Monday, September 29, 2008

Free our data: Searchable video clips ruffle Parliament | Technology | The Guardian

Searchable video clips ruffle Parliament

British voters have been allowed to watch their elected representatives on television since 1989, and on the web since 2002. But when it comes to making footage available for re-use in the web 2.0 age, Parliament seems stuck in the mindset that landed the great agitator William Cobbett in hot water when he first published its proceedings two centuries ago.

While proceedings are open to free viewing, any re-use is subject to licensing by the Speaker of the House of Commons. This states that material "must not be hosted on a searchable website and must not be downloadable". The reason for the restriction, Helen Goodman, parliamentary secretary to the House of the Commons, told MPs earlier this year, "is to ensure that it is not re-edited or reused inappropriately for campaigning or satirical purposes".

Web activist charity MySociety is challenging this position in the latest phase of its campaign to open government up on the web. With the help of a small army of volunteers, it has created a searchable library of video clips of MPs speaking in the Commons, indexed by name and subject, on its website,

So far, says Steinberg, "they haven't kicked up a fuss". One reason may be that some individual MPs like the idea: on the site's roll of honour, name number 82 is that of Tom Watson MP, a ministerial advocate of free data.

More battles may lie ahead, however. Another MySociety venture, the freedom of information clearing-house site, has had a head-on collision with Parliament over the issue of copyright. A request for information made through Whatdotheyknow has been refused because "the material could not be posted on the whatdotheyknow web pages without breaching copyright".

The decision, which is being contested by MySociety, has been referred for an internal review. Steinberg says the situation is absurd.

"Parliament is supposed to be the home of the core of transparency and accountability, yet sometimes it seems to be the least responsive and least culturally open of the 100,000 bodies covered by Freedom of Information."

· Join the debate at the Free Our Data blog:


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Gmail isn't suitable for public records -

Gmail isn't suitable for public records

By Christian Trejbal

Christian Trejbal


Douglas White wanted to exercise his right as a citizen to see some public records. What he found is that some Blacksburg town officials, like many others in the New River Valley, tread a fine line between open government and secrecy.

White lives just outside the Blacksburg town limits, close to a proposed workforce housing project along Harding Road. He and many of his neighbors do not like the project for a host of reasons.

The project's prospects do not look particularly promising right now, what with all the thumb twiddling the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors has been doing in secret meetings. That will not stop White and his neighbors from keeping up the fight until it dies officially.

He recently requested all e-mails about the project sent or received by current and former town council members, staff and a member of the Storm Water Taskforce. Knowing is half the battle, as G.I. Joe used to say.

State law says e-mails are public documents like any other official government business. When officials discuss something digitally, it is the same as if they had sent letters by snail mail. The public may review that correspondence.

The town should have been able to answer White's request easily. Some technology staff member runs a quick search for "Harding Road," "Workforce Housing" and a couple of other key words in the e-mail archives and turns the results over to White.

They could not do that for everyone, though, because some Blacksburg officials find it more convenient to use private e-mail accounts for official correspondence. Most of them use their town e-mail address, but a few do not. Getting hold of their e-mails was not easy.

The practice is perfectly legal in Virginia, but it also could prevent citizens from holding their government accountable.

When official e-mail goes to and comes from Yahoo, Gmail or any other private account, there is no public archive. Instead, officials must preserve their correspondence themselves and turn it over when someone like White asks for it.

Unless a local official is a conscientious technology buff, odds are she will not back up all of the e-mail to a secure location. One hard drive crash or degraded CD could gobble up valuable public records.

Even more risky, there is no guarantee an official will cough up incriminating or embarrassing e-mails. Human conscience often proves weak when a reputation or more is on the line.

"Whoops, I accidentally deleted those."

This need not be complicated. The town issues an e-mail address to every council member. They should use that account for town business and use a personal account for personal business.

The technology is easy. It's convincing politicians to change their habits that's challenging.

These days, people commonly check multiple e-mail accounts. They have an account for work, another for personal stuff, and one for signing up for Web sites so all of the ensuing junk mail will route there. Surely public officials can manage.

Every town employee and volunteer on a committee should have a e-mail address. Virginia's Freedom of Information Act applies from the governor down to the local sewer board. They all should keep their personal and official e-mail separate.

Those e-mails, at least at the council and committee level, could even go online for anyone to review without the hassle of filing a FOIA request. The Internet offers unprecedented government transparency if government officials get over their preference for secrecy.

The e-mail problem is not unique to Blacksburg, of course. Plenty of New River Valley officials favor private accounts for public business.

The Floyd, Giles and Montgomery county Web sites list personal e-mail addresses for almost all of their supervisors. The same goes for the Pulaski Town Council. Radford council members all have city e-mail addresses, but it is unclear whether they use them.

And Christiansburg? They have not even updated their Web site to reflect the results of the May election, let alone posted e-mail addresses. Their correspondence, however, reveals council members use personal accounts.

Governments are still adapting to a digital world. The old rules do not always translate as cleanly as we might like. No one should fault officials in the New River Valley for their bad e-mail habits.

But the public deserves accountability. The technology is simple, and the resources minimal. The public's e-mail belongs on public servers.

Trejbal is an editorial writer for The Roanoke Times based in the New River Valley bureau in Christiansburg.


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Thursday, September 25, 2008

The right to information in Africa

The right to information in Africa

A brief overview

Mukelani Dimba (2008-09-18)

Despite what has been called an "explosion" in the passage of FOI laws with more than seventy developing countries passing the laws in the last decade, Africa has largely been absent.


