Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ministers must 'wise up not clam up' after WikiLeaks disclosures

Information watchdog urges Whitehall to be more open and adapt to fact that any official communications could be leaked

The government should take the WikiLeaks revelations as a lesson that civil servants and ministers can no longer assume they operate in private, and "wise up" to a world where any official communication could be made public, according to the information commissioner.

Christopher Graham, the independent freedom of information watchdog, told the Guardian that the website's disclosures had profoundly changed the relationship between state and public, in a way that could not be "un-invented". But he warned against "clamming up," saying the only response was for ministers to be more open.

Speaking after weeks of revelations from US embassy cables published by WikiLeaks, he said: "From the point of view of public scrutiny, the web and the internet has empowered citizens. Governments now need to factor in that things can be WikiLeaked.

"We are strongly of the view that things should be published. Where you're open things will not be WikiLeaked. Whatever view you take about WikiLeaks – right or wrong – it means that things will now get out. It has changed things. I'm saying government and authorities need to factor it in. Be more proactive, [by] publishing more stuff, because quite a lot of this is only exciting because we didn't know it. You can't un-invent WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks is part of the phenomenon of the online, empowered citizen ... these are facts that aren't going to go away. Government and authorities need to wise up to that."

Governments around the world have condemned the leaking of 250,000 US embassy cables to the website WikiLeaks, which has produced startling revelations about diplomatic briefings, the behaviour of governments and international relations. The Guardian and four other newspapers around the world have published a series of in-depth reports from the cables, redacting some information to protect individual sources where publication could put them or their families at personal risk, where there are questions of national security and military sensitivity, or legal considerations of defamation.

Graham, who has been information commissioner since last year, said he opposes the indiscriminate leaking of information. The Freedom of Information Act appoints the information commissioner to weigh up a presumption of publication of government communications, with the necessity to protect national security and individuals' privacy.

He said: "The difference between what I do and what Julian Assange [the founder of WikiLeaks] does is the difference between freedom of information and free-for-all. Freedom of information accepts that there are some things where you need to strike a balance. The free for all says isn't this exciting, we didn't know it – never mind the casualties. Life is much more complicated than that.

"That doesn't mean that pubic authorities shouldn't sit up and take notice of what's happening with WikiLeaks. Even if you're working within the structures of freedom of information, things may get out. It's as well to recognise that fact."

He said the revelations would inevitably impact on how governments work, but urged ministers not to react by trying to control information more tightly. "One response is that they will clam up and not write anything down, which is nonsense, you can't run any organisation that way. The other is to be even more open. The best form of defence is transparency — much more proactive publication of what organisations do. It's an attitude of 'OK. You want to know? Here it is'."

The introduction of the Freedom of Information Act by the previous government had begun to change officials' attitudes to public data, but too often many still behave as if they are governing "in private", he said.

"It is on occasion like drawing teeth, if we were much better about being open and upfront. If all of us just accept that this is the people's information and 99.9% should be out there in all its tedium, you wouldn't have WikiLeaks." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

MLAs dragging heels on expenses disclosure, de Jong says - Globe and Mail
At present, cabinet ministers disclose a total figure for their travel and meals, and additional details can be obtained through Freedom of Information requests.

Daniel Ellsberg and Julian Assange Talk WikiLeaks
Daniel Ellsberg and Julian Assange Talk WikiLeaks
Following the leak by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks of almost 400,000 secret US army field reports from the Iraq war between 2004 and 2009, tune in to hear Julian Assange at the Frontline Club in conversation with one of the most famous whistle blowers in history, Daniel Ellsberg, who was responsible for the leak of the Pentagon Papers in 1971.

Chaired by Elizabeth Palmer, CBS News correspondent.
Date: Mon, 25 Oct 2010 00:00:00 -0700
Location: London, The Frontline Club, Frontline Club
Program and discussion:

ICW demands PSSI publicize results of audit - Jakarta Post
Citing the freedom of information law, ICW coordinator Emerson Yuntho said ICW would mobilize soccer fans and non-government organizations to demand PSSI reveal the contents of ...

A&M revisits ruling after outcry - Houston Chronicle
Several Tarleton journalism students were part of The Light of Day project, a statewide initiative sponsored by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas to teach them how to ...

