Free Government Information
The past two weeks have seen a burst of activity at the State Agency Databases Project at http://wikis.ala.org/godort/index.php/State_Agency_Databases. For a full list of activity, see http://tinyurl.com/statedbs14d. Here are some highlights:
CALIFORNIA (Joel Rane)
In a post titled
How America’s Global Surveillance Empire made it a Helpless Giant at Informed Comment, Tom Engelhardt provides an excellent summary of NSA activities brought to light by Edward Snowden:
In Mother Jones, Will Potter profiles Ryan Shapiro, a punk rocker-turned-PhD student who wanted to study how the FBI monitors animal-rights activists. Through trial and error, and a lot of digging, he devised a perfectly legal, highly effective strategy to unearth sensitive documents from the bureau's 'byzantine' filing system. So now the FBI is petitioning the United States District Court in Washington, DC, to prevent the release of 350,000 pages of documents he's after. If the court buys the FBI's argument here, it could make it harder for scholars and journalists to keep tabs on federal agencies.
Meet the Punk Rocker Who Can Liberate Your FBI File. By Will Potter. Mother Jones. Wed Nov. 13, 2013
According to the Justice Department, this tattooed activist-turned-academic is the FBI's "most prolific" Freedom of Information Act requester—filing, during one period in 2011, upward of two documents requests a day. In the course of his doctoral work, which examines how the FBI monitors and investigates protesters, Shapiro has developed a novel, legal, and highly effective approach to mining the agency's records. Which is why the government is petitioning the United States District Court in Washington, DC, to prevent the release of 350,000 pages of documents he's after.
The Guardian wrote yesterday, "Conservative party deletes archive of speeches from internet." The Conservative Party has attempted to delete from their website -- as well as from the Internet Archive! -- all their speeches and press releases online from the past 10 years, including one in which David Cameron promises to use the Internet to make politicians 'more accountable'.
This is troubling news, but something as old as politicians -- see for example ALA's long-running serial "Less access to less information by and about the US government" which ran from 1981 - 1998. But it should also come as yet another warning to librarians and archivists of the dire need to harvest and preserve government information and store content off of .gov servers.
The party has removed the archive from its public website, erasing records of speeches and press releases from 2000 until May 2010. The effect will be to remove any speeches and articles during the Tories' modernisation period, including its commitment to spend the same as a Labour government.
The Labour MP Sheila Gilmore accused the party of a cynical stunt, adding: "It will take more than David Cameron pressing delete to make people forget about his broken promises and failure to stand up for anyone beyond a privileged few."
In a remarkable step the party has also blocked access to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, a US-based library that captures webpages for future generations, using a software robot that directs search engines not to access the pages.
NASA has announced that it is making a large collection of NASA climate and Earth science satellite data available to the public via the Amazon cloud.
- NASA Brings Earth Science 'Big Data' to the Cloud with Amazon Web Services, by Ruth Marlaire, Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. RELEASE 13-307 (Nov. 12, 2013).
By using the cloud, research and application users worldwide gain access to an integrated Earth science computational and data management system they can use on their own.
The service encompasses selected NASA satellite and global change data sets -- including temperature, precipitation, and forest cover -- and data processing tools from the NASA Earth Exchange (NEX), a research platform of the NASA Advanced Supercomputer Facility at the agency's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
- NASA NEX, Amazon.
Three NASA NEX datasets are now available, including climate projections and satellite images of Earth.
More information here.
In case you missed the news this week, here is the link to NASA's glorious slideshow of photographs from Cassini, including one of earth as seen from Saturn.
Note: you can download these images...
Great news from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts:
A project providing free online access to federal court opinions has expanded to include 64 courts. The federal Judiciary and the Government Printing Office partner through the GPO’s Federal Digital System, FDsys, to provide public access to more than 750,000 opinions, many dating back to 2004.
The Judicial Conference approved national implementation of the project in September 2012, expanding participation from the original 29 courts. FDsys currently contains opinions from 8 appellate courts, 20 district courts, and 35 bankruptcy courts.
Federal court opinions are one of the most heavily used collections on FDsys, with millions of retrievals each month. Opinions are pulled nightly from the courts’ Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) systems and sent to the GPO, where they are posted on the FDsys website. Collections on FDsys are divided into appellate, district or bankruptcy court opinions and are text-searchable across courts. FDsys also allows embedded animation and audio – an innovation previously only available with opinions posted on a court’s own website or on the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER).
Congress.gov will be the sole source for texts of pending and passed legislation, committee reports, congressional floor speeches and cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office beginning Nov. 19, the Library of Congress announced on Friday.