There is a vast new body of experience on how to implement an FOI regime in the context of challenging institutional, resource and other socio-economic constraints, but in the African context this experience is limited only to South Africa, which remains the only African country that has passed and implemented an Access to Information law. Uganda and Angola have also passed FOI legislation but these have not been brought into force yet. The Zimbabwean Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act is a classic example of what an FOI law should not be.


During that era when only Sweden and the USA had FOI legislation, these laws created an understanding of FOI as being merely a part of the right of freedom of expression which in and of itself had come to be perceived as a right that only affects journalists and political activists. However, there has been a major paradigmatic shift in the past decade. Freedom of Information or the Right to Know, properly implemented, is now regarded as a multi-dimensional human right that can make a huge difference to both people and their governments, backed by international legal instruments.


In 1946 the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 59(1), which stated that: "Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and is the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the UN is consecrated." Other international human rights instruments enveloped the right of access to information within the broader and fundamental right of freedom of expression. For example, the UN General Assembly's Resolution 217 A (III) on the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." Subsequently, the UN General Assembly's Resolution 2200 A (XXI) on the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that: "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice."


In the Commonwealth, the issue of access to information was first given expression within the Commonwealth in 1980 when the council of Law Ministers issued a statement recognizing the fact that: "public participation in the democratic and government process was at its most significant when citizens had adequate access to information". However this was given more detail in 1999 when the Commonwealth convened an Expert Group on freedom of information which confirmed that: "Freedom of information should be guaranteed as a legal and enforceable right permitting every individual to obtain records and information held by the executive, the legislative and the judicial arms of the state, as well as any government owned corporation and any other body carrying out public functions."


This principle was adopted by the council of Law Ministers who went on to formulate further principles which started that; a) member countries should be encouraged to regard freedom of information as a legal and enforceable right, b) there should be a presumption in favour of disclosure and Governments should promote a culture of openness, c) the right of access to information may be subject to limited exemptions but these should be narrowly drawn, d) Governments should maintain and preserve records, and e) in principle, decisions to refuse access to records and information should be subject to independent review. The Ministers also called on the Commonwealth to promote these principles among its member states.


On the African continent the Organisation of African Unity's (predecessor to the African Union) African Charter on Human and People's Rights also upheld the right of access to information wherein Article 9 of the Charter states that: "a) Every individual shall have the right to receive information, and b) Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law."


Decades later, at the 32nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights ( Banjul, The Gambia, 2002) African countries adopted a Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa which states that:


"Public bodies hold information not for themselves but as custodians of the public good and everyone has a right to access this information, subject only to clearly defined rules established by law," and that "the right to information shall be guaranteed by law in accordance with principles" set in the declaration, which include the following among others: "everyone has the right to access information held by public bodies, everyone has the right to access information held by private bodies which is necessary for the exercise or protection of any right; any refusal to disclose information shall be subject to appeal to an independent body and/or the courts; public bodies shall be required, even in the absence of a request, actively to publish important information of significant public interest; no one shall be subject to any sanction for releasing in good faith information on wrongdoing, or that which would disclose a serious threat to health, safety or the environment save where the imposition of sanctions serves a legitimate interest and is necessary in a democratic society; and secrecy laws shall be amended as necessary to comply with freedom of information principles."


The declaration precedes the AU's African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance - adopted at the AU Assembly of the AU on 30 January 2007 - which states as one of its objectives "(the promotion of) the establishment of the necessary conditions to foster citizen participation, transparency, access to information, freedom of the press and accountability in the management of public affairs". The Charter states that member states shall implement the charter in accordance with, among others, the principle of "transparency and fairness in the management of public affairs". In Article 12 it also calls on member states to: "promote good governance by ensuring transparent and accountable administration". Article 19 of the Charter calls on each member state to "guarantee conditions of security, free access to information, non-interference, freedom of movement and full cooperation with the electoral observer mission."


Following these international standards various countries have attempted to codify these access to information rights either in statutes or in constitutions. A country's constitution should always be the most supreme law of the land and its highest standard on matters of law and rights. In southern Africa six SADC countries have expressly guaranteed the right to information within their constitutional framework, namely; South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, the DRC, Tanzania and Madagascar. Eight other SADC countries have only protected this right within the context of the broader right of freedom of expression which normally includes the right to "seek, receive and impart information". These countries are Botswana, Lesotho, Angola, Zambia, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Swaziland. Of these countries, besides Angola and Zimbabwe, only Zambia has a bill at advanced stages. The Zambian bill – a product of a healthy and successful partnership between the government and civil society - was tabled before parliament in 2002. However the bill was soon and unceremoniously withdrawn by the government during its second reading. Six years later, in early 2008 the late Zambian President, Levy Mwanawasa reintroduced the bill in parliament during the official opening of the assembly.


Though Zimbabwe has passed a law called the Access to Information and Protection of Personal Privacy Act (AIPPA), it is difficult to consider this legislation as a proper Right to Information Law because of the numerous and very broad exemptions on the exercise of the right to information and its draconian provisions aimed at controlling the exercise of journalism in the country.


In the eastern part of Africa only Uganda has the right of access to information specifically guaranteed in the constitution (section 41) and the country remains the only country in the region that has passed legislation that gives effect to the right of access to information. Regulations have not yet been passed in order to bring the legislation into force. In Tanzania and Kenya the right to information is only established in the constitution as part of the right to freedom of expression. The draft bills on Freedom of Information law are at advanced stages in both countries. In 2007 a Kenyan government delegation undertook a study tour to South Africa to learn from the experiences there on drafting and implementing a Freedom of Information in the context of a developing African country.


Article 29 of the Ethiopian constitution expressly established the right to information but also within the broader freedom of the press, mass media and artistic creativity. A draft bill on Freedom of Information law is also being considered by the Ethiopian government.


