The National Security Archive has a roundup of stories from this year's Sunshine Week:
- Sunshine Week Round-Up, by Lauren Harper, Unredacted The National Security Archive blog (March 15, 2012).
Sunshine Week, the annual celebration of the importance of open government and freedom of information, is in full swing. Every year, the news media, nonprofits, libraries, schools, and the government debate the public’s right to know.
Because it's Sunshine Week, there's lots of news about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). First off, the US Department of Justice just announced their new site FOIA.gov as a central repository for FOIA compliance across the Federal government, agency FOIA data since 2008 (detailed reports here), and FOIA spotlight in the news. Interestingly, they haven't put up a link to individual agency FOIA electronic reading rooms, but I've sent in that request and hopefully it'll soon be added to the site.
Do you want to assist in the FOIA process? If so, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has a job for you. The EFF has so many liberated/FOIA'd documents in the realms of privacy, due process and civil liberties, that they're seeking help from the public to pore over those liberated government docs as part of their cooperative FOIA review project.
Here's how the Cooperating FOIA list will work: Send us an email to put your name on our list. When we get government documents in response to a FOIA request, we'll post a note to the list with a basic description of the project (for example: "Documents from DHS detailing government use of social media - approximately 100 pages" or "Documents from FBI detailing misuse of National Security Letters - approximately 10,000 pages"). If you're on the list and are interested, you contact us, and we'll tell you how to access pdf versions of the documents and what we're looking for in the information. Then you review the documents and let us know what you find.
Interested in being a Cooperating FOIA Reviewer? Send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, email address, and some brief information on who you are and what you're interested in, and we'll add you to the list.
[UPDATE: Scroll down for list of library happenings for Sunshine Week]
Spring has sprung with a vengeance here in SF. And that could only mean one thing: Sunshine Week!! Yes it's time once again to feel the warm FOIA on your cheek, to discuss and raise awareness of the importance of free and open government information, transparency and the Freedom of Information Act. Be on the lookout for editorials in your local newspaper (like this one in the Cleveland Plain Dealer), discuss FOIA with your friends and family (you'll be glad you did :-)) and highlight it in your libraries -- perhaps by having a public showing of the OpenTheGovernment Webcast!
OpenTheGovernment.org is having a Sunshine Week Webcast 12-2PM EST on Friday March 19 entitled "Building Transparency." The Webcast will include a host of great speakers including Norm Eisen, Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform, Jim Harper, Director of Information Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, John Wonderlich, Policy Director at the Sunlight Foundation, Kevin Goldberg, American Society of News Editors (ASNE) counsel, Miriam Nisbet, Director of the new Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), Melanie Sloan, Executive Director, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Melanie Pustay, Director of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Information Policy (OIP), Eric Gundersen, President and co-founder of Development Seed and Sean Moulton, Director of Federal Information Policy at OMB Watch. It should be a great discussion so hope you can tune in.
What libraries and others are doing for Sunshine Week:
- Northern CA Association of Law Libraries (NOCALL), in association with the Special Library Association Sierra Nevada Chapter, is sponsoring 2 Sunshine Week events; one in Sacramento and one in San Francisco. Both have interesting lists of speakers and require registration for a small fee ($20 for Sacramento event and $15 for SF event). In addition, the SF event immediately precedes the NOCALL Spring Institute on information piracy, "Piracy on the Barbary Coast" which NOCALL and SLA members can attend at the NOCALL member rate, and later in the evening, a celebration of NOCALL's 30th anniversary.
- Freedom of Information Day at the New York Public Library. Tuesday, March 16, 2010, 10:30 - noon. Conference Room 18 on the lower level of New York Public Library (188 Madison Ave. @ 34th St.).
This year's guest speaker is Heather Joseph, Executive Director, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, (SPARC), an international alliance of academic and research libraries working to create a more open system of scholarly communications. FOIA day has been held at NYPL annually since 1993.
- California State University San Bernardino Pfau Library has partnered with the San Bernardino League of Women Voters to be a site for the OpenTheGovernment.org webinar on government transparency. This is the second year that Pfau Library has participated. You can see video of last year.
- The web site www.TalkStandards.com will focus on open government during its monthly online forum. The forum will take place on Thursday March 18th from 8-12 Pacific / 11-3 EST / 4-8pm GMT.
TalkStandards is an active online community where ICT developers, researchers, policymakers and other interested parties can share ideas and collaborate on the global standards system. Each month, a timely topic is chosen (last month, it was eHealth, for example).
This is great news, especially given it's coming during Sunshine Week! This looks like a repudiation of the Ashcroft memo which had reversed FOIA regulations that had been based on guidelines which had established a “presumption” in favor disclosure. The Ashcroft memo reversed those regulations and told agencies to "carefully consider the fundamental values behind the exemptions – national security, privacy, government’s interests, etc – and to lean in their favor whenever possible." (quoted from Coalition of Journalists for Open Government).
Official: US to Release Data Unless Harm Foreseen. NY Times, March 19, 2009
The guidelines were expected to be released later Thursday, amid Sunshine Week, an annual national observation by journalism groups and other organizations to promote open government and freedom of information.
