Sunday, June 29, 2008

Lawyer Launches Test of Freedom of Information in China

Saturday, June 28, 2008
Lawyer Launches Test of Freedom of Information in China
A Beijing lawyer has launched a test of China's new Open Government
Information (OGI) Regulations (政府信息公开条例), which, according to the OGI,
are intended to "ensure that citizens, legal persons and other
organizations (公民、法人和其他组织) can obtain government information by lawful
means, and increase government transparency," Human Rights in China
has learned.

Lawyer Cheng Hai (程海) filed a request on June 24 asking the Beijing
authorities to disclose the procedures and the committee members
relating to the Reeducation-Through-Labor (RTL) (劳动教养) program. The
request was made under the new OGI rules, which became effective on
May 1, 2008.

full blog post

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Slovenliness is now a valid excuse (Aus)

Slovenliness is now a valid excuse
Matthew Moore
June 28, 2008

The state's highest court has delivered another blow to anyone trying
to get information using NSW's freedom of information laws.

As of last week, whenever a government agency says it cannot find a
document, bad luck. There's nothing you can do about it - even if you
know it has the document.

Matthew Moore is the Herald's FoI editor. Tell him your FoI successes
and failures at

This story was found at:

Friday, June 27, 2008


* * * * *


Date / time: July 15, 2008, 2:00 p.m.

Location (in-person participation): Suite 1800, 1801 Hollis Street, Halifax

Call in instructions (telephone participation): TBA


1. Annual report of the President

2. Annual financial report of the Treasurer

3. Other annual reports

4. Election of Directors

5. Election of Officers

6. Other business

Brian K. Awad

* * * * *

Rebooting Democracy

Rebooting Democracy

Ellen Miller

Rebooting Democracy, a compendium of some 44 essays, was released
earlier this week at the Personal Democracy Forum conference. It
virtually - and for real (there was actually a real book produced. You
can download it too) — seethes with the hopes and possibilities of re
energizing, reorganizing, and reorienting our government for the
Internet Age. It focuses on some fundamental questions: Is it possible
to redesign our government with open doors and see-through walls? How
can we leverage the exponential power of many-to-many deliberation for
the common good? It's a really terrific collection with a remarkable
group of authors. My contribution is about what real government
transparency means as FOIA dies.

The Merciful Death of the Freedom of Information Act and the Birth of
True Government Transparency: A Short History

full article:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which
knowledge gives."

~ President James Madison, 1822

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Justice Minister Jerome Kennedy said it was "an absolute routine matter" to edit ATI requested documents

Nothing unusual about document edits: Kennedy

Last updated at 8:03 AM on 24/06/08

The Telegram

Justice Minister Jerome Kennedy said it was "an absolute routine
matter" for the Premiers Office and the cabinet secretariat to edit
documents asked for in a Access to Information request.

full article

Government Accountability and Fraud Stop Act

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 23, 2008) – Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver today announced comprehensive landmark legislation to increase government accountability at all levels and end fraud and abuse in the state retirement system with tough new penalties for fraud, the closing of "double dipping" loopholes for retirees and increased transparency and accountability in school spending plans.

full article

Cuomo's Government Accountability and Fraud Stop Act: School administrator salaries/benefits to be posted online

RIGHT TO KNOW: Cuomo: School administrator salaries/benefits to be posted online

It's no secret that public disclosure is an effective tool to make government more accountable to the people. But now, apparently, even the government is starting to figure it out.

In the latest series of press releases from state government in the past two weeks proposing all sorts of new open government initiatives, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is hoping to use your right to know to make sure school boards aren't cheating the public on pensions, salaries or unnecessary contractual arrangements.

full article

(UK) Number of FOI complaints upheld prompt bias fear

Number of FOI complaints upheld prompt bias fear

23 June 2008

Fewer than one in 20 complaints made to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) about central Government departments led to a formal ruling to disclose information under the Freedom of Information Act.

This was one finding of Press Gazette research into complaints made about Freedom of Information requests to central Government departments.
full article

Get to the root of the problem : The Amherst Daily News

Last updated at 11:22 PM on 23/06/08  

Get to the root of the problem print this article
The Amherst Daily News

The province's failed immigrant program was shameful from the beginning. Things have gone from bad to worse in the latest twist: critics have had to subpoena the premier and cabinet members to obtain information they are hiding.
As it is, Nova Scotia hasn't had a good record where freedom of information is concerned. Let's hope this highlights the problem and prompts a less cavalier attitude.
full article 

Saturday, June 21, 2008

FOI core to good governance: World Bank workshop ‘Freedom of Information in Pakistan: Drawing on International Experience’

Freedom of information urged for good governance
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Our correspondent


Freedom of Information (FOI) is a core principle of good governance. Transparency, accountability and civil society participation are integral to equitable development and poverty reduction. These conclusions were drawn by a wide range of participants at a workshop 'Freedom of Information in Pakistan: Drawing on International Experience' organised by the World Bank on Thursday.

"Information is central to any notion of accountability and accountability is essential for good governance and effective service delivery", said World Bank Country Director for Pakistan Yusupha Crookes. "As Pakistan's development partner and as an institution that prides itself in being a 'Knowledge Bank', we hope that by providing this opportunity to learn from international experience, and share ideas about how FOI can be made a reality in Pakistan, we will be making a modest contribution to this process", he said.
full article at The News

Herald goes to court to get WCB to comply with FOI order

Herald appeals in bid to get WCB injury statistics

The Chronicle Herald has asked the courts to force the Workers' Compensation Board to release a list of workplaces with the highest numbers of accidents and injuries.

In an appeal filed with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Friday, The Chronicle Herald says the WCB should comply with the decision of the province's freedom of information watchdog to make those names public.

No date has yet been set to hear the case.
Full article at Herald:

Friday, June 20, 2008

US FOIA at 40

FOIA at 40

On Independence Day 40 years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), "establish[ing] an effective legal right of access to government information, underscoring the crucial need in a democracy for open access to government information by citizens."

At a time when the federal government has rapidly increased the number of documents being classified, we do well to honor those who insisted that Congress improve government transparency. After that nod to the past, press your Congressman to reverse the trend in secrecy since 9-11.

This is not a partisan issue. Opening comments from 15 March 2005 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing:

"Freedom of information and openness in government are among the most fundamental founding principles of our government. The Declaration of Independence makes clear that our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness may be secured only where 'Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.'"
-- Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.)

"The public's right to know, backed up by FOIA, is a cornerstone of our democracy, guaranteeing a free flow of information that delivers America's promise of government by, of, and for the people."
-- Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Editor and Publisher writes that the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government (CJOG) recently analyzed FOIA requests for fiscal 2005. They found:
The number of unfulfilled requests at the end of fiscal 2005 was 148,603, a backlog of 31%. That's a big increase from 2004's 20% backlog -- and comes despite a decline in the number of requests, the coalition found.

Some agencies were particularly woeful. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), for instance, had a backlog of 131%. The median waiting time for "complex" SEC requests was 410 working days in fiscal 2005, double what it was the year before, CJOG found. (For a frame of reference, there are 261 federal working days in a year.)

Edited to add E&P quote.