In the western part of the continent, Gambia doesn't have constitutional protection either of the right of access to information specifically or the right to freedom of expression generally. Gambia is infamous for being one of the most dangerous places for the practice of journalism on the continent. On a more positive note, the constitutions of Ghana, Cameroon and Senegal expressly guarantee the right to information while in Nigeria and Sierra Leone the right is constitutionally established as part of the freedom of expression. The Nigerian draft bill was passed by both houses of Parliament in 2007 but the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, refused to sign it into law, which was quite a set back for the campaign for Freedom of Information law in Africa. There are presently draft laws in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The Liberian draft was tabled before parliament in April 2008 and stands a good chance of being signed into law after supportive remarks made by President Sirleaf-Johnson and key ministers in her cabinet. However there are currently no draft bills in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Mali and Senegal.


In North Africa, the Moroccan constitution established the right to "freedom of opinion and freedom of expression in all its forms". Morocco has the only draft bill on Freedom of Information legislation in North Africa.


It is evidently still early days in the enactment of Freedom of Information laws on the African continent. Freedom of Information advocates have a formidable task ahead of them, which is nothing short of changing the culture from that of secrecy to that of openness. Access to information is an important tool for promoting accountability and transparency in public service delivery and should continue to be championed. There is a need to for activists and advocates to remain forever vigilant that countries that have taken bold steps of enacting these laws such as Uganda, Angola and South Africa do not regress into secrecy but are encouraged to strengthen implementation of these laws. Campaign groups and lobbyists must continue to learn from the examples on law advocacy that have come from South Africa, Nigeria, Zambia, Ghana and Kenya. Lastly, civil society and progressive governments in the continent should be encouraged in making Freedom of Information part of the discourse in consolidation of democracy and promotion of socio-economic justice.



* Mukelani Dimba is the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Open Democracy Advice Centre . This is based a paper given by the author on the occasion of the regional conference on the Right to Information, organized by the African Network of Constitutional Lawyers, 17 – 18 June 2008, University of Cape Town, South Africa.


* Please send comments to or comment online at


The first Freedom of Information legislation in the world was passed in 1766 when Sweden passed her Freedom of the Press Act. This action would only be followed by the United States of America almost two-hundred years later with the passing of the Freedom of Information Act.


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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Make freedom of information an election issue: The Sudbury Star - Editorial

Make freedom of information an election issue

Posted 22 hours ago

Canadians who want to see public information on file with the federal government will quickly learn two disturbing facts: Canada's access to information laws is weak, and even its flimsy requirements are often ignored by bureaucrats and their elected masters.

As a federal election approaches, that's an important flaw that should be on voters' minds.

Three years ago, then-information commissioner John Reid drafted an Open Government Act at the request of Parliament. It would have given Canadians the kind of guaranteed access to public documents that people in many other democracies already have. All parties endorsed the draft act.

During the 2006 election campaign, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives promised to adopt it if elected.

Two years later that hasn't happened. And a new report from the Canadian Association of Journalists confirms what is widely known, that Canada's 25-year-old Access to Information law allows the government to hide more information than it releases.

The Conservatives aren't alone in failing to follow through on their promise. Liberal governments under Jean Chretien and Paul Martin promised increased openess and transparency and then pulled the curtains tighter.

The framework for a modern, transparent system that would open government business to public scrutiny is sitting on a shelf in Ottawa. During this campaign, every party needs to be pressed for a commitment to adopt it.


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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Secrecy is a nasty virus that can lay low the body politic.

Monday, September 22, 2008

4th Annual Freedom of Information Conference, London, 2008 UK

4th Annual Freedom of Information Conference


 22nd & 23rd April 2008, London, UK


Conference schedule:

Day 1 - Tuesday 22nd April 2008:

Speakers' Presentations, networking lunch and Wine & Canap├ęs Reception sponsored by DLA Piper

Day 2 - Wednesday 23rd April 2008:

Six half-day FOI Workshops + networking lunch


Speakers' Presentations - Day 1

FOI in practice: breaking bad habits and rising to new challenges

Graham Smith, Deputy Information Commissioner, ICO

FOI requests used in court proceedings

Andrew Lidbetter, Partner, Herbert Smith LLP

Information management: treating information as an asset

Natalie Ceeney, Chief Executive of The National Archives

What can be learned from the FOI decisions

Marcus Turle, Partner, Field Fisher Waterhouse

The review process for FOI decisions

Benet Brandreth, Barrister, 11 South Square

Tricky issues when dealing with FOI requests

Bernadette Livesey, Chief Law and Administration Officer, Calderdale Council


Special panel discussion:  managing the disclosure risk

Nick Graham - Partner, Denton Wilde Sapte LLP

Hazel Moffat - Partner, DLA Piper

Jan Willem van den Bos - Senior Associate, Denton Wilde Sapte LLP

Richard Smith, Departmental Freedom of Information & Data Protection Officer, Communities & Local Government

Details of Speaker's presentations and biographies


The Workshops - Day 2

Topics for FOI Workshops:

A:  Public sector data sharing: when, why, whether, and how to share data

Damien Welfare - Barrister, 2-3 Gray's Inn Square

B:  Commercial contracts: how FOI Officers can win friends and influence contracts

Hazel Moffat - Partner, DLA Piper

Usha Jagessar - Legal Director, DLA Piper

C:  Health check: FOI issues in the NHS

Anne Crofts - Commercial Partner, Beachcroft LLP

Ros Ashcroft - Consultant, Public Law Team, Beachcroft LLP

D:  Can you keep a secret? Confidentiality and FOI

Hazel Grant - Partner, Bird & Bird

E:  How to deal with complex requests for information

Jackie Gray - Associate, Dickinson Dees LLP

F:  Information law issues in higher education

Richard Sykes - Associate Barrister, Mills & Reeve

Details of Workshops and Leader's biographies





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(09-19-08) BOSTON, Mass., -- Northeastern University, in partnership with journalists and public policy advocates throughout New England, has announced the establishment of the New England First Amendment Center to focus public attention on a worrisome increase in efforts to restrict access to public records and meetings.


