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Category Archives: Freedom of Information

Who is “Public” Data Really For?

LitHub: “…Both words—“public” and “open”—invite a question: For whom? Despite the efforts of Mae and Gareth, and Tom Grundner and many others, the internet as it exists is hardly a public space. Many people still find themselves excluded from full participation. Access to anything posted on a city web page or on a .gov domain is restricted by barriers of cost and technical ability. Getting this data can be particularly hard for communities that are already marginalized, and both barriers—financial and technical—can be nearly impassable in places with limited resources and literacies. Data.gov, the United States’ “open data portal,” lists nearly 250,000 data sets, an apparent bounty of free information. Spend some time on data.gov and other portals, though, and you’ll find out that public data as it exists is messy and often confusing. Many hosted “data sets” are links to URLs that are no longer active. Trying to access data about Native American communities from the American Community Survey on data.gov brought me first to a census site with an unlabeled list of file folders. Downloading a zip file and unpacking it resulted in 64,086 cryptically named text files each containing zero kilobytes of data. As someone who has spent much of the last decade working with these kinds of data, I can tell you that this is not an uncommon experience. All too often, working with public data feels like assembling particularly complicated Ikea furniture with no tools, no instructions, and an unknown number of missing pieces…” [h/t Barclay Walsh]

Join Our Newest Crowdsourcing Campaign: Historical Legal Reports from the Law Library of Congress

In Custodia Legis: “Calling all students of history, government, law, public policy, international relations, and other interested members of the public – help us expand access to hundreds of previously unreleased legal reports and other publications from the Law Library of Congress dating back to the 1940s! We are excited to launch our second crowdsourcing… Continue Reading

Zoom Court Is Changing How Justice Is Served

The Atlantic – “Last spring, as COVID‑19 infections surged for the first time, many American courts curtailed their operations. As case backlogs swelled, courts moved online, at a speed that has amazed—and sometimes alarmed—judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. In the past year, U.S. courts have conducted millions of hearings, depositions, arraignments, settlement conferences, and even… Continue Reading

Capitol Police Told to Hold Back on Riot Response on Jan. 6

The New York Times – “The Capitol Police had clearer advance warnings about the Jan. 6 attack than were previously known, including the potential for violence in which “Congress itself is the target.” But officers were instructed by their leaders not to use their most aggressive tactics to hold off the mob, according to a… Continue Reading

Revealed: the Facebook loophole that lets world leaders deceive and harass their citizens

Julia Carrie Wong – A Guardian investigation exposes the breadth of state-backed manipulation of the platform. “Facebook has repeatedly allowed world leaders and politicians to use its platform to deceive the public or harass opponents despite being alerted to evidence of the wrongdoing. The Guardian has seen extensive internal documentation showing how Facebook handled more… Continue Reading

GPO and Libraries Set Goal to Make Every US Government Document Accessible

“The U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) is undertaking a massive effort to capture and make publicly accessible every U.S. Government document through the National Collection of U.S. Government Public Information (National Collection). GPO will do this by digitizing documents and making them accessible on govinfo and the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP), as well as… Continue Reading

Freedom of Information Act—How Open is Public Access to Government Data?

GAO – “The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) establishes a legal right for individuals and organizations to request access to government information. In FY 2019, federal agencies reported that they processed nearly 878,000 FOIA requests for government information, an increase of 32% since FY 2012.  In honor of Sunshine Week—an annual observation that promotes open… Continue Reading

Report – The Problem with Partisan Primaries

Via Unite America –  a movement of Democrats, Republicans, and independents working to bridge the growing partisan divide and foster a more representative and functional government. Report – “Despite a record turnout in the 2020 general election, only 10% of eligible Americans nationwide cast ballots in primary elections that effectively decided the winners in a… Continue Reading

Dissemin – Fostering self-archiving of research papers in open repositories

“Dissemin detects papers behind paywalls and helps their authors to upload them in one click to an open repository. FAQ – “What is dissem.in? Dissemin is a web platform gathering metadata from many sources and analyzing the full text availability of publications of researchers. It has been designed to foster the use of repositories (rather… Continue Reading

Biden administration will investigate Trump-era attacks on science

The New York Times – “The Biden administration will investigate Trump-era political interference in science across the government, the first step in what White House officials described as a sweeping effort to rebuild a demoralized federal work force and prevent future abuses. In a letter to the leaders of all federal agencies, the White House… Continue Reading

Using FOIA logs to develop news stories

MuckRock – Strategies for delving into government filing cabinets by Yilun Cheng / Edited by Michael Morisy. “In the fiscal year 2020, federal agencies received a total of 790,772 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. There are also tens of thousands of state and local agencies taking in and processing public record requests on a… Continue Reading

New Bill Would Increase Transparency of Presidential Records

Government Executive – Legislation was introduced to kick off National Sunshine Week. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, will introduce the ‘‘Presidential Records Preservation Act,” which would update the “1978 Presidential Records Act” by requiring the president, vice president, and other senior White House officials to “make and preserve… Continue Reading