FOI-Lish | Richmond Times-Dispatch

Commissioner finishes FOI 'dashcam' report, but it's not public yet - Connecticut Post

Setting government data free with ScraperWiki
from programmable web: Civic minded hackers from all over the world recently organized themselves for action as a part of the International Open Government Hackathon. The team from Portland, Oregon decided to make use of a platform called ScraperWiki that can grab data from government websites and turn into more consumable formats via the ScraperWiki API....The ScraperWiki work highlights a

Will ‘Sanity Prevail’ at Texas A&M Systems ?

By now you've probably heard about the nutty public information policy being imposed on the faculty within Texas A&M's University System.  It's a policy that basically puts professors on notice, such as Dan Malone at Tarleton State University, that they can be fired for teaching, or directing,  journalism students how to use the Texas Public Information Act to find out information about their own alma mater.  Investigating UT is okay but don't look in your own backyard.  What?  Yeah, I told you it was nutty.  And, as we enter 2011 there is not only growing criticism being voiced across the nation – but also encouraging signs A&M is listening.

Ontario privacy watchdog to appeal email ruling

Monday, December 27, 2010

FOIA counselor's office finishing 'tremendously busy year' - Springfield, IL - The State Journal-Register

Dying for data: the Indian activist killed for asking too many questions

Shashidhar Mishra uncovered official wrongdoing using India's Right To Information law. Now he's its latest martyr

Shashidhar Mishra was always a curious man. Neighbours in the scruffy industrial town of Baroni, in the northern Indian state of Bihar, called him "kabri lal" or "the news man" because he was always so well informed.

Late every evening, the 35-year-old street hawker would sit down with his files and scribbled notes. In February, the father of four was killed outside his home after a day's work selling pens, sweets and snacks in Baroni's bazaar.

The killing was swift and professional. The street lights went out, two men on motorbikes drew up and there were muffled shots. Mishra, an enthusiastic RTI activist, as those who systematically use India's right to information law to uncover wrongdoing and official incompetence are known, became the latest in a country's growing list of RTI martyrs.

The RTI law, introduced by the Congress party-led government in 2005, was a radical piece of legislation giving private citizens the right to demand written answers from India's always opaque and often corrupt bureaucracy and state institutions such as the police and army.

"It was a total paradigm shift from a regime of secrecy to one of transparency," the law minister, Veerappa Moily, said in an interview in Delhi. "It has changed the entire culture of governance."

In many ways, the law has been an astonishing success, prompting from tens of thousands of often poor, sometimes almost illiterate, always highly motivated citizens. In Bihar, more than 100,000 demands were made last year, 20 times as many as five years ago, said AK Choudry, the chief information commissioner for the state. In India as a whole at least 1 million RTI requests have now been filed.

"This act is for the common man of India. Without paying a bribe a poor man can get answers. We have the right to know what is happening in this country," said Afroz Alam Sahil, a student from Bihar who has registered hundreds of requests.

Yet, with the rule of law weak in much of the country, exercising new rights can mean danger. At least 10 activists have been killed so far this year. All found themselves up against powerful individuals, often in league with local authorities. One uncovered a series of corrupt land deals and thefts of social benefits by officials and was subsequently hacked to death near his home near the city of Pune, Maharashtra state.

A 55-year-old stallholder was killed after investigating electricity supplies and gambling dens in his home town of Surat in the western state of Gujarat. Two activists investigating fraud in government labour schemes for the poor were killed in the lawless eastern state of Jharkand, while others - including a 47-year-old sugar cane farmer in the central state of Maharashtra and an activist near the southern city of Bengaluru - were killed after investigating land acquisitions by big businessmen.

In July, Amit Jethava, a pharmacist in Gujarat who had hounded officials about mining which endangered Asian lions, spotted deer and wild boar near his village was shot dead. There has since been a lull in the killing but beatings, intimidations and threats continue.

Amitabh Thakur, who heads an RTI network in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, and is writing a book on the RTI martyrs said that "cases of murder, persecution, prosecution and harassment" are legion. "When you are digging for information there are people who try to hide it from you," he said. "They will do what it takes to keep it hidden."

The true number of activists killed could be much higher. Frequently, campaigners say, the authorities deny a link between the RTI requests and violence, dismissing incidents as everyday crime.