UK FOI request reveals aliens shun leafy Warwickshire

Aliens shun leafy Warwickshire

Jo Cave/Kevin Unitt

19 June 2008
TOURISTS from across the globe may flock to see the sights of Warwickshire, but it seems our reputation is not exactly out of this world.
Archives of UFO sightings - dubbed the British X-files- released by the Ministry of Defence reveal that the little green men are not interested in the county.
Amid a glut of reports from neighbouring Birmingham, Staffordshire, Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire, just a couple of lonely documents detail suspected alien encounters in Shakespeare's County between 1978 and 2002.
Perhaps the extra-terrestrials are simply not interested in great literature or maybe Warwickshire residents spend a lot of time staring at their feet rather than the skies.
But several times the Observer has been contacted by locals convinced they've made sightings of their own - a common factor in many cases being that the spotters had been drinking.
Inspired by this we put in a freedom of information (FOI) request to Warwickshire County Council, asking for a record of any UFO sightings reported to them.
The swift reply read: "We will treat this as an FOI request if you wish us to.
"However we would ask you to be understanding of the fact that each FOI request made to the council takes a certain resource commitment and we are generally inclined not to deal with requests that tend towards the frivolous."
Just 19 seconds later we received a second email stating: "Having considered your request for information I regret to advise you that the county council does not hold the information you have requested.
"This is because the county council does not record reports of UFO sightings and as far as I am aware, no such sightings have been reported to the council."
The truth may be out there somewhere, but not at Shire Hall.
Undeterred, we asked the Coventry and Warwickshire Astronomy Society to probe the mystery.
Vice chairman Clive Rogers was able to shed some light on the subject - but conspiracy theorists might not like the answer.
He said: "I can't find anyone who will come forward who has seen anything that cannot be explained, be it by manmade or natural forces.
"Most of the time its either a bright planet or a satellite that is going over - if you have not seen the ISS (International Space Station) that could throw you. This is a very bright object that starts in the west and flies east, and sometimes it stops shining just like someone has turned off the lights - this is because the ISS has now gone into the earths shadow.
"There are some satellites called Iridium Flares, which are very fast streaks in the night sky. Sometimes these can be very bright, so bright I wouldn't doubt that they could be seen in daylight as some even outshine Venus, which is our brightest thing in the sky except for the Sun and the Moon.
"Most nights there are meteors that will streak across the sky from no apparent showers. These are sporadic meteors, which is just a grain of dust.
"As to what UFOs look like or are likely to look like I have no idea. I have never seen one to my knowledge.
"The only flying saucer I have ever seen was expertly launched by my late mother at an older cheeky brother. He was lucky the cup didn't follow."
Perhaps sensible Warwickshire residents rationalise the many secrets of the night skies before running to the authorities. Or perhaps we really are alone in the universe.
But the question remains - could it all be a cover up?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

One in five Freedom Of Information requests turned down by Government

One in five Freedom Of Information requests turned down by Government

Last updated: 6:03 PM BST 18/06/2008

One in five requests under the Government's new Freedom of Information laws are turned down, Jack Straw has admitted.

The Freedom of Information Act, which came into force in January 2005, applies to more than 100,000 public bodies across the UK.

Last year figures from the Ministry of Justice show that central Government bodies received more than 32,000 different requests for information.

However 20 per cent - nearly 7,000 requests - were turned down point blank by officials. Less than two thirds of the requests - 63 per cent - were classed as fully "resolvable".

The annual report on the FOI Act in central Government also revealed that 16 per cent - more than 5,000 requests - were taking more than the specified 20 days to process.

Of the 620 requests which went to internal review within the departments, 19 per cent took more than 60 days to process.

Maurice Franckel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said: "This reflects the delays that some requesters are still experiencing before they receive a firm answer."

John Ashton, a consultant at Freedom of Information Ltd which makes requests for companies and non-governmental organisations, added: "The closer you get to central Government the tighter they are.

"The problem is that the Act just has too many exemptions - particularly over 'information that can be prejudicial to the effective carrying out of public affairs'."

The Liberal Democrats said it was difficult to see how so many requests can be turned down in an era of free information.

Justice spokesman David Howarth said: "There are genuine concerns over the creeping use of fees and exemptions as public bodies seek to wriggle away from their obligations."

Mr Straw, the Justice Secretary, said that the "flow of information between the Government and the people is fundamental to a vigorous and robust democracy".

However he added: "At the same time there is which in the public interest should not be released, and this is reflected in the structure of the Act, with some absolute exemptions and many qualified exemptions to release."

A review by Paul Dacre, editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers, was also looking at whether there should be increased open-ness in relation to the release of historical records.

Last year ministers backed down from a plan to charge more for FOI requests.

Story from Telegraph News:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Judge: White House Not Obligated To Comply With Freedom Of Information Act


Judge: White House Not Obligated To Comply With Freedom Of Information Act

June 16, 2008 2:55 p.m. EST

Kris Alingod - AHN News Writer

Washington, D.C. (AHN) - A federal judge has ruled that the White House does not have to disclose records about missing emails being sought by Congress in its investigation about the Bush administration's dismissal of nine federal prosecutors.

U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said on Monday that the government's Office of Administration was not obliged to comply with the Freedom of Information Act since it was not an agency and did not possess substantial independent authority. An advocacy group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), filed a lawsuit May last year to have records about the missing email messages publicly disclosed.

"We are disappointed in the ruling and believe the judge reached the wrong legal conclusion. CREW has appealed the decision." CREW executive director Melanie Sloan said in a statement posted on the group's website. "The Bush administration is using the legal system to prevent the American people from discovering the truth about the millions of missing White House e-mails."

Congressional investigation of the alleged politically-motivated dismissals of nine federal prosecutors in 2006 led to the discovery of the lost email messages, some of which were sent using email accounts hosted by the Republican National Committee.

Monday, June 16, 2008

AD advises NASS on passage of FOI bill

AD advises NASS on passage of FOI bill
• Sunday, Jun 15, 2008

Alliance for Democracy (AD) has called on the National Assembly (NASS) to reconsider its stand and pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill.

Mr Rafiu Salau, the National Publicity Secretary of the party told newsmen in Kaduna that the bill would strengthen the country's democracy.

Salau advised members of NASS not to regard the proposed law as an "instrument for blackmailing public office holders".

"FOI law will make our democracy successful. It will put our democracy in a position of respect and to make it complete," he said.

According to him, the bill will ensure transparency and accountability, install good governance and give the people total control of democracy.

The party added that the law would also facilitate and support the crusade for due process, rule of law and anti-graft.

"In fact, the war against corruption can be successful only if the House enacts law meant for blocking the loopholes that encourage corruption," he said.

"The House will help EFCC and ICPC in fighting corruption, if the FOI bill is passed into law."

"With FOI, the people will be closer to governance and will have facts to determine credible candidates."

The committee of whole House of Representatives stood down the bill the third time last week.

Solomon FOI review is a step towards open government

Solomon FOI review is a step towards open government

Article from: The Courier-Mail 

Paul Williams

June 17, 2008 12:00am

IT'S probably the most important document released on Queensland governance since Tony Fitzgerald, QC, delivered his report into official corruption in 1989.

It is a report that may well become a blueprint for others, including the Federal Government, and make Queensland a national leader in public accountability.

Yet, sadly, many don't even know it exists.

I'm, of course, referring to the Freedom of Information review delivered to Premier Anna Bligh last week by Dr David Solomon.

Entitled The Right to Information, the 423-page report offers 141 recommendations for reform that are as bold as they are overdue.

It's hard to believe that Queensland until the late 1980s was a political laughing stock interstate.

Rigged electoral boundaries, a murky public service culture and no parliamentary or ministerial accountability made governments in Queensland – first Labor to the late 1950s and then the Coalition and later the Nationals alone until 1989 – virtual empires, with premiers uncrowned kings.

But with the adoption of the Fitzgerald report – itself a masterpiece blueprint of electoral, administrative and judicial reform – Queensland became a paragon of political virtue.