The new standard essentially returns to one issued by Attorney General Janet Reno during the Clinton administration. It would replace a more restrictive policy imposed by the Bush administration under which the Justice Department would defend any sound legal argument for withholding records.
Justice is responsible for government-wide guidance on how to implement the records law because it defends agencies in court if they are sued by people who disagree with a decision to withhold records. Under the Holder standard, Justice lawyers would not defend a decision to withhold records unless their release could be shown to produce foreseeable harm.
The new standards were also expected to encourage agencies to release more documents where the law leaves the decision to their discretion -- an amplification of Obama's order that they adopt a ''presumption for disclosure.''
The standards could also affect the outcome of a dozen or more pending lawsuits, including ones to obtain the legal rationales behind Bush administration anti-terrorism tactics like wiretapping Americans without a warrant and harsh interrogation of terrorism detainees.
On Friday, March 20, 2009, 1 - 2:30 PM (EDT), OpenTheGovernment.org will present a free webcast of a panel discussion at The Center for American Progress.
The event will feature a discussion between speakers and the audience on what the Obama administration hopes to achieve, the policy issues facing this administration, the Obama administration's vision for e-government, and financial and economic transparency. Also during the event, Patrice McDermott, Director of OpenTheGovernment.org and Ari Schwartz, Vice President of the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) will release a report based on the results of Show Us the Data, a web-based survey used to discover what information the public wants to get access to and use, but cannot.
Confirmed Speakers: Dan Chenok, a member of President Obama's "Technology, Innovation and Government Reform" transition team, former branch chief for information policy and technology in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and currently senior vice president and general manager of Pragmatics, Katherine McFate, a Program Officer for Government Performance and Accountability in the Ford Foundation's Governance Unit, and Beth Noveck, a professor of law and director of the Institute for Information Law and Policy at New York Law School and author of Wiki Government (Brookings 2009).
Invited: Vivek Kundra, newly-appointed federal Chief Information Officer (CIO).
To view the webcast live on your personal computer, no pre-registration is required. Simply go to this page: Opening Doors: Finding the Keys to Open Government, where a URL will be available about 24 hours prior to the event.
The Sunshine Week 2009 Survey of State Government Information online found that while more and more government records are being posted online, some of the most important information is being left offline. And in some cases governments are charging taxpayers to access records that they already paid for, such as death certificates.
Teams of surveyors scanned government Web sites in every U.S. state to look for 20 different kinds of public records. The results were released today at the start of Sunshine Week 2009, which runs March 15-21. The study was developed by Sunshine Week, the American Society of Newspaper Editors' Freedom of Information Committee, the National Freedom of Information Coalition, and the Society of Professional Journalists' FOI Committee.
Nationwide Snapshot of Government Records Online Is Focus for Sunshine Week Transparency Project, January 27, 2009, Debra Gersh Hernandez, Coordinator, Sunshine Week.
Sunshine Week's government transparency project for 2009 is enlisting journalists, educators and students, openness advocates and others to develop a snapshot of public records that states make available on their Web sites. The information collected will be distilled into a nationwide report released for Sunshine Week, which runs March 15-21.
..."This year's Sunshine Week project is among our most ambitious and most interesting, as we are highlighting what is becoming an essential part of an informed democracy: easy access to information," commented Charles Davis, NFOIC executive director. "The Internet can be a great force for democratic participation, but only if governments embrace transparency and move to put more information online."
Categories for the survey include death certificates, nursing home and child care inspection reports, financial audits, bridge inspection and safety reports, school test data and inspection records, consumer complaints against businesses, and environmental citations. The worksheet is on the Sunshine Week Web site, and anyone is welcome to utilize it for their localized reports.
Senator Mary Landrieu wrote an article at poynter.org, "letting the sunshine in" to illuminate delayed FEMA response to FOIA requests in regards to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. For example, Mark Schleifstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune filed a FOIA request with FEMA regarding its disaster response operations and planning. After two years (and asking him twice if he was "still interested"), FEMA has yet to act.
But it's this part of the article that really hits a nerve:
"Baton Rouge Advocate reported this week that it had filed a FOIA request in 2006 seeking documentation on FEMA’s contracting procedures and the decisions behind deploying travel trailers across the Gulf Coast. FEMA says they will release the information -- for a fee. The going price for the truth is apparently $209,990, principally to defray copying costs. The agency said the documents are not available electronically and that the only hard copies are stored in its New Orleans field office. Meanwhile, on its Website, FEMA itself advises that, 'If you plan ahead and copy what you have onto compact disks, you can be secure in knowing that they will not be lost in the future.' "
I just don't know what to say after reading that...
In the spirit of Sunshine Week, the National Archives announced the opening of 1.3 million pages of Cold War era Central Intelligence Agency records, dating from 1947 to 1977. The documents are being released as “a part of the National Declassification Initiative program announced by the Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein in April 2006.”
I'm not sure how many of these are available as digital copies, but nevertheless, these records may help some of my student patrons with their papers on the "Red Scare" and the Cold War (every semester I have at least five students working on some aspect of this topic!).