The university-based Center is a joint undertaking of the New England First Amendment Coalition and Northeastern University's School of Journalism, with assistance from the University's Center for Urban and Regional Policy (CURP).


The coalition, alarmed at the growing difficulties faced by citizens, journalists and public policy advocates in gaining access to the workings of government at all levels, selected Northeastern University as its academic research partner because of the University's reputation for sleeves-rolled-up involvement in important issues outside the school's academic boundaries.


The First Amendment Center will continuously update its website with news about public access and First Amendment issues from across New England and around the nation. It will offer a wealth of information for citizens, journalists and public policy organizations that depend on open access to government. The Center will maintain a Hotline to advise citizens who are seeking public documents, and will conduct original research into issues of government transparency. The Center plans to host seminars on public records statutes and open meeting laws for journalists, municipal officials and lawmakers.


In addition, the Center will also maintain a blog with regular contributions from the Center's partner, the New England First Amendment Coalition, as well as First Amendment specialists and Northeastern University faculty members.


The website and blog can be found at:


"There is a need for greater awareness of the importance of freedom of information in a free society,'' said Tom Heslin, the president of the New England First Amendment Coalition and Interim Executive Editor at the Providence Journal. "The right to know is as essential to a functioning democracy as the right to vote. The New England First Amendment Coalition, in partnership with the Center at Northeastern, will be a force for keeping the First Amendment and freedom of information at the top of the public policy agenda in New England.''


Added Stephen Burgard, director of the School of Journalism at Northeastern University: "With the Center, Northeastern and the New England First Amendment Coalition will take the lead in creating public awareness, increasing public involvement and coordinating public action to guarantee unfettered access to the deliberations of government agencies and the public records that are so critical to an informed citizenry.''


Both Heslin and Burgard said the Center's advocacy role will be all the more pivotal because many financially-strapped news organizations no longer have the resources to insure that government agencies are scrupulously adhering to Public Records and Open Meeting laws - law that were designed to insure the free flow of information that is so important to the functioning of an open, democratic government.


-More- The non-profit New England First Amendment Coalition was formed in 2006 by a group of journalists concerned that citizens, to say nothing of reporters, are routinely denied access to the work of government: public documents, meetings and hearings. Efforts in each of the six New England states to combat this growing trend have been marginally effective. But the founders saw a need for a unified, region-wide organization, one that would speak in one, robust voice across the six New England states.


The coalition then found an eager university partner, the School of Journalism at Northeastern University. Together, they created the New England First Amendment Center, which is housed on the University campus in Boston.


The coalition's executive director is Doug Clifton, who was the top editor at the Miami Herald and then at the Plain Dealer in Cleveland when those papers won four Pulitzer prizes. The work of the Northeastern University Center will be overseen by Distinguished Professor of Journalism Walter V. Robinson, the former editor of The Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative team.


The Coalition is funded by grants from the University of Missouri-based National Freedom of Information Coalition, as well as donations from its directors, media companies and interested citizens.


Donations can be sent to the New England First Amendment Coalition, P.O. Box 15, Niantic, CT 06357.


For more information, please contact Samantha Fodrowski at 617-373-5427 or at


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Senator incensed by Govt's FoI stance - The Canberra Times

Senator incensed by Govt's FoI stance


22/09/2008 12:00:00 AM

The Rudd Government will be challenged this week on why it is following the Howard government's example in blocking Freedom of Information requests.

Greens senator Christine Milne said yesterday the Labor administration's attitude was as bad as that taken by the former government.

Senator Milne is incensed that her requests have been blocked recently, the Government citing precedents set by the Howard government. ''I will be moving in the Senate this week for an explanation from the Government as to what Senator [John] Faulkner, the Special Minister of State, meant with his previous remarks when he promised a complete review of FoI,'' she said.

''Where is the new area of transparency? What we are seeing from the Rudd Government is exactly the same as what we got from the Howard government.

''It is using obfuscation and price as a way of preventing people getting access to the information they need in the public interest.''


Full Article: <>

Friday, September 19, 2008

NSP salaries to stay secret -

NSP salaries to stay secret

No hearings means no peek at bigwigs' paycheques — NDP

By JUDY MYRDEN Business Reporter

Fri. Sep 19 - 5:14 AM

A backroom deal on raising power rates will keep Nova Scotia Power executives' salaries secret, NDP finance critic Graham Steele told government regulators Thursday.

"The fact is that the levels of compensation are simply enormously out of keeping with other incomes in the province of Nova Scotia," he said.

Mr. Steele said the executives' salaries, bonuses and stock options were supposed to be on the agenda at the Utility and Review Board's public hearings into the power company's request to increase electricity rates. But the hearings, scheduled to last two weeks, were scuttled with the announcement this week that Nova Scotia Power and some of its biggest customers had reached a "settlement agreement" on a rate hike of 9.4 per cent.

"With respect to executive compensation, the settlement agreement ensures that this topic will go unexamined for at least another year, even though it is the one topic that probably catches the public's attention the most," Mr. Steele told a three-member review board panel.

"Although not everyone will claim to be an expert on rate-setting for Nova Scotia Power, it is fair to say that just about everyone considers themselves an expert on incomes, whether that be a politician or power executive's income."


Full Article: <>

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Will accountability and transparency for NY public authorities working for non-profits put a chill on volunteerism?