As we boasted an independent Criminal Justice Commission (now CMC), an independent Electoral Commission and real reform to Cabinet, parliamentary and public service processes, no one dared laugh again.

Other states looked to us as a role model for all sorts of accountability measures, including our then state-of-the-art FOI legislation.

The then Goss Labor government was justly proud. Government members in the early 1990s trumpeted that FOI laws would be a triumph of law over political expediency, providing a gateway to information for the ordinary citizen and for interest groups and the media.

But FOI practices have sunk into grey waters since. It's become de rigueur, for example, for ministers to attach tomes of politically sensitive documents often unrelated to deliberations at hand to Cabinet papers so as to invoke the 30-year secrecy rule.

It's therefore a breakthrough that Solomon recommends reducing this waiting period before public disclosure to just 10 years.

Given a decade, or three parliaments, approximates the average political career, this should be ample time for closeted skeletons to be dusted without fear or favour.

But other tactics to help hide, or obscure, information – or at least to make its retrieval difficult – also have crept in.

Governments everywhere today regard the media as the enemy, with paranoia of journalistic fishing expeditions prevailing in ministerial offices.

We are, then, a long way from the spirit of open government so admirably laid down in the original 1992 FOI legislation.

Today, the default administrative position has moved from one where all information is free, with exceptions, to one where all information is off-limits, with exemptions granted at the Government's pleasure.

Solomon and his co-panelists Simone Webbe and Dominic McGann are therefore right to spell out in their second and third recommendations a single overarching theme: the need to move FOI from the existing pull model to a push model where government routinely and proactively releases government information without the need to make an FOI request.

It's a sentiment reflected in recommendation 138 which urges a new law called the Right to Information Act.

Bligh has invested significant leadership credibility in reforming FOI.

The fact she announced the review just days into her premiership demonstrates she's at pains to distinguish her Government from Peter Beattie's neglect of FOI.

All eyes are now on the Premier to see exactly how many of, and to what extent, the panel's recommendations are picked up.

If Bligh adopts the report in former premier Mike Ahern's words – lock, stock and barrel – she runs the risk of alienating politically fearful ministerial colleagues still wavering in their judgment of Bligh.

Yet if she squibs this reform opportunity for political expedience, she runs a risk of backlash from a jaded electorate cynically sick of governments doing whatever it takes to retain office.

Solomon's tough and honest appraisal is important as a reminder that every government needs watching.

Dr Paul Williams is a lecturer at the School of Arts, Griffith University, Gold Coast.,23739,23871477-27197,00.html

Friday, June 13, 2008

Freedom Of Information: Watchdog targets government and public institutions (UK)

Freedom Of Information: Watchdog targets government and public institutions

The dawn of the Freedom of Information age was supposed to bring a shift in government attitudes to secrecy. So why, asks Robert Verkaik, Law Editor, has the Information Commissioner made a call for greater disclosure?

Friday, 13 June 2008

Nearly 10,000 leaders of public bodies in England and Wales have been told they must help make Britain a more open society by releasing a greater amount of information to the public.

The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has written to all chief executives of local authorities, NHS trusts, police agencies and thousands of other organisations, urging them to disclose a range of information "as a matter of routine".

The decision to embark upon such a broad offensive is partly driven by the new Freedom of Information publication schemes which public bodies must have in place by the end of this year. But it will also serve as a timely reminder that three years after the introduction of the right-to-know laws in England and Wales, obfuscation and political censorship still present a huge obstacle to a truly open society.

More than a third of all requests to government departments and public bodies are refused in part or in whole and around a half of complaints concerning failed requests are upheld by the Information Commissioner.

This month, Mr Thomas told a Freedom of Information conference in London that public authorities must do more to disclose more information in a proactive way and eradicate unnecessary secrecy.

"Since FOI was introduced in January 2005 it has made a huge impact on public life," he said. "Freedom of Information means a presumption of openness, where secrecy must be reserved for situations when it really is necessary. Secrecy should not be the default position, whether in Whitehall or elsewhere."

He added: "I am pleased that more and more government departments, local authorities, police bodies, NHS organisations and other public authorities are seeing the benefits of greater transparency and disclosing official material as a matter of routine. I encourage all public authorities to see that transparency as the norm should result in improved administration and fewer requests."

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 all public authorities must adopt and maintain a publication scheme identifying the types of information they publish, or intend to publish, and how that information is to be published.

Meanwhile, the work of the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is being frustrated by chronic underfunding by central government. Since 2005 the ICO has received around 8,300 complaints about public authorities that have refused to release information and has closed just over 82 per cent of these cases.

The ICO has informally resolved almost half of FOI complaints and almost a thousand formal decision notices have been issued. But its overall caseload stands at 1,363.

After a cut in resources in 2007/08, the ICO's FOI funding has now increased again to £5.5m – the same level that was set in 2006/07. Mr Thomas hopes that the new funding will enable the ICO to continue to close more cases than it receives each month.

But without more money and more case officers to handle the most difficult cases, the spirit of the legislation is not being met. Some of the hardest cases, dealing with public complaints about refusals to release information on a range of issues, including the security costs for the Royal Family and documents relating to cabinet minutes, have waiting times of nearly two years.

Unless this backlog can be reduced quickly, the public will lose faith in its information watchdog.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Eyes Only: [redacted] - Washington Post

Top Secret
Eyes Only: [redacted]
In Its            Offices, the National Security Archive Houses Stockpiles of           , Gotten From the Government by           
By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 8, 2008; C01

Stoned on speed, Elvis Presley arrived at the White House wearing a purple velvet suit and bearing gifts for President Richard Nixon -- a Colt .45 pistol and some silver bullets.

It was Dec. 21, 1970, and Elvis had a mission: He wanted Nixon to give him a federal narcotics agent's badge so he could carry dope and guns wherever he went. Nixon didn't give Elvis the badge, but he did pose for pictures with the King of Rock-and-Roll.

Nineteen years later, newspapers reported that the Elvis-Nixon photos were the most requested pictures in the federal government's vast photo collection, and Tom Blanton responded the same way he responds to so many other interesting news stories: He filed a Freedom of Information Act request.

"When the president meets with anybody, there's a whole paper trail, so we filed a FOIA request and got the entire file released," says Blanton, who is the director of the National Security Archive, a private research group devoted to prying documents out of the federal government's files and making them public.

The fruits of Blanton's Elvis-Nixon FOIA turned out to be gloriously goofy: There was Elvis's handwritten letter to Nixon requesting a meeting and bragging that "I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse." And a White House staffer's memo suggesting that Nixon ask Elvis to "record an album with the theme 'Get High on Life.' " And the official notes of the historic meeting: "Presley immediately began showing the President his law enforcement paraphernalia, including badges from police departments . . . ."

Blanton posted the documents on the National Security Archive's Web site, and for years they were the most downloaded items on the site. But in 2003, the Elvis-Nixon meeting was dethroned by another of the archive's postings -- documents detailing the 1983 meeting of two other legendary characters, Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein.

The archive obtained those documents by FOIA, too. One State Department cable showed Rumsfeld cozying up to Saddam, who was then involved in a long, bloody war with Iran: "Rumsfeld told Saddam US and Iraq had shared interests in preventing Iranian and Syrian expansion. He said US was urging other states to curtail arms sales to Iran."

Blanton loves government documents. It's an acquired taste that has also been acquired by his colleagues at the archive. Over the past 23 years, they have filed more than 35,000 FOIA requests and collected more than 5 million pages of government documents. Some of the documents are mind-numbingly boring, of course, but others are nothing short of astonishing:

A CIA guidebook called "A Study of Assassination," which advised right-wing Latin Americans on the most effective ways to bludgeon, stab and shoot their enemies.

