax returns is a valuable political tradition that’s well worth preserving.” [Bloomberg]
  • Chris Hoehner wrote up last week’s legislative demo day in Congress. [Data Coalition]
  • As we wrote last week, ProPublica found a side effect to published a prescription drug database. People were searching it to find doctors to prescribe opioids and, laudably wrote about both the discovery, how they’re thinking about the ethics surrounding it and their responsibility as a data publisher. In an interview last Friday, ProPublica editor-in-chief Steve Engelberg talked more about the decision with Poynter, including his skepticism of regarding the utility of technical approaches to obscuring the data or whether disclosing the searches will be used as a talking point against a future government disclosure of data. “I wouldn’t be shocked if in our next argument about making public some certain data, someone in the government said, ‘Well this could happen,’ but I don’t think it’s a terribly valid argument,” said Engelberg. “Everything that you do in journalism when you bring something to light has potential benefits and potential downsides.”
  • The CTO and co-founder of Continuum Analytics asked “can data save our democracy?” Well, no: that’s up to people applying it — perhaps by using the tools that startups like Continuum make. [The Next Web]
  • Finally, your faithful correspondent talked about Sunlight, open government, open data, social media and much more with Dennis Fisher in a new episode of the “On The Wire” podcast. [Download MP3 | On The Wire]

State and Local

Figure 3: Online Activities Avoided Due to Privacy or Security Concerns by Selected Groups, Percent of Households (HHs) with Internet Users, 2015 [NTIA]
  • Here’s a challenge that extends well beyond open government advocacy and the federal level, although it’s something with anyone who wants to see progress in the space must grapple with: according to the Pew Internet and Life Project, few Americans believe that their data will remain safe and secure. Unfortunately, this confidence level has probably fallen since this survey was taken — and when combined with the chilling effects of mass surveillance, we’re now confronted with a huge problem: the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration has found that a lack of online privacy and security may be deterring economic and social activities.  [Washington Post]
  • California’s legislature is considering copyrighting all government works in the state. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes, “The California Assembly Committee on Judiciary recently approved a bill (AB 2880) to grant local and state governments’ copyright authority along with other intellectual property rights.”  EFF strongly opposes the bill. Based upon what we’ve read so far, so do we: The data, research, knowledge and code that a state creates on behalf of taxpayers, with taxpayer dollars, should be open to the public.
  • The FBI planted microphones in public areas around a courthouse in California, seeking to capture conversations about an ongoing case. [CBS]
  • The Bowser administration launched and announced that a new “open government officer” position. []
  • Chris Wong wrote about how and other civic hackers in New York City liberated open data from property tax bills. []


  • Peruvian economist Zoila Llempen wrote about open data in the developing world, identifying a central challenge that persists everywhere. “Data is one of the biggest assets that governments have, but it is still difficult to break the idea that it belongs only to one institution or, even worse, that it belongs to the government itself and not to the citizens.” [Harvard Kennedy School]

  • Last week, Uganda’s Minister for Information banned media companies from covering opposition protests. This weekend, Uganda’s government banned Twitter and Facebook during election tensions. [GlobalVoices]
  • The Vendata platform is helping to counter misinformation in Venezuela through open data. [IJNet]
  • Here’s an app that sets a higher bar for open data re-use: “Patients seeking urgent medical care in Perth can now view emergency waiting times for local hospitals, thanks to a new app developed in Australia. The app, WA Emergency Waiting Times, uses existing Perth hospital emergency wait time data, and taps into mobile device geolocation, local maps, and traffic data to give people needing to go to the hospital in a non life-threatening emergency an aggregated travel and wait time.” [ZDNet]
  • The Open Government Partnership has launched the 2016 Open Government Awards and is asking the public to nominate organizations that have made government-held data or information useful for the average citizen. [OGP]

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We want to find and share the most important stories about open government around the world from the past 24 hours here. To do that, we’ll need YOUR help. Please send your tips and feedback at [email protected]. If you would like suggest an event, email us by 7 am on the Monday prior to the event.

The Sunlight Foundation is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency, and provides new tools and resources for media and citizens, alike.


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