September 13, 2008


Note to Civic-Minded: Prepare to Reveal Riches


Lorne Michaels and Oscar de la Renta probably do not follow the deliberations of the New York City Council standards committee any more than most people. But they and other prominent, wealthy New Yorkers who volunteer on local civic boards and commissions might want to tune in on Tuesday.

The committee will be discussing whether the people who sit on boards of certain nonprofit organizations will have to submit long and detailed financial disclosure forms — laying bare their sources of income, stock holdings, real estate investments and debts.


Full Article <>

Palin's two e-mail accounts questioned: Is state business on private account really transparent?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Governor's two e-mail accounts questioned

BLACKBERRY: Is state business on private account really transparent?





Moments after Gov. Sarah Palin's first speech as Republican John McCain's running mate, she sat with her kids backstage, thumbing one of the two BlackBerrys that are always with her. You can see them in photographs from that day on the campaign blog of one of McCain's daughters.

The tech-savvy governor has one of the devices (which allow users to read and send e-mails) for state business, another for personal matters, but those worlds intertwine.

Palin routinely uses a private Yahoo e-mail account to conduct state business. Others in the governor's office sometimes use personal e-mail accounts too.

The practice raises questions about backdoor secrecy in an administration that vowed during the 2006 campaign to be "open and transparent."

Even before the McCain campaign plucked Palin from Alaska, a controversy was brewing over e-mails in the governor's office. Was the administration trying to get around the public records law through broad exemptions or private e-mail accounts?

Activists, still fighting to obtain hundreds of e-mails that were withheld from public records requests earlier this year, say that's what it looks like.

The governor's Yahoo account is "the most nonsensical, inane thing I've ever heard of," said Andree McLeod, who is appealing the administration's decision to withhold e-mails.

"The governor sets the tone and the tone that has been set by this governor is beyond the pale," McLeod said. "Common sense tells you to use an official state e-mail account for official state business."



FOI Request: US Federal workers owe billions in unpaid taxes


Federal workers owe billions in unpaid taxes

September 15, 2008 - 10:48am

The agency with the most delinquent employees is the postal service. (AP)

Mark Segraves, WTOP Radio

WASHINGTON - From the U.S. Postal Service to the Executive Office of the President, thousands of federal workers have not paid their 2007 federal income taxes.

The Internal Revenue Service is trying to collect billions of dollars in unpaid taxes from nearly half a million federal employees. According to IRS records, 171,549 current federal workers did not voluntarily pay their federal income taxes in 2007. The same is true for 37,752 active duty military and nearly 200,000 retired civilian and military personnel.

Documents obtained by WTOP through the Freedom of Information Act show 449,531 federal employees and retirees did not pay their taxes for a total of $3,586,784,725 in taxes owed last year.

Each year the IRS tracks the voluntary compliance rate of all federal workers and retirees. The percentage of employees and retirees who are delinquent has gone up and down over the past five years, but the amount unpaid has increased each year topping $3.5 billion for the first time in 2007.



Taking part in the democratic process: > Opinion

Taking part in the democratic process

by Brent Fox/The Advertiser

View all articles from Brent Fox/The Advertiser

Article online since September 17th 2008, 16:32


There is no better way of celebrating our 250th anniversary of the foundations of representative government in Nova Scotia, thereby Canada.


Within a week of each other, there will be federal, municipal and school board balloting in the province. Hopefully, people will act responsibly and take part in the votes.


The federal election takes place Tuesday, Oct. 14, followed Saturday, Oct. 18 by municipal and school board elections across the province. From the look of campaign signage, things are well under way in the Valley.


In 1758, the province established the foundation of representative government. It was, in part, a response to demands by prospective New England colonists eyeing former Acadian farmlands for settlement.


It was the first step of many in order to achieve what we have now. Back then, the bulk of the population had been expelled and relatively few of those who were still here could actually vote. The voting mechanism went through many changes to achieve the broad suffrage and secret balloting so much a part of the current system.


It was not an easy evolution. It took much effort and sacrifice on the part of many over the centuries.


The current government has been conducting its Democracy 250 campaign throughout the province in order to mobilize young people and others who have not fully participated in democratic action to take their rightful place in the process. This includes being aware of the issues at stake, taking part in campaigns as well as casting ballots. Former premiers Dr. John Hamm and Russell MacLellan have been spearheading the effort, aided by current politicians and others.


Given the importance of the press, now media, in the Nova Scotia democratic process from the days of journalist and politician Joe Howe, we at The Hants Journal are taking on a couple of roles in the current federal campaign.


The Hants Journal is providing coverage of the federal, municipal and school board campaigns. The current municipal and school board campaign coverage is generally through candidate profiles and videos, depending on the individual candidate's wishes. The federal election coverage will be in response to activities taking place in or affecting the Kings-Hants constituency.


As well, in keeping with a tradition set elsewhere in the Valley in recent years, The Hants Journal and Transcontinental Media will host a federal candidates' forum/debate at Hants Branch No. 9, Royal Canadian Legion, Fort Edward Mall, Thursday evening, Sept. 25, between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.


All four candidates have responded positively to our invitation to participate in the event: incumbent Liberal Scott Brison, NDP Carol Harris, Brendan MacNeill of the Green Party and Tory Rosemary Segado. Transcontinental award-winning journalist and Hants County native Kirk Starratt will moderate the event.


There will be prepared questions to the candidates, as well as some submitted from the floor. All participating candidates will be given opportunities to respond.


The public is encouraged to come to the event and hear from the candidates -- and then cast ballots election day.