A National Security Agency study revealing that the agency "deliberately skewed" its account of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, which led to the escalation of the Vietnam War.

A 2002 Pentagon PowerPoint briefing on plans for the upcoming invasion of Iraq -- code name "Polo Step" -- that assumed that only 5,000 American troops would remain in Iraq by the end of 2006.

Perhaps the most famous documents obtained by the archive were the CIA's so-called "Family Jewels," which detailed the agency's illegal wiretaps and attempts to assassinate foreign leaders. The archive filed its FOIA request for the "Family Jewels" in 1992. Fifteen years later, in 2007, the CIA finally released them, and they made headlines around the world.

"We're doing the Lord's work, as my daddy would say," Blanton says with a laugh. "Information doesn't belong to the government, it belongs to all of us."

Blanton is 53, but he looks much younger, a good advertisement for the dubious proposition that spending your entire adult life poring through government documents has a fountain-of-youth effect. He's sitting in his office at the archive, which is headquartered in George Washington University's Gelman Library. His room, like all the others, is piled high with cardboard boxes, each of them piled high with documents. And more documents arrive nearly every day, delivered by a uniformed agent of the federal government -- a mail carrier.

"Every day is Christmas -- you're opening a present from the government," Blanton says. "Look at this. It came in last week. I haven't even gone through it yet."

He picks a document off his desk, which is littered with documents. The heading reads, "Defeating An Insurgency: Seminar War Game."

"It's a war game that was conducted just a year ago in McLean, Virginia, with the Air Force, Army, Navy and Special Operations Command."

He flips through the pages until something catches his eye. "Okay, there were three war games," he says. "One was Egypt, one was Colombia, one was Kurd versus Arab."

He flips a few more pages, then softly mutters a word that is frequently muttered by the archive's staff of document buffs when they peruse the latest fruits of FOIA:


Rogue Research

The National Security Archive is the house that FOIA built and a mecca for document buffs.

Despite its official-sounding name, the archive is not a government agency. It's an independent, nonprofit institute created in 1985 by a handful of reporters, historians and activists who'd been filing FOIA requests for documents related to American activities in the guerrilla wars then raging in Central America. Its first director was Scott Armstrong, a former Senate Watergate Committee staffer and Washington Post reporter. Armstrong finagled a grant from the Ford Foundation and borrowed office space at the Brookings Institution and soon he was filing hundreds of FOIA requests, many related to the big scandal of the '80s, the Iran-contra affair.

Naturally, these activities made him extremely unpopular with the Reagan administration.

"Scott was regarded as quite a dangerous scoundrel, to put it mildly," recalls former Justice Department attorney Daniel J. Metcalfe, who served for 25 years as the federal government's FOIA coordinator. In 1986, Metcalfe issued a directive warning federal FOIA officials to be wary of Armstrong, but that didn't stop the archive from obtaining and releasing countless Iran-contra documents.

"Iran-contra is what made us," Armstrong recalls.

In January 1989, Armstrong learned that the Reagan administration planned to erase all White House e-mails before leaving office a few days later. Quickly, the archive filed a lawsuit to prevent the destruction of the e-mails. The case was called Armstrong et al. v. Reagan et al. To make a long story short, Armstrong beat Reagan, the e-mails were released and Blanton collected the best of them in a book titled "White House E-Mail," published in 1995.

By then, Armstrong had left the organization, Blanton was director and the archive had moved to its current box-filled warren of offices in GWU's Gelman Library.

Once perceived as a hotbed of radicals, the National Security Archive is now a major Washington institution with a staff of 35 and an annual budget of more than $3 million, most of it donated by foundations. The documents it has gathered have been quoted in countless newspapers, books and documentary films. The archive has won Emmy, Peabody and Polk awards, and in 2004, avant-garde artist Jenny Holzer projected 30 of its documents on the walls of tall buildings in Bregenz, Austria, in a work she called "Truth Before Power."

Among the world's document buffs -- a small but tenacious tribe of journalists, researchers and historians -- the archive is legendary for its prolific and skillful practice of the art of the FOIA request.

"They craft the best FOIA requests around," says Metcalfe, the archive's former adversary, who is now a law professor at American University. "If anybody does it better, I haven't seen it."

"They do it extremely well," says Steve Aftergood, a researcher at the Federation of American Scientists, who is himself no slouch at the art of FOIA. "Within the government, it is known that they are persistent and they're willing to litigate if necessary and they're not going away. All of those things provide incentives for agencies to take their requests seriously."

Every year, the archive files roughly 2,000 FOIA requests and collects about 75,000 documents, many dealing with the most important events of the past 60 years -- the Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam, the collapse of the Soviet empire, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran. The documents are studied by staffers who specialize in each issue, collected into "electronic briefing books" and posted on the archive's Web site, and readers around the world download nearly a half-million pages a day.

Meanwhile, hundreds of researchers come to the archive every year to study the documents -- grad students, journalists, historians, even the occasional retired spy writing his memoirs.

In the winter of 2007, an Egyptian millionaire named Ashraf Marwan arrived at the archive to do some research. The son-in-law of Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser and an adviser to Nasser's successor, Anwar Sadat, Marwan was widely reputed to be a spy for Israel. He was also widely reputed to be a clever Egyptian double-agent who fed disinformation to the Israelis. At the archive, he studied documents on the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and told archive analyst William Burr that he was doing research for his memoirs.

A few months later, in June 2007, Marwan jumped, fell or was pushed from the fourth floor balcony of his apartment in London and was found dead on the sidewalk.

"Police have been advised," the Times of London reported, "that the only known copy of Dr. Marwan's memoirs disappeared from his flat on the day of his death."

Redaction in Action

Sometimes, working at the National Security Archive is like living in a Kafkaesque bureaucratic hell.

You're interested in some specific government action so you file a FOIA request, asking for the documents related to it. Then you wait. And wait. And wait. Months go by. Sometimes years go by. Then, if you're lucky, you get a stack of documents -- thousands and thousands of pages. Pulsing with excitement, you start reading, only to find yourself slogging through reams of hideously boring drivel, some of it so dull that being forced to read it would probably violate the Geneva Conventions. But you wade through it and finally you come to the good stuff, the diamonds hidden in this dung heap and -- they've been blacked out, obliterated by some censor, or, as the bureaucrats call it, "redacted."

Redaction is the bane of an archive staffer's existence, and they love to tell redaction horror stories.

Peter Kornbluh, an archive analyst who specializes in Latin American affairs, remembers receiving the Defense Intelligence Agency's profile of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet only to find that "it was entirely redacted except his name and the phonetic pronunciation of his name."

Malcolm Byrne, the archive's director of research and resident Iran specialist, tells the story of the CIA's secret study of the famous coup it staged in Iran in 1953, overthrowing the prime minister, Mohammad Mossadeq, and installing the shah in power. In 1999, the archive filed a lawsuit to obtain the 200-page study. The CIA responded by redacting every word in the document except for one sentence: "Headquarters spent a day featured by depression and despair."

Joyce Battle, the archive's Iraq expert, recently filed a FOIA request asking the FBI for documents relating to any possible connection between Iraq and the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. "They released 122 documents," she says. "That was pretty exciting, but when I took a look at them, virtually all of them were redacted in their entirety."

Faced with a totally blacked-out document, what's a researcher to do?

"You can appeal," says Battle, "and we do that often."

