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Today in OpenGov: #WHCD swag bags for transparency

Monday, May 2, 2016 14:50
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(Before It's News)

By The Sunlight Foundation

TOP NEWS:  This weekend, Sunlight Foundation staffers asked people who attended the People/TIME White House Correspondent’s Cocktail Party if they’d like to support our mission by donating their “swag bags” to us. For most, including a number of journalists, the answer was no, but by the end of the night, five partygoers gave us their bags of goodies. Patrick Gavin made a short film of the encounter (below) and the Huffington Post reported on it. If you’re wondering where the contents of the bags come from, according to Karen Tumulty, “vendors who typically donate freebies in hopes of getting attention for their products from influential VIP guests.”

MORE STUDY NEEDED: Congress asked the General Accountability Office to investigate how the federal government handles the Freedom of Information Act. It’s terrific to see bipartisan, bicameral attention to this issue. [Sunlight]

HILLARY AND THE TROLLS? Sunlight Staff Writer Libby Watson talked to Bob Garfield about the consequences of the FEC’s SuperPAC loophole. [On The Media]

WE HAVE STANDARDS! The U.S. Treasury Department published the final schema for federal spending data.  [DATA Act Collaboration Space]


  • The Office of the Director for National Intelligence released a report (PDF) with 2015 statistics regarding the use of national security authorities, as directed by President Barack Obama in 2013. While there has been a transition from bulk  collection of call records to 183 American citizens under by Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, in 2015 there were 4,672 searches of for known American citizens conducted without a record. As Open Technology Institute Fellow Jake Laperruque noted, this means that “most surveillance of Americans communications now occurs without a warrant.” [ICOnTheRecord]
  • According to the Justice Department, the U.S. Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court (FISC) did not deny any government requests for electronic surveillance orders in 2015. 1,457 requests in, 1,457 granted. [Reuters]
  • A coalition of open government, human rights, civil liberties and media organizations (including Sunlight) sent the Archivist of the United States a letter urging him to “ensure the preservation of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s full, 6,700 page study on the CIA’s former detention and interrogation program” and to “meet with civil society groups to discuss NARA’s approach to both the study and the preservation of CIA records more generally.” [BORDC]
  • The FBI is choosing secrecy over locking up criminals, reports Jenna McLaughlin. [The Intercept]
  • Agricultural associations successfully got “language included in the pending fiscal year 2017 House Agricultural Appropriations Bill asking USDA to exempt research and promotion boards funded by grower checkoff fees from federal public records law.” [Capital Press]
  • The CIA Director said the 28 pages withheld from the 9/11 Commission report contain misleading information. [The Hill]
  • Daniel Morgan, the chief data officer at the U.S. Department of Transportation, talked with Joshua New about open data, the Smart City Challenge, and building the first publicly accessible national address database in the U.S. [Center for Data Innovation]
  • The 2016 presidential campaign may not break spending records after all, reports Paul Blumenthal. [Huffington Post]
  • The White House Correspondent’s Association preaches transparency but doesn’t practice it, argues Patrick Gavin. [Guardian]
  • When “On The Media” co-host Bob Garfield told CNN’s Brian Stelter that the White House Correspondent Association’s gala was repulsive, he also took took the Obama administration to task for its record on open government. In 2015, Gavin told Garfield in 2015 that “for people outside of Washington, it’s probably the single best opportunity to lobby and influence.”Earlier in the broadcast, Stelter noted that in many ways, this is the least transparent administration ever, in terms of access of media to White House officials. You can watch the segment below. [CNN]

  State and Local  

emily shaw

  • Emily Shaw has rejoined the Sunlight Foundation as a senior analyst focused on open government at the state level! Follow her on Twitter at @emilydshaw and read her at the blog.
  • The city of San Francisco is funding development of an open source voting system. Advocates are recommending that they increase spending to be ready in time for the 2020 election. []
  • Tom Angel, chief of staff for Sheriff Jim McDonnell of Los Angeles County, resigned on Sunday, four days after The Los Angeles Times reported that he had circulated emails with racist jokes on his official account. The Times obtained under the correspondence under California’s open records law and published them on its website. [New York Times] [Los Angles Times]
  • A judge in Alamogordo, N.M., ruled that a Facebook page set up by the former mayor while she was in office constituted a public record and could be requested under state law. [Almogordo News]
  • Executives from New York City-based startups, tech companies and venture capital firms created a new policy and advocacy organization called TechNYC. Yes, there will be lobbying. “We need to ensure that the voice of the NYC technology community is part of each of these vital conversations,” VC Fred Wilson and AOL CEO Armstrong wrote in a blog post. “Tech:NYC will be part of a long New York tradition of engaging with our political leaders to get to the right result. We understand the need for regulation and legislation, but we must ensure that it is balanced and effective.” [New York Times]
  • Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is going to install sensors that measure particulate matter in eight counties where hydraulic fracturing — AKA fracking — is ongoing. The new sensors will complement the Departments current network of 27 air monitors. The data from them will be published online for public consumption on the DEP and EPA’s websites. “We simply don’t have data on air quality in these areas,” said DEP Secretary John Quigley, in a statement. “We need that data and monitoring capability to help us understand whether or not there are risks or impacts to public health from current air quality in these areas.” [Govtech]
  • Here’s a smart, necessary intervention from a city government faced with rising numbers of distracted pedestrians dying while glued to their smartphones. [Washington Post]
  • Mark Headd argues that open data advocates and governments “need to invest more time and energy building tools and techniques for ongoing collaboration and conversation with external data users.” Amen. []



  • As Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff faces impeachment in the Senate, the New York Times looks explores how her governing style, Brazil’s political history and culture factor in to the furor in South America’s largest country. The piece ends with an unappreciated angle to consider: how the landmark freedom of information law that came into effect in 2012 provided police and prosecutors with tools for investigating corruption. [New York Times]
    In some ways, analysts said, Ms. Rousseff has become a victim of those laws, which paved the way for the investigations that have claimed scores of the political and business elite, exposing the depths of Brazil’s political rot.

“This is one of the greatest paradoxes of her fall, because she put in place the machinery that ensnared the politicians who mattered the most,” said Gregory Michener, a professor at Fundação Getúlio Vargas, a research institute in Rio de Janeiro. “Dilma did a lot for good government, and I think she ultimately wanted good government, but in the end she wasn’t a good politician because in Brazil’s rent-seeking party system, she was unwilling to give her allies their fill.”

  • Commissioner Carlos Moedas told that the European Commission’s new initiative will establish open data by default, reportedly “allowing opt-outs only in restricted cases for commercial purposes.” Hmm. []
  • The city of Montreal has begun publishing crime data on its open data platform. [CBC]
  • Open data is making waves across Canada? “This is data that’s ultimately been paid for by taxpayers, one way or another,” said Joe Greenwood, program director of MaRS Data Catalyst at Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District, a non-profit innovation centre. “The government is a custodian, but not the owner, and it needs to put it out to maximum use in society.”[CBC]
  • “The German parliament is considering legislation that would require the government to delete certain statistical data it collects about firms after 10 years, a change that would deal a severe blow to important economic research that depends on longitudinal data.” [Center for Data Innovation]
  • Bookmark some time to read through these 18 ideas for future work on transparency and accountability from leading voices in the open government movement. [Carnegie Endowment]
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