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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Public Service - Scotland puts FOI information online
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
10:11 AM
Scotland puts FOI information onlineTuesday, September 16, 2008 The Scottish Parliament is making replies to Freedom of Information (FOI) easier to find and read. The parliament’s website now features a disclosure log with links to the documents that were released as a result of a request. Many FOI requests are never publicly revealed because the government grants a single applicant to see the information. This new programme will allow anyone to see every piece of information released under the act. Presiding officer Alex Fergusson, said: "The Parliament already publishes much of the information it produces on its website including parliamentary reports, minutes of meetings and details of MSPs' reimbursed expenses. "This development, which gives everyone instant access to information released under FoI, highlights the Scottish Parliament's ongoing commitment to openness and transparency." The system will also have a search facility to allow users to easily find information. Although some statutory exemptions will apply, most information requested under the FOI will be posted online the same day it is released to the person who requested it. Inserted from <>

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Public Has Right to Know - The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Public Has Right to Know

The Intelligencer

POSTED: September 15, 2008

Public officials and agencies in our state compare well with those in most other states in terms of compliance with our Freedom of Information Act, according to a national study. West Virginia was ranked 10th best among the 50 states.

That should mean little or nothing to Mountain State residents, however. The bottom line is that public officials and agencies here received a grade of only 66 percent in complying with public and press requests for information.

West Virginia has strict, no-nonsense rules for officials and agencies who are asked to provide documents and reports covered under the FOI Act. That may be why we scored well in comparison to most other states.

But a two-thirds success rate in obtaining public documents simply isn't good enough. It means that too many public officials don't take the FOI Act seriously, either because they don't bother to understand it or because they don't want to.

That is unacceptable.


Full Article: <>

Names of panelists for annual Right to Know luncheon announced by Commissioner Ann Cavoukian

Names of panelists for annual Right to Know luncheon announced by Commissioner Ann Cavoukian

TORONTO, Sept. 15 /CNW/ - A newspaper executive, a CBC News investigative
reporter, and a key government official will join Dr. Ann Cavoukian, Ontario's
Information and Privacy Commissioner, on a special panel that will be the
highlight of a luncheon the Commissioner is sponsoring, Thursday, October 2,
to help mark Right to Know Week in Canada.
The theme the panel will be discussing is: Breaking down barriers to
Freedom of Information: Ensuring the public's Right to Know.

The panel includes:

- Dr. Cavoukian, whose mandate includes overseeing the access and
privacy provisions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of
Privacy Act and the Municipal Freedom of Information and
Protection of Privacy Act, as well as the Personal Health
Information Protection Act, and helping to educate the public about
access and privacy issues;

- John Hinds, the recently appointed president of the
Canadian Newspaper Association, who is also president of
the Canadian Community Newspaper Association;

- David McKie, a senior reporter with the investigative unit of
CBC News; and

- Dr. Mark Vale, Ontario's Chief Information and Privacy Officer.

Brian Beamish, the IPC's Assistant Commissioner for Access, is the
moderator of the panel.
This is the third annual Right to Know luncheon sponsored by the
Commissioner. The first two were sold out and tickets are already going
quickly for this year's event, which is being held at the Dominion Club,
1 King Street West, Toronto.
Tickets, which may only be purchased in advance, can be ordered through
the Toronto Region branch of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada,
the co-sponsor of the luncheon. An order form is available in the Right to
Know section of the IPC's website (, or through calling the
Communications Department at the IPC (416-326-3333).
Among other tools Commissioner Cavoukian is using to help mark this
special week is a Right to Know Blitz Day on Monday, Sept. 29. IPC teams will
be setting up information tables to hand out IPC publications and answer
questions in malls in three cities, from noon to 4 p.m. that day.

These information tables may be found in the following malls:

- Lime Ridge Mall in Hamilton;
- Square One in Mississauga;
- Yonge-Eglinton Centre in Toronto, and
- Centrepoint Mall in Toronto.

The Right to Know section on the IPC's website (which is easily
accessible from the opening page of the website) includes information about
your rights under Ontario's freedom of information laws, an FOI Quiz, forms,
and much more, including information about how to file an FOI request - as
well as how to file an appeal to the IPC if a provincial or municipal
government organization denies your request.

For further information: Media Contact: Bob Spence, Communications
Co-ordinator, Direct line: (416) 326-3939, Cell phone: (416) 873-9746, Toll
free: (800) 387-0073,


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Friday, September 12, 2008

Nigerian Senate plans FOI Bill as Independence Day gift - Vanguard Online Edition

Senate plans FOI Bill as Independence Day gift


Written by Emmanuel Aziken & Inalegwu Shuaibu   

Thursday, 11 September 2008

The Senate yesterday promised the nation an independence day gift in the form of the Freedom of Information (FoI) bill which it promised to pass into law in three weeks.

Senate Spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze who disclosed this to journalists at a press briefing said the senate having gone through the bill had found out that the bill does not contain anything that could be inimical to the nation's interest.

He said: "We are determined to do things that will deepen democracy. One of them is the inauguration of the constitution review committee hopefully by next week. And also this is to say that we are determined to make sure that, in the next three weeks, we will pass the Freedom of Information Bill and make it a law in Nigeria."

Senator Eze further disclosed that the upper legislative chamber is consumed by the zeal to make governance more transparent and accountable, adding that unless the bill is quickly passed into law, ordinary Nigerians would not have access to information to make meaningful contributions to governance.


Full Article: <>

Curtailing open government - Las Vegas Sun

Curtailing open government - Las Vegas Sun

Friday, September 12, 2008

8:25 AM

Curtailing open government

Statistical evidence points to culture of secrecy under the Bush administration

Thu, Sep 11, 2008 (2:05 a.m.)

For those of us who value open government, the news is pretty grim. Whether it involves documents, meetings or contracts, it is getting more difficult to obtain information from the federal government.