In fact, the archive files hundreds of appeals every year, 549 of them in 2006 alone. When that doesn't work, the archive sometimes files lawsuits, more than 40 of them over the past 23 years. In January, for instance, the archive filed suit to obtain grand jury records related to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the communist spies executed in 1953.

In the long run, Blanton says, documents tend to come out. That CIA study of the Iran coup was leaked to the New York Times by a "former official" in 2000. And Kornbluh finally did manage to obtain a non-redacted version of the DIA's Pinochet profile.

"You could see that one of the things they redacted was that his favorite cocktail was a pisco sour," Kornbluh says, amused, before adding this: "The declassification of U.S. government documents is so capricious, that's why you need a National Security Archive."

After waiting for years, Kornbluh ended up obtaining 24,000 pages of documents on Pinochet and the 1973 CIA-backed coup that brought him to power. He used them to write his 2003 book, "The Pinochet File."

"Those documents allow you to be a fly on the wall," he says, "as the decisions that change the world are made."

Wall of Shame

The office decor at the National Security Archive consists mainly of cardboard boxes stuffed with government documents, so it's not surprising to find that the decorations on the office walls consist mainly of government documents, enlarged and framed.

"We just sort of went around and said, 'What's your favorite document?' " Byrne explains.

He's giving an impromptu tour of this gallery of greatest hits. There's a page from Oliver North's notebook from his Iran-contra days. And a copy of Richard Clarke's now-famous January 2001 memo warning Condoleezza Rice of the threat from al-Qaeda. And the notes from a 1987 White House meeting in which Reagan's defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, urges his colleagues to give more support to Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran: "We should not only be supportive of Iraq, but should be seen to be supportive."

And there's a Defense Department memo, written at the height of the 1994 Rwandan genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 people, rejecting a suggestion that American planes jam the broadcasts of the radio stations that were inciting the mobs of machete-wielding murderers. The flights would cost too much, a Defense official wrote: "approximately $8500 per flight hour."

Byrne reaches up and grabs one of his favorite documents off the wall. It's an enlarged copy of an order that's handwritten in Russian, the order for Soviet troops to invade Afghanistan in 1979.

"This is the invasion order," he says. "It came out of the Soviet archives when Yeltsin put the Communist Party on trial. . . . This is a good example of how our view of history has changed now that we have access to the other side's documents."

American documents reveal, Byrne says, that the Carter administration believed the Soviets invaded Afghanistan as part of a long-range strategy to expand southward in pursuit of warm-water ports. But Soviet documents show that the Russians invaded because they feared that the new Afghan leader, who'd been educated in the United States, might be an American spy.

"This is something," Byrne says, "that you constantly see in these documents -- how little we or anybody else knows about our adversaries."

Auditor faced government barriers (Chronicle Herald)

Auditor faced government barriers

Nova Scotia's auditor general slammed the MacDonald government Wednesday for secrecy regarding some documents dealing with its immigration program.

Auditor General Jacques Lapointe said he encountered "significant restrictions" while trying to gather information for his special report on the failed economic stream of the nominee program.

"We were denied a large number of documents based on claims they were either confidential cabinet documents or subject to solicitor-client privilege," he wrote in the report, released Wednesday.

Mr. Lapointe said executive council and Treasury and Policy Board said his office didn't need the confidential cabinet documents to do its work.

"This is not their decision to make," he wrote.

Mr. Lapointe said auditors are allowed to view any government documents, including payroll and medical records.

Just because he sees them doesn't mean they will be made public, the auditor general said.

"We divulge only what is appropriate to divulge," he told reporters at the legislature Wednesday.

Nova Scotia is the only jurisdiction in the country that denies an auditor general legal documents and only one of four provinces that deny cabinet documents, the auditor general said.

He said his responsibility is to present his findings to the House of Assembly.

Premier Rodney MacDonald said cabinet confidentiality is important, adding his government did share thousands of documents with the auditor general. He said his government is not going to change its position on the documents it withheld.

"We are more open and transparent than any other government previous to our government," he said Wednesday.

"We are in line with what's happening across the country and on this one, we agree to disagree with the auditor general."

NDP MLA Graham Steele said he suspects the government is withholding documents to protect the premier and his reputation.

"He is the one constant on this whole file. He was a cabinet minister when the agreement (with Cornwallis Financial Corp. to run the program) was signed. He was the first minister of immigration. He's now the premier who is directing the government to withhold documents. That's the only explanation that makes sense for what the government is doing now."

When asked if anyone should quit over the handling of the program, Mr. Steele said: "Should the minister of immigration resign? In a way, that's like saying Pinocchio should take the fall for something Geppetto did.

"The responsibility for this is on the premier's desk."

Mr. Steele said the auditor general should seriously consider taking the province to court to get the documents. Mr. Lapointe said he would not rule anything out.

Economic Development Minister Angus MacIsaac said it's not as if the province's doesn't trust Mr. Lapointe to keep the documents confidential.

He said the worry is that giving the papers to the auditor general would signal the government was waiving solicitor-client privilege.

Mr. MacIsaac said that could affect its legal battle with Cornwallis, the company hired in 2002 to run the mentorship program.

The province's contract with Cornwallis ended in June 2006.

"The courts might compel the auditor general to turn over those documents whether he wants to or not," Mr. MacIsaac said.

He said the withheld papers represent just six per cent of the 20,000 documents that were provided to Mr. Lapointe's office.

Liberal MLA Diana Whalen said it is "stunning" Nova Scotia is the only province to refuse to giv e documents to an auditor general because of solicitor-client privilege.


Open government is best for democracy (Aus)

Open government is best for democracy

June 12, 2008

Queensland's lead should be emulated nationally

AFTER less than a year as Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh is to be commended for taking the lead in an area of our national life in dire need of reform. In endorsing sweeping proposals to make government more transparent, she is on the way to helping a disillusioned public become re-engaged with the process of government. In his Right to Information report, former barrister, journalist, academic and political adviser David Solomon has drawn on his varied background to produce an effective blueprint designed to change the culture of government for the better. By its nature, public information should belong to the people, and not exclusively to politicians and bureaucrats. As a robust democracy, Australia has nothing to fear and much to gain from transparency, openness and an end to duplicitous cover-ups. Public administration and the quality of journalism would improve as a result.

In a constructive bid to roll back the encroaching secrecy that has permeated all levels of the public sector in recent years, Dr Solomon is proposing a system that would push information into the public arena rather than concealing it. Instead of the current expensive, slow and restrictive Freedom of Information processes, which frequently return endless pages of data blacked out, more documents would be available as of right.

The most significant of his 141 recommendations include allowing public searches of government databases, releasing an edited cabinet agenda and non-confidential documents after each meeting, cheaper and faster RTI applications and a privacy commissioner to administer applications for personal information.

And in a state where, disgracefully, a functionary had to buy a fridge-trolley to wheel cartons of documents into the cabinet room so they could be protected from public scrutiny, the recommendation to abolish broad cabinet exemption is vital. If the reforms proceed as envisaged, such documents would be released, unless confidentiality was deemed to be in the public interest. It is the public interest test, to be applied by the premier, that would partially determined how efficiently the new system would operate. For a premier bent on concealment, it could prove to be the weak link in the process.

While pertaining to Queensland, Dr Solomon's report deserves careful consideration by all state and federal authorities, ahead of effective reform. This is because nationally, at least 335 federal and state laws have specific secrecy provisions allowing information to be withheld for no good reason other than the Orwellian excuse that the laws provide for secrecy.