According to the American Assn of Law Libraries (AALL) "blawg:"
During last week’s Open Government Partnership (OGP) meeting in London, the Obama administration released a preview of its U.S. Open Government National Action Plan 2.0 (NAP). While the second NAP will not be finalized until December 2013, six new commitments to further advance the goals of transparency and accountability in the federal government were announced:
- Expand Open Data
- Modernize the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
- Increase Fiscal Transparency
- Increase Corporate Transparency
- Advance Citizen Engagement and Empowerment
- More Effectively Manage Public Resources
This is great news for open government (though it's still troubling how the administration is walking a very thin, troubling line in re to the NSA and their attacks on whistleblowers). I hope the administration and policy makers on open government will take some cues from our 2010 Letter to Deputy CTO Noveck: "Open Government Publications".
The audiobook "Getting to Know the President" was recently released by the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence (CSI). It's available on GPO's Federal Digital System (FDsys) in MP3 format, broken into several chapters. It's also available in PDF on the CIA site.
CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence (CSI) has released its first audio book, Getting to Know the President (Second Edition). The audio book takes listeners inside the history of CIA briefings to presidential candidates and presidents-elect from 1952-2004, all through the eyes of former CIA Inspector General and Director for Intelligence John Helgerson. This second edition of Getting to Know the President updates Helgerson’s 1996 book with reflections on the transition to President George W. Bush in 2000 and the briefings provided to his Democratic challengers in 2004.
The book offers a look into the interactions of political figures and intelligence professionals across 10 presidential transitions. Helgerson relies on internal documents, public memoirs and interviews with four former presidents, several former Directors of Central Intelligence and Directors of National Intelligence. The result is a highly engaging account, providing both anecdote and analysis.
Here are some highlights of the past week's activity at the State Agency Databases Project at http://wikis.ala.org/godort/index.php/State_Agency_Databases:
CALIFORNIA (Joel Rane)
Toxicity Criteria - A database of toxic chemicals as defined by the OEHHA, browsable by chemical name and searchable by common name, CAS number, use or synonym.
NEW HAMPSHIRE (Linda Johnson)
OneStop Data and Information - More than 30 environmental databases covering air, water, asbestos, permits, and a variety of other topics are brought together here.
For a full listing of the past seven days of activity at our project, visit http://tinyurl.com/statedbs.
It's hard to believe we're rapidly approaching FGI's 9 year anniversary(!). We'd like to ring in our 10th year with an invitation to the community to become citizen documents bloggers. We don't want to have news and information critical to the govt information community fall through the cracks -- fugitive news?! -- and so we need your help. Are you a news hound? Maybe you'd like to cover the "doc in the news" beat like the one we just posted. Passionate about fugitive documents? Freshen up the blog with periodic posts about interesting fugitives -- perhaps ones you've found on the lostdocs blog. Policy wonk? You could set up Govtrack.us alerts and write about legislation of interest to libraries and the docs community.
The possibilities are limitless, but we need your help to make them a reality. Contact us at freegovinfo AT gmail DOT com if you're intrigued.
I ran across a story in the Guardian on Friday that sent me on a document hunt. Congressman Alan Grayson wrote a piece in which he referenced the Pike Committee investigation of the CIA:
"Congressional oversight of the NSA is a joke. I should know, I'm in Congress." Alan Grayson. The Guardian, Friday 25 October 2013.
In the 1970s, Congressman Otis Pike of New York chaired a special congressional committee to investigate abuses by the American so-called "intelligence community" – the spies. After the investigation, Pike commented:
'It took this investigation to convince me that I had always been told lies, to make me realize that I was tired of being told lies. I'm tired of the spies telling lies, too.'
Pike's investigation initiated one of the first congressional oversight debates for the vast and hidden collective of espionage agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Security Agency (NSA). Before the Pike Commission, Congress was kept in the dark about them – a tactic designed to thwart congressional deterrence of the sometimes illegal and often shocking activities carried out by the "intelligence community". Today, we are seeing a repeat of this professional voyeurism by our nation's spies, on an unprecedented and pervasive scale.
My apologies for the long drought on updates for the State Agency Databases Project at http://wikis.ala.org/godort/index.php/State_Agency_Databases. Volunteers have been active, but among other things I've been taking an amazing online class called the Hyperlinked Library through San Jose State University. The course materials are open and available at http://mooc.hyperlib.sjsu.edu/ and I think that all of the modules could be of considerable benefit to government information librarians.
But I digress. For a listing of the last two weeks worth of activity, visit http://tinyurl.com/statedbs14d. Here are some highlights:
ALASKA (Daniel Cornwall)
ScholarWorks@UA - Institutional repository for theses, dissertations and other research by University of Alaska Students and Faculty. May be searched or browsed by campus, issue date, author, subject, titles or type of resource.
DELAWARE (John Stevenson)
Door-to-door Salesperson Search - Searchable by salesperson last name, business name, or license number.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (Susan Paterson)
Search current job openings - DC Department of Human Resources (DCHR) helps District agencies meet their staffing requirements by ensuring the highest level of customer service to city residents.
MISSOURI (Annie Moots)
Consumer Confidence Reports - Search for and view public water supply system reports by county.