A report card released Tuesday by, a Washington coalition of journalism, consumer and government watchdog groups, detailed numerous trends that reveal a growing practice of secrecy by the Bush administration.


Full Article: <>

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Reform is long overdue - Chatham Daily News

Reform is long overdue

September 10, 2008


FOI is such a political acronym that in some circles it has become a word unto its own, pronounced "foy." Yet if it ever gets a place in a dictionary, its description, in Canada at least, should read something like this: "Short form for freedom of information request. But rarely accomplished in short order by any government body, much less at the most senior levels."

The nation's information commissioner recently upheld a newspaper industry complaint that government practices of tagging requests for information as "sensitive" generally lead to "unfair and unjustifiable delays in the processing of those requests," and the commissioner has asked sectors of the federal government to stop holding up such information.

The commissioner's finding caps off a three-year investigation into more than 20 government departments. It was all triggered by a September 2005 complaint by the Canadian Newspaper Association that alleged "secret rules and procedures . . . contravene the (Access to Information) Act, and result, more importantly, in unfair and unjustifiable delays in the processing of media requests for government information to which the public has a right in our democracy."

Full Article: <>

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Respecting Your Access and Privacy Rights - A Citizen's Guide for Nova Scotians (June 2008)



Governments, do not frustrate your citizens -

Governments, do not frustrate your citizens



Tue. Sep 9 - 6:03 AM

Too many Nova Scotians no longer vote. Forty per cent of us did not make the effort in the last provincial election. Fewer than half the eligible voters bothered to go to the polls in the last municipal and school board elections.

So what's happening? Why are so many of us opting out of the political process? We know this lack of public interest is not peculiar to Nova Scotia but it is as serious or more serious here than in other parts of Canada.

This year, we are observing 250 years of democracy in Nova Scotia. I avoided using the word "celebrating," given that so many Nova Scotians are not participating fully in our democracy. An essential role of citizens in a democracy is to decide for themselves who they want to represent them in our elected bodies. But many of us don't seem to care, or at least don't care enough to make our choices. Those who are elected must wonder what kind of a mandate they enjoy when so many citizens have turned their backs on the whole system.

I am sure there are more than a few reasons for this disengagement from the political system. The Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia is satisfied it has found one reason, and that is secrecy in government. Governments of all political stripes in Canada and beyond will deny this with some vigour, pointing to their freedom of information legislation as proof they are transparent. But first they would have to show they accept all the requirements of that law to be open and accountable.

As it happens our Nova Scotia FOIPOP Act goes farther than any other such legislation in the country in this area of accountability. Our Act cites as its bold purpose "to ensure that public bodies are fully accountable to the public." It is clear we have a right, not a privilege, to have the information we want and need in order to participate in the decision-making and to vote as informed citizens.

This means that access to the information should be trouble-free, it should be provided without undue delay, and at little or no cost. Surely, that's what freedom of information means.

This anniversary year is a good time for us to take stock of how our democracy is working. We will miss a wonderful opportunity to promote and enhance our democracy if we do nothing more than mark the 250th anniversary and encourage our citizens to get out and vote. Citizens will vote when they feel involved and connected to their communities. They will stay away from the polls if they don't.

Voters must feel they are making a difference, not every four years or so, but every day. Participation is linked to knowledge. If you don't have enough information, you can't participate intelligently and effectively. When access to information is thwarted, people who want to participate turn away in frustration and common sense suggests that they are less likely to make the effort to vote.

In a true democracy, freedom of information legislation would be redundant, save exceptional cases that are truly linked to national security, personal privacy or business competitiveness. Even in those cases, proof should be shown. Environment issues, such as reviews of proposals that will change the nature and quality of citizens' lives, should not fall into any of these categories.

When government engages in secrecy, when government forces citizens to undertake expensive and unwieldy application procedures and appeals to get information about their own communities; when bureaucrats read the freedom of information legislation to find exceptions instead of facilitating the release of information, the government is saying it doesn't trust its citizens. Why then should citizens trust government enough to vote?

In this 250th year of democracy, we are reading reports that the Department of Education is pondering whether a school board vacancy should be filled by byelection or by appointment. The cost of byelections when so few people vote in them appears to be the issue. I'm sure that the department will recognize this would be a perilous path to follow. The problem can't be solved by interrupting democratic processes as practical as this particular case might sound. No one argues that democracy is practical, or efficient. Winston Churchill described democracy as the worst form of government, except for all the rest.

At the end of this month, Canada, the United States and some 60 or more countries will be observing Right to Know Week. It's a good time for us all to reconsider decisions to step away and, instead, put pressure on our provincial and municipal governments and our MLAs and councillors to commit themselves to improving the administration of the FOIPOP Act to ensure that no one is denied access to information because the $25 application fee and related processing costs are too burdensome or the process too frustrating. In our upcoming municipal and school board elections, let us challenge candidates to commit to transparency and full accountability.

The Democracy 250 Committee is to be applauded for taking its message into the schools. That's a good start and I'm sure it realizes it is only a start to getting our citizens re-engaged. We must directly address the reasons for citizen apathy and cynicism towards politics.

Darce Fardy is president of the Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia.


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Monday, September 08, 2008

Windsor watchdogs demand probe of city's FOI tab - network

Windsor watchdogs demand probe of city's FOI tab

Monica Wolfson

The Windsor Star

Friday, September 05, 2008

A city taxpayers' group will ask the province to investigate the City of Windsor after the city demanded 11,000 hours and $354,000 to fulfill an access to information request.

Seven members of WeAct, the Windsor Association of Concerned Taxpayers, gathered outside city hall Friday to denounce the city's  "stonewalling."

The inability to gather in a timely manner information that should be at "its fingertips," demonstrates that the city is poorly managed and needs to be overseen by the province, said Chris Schnurr, president of WeAct.