So seriously has the problem undermined democracy and debate that two years ago, a coalition of media organisations known as Right to Know - including News Limited, publisher of The Australian - was forged to restore and protect media freedom. As Right to Know spokesman Greg Baxter said yesterday, the RTI report and Ms Bligh's response "are the most significant steps towards reform we've witnessed to date". The report, he said, should be a useful template for other states, which "desperately need to lift their game". It should also inform the Rudd Government's plans for reform, overcoming the need for a lot of ground to be revisited.

As they review the report over the next eight weeks, Queensland cabinet ministers should put aside fears of occasional political embarrassment and act in the public interest. Adopting the letter and spirit of the Solomon report would blaze a trail for a new era of better government.,25197,23849289-16741,00.html

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Quote of the Day: Elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody.

Elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody.
  - Franklin P. Adams

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Access to Frustration

Access to Frustration

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

Next month is the 25th anniversary of Canada's Access to Information Act. But there is little to celebrate, as the system, which underpins Canadians' right to know what their government is doing, is more damaged and dysfunctional than ever. Sadly, the man whose job it is to defend that system, Information Commissioner Robert Marleau, is proving to be a large part of the problem.

Earlier this month, Mr. Marleau delivered his first annual report to Parliament. It showed that the queue of Canadians unable to receive information from the federal government now numbers 2,318, longer than ever before. That backlog almost doubled in Mr. Marleau's first full year in the job. What this means is that thousands of Canadians, including journalists, professors, parliamentarians, businesses, and concerned citizens, are waiting longer than ever before for information that is increasingly out of date. The act says that Canadians are entitled to have the government fully answer an information request within 30 days. But several government departments, in particular the Privy Council Office, are routinely extending that deadline by half a year. The Department of Foreign Affairs is sending out letters informing Canadians their requests will be abandoned unless they insist otherwise.

Delays of a year are common.

How is it that a right to access information in 30 days can turn into a wait of years? Simply put, the federal government is exploiting a loophole.

Under the act, no Canadian who believes he or she has been wrongfully denied information by the government may apply to the courts for a remedy, unless he or she first complains to the Information Commissioner, who must then carry out an investigation before any court action can proceed. Earlier this decade, such investigations were said to take 30-120 days, but Mr. Marleau is letting complaints languish for months or years.

The commissioner is frank: "I can tell you that I have and will have a bias against going to court," he testified to Parliament, shortly after Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked him to take the job. "It usually costs the taxpayer a lot of money and the outcomes are typically unpredictable." By dolorously sifting through the 2,318 public complaints in his queue, Mr. Marleau stalls those complainants from reaching court and keeps information secret - which suits his "bias" and delights the government, too.

The latest statistics show Robert Marleau's working style is more lapdog than watchdog. Not only is he obstructing citizens from having their day in court, but in his first full year in the job, he initiated zero court cases against government secrecy. He also initiated zero complaints against government departments that have systemic problems meeting their access to information obligations. By comparison, a year earlier, during which his predecessor mostly ran the office, there were 393 complaints of the systemic kind.

Instead of dealing with these issues, Mr. Marleau has been busy trying to revamp the system, to make it more exclusive and consensual, and less answerable to ordinary people.

Today Mr. Marleau is holding a closed-door, invitation-only, off-the-record meeting in Ottawa's Rideau Club to brainstorm on modernizing access to information. Among his suggestions to solve the backlog problem is a proposed "triage" system for which Mr. Marleau is seeking endorsement. As part of that plan, a limited number of complaints from parliamentarians and journalists would be "put in a priority queue," while ordinary Canadians wait their turn.

This elitist idea should be rejected. The thousands of Canadians who make access to information requests are not to blame for the system's parlous state, and are exercising a right the courts have repeatedly called "quasi-constitutional." Mr. Marleau proposes a quasi-constitutional principle that divides Canadians into two classes: those who are entitled to timely information about their government, and those who are not.

Not every problem with the access to information system is Mr. Marleau's fault. The job is difficult, and has become much more so, with the current climate of secrecy in Ottawa and recent amendments to the act. But on his watch, the right to government information has suffered greatly.

Parliament should demand explanations, backed by rational evidence, for Mr. Marleau's anemic performance. Parliament could then decide whether to fire him, as, regrettably, may be best.

'RTI - Common Man's Brahmastra' - Shailesh Gandhi

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 11:25:33 AM (IST)  
'RTI - Common Man's Brahmastra' - Shailesh Gandhi

Fostering The Spirit of Enterpreneurship



from Dr Eugene D'Souza
for Daijiworld Media Network - Mumbai (GA)

Mumbai, Jun 10: Addressing a well-attended workshop of the representatives of the political and civic cells of different parishes of the Thane deanery organized by the Bharatiya Lok-Adhar Manch (BLAM) of Our Lady of Fatima Parish at Ambernath (West) on Sunday June 8, Shailesh Gandhi said "As the sovereign citizens of the country, we have the right to information, which is the common man's Brahmastra".

Shailesh Gandhi, who gave up his business a few years ago to take up the crusade for the Right to Information (RTI) has been one of the well-known and foremost social activists using the RTI to make the government accountable to the people.

In his informative and impressive speech sprinkled with humour, Shailesh Gandhi traced the background of the Right to Information Act.  He pointed out that the Right to Information is derived from fundamental right of expression under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. "If we do not have information on how our government and public institutions function, we cannot express any informed opinion on it. This has been clearly stated by various Supreme Court judgments from 1977. In a democracy, as the Government is run on behalf of the people, they are the rightful owners who have a right to be informed directly.

To strengthen the cause of the Right to Information, Shailesh Gandhi cited Justice Mathew's ruling in the Raj Narain case, "In a government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can be but few secrets. The people of the country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its being. Their right to know, which is derived from the concept of freedom of speech, though not absolute, is a factor which should make one wary when secrecy is claimed for transactions  which can at any rate have no repercussion on public security."

Tracing the history of the Right To Information Act, Shailesh Gandhi said that the movement originated in a small village in Rajasthan, when the villagers wanted to know how much money was sanctioned for a project and how much was spent on it. The success of the movement undertaken by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghathan in rural Rajasthan brought RTI on the agenda of the nation. So far nine states across India have enacted the Right To Information Acts, the first being Tamil Nadu. The Maharashtra Right To Information (MRTI) Act was passed in 2002 and notified on August 11, 2003. The Indian Parliament passed the Right To Information Act on May 12, 2005, which became operational from October 12, 2005.

Citing a number of  relevant examples,  Shailesh Gandhi stressed the importance of the RTI and how it can bring a change, though not substantial,  in the working of the government and public departments. Alert and conscientious citizens, instead of complaining about corruption and non-functioning of the government and public agencies, can seek the information and try to bring about the transparency and accountability in their functioning.

To emphasize the importance of the RTI Act and its power, Shailesh Gandhi narrated an incident of a slum dweller who had learnt the use of the Right To Information. When he applied for a new ration card, he was told that he would have to give a bribe of Rs 2000 to the officials to get the card. However, this RTI-empowered citizen went ahead and applied for the ration card without offering any bribes or making any noise about the issue. A few weeks later, he found out that all the bribe-givers had got their ration cards in about four weeks. He waited for eight weeks, and then applied for information under RTI. Using the simple format with an application fee of Rs.10/, he submitted it to the Public Information Officer of the Food and Supply Office. In his application he had asked up to which date applications for ration cards had been cleared, and the progress report of his application. This shook up the corrupt officials, since the answer would reveal that they had given ration cards to others who had applied after him, which would be conclusive evidence that they had no justification for delaying his card. The result of his simple RTI application was that the ration card was given to him immediately. In a similar way thousands of citizens have got their pensions, passports, Income Tax and Sales Tax refunds, electricity connections, birth certificates, etc.