OHIO (Audrey Hall)
I love the Freedom of Information Act (United States) (FOIA)! It's a vital tool to researchers, journalists and the public -- so much so that there are now several sites that try to help manage the sometimes long and arduous FOIA process (see MuckRock and FOIA Machine). So I'm constantly on the lookout for sites that post FOIA'd documents that I can add to my FOIA web harvesting archive.
One such site that has long had a place in my govt documents heart is the Government Attic. This is a truly amazing site in which to "rummage." The site has posted thousands of documents(!) from their many FOIA requests including:
- FOIA logs (FOIAs about FOIAs are really handy!)
- documents across a wide swath of government activity like Inspector Generals of various agencies
- internal agency Websites
- agencies' self-identified interesting documents
- FBI high visibility memos
- DoD resale activities border review (reviews which videos and magazines could be sold on military bases)
- a compilation of FBI documents concerning the security of telephone services, 1952-1995 (this one was so interesting that I have stored a local copy and had it cataloged for our library!).
They also have a Links page which includes information about FOIA, guides on how to submit FOIA requests, etc.
Government documents can contain the oddest things! The CIA declassified its U2 flight handbook in 2012. Graphic designer Jack Curry noticed something "delightful" about the manual: "little cartoons of an anthropomorphized U2 at the beginning of each section" and posted copies of them on his personal blog.
Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world, has released its fourth report in a series of comprehensive studies of internet freedom around the globe. It covers developments in 60 countries that occurred between May 2012 and April 2013.
- Freedom on the Net 2013: Despite Pushback, Internet Freedom Deteriorates. (press release, interactive maps, etc.).
This edition's findings indicate that internet freedom worldwide is in decline, with 34 out of 60 countries assessed in the report experiencing a negative trajectory during the coverage period. Broad surveillance, new laws controlling web content, and growing arrests of social-media users drove this overall decline in internet freedom in the past year.
- Freedom On The Net 2013: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media ("summary of findings" 45pp PDF) edited by Sanja Kelly Mai Truong Madeline Earp Laura Reed Adrian Shahbaz Ashley Greco-Stoner. (October 3, 2013).
- U.S. ranks fourth in Internet freedom as surveillance grows worldwide, By Colin Neagle, Network World (October 04, 2013).
Internet freedom has declined in the United States over the past year as a result of its surveillance policies, reflecting a trend that appears to have caught on worldwide, according to a recently released study.
The 2013 edition of the Secrecy Report from OpenTheGoverment.org is now available.
- Secrecy Report 2013 --The Tip of the Iceberg (announcement) OpenTheGoverment.org (October 1, 2013)
Today's release of the 2013 Secrecy Report, the 9th annual review and analysis of indicators of secrecy in the federal government by OpenTheGovernment.org, comes amid shocking revelations that cast doubt on the accuracy and the meaningfulness of the government's statistics about surveillance.... [T]he government's insistence on keeping interpretations of the law secret and a lack of oversight by Congress and the Judicial Branch helped set the stage for a surveillance program that is much broader than previously believed.
- Secrecy Report 2013: Indicators of Secrecy in the Federal Government. by Patrice McDermott, Amy Bennett, Abby Paulson, and Shannon Alexander, OpenTheGoverment.org. (2013)
As a result of the disclosures [by Edward Snowden through the Guardian and the Washington Post], the intelligence community has been forced to declassify and release documents that, until recently, they (and the FISA Court) averred could not and should not be declassified. The misdirection in which our government has engaged and the use of secret law are, for us, as disturbing as the activities they have hidden.
- The Must Read 2013 Secrecy Report is Out, by Nate Jones, Unredacted: The National Security Archive (October 7, 2013).
Update #2 10pm PST 10/2/13 : Our friends over at the Sunlight Foundation have an interesting post, "What Happens to .gov in a Shutdown?" They explained the .gov shutdown matrix:
...drawn on an agency-by-agency basis, and the specific determination is based on the importance of the function and how illegal ceasing to do it might be. But aside from some obvious ones--national parks would be closed; the CO2 scrubber on the International Space Station would stay plugged in--it'll be agency leadership that makes the determinations.
(and love the unix joke!)
UPDATE #1 3pm PST 10/2/13: Arstechnica, checked 56 .gov sites and found 10 that went dark. See "Shutdown of US government websites appears bafflingly arbitrary."
A bunch of federal websites will shut down with the government, By Andrea Peterson, Washington Post, Published: September 30 at 5:28 pm.
What's love got to do with it? further thoughts on libraries and collections
Rick Anderson, in his Ithaka S+R "Issue Brief" paper, Can’t Buy Us Love: The Declining Importance of Library Books and the Rising Importance of Special Collections, proposes a radically different vision of the future of libraries in which libraries cede the organization, preservation, and curation of large areas of the information landscape to individuals and the private sector.