Choudhrysaid that no killing linked to RTI had taken place in Bihar and that Mishra's death in February was "not linked to any RTI application". Local police denied Mishra was an activist and said they no longer had possession of the investigation file opened on his death. It contained, his family said, most of the answers he had received to his various RTI requests.

The dead man had hidden a box of papers at home that suggest the hawker's activism was indeed the reason for his murder. The documents, seen by the Guardian, included receipts for hundreds of different applications for information on local officials, businessmen and even the police themselves.

Mishra, described by his sister as a "sharp and smart guy", had started demanding information two years before his death. His first target was a local government-run dairy, a big employer, where he suspected animals were being mistreated. His next campaign focused on unlicensed stalls run on public land outside the local railway station. These were eventually demolished.

Encouraged by his success, Mishra asked for records of land purchases and sales by members of the local council over the last 20 years. In June last year, he began investigating the local market, largely built by local businessmen on government land. A month later, he asked why there was no electricity in the local health clinic. By the end of the year, he had established that many of the contracts awarded to resurface a road through the town were suspect. He spoke darkly to his family of death threats.

In December and January, Mishra filed a flurry of further information requests, asking for details of the postings of certain policemen and the whereabouts of vehicles the police had recently impounded.

On 9 February , he requested a list of those contracted to carry out construction of a road in the market. He also demanded the local council's 2009 accounts. The answer — which showed that at least £80,000 had been paid to contractors for work that had never been carried out — arrived in May, three months after Mishra's death.

His killers had used silenced handguns, the mark of professionals. That a power cut plunged the street into darkness for the few minutes they needed to work indicates the involvement of officials, campaigners claim.

Now his brother Mahdidar is trying to look after four extra children on a family income that has been halved. Hetold the Guardian he was "desperate".

"I want justice for my brother but what can I do? There are many corrupt and powerful. I am just one man."

Cases of intimidation and violence are "isolated", Moily, the law minister, insisted. "Wherever protection is needed the government provides it." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Brass Crosby: The Julian Assange of 1771 | Doug Saunders

U.S. Time Capsule Opens, Online - Tech Insider

Biggest FOIA Story 2010

Drum roll please....

The biggest FOIA story of 2010, as determined by the FOIA blog is . . .

The SEC FOIA Fiasco.

For those of you who don't recall, or have the time to review all of this blog's posts on the matter, here is a summary of what happened.

The Financial Reform bill passed during the Summer of 2010 had a number of different drafts circulating in the Congress.  Many, if not all of them, had provisions broadening FOIA protections for documents the SEC would receive as part of its oversight responsibilities in the bill.  The final bill created an Exemption 3 statute that allowed the SEC to withhold information derived from "surveillance, risk assessments, or other regulatory and oversight activities."

The media actually took notice of this new provision -- and it this attention was generally negative.  The SEC tried to downplay their new powers, even going so far as to issue guidance on the issue.

Congress took notice -- and in a bipartisan manner.  A number of bills repealing the matter were introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representative.  The Senate then repealed the provision, and the House then followed.  President Obama then signed the bill.

As it applies to FOIA, it is a big story because it demonstrates how agency seek to gain larger withholding powers to block disclosure of records.  In this case, the SEC probably already had the power pursuant to FOIA Exemption 8 and case law to block the release of the type of records it would receive in its new regulatory duties given to it in the financial reform legislation.  The language of the new Exemption 3 statute, however, would have been much broader than just redacting material from the SEC regulatory duties -- it is possible the SEC would attempt to withhold records it receives as part of its law enforcement actions, which is different than regulatory.  Thus, the wording of legislation becomes a very big issue when it comes to FOIA -- a lesson learned in 2010.

As it applies to government overall, it demonstrates how important it is to read legislation before it is voted on.  I think blame can go to both sides of the aisle on this one -- the Democrats allowed a vote on a bill that had language in it that most of them either didn't understand or didn't agree with.  And the Republicans, by not participating in the process didn't bother to actively take part, which includes reading the bill before it was passed. 

With three cases before the Supreme Court in 2011, I project the biggest story in the upcoming year will be the decisions and fall out from the Supreme Court on the issues before it.