The Right To Information Act is applicable to all public authorities. A public authority means any government office, department or institutions such as universities, colleges and schools or non-government organizations substantially financed by the government.

'Information' means any material in any form including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, etc. 'Right to Information' means the right to access the information held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to: inspection of work, documents, records, taking notes, extracts, or certified copies of documents or records; taking certified samples of material; obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device.

However, there are ten exemptions of information and request for such information can be rejected. These exemption include any information that would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific and economic interests of the state, relation with a foreign State; information which has been forbidden to be published by any court of law; information, the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature, etc.

Every public authority has appointed one or more special officers called Public Information Officers (PIO) to deal with requests for information. Assistant PIOs (APIO) are also appointed by such authorities at Sub-division or taluk-level.

Citizens seeking information have to submit written applications to the PIOs or APIOs in plain paper in the prescribed format along with a fee of Rs.10to be paid in cash, demand draft or cheque payable to the Public Authority, or by affixing a court fee stamp of Rs.10.

Once the PIO or APIO accepts the application for the information that a citizen has sought, he may ask for payment of fees for the copies of the documents. Rs 2 per page (A4 size) or Rs 50 for information given on floppy or CD. There is no charge for the inspection of files or records for the first hour and then Rs 5 for every fifteen minutes. Postage charges would be added to this.

Under the Right To Information Act, the PIO will either supply the information or reject the request on certain specified grounds within a period of 30 days. If information is not provided or wrongly refused, the citizen can go in appeal to an Appellate Authority who would be an official in the same department, senior to the IPO. The Appellate Authority has to give a decision in 30 days.

The RTI Act has stipulated a penalty of Rs 250 per day subject to maximum of Rs 25,000 imposed on the IPO if he has, without any reasonable cause has refused to receive the application or not furnished information within the prescribed period or knowingly given incomplete, incorrect or misleading information or obstructed in any manner in furnishing the information. Besides, disciplinary action, according to the relevant service rules, can also be recommended by the Information Commission against the concerned officer, if he repeats the above stated acts.

Thus, the RTI Act provides for a time-bound and defined process for citizens to access information about all actions taken by public authorities. The penal provisions on the PIO are the real teeth of the Act, which ensures that the PIO cannot treat citizens' demands for information in a cavalier manner.

These are a few types of cases where conscientious citizens can use the RTI Act: when the citizen needs information on some activity of the government, or reasons for certain decisions; when the citizen knows or suspects corruption or wrong-doing in some department or activity; when bribes are sought to provide ration card or water connection or an authority refuses to act on a complaint or FIR.  The mere asking of information sometimes reduces illegal acts, since the wrong-doer feels restrained or threatened by exposure. A citizen could suggest improvements in the functioning of a Government department only if he has the information.

Besides a large number of representatives of the Political and Civic Cells from different parishes of the Thane Deanery, the work-shop was attended by Fr Barthol Machado, the dean of Thane deanery, Willy Sirsat,  coordinator of Church in city in Mumbai Archdiocese, Fr Sylvester, parish priest of Our Lady of Fatima Church, Ambernath (West), Fr Adrian and Celine Patil, the coordinator of the political and civic cells in Thane deanery.

For related information on the subject of Right To Information, log on to:

If anyone wants any help in using RTI they can contact  Shailesh Gandhi on the e-mail:'RTI%20%20-%20Common%20Man's%20Brahmastra'%20-%20Shailesh%20Gandhi

Why do we allow our government to act like a Third World police state? (The Province)

Why do we allow our government to act like a Third World police state?
Ethan Baron
The Province

Canada has become a nation of sheep. We have evolved a culture of docility, and politicians, bureaucrats, justice officials and police take full advantage.

We pay them, but when we want to see how they're working, they shut their doors in our faces.

Just the other day, the board of TransLink, the regional transportation authority, debated options for the Pattullo Bridge, notorious killer of motorists. The public and the media were banned from the meeting. The board issued a news release after its decision.

At all levels of government, officials throw up barriers to public oversight, so they can operate with a minimum of scrutiny and accountability.

Canadians sit and take it.

Police hide behind media spokespeople who give the press and the citizens as little information as possible.

Judges impose publication bans, with prosecutors' consent, at the drop of a defence lawyer's hat.

Bureaucrats withhold information about their agencies' actions, abusing privacy legislation intended to protect, not obscure.

In the United States, the people wouldn't stand for this. In Canada, Big Brother knows better.

Want to read the shocking truth about two of the 20 more women Willie Pickton is accused of killing? Sorry, the judge says I can't tell you, even though the Crown has decided already those 20 victims' cases will be dropped if Pickton loses his appeal.

Want to know which electric-car maker hoping to sell to Canadians failed spectacularly in its government crash test? Sorry, Transport Canada won't reveal that, because this "model corporate citizen" asked it not to.

Want to know why the Crown released Peter Lee on bail a few weeks before he killed his wife, son, parents-in-law and himself in Oak Bay? Sorry, the provincial government is fighting to keep the prosecutors in question from testifying at an inquiry into the slaughter.

Want to know which B.C. companies operate the most unsafe trucks? Sorry, my request to the transportation ministry for that information has been tied up for months by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

This absurd state of affairs continues, and worsens, not only because we the people accept it -- but because the government, too, is full of docile, obedient Canadians.

Police, prosecutors, bureaucrats and government scientists receive orders not to speak without permission about the workings of our public institutions.

With rare exceptions, they do what they're told, and keep their mouths shut.

We live under an information-control regime that rivals that of a Third World police state.

Do we get outraged?

Do we demand change?

Do we order our elected representatives and public servants to operate more transparently?

No, we boil some perogies and sit down in front of the TV, placidly chewing while democracy burns.

E-mail reporter Ethan Baron at

Military classifies hairstyles a matter of national security

Military classifies hairstyles a matter of national security
Professor who exposed Afghan detainee torture made request to test limits of secrecy at DND
Tim Naumetz
The Ottawa Citizen

The University of Ottawa law professor who battled the Defence Department over access to information about Afghan war prisoners last year is in another fight over a "test" request he filed -- seeking photos of the prisoners with only their "hairdos" showing.

The military turned the request down on national security and privacy grounds.

Associate professor Amir Attaran also sought an inventory of the "personal grooming items" of the prisoners.

That request also was rejected for reasons of national security and privacy.

An earlier probe by Mr. Attaran into the detention and transfer of Afghans by Canadian troops led to allegations of torture and a Federal Court case over human rights.

Six months after he complained to Information Commissioner Robert Marleau about the Defence Department's refusal to hand over the "hairdo" photos, Mr. Attaran says he is still awaiting the results of Mr. Marleau's investigation.

Mr. Attaran, who is also a lawyer, says he filed requests under the Access to Information Act for the photos and the list of grooming items -- including "hair scrunchies" and cosmetics -- to test how far the military would go in keeping information secret.

The Defence Department earlier had refused to disclose even the number of detainees Canadian troops were handing over to Afghan forces, or photographs that could identify them.

The government revealed last January at the outset of the Federal Court hearing on the issue that the Canadian Forces had secretly stopped transferring detainees to Afghan forces in November after a Canadian monitor discovered evidence of subsequent torture and beatings.

Mr. Attaran, frustrated at Mr. Marleau's failure to report back on his investigation into suppression of the hairdo and grooming information, intends to confront the information commissioner during a private workshop on access law Mr. Marleau is sponsoring at the posh Rideau Club upcoming week.

"They invited me, and I'm going," Mr. Attaran said.