"The ministry views municipalities as a separate form of government and at the end of the day accountability comes at the ballot box," said Tim Ryall, municipal adviser with the ministry of municipal Affairs and housing. "The group is expressing its concern and council should take it under consideration. But (the ministry) only gets involved in extreme situations where ... the municipality is in serious financial trouble."


Full Article: <>

University of Arkansas (MS) to keep exec hunt private -

UAMS to keep exec hunt private


Posted on Thursday, September 4, 2008


The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences will use a private search firm to help find its next chancellor.

But the University of Arkansas Foundation Inc., not the university, hired the firm to keep applicants' names private, said B. Alan Sugg, president of the University of Arkansas System.

"The firm will be talking to candidates about the possibility of coming here," said Sugg, who will serve as chairman of a search advisory committee that includes faculty, health-care executives and corporate leaders.

"They [the candidates ] might not want that information released. We want this to be done quietly. We're in the investigation phase now. We'll release names when we get finalists." Because the UA Foundation is funded through private donations, it is not subject to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act and the applicants' names don't have to be released, UA System officials said Wednesday.

Applications of people applying for public jobs are open records in Arkansas.

Tom Larimer, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association, said in a telephone interview Wednesday evening that private search firms oper- ate in a "gray area." "It's not the first time a company has used a third party to circumvent the Freedom of Information Act," he said. "They say it's legal because they're using private funds, but it doesn't mean it's right. It should be open to the public eye. If any public money is used at all, it will be open." Peter Emanuel, the director of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute and a member of the UAMS search advisory committee, said the use of private search firms is typical for medically based academic searches.


Full Article: <>

FOI request: When the bill hits six figures - network

FOI request

When the bill hits six figures

Windsor Star

Saturday, September 06, 2008

We would have more faith in the city's ability to accurately interpret the Municipal Freedom of Information Act -- which emphasizes open government -- if it hadn't previously fought and lost a battle to keep information from local taxpayers. As it is, the city's insistence a private citizen pay $354,650 for the processing of an information request seems excessive and designed to discourage informed debate and public scrutiny.

Local blogger Chris Schnurr, who ran unsuccessfully in the municipal election and who serves as president of WeACT, the Windsor Association of Concerned Taxpayers, filed an information request July 3 seeking the draft audit of the 400 building in City Hall Square and a raft of documents related to the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel.

The city responded it would require an extension of 500 business days and $354,650 to process his request, based on the estimated 10,966 hours it would take to sift through an estimated 128,000 pages of information from various city departments.

That tally, deemed "absolutely outrageous" by Hamilton NDP MP Andrea Horwath, a freedom of information watchdog, was arrived at by figuring $30 per hour of search time and 20 cents per photocopied page. Schnurr is required to pay a 50 per cent deposit or $177,325 for the city to proceed, but even that substantial sum doesn't guarantee the release of any information, not even a single page.

"This seems to be a stalling effort to keep information from coming out," said Horwath. "It certainly does not look good for municipal officials to respond this way to a request for information."

It is fair to say Schnurr's request was overly broad. Some might suggest it was crafted that way deliberately so the city would respond as it did, allowing Schnurr and WeACT to portray officials as unco-operative and secretive. A more charitable interpretation is his request had to be broad given taxpayers know next to nothing about negotiations for control of the U.S. side of the tunnel.

Schnurr's seven-part request sought several specific documents that should be easy to find and should be released, though, including the draft 400 audit and loan applications and appraisal reports related to the tunnel deal.


Full Article: <>

Friday, September 05, 2008

FoI data released after Larne council review - Larne Today

FoI data released after Larne council review - Larne Today

Friday, September 05, 2008

9:10 AM

FoI data released after Larne council review


Published Date:

04 September 2008

By Stephen Kernohan


LARNE Borough Council has acceded to a Freedom of Information request for financial details of the local authority's website.


Smiley Buildings has also reviewed its Freedom of Information procedures and put new controls in place.


We reported last week that internet applicant Nick McBride had lodged a formal complaint with the council, following its refusal to release all the information he had requested.


Mr McBride wanted a breakdown of costs for creating, developing and maintaining the site, as well as the identity of the council's external provider and an estimate of the cost of staff time.

Full Article:  <>

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Info watchdog: Flagging access requests can cause unfair delays - THE CANADIAN PRESS

September 3, 2008

Info watchdog: Flagging access requests can cause unfair delays



OTTAWA - The practice in some government agencies of flagging potentially embarrassing access to information requests as "sensitive" can lead to unfair delays in releasing information, says Information Commissioner Robert Marleau.

Marleau has extracted a promise from government institutions that they will speed up the handling of such requests.

The ruling, which followed a three-year investigation, partly upholds a complaint from the Canadian Newspaper Association.

The association claimed that secret government rules classed certain access requests as "sensitive" or "of interest" or "amber light" and caused unjustifiable delays in getting information. The group also said the practice was principally aimed at journalists.

Full Article: <>

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Dean Beeby presents a webinar session to help train your staff in FOI requests

Webinar session to help train your staff

OCNA webinar focuses on ad sales, CNA examines FOI requests

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

An interesting webinar is being offered in September that could help newspapers learn how to make successful Freedom of Information requests.

On Wednesday, September 17 from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM (ET), the Canadian Newspaper Association will present their webinar, Getting What You Want Through FOI.

The session is being presented by Dean Beeby, deputy bureau chief in Ottawa for The Canadian Press and will help train reporters and editors how they can make successful FOI requests through proper phrasing, and other tactics.

The cost is $60 for CNA and CCNA members, or $90 for non-members.

Visit to sign up for this webinar.


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