Beaumont City Council presses pause on plan to film its meetings - San Bernardino County Sun

An accountable world with WikiLeaks - Global Nation
It came from an emerging international social movement, of which WikiLeaks is a part, that envisions technology as a tool for political change through freedom of information.

EDITORIAL - Threat to the press, democracy in Cayman - Jamaica Gleaner
Moreover, the legislature should apologise to Mr Fuller and the Cayman Compass and commit to public hearings on the freedom of information review.

Salary follies at BC Ferries irk taxpayers - The Vancouver Sun
Only recent changes to the freedom-of-information laws finally gave us that right. We first learned Hahn's base salary was $494,923 in 2009.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Awareness changes the public discussion of government employee salaries in Nevada

Our outreach to open government activists is spreading nationwide. This time our guest blogger is Eric Davis. Davis is a transparency researcher with the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a free-market think tank based in Las Vegas, Nev. He specializes in using technology to make government more open.  Also a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, he spends his free time watching movies and reading about politics.

Transparency advocates know that without constant scrutiny, corruption and abuse fester in government. And for years, this is what happened in Clark County, Nev., which includes the city of Las Vegas. However, since the creation of TransparentNevada, the flagship transparency project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, public employee salaries have been subjected to more oversight and scrutiny, which has led to more responsible use of taxpayer money.  Our efforts have been particularly useful in shining a light on firefighter salaries.

TransparentNevada launched in late 2008 with the goal of shining a light on public employee salaries all across the state of Nevada. State law designates public employee salary information as a public record and requires government agencies to make it available when requested. Although some jurisdictions -- including the counties of Storey, Pershing, Lincoln, Mineral and Nye -- refused to comply with our requests or demanded exorbitant fees for the public information, we launched TransparentNevada with 43,321 employee records from 13 cities and counties in Nevada.

The information revealed that firefighters dominated the ranks of highest paid government employees.  Outranking the governor, judges, top lawyers and firefighters enjoyed a Croesus-like existence in Southern Nevada. As we dug deeper into the numbers, we found that firefighters not only enjoyed high salaries but that there were also policies in place that allowed some firefighters to game the system to additionally earn extremely generous overtime and retirement pay.

As NPRI fiscal analyst Geoffrey Lawrence found, firefighters in Clark County are some of the highest paid in the nation. In 2009, the Clark County Fire Department employed 739 full-time firefighters of which 565 (76.5 percent) received total wages in excess of $100,000. Including $43,422 in benefits, the average firefighter received a total compensation package of $172,898. Two firefighters took home wages in excess of $400,000. Several firefighters approached $100,000 in call-back and overtime pay alone. If TransparentNevada had not requested and exposed these exorbitant salaries, the public likely would have never learned how much it was paying.

The information on TransparentNevada also exposed potential abuses of the overtime system. For example, there was a policy in Clark County that, of the nine fire battalion chiefs, three had to be active and on duty at any given time. If one called in sick, another was called in and paid either overtime or call-back pay for covering the shift. On May 26, 2010, the County Commission changed the policy and allowed two battalion chiefs to be on duty. The results were remarkable. During a 12-week period after the policy was changed, officials found sick leave had dropped by 80 percent. Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, a leading advocate for transparency and accountability in local government, alleged that prior to the policy change, the battalion chiefs gamed the system by coordinating with one another and arranging their sick leave to increase call-back and overtime pay.

Finally, there is the case of the Laughlin fire department. A little over 90 miles south of Las Vegas, this 7,000-person town has some of the lightest workloads in all of Clark County. Yet despite responding to only 41 fires -- and only 13 structure fires -- in 2009, Laughlin firefighters accrued $1.5 million dollars in overtime last year. Commissioner Sisolak believes that firefighters nearing retirement seek to finish their last few years in the relatively quiet Laughlin department so they can boost their retirement package by earning high amounts of supplemental pay in their last few years on the job.

The reaction to TransparentNevada and our efforts to help the public see how its money is being spent has been overwhelming. Many local government officials, including those in Clark County, regularly turn to TransparentNevada for accurate and easy-to-access salary information. Numerous journalists, including those at Nevada's largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, routinely use and cite information from TransparentNevada. Las Vegas' CBS affiliate, KLAS, also ran a week-long series examining public employee pay following TransparentNevada's launch