Despite the offbeat nature of his subsequent requests, Mr. Attaran argued that the Defence Department's overall refusal to disclose information identifying the detainees has serious implications.

"We have knowledge that several hundred people have been detained by the Canadian Forces and transferred to Afghans who torture," he said.

"This is not a fact in dispute. It would be very valuable to their protection to get their photographs out there."

The Canadian Forces have resumed transferring detainees to Afghan security forces after reaching a new agreement over prisoner treatment and monitoring, but the fate of prisoners transferred earlier is still unclear. The military confirmed in the court case that Canadian troops transfer not only combatant prisoners, but also Afghans suspected of supporting the Taliban.

Former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier ignited an international controversy after suggesting the Afghan governor of the province where the Canadians are stationed was suspected of condoning torture.

A spokesman for Mr. Marleau said his office could not comment or even confirm that Mr. Attaran had filed a complaint.

You can use the law to access public information (Guam)

June 9, 2008

You can use the law to access public information

By David V. Crisostomo

Journalists use the Freedom of Information Act and the Guam Sunshine Act to obtain public records from local government agencies.

The Pacific Daily News' data site -- -- features searchable databases of useful public information, which was obtained through FOIA and Sunshine Act requests. The local law is similar to the federal Freedom of Information Act, which was enacted in 1966 and covers the federal government.

These are the same laws that any member of the community can use to request public information.

Here's a quick informational guide to help you navigate the local Sunshine Act.

What's covered

Public records are defined to include "any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public's business prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency in any format, including an electronic format," according to the Sunshine Act.

The law requires you reasonably describe the requested public record. Again, there is no requirement for an agency to supply "information." The law only requires the agency to supply copies or permit inspection of records the agency already has.

You can request written acts or records of the executive branch, Legislature and the Guam Judiciary. Other examples include: public records kept in Guam of private writings; public schools' standardized achievement test scores -- but not individual students' test scores; and police blotters, accident reports, daily activity logs and other such information unless the records are exempted.

The government isn't required to provide the following documents:

How it works

The Sunshine Act requires the public officer who holds the written act or record, or the head of the agency that has the record, to provide copies of the record as follows:

Tell us

If you've made a FOIA request and want to share your experience and documents with other readers, or if you have suggestions for databases that you want to see online at, we want to hear from you. E-mail us at:

I'll be posting sample FOIA letters on my "From the Editor" blog this week. You can use these sample letters to help you write your own FOIA request. So please check out my blog at

For more information about the Guam Sunshine Act, you can download the law and find other useful information online at

Thank you for reading the Pacific Daily News.

Information ombudsman's private session stirs up hornets' nest (CP)

Information ombudsman's private session stirs up hornets' nest

OTTAWA — The federal ombudsman for freedom of information has stirred up a hornets' nest by going ahead with a costly private session at the posh Rideau Club to thrash out potential reforms to access law.

The controversy - along with criticism of the way Information Commissioner Robert Marleau has already instituted changes - prompted a New Democrat MP to table a motion Monday calling Marleau to appear at a House of Commons committee.

And one of the best-known experts on access to information in Canada fuelled the controversy further by releasing a leaked copy of the guests that Marleau and Access to Information Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart invited to a "networking" cocktail reception at the Rideau Club Monday night.

The guest list of 73 is dominated by bureaucrats who oversee federal privacy and access to information law, officials who process access requests in government departments and five executives and researchers with a think-tank Marleau and Stoddart hired for a review of access and privacy law.

The two commissioners, who are officers of Parliament and independent of government, are hosting two days of workshops in a private dining room at the Rideau Club.

Their offices are paying the consulting firm Public Policy Forum $48,380 to organize the events and prepare reports, while meals and hospitality for Marleau's workshop alone are budgeted at $3,500. The cocktail night, however, will not cost taxpayers a cent, said Marleau's communications assistant.

"It is being paid for by both commissioners out of their own pocket," said Nadine Welter.

Michel Drapeau, a lawyer and retired Canadian Forces colonel who has become one of the most prominent experts on access to information law, earlier criticized Marleau over the irony of holding consultations on reforming the system behind the closed doors of an exclusive club.

He adds, however, there is more substantive criticism to be levelled at Marleau, a well-connected Ottawa figure who served as clerk of the Commons from 1987 to 2000. Marleau became information commissioner in January 2007 after Prime Minister Stephen Harper named him to the post the previous November.

Drapeau, who was not invited to the Rideau Club session after publicly confronting Marleau over his changes earlier this year, said Marleau does not have the legal right to impose a ranking system for a mounting backlog of complaints his office has received over government delays and refusal to disclose information.

The office will review the complaints and give more attention to some based on what officials will judge to be the urgency, the impact on areas such as public interest and national security, and whether the complaints refer to administrative delays or outright refusals to disclose information.

"The system is paralyzed," said Drapeau, who argued Marleau should not be able to privately rank the importance of access requests according to the criteria he developed based on a report from another private consulting firm.

New Democrat MP Pat Martin said his motion calling on Marleau to appear at the Commons committee on access to information, privacy and ethics was sparked also by a complaint from a University of Ottawa law professor.

Amir Attaran asked Marleau to investigate the defence department's response to an access request based on suspicions Afghan security forces were beating prisoners who had been transferred to them by Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

Attaran, a lawyer, asked the military last year to disclose photos of the prisoners showing only their "hairdos," with their faces blacked out. But the Defence Department, after earlier refusing to release complete photos of the detainees, rejected the request on grounds of national security and privacy.

Attaran has not yet received the results of Marleau's investigation into his complaint, and was planning to confront him during the Rideau Club session Tuesday, as an invited guest.

Ken Rubin, an Ottawa consultant who specializes in access requests, declined an invitation to attend because of the private nature of the workshop. He said Marleau should be prepared to publicly hear complaints about Conservative changes to the access law.

He said Marleau's proposals to rank more than 2,000 complaints that have stacked up over the years "seems to mimic the worst features of the bureaucracy in Ottawa; the system he is creating is complex and bureaucratic in its own right."

Opinion: NB Commissioner must be given needed power - Daily Gleaner

New Freedom of Information Act needs teeth

Published Saturday June 7th, 2008
In our view: Commissioner must be given needed power
New Brunswick's Liberal government has recognized longstanding problems with right to information legislation, with an update to the existing legislation revealed Thursday.
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The province's current right to information legislation is antiquated and ineffective.

For instance, there is nothing compelling municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals to comply to information requests. In fact, we are the only province to exclude municipal governments from right to information legislation and one of two provinces that exclude universities and colleges.

The bottom line in our view, is that taxpayer funded institutions have an obligation to provide requested information so long as it doesn't interfere with true privacy concerns.

This legislation expands the law to cover municipalities, universities and some other public bodies.

It's clear by the extent of their investigation and their willingness to pursue new legislation, that the Liberals had every intention to go from worst to first and lead the pack of provinces in providing the best access to information legislation.

Time will tell if they stopped just a little short of their goal.

The legislation creates a separate and independent privacy and information commissioner. It's a move that gives more attention credibility and resources to the information access.

Yet, that commissioner, who charged with ensuring the province keeps its legal duty to provide information, cannot compel a government department to provide the information.

It's a curious deficiency that could be interpreted as being the government's final failsafe, ensuring it can withhold information if it's deemed in the government's interest to do so.

If the intent of government is to take the lead when it comes to access to information legislation, then the new information commissioner must be given the required teeth to do the job properly.

While the bill's intention is sound, this has the potential to undercut the government's intentions for the law.

Without real teeth, it's nothing more than a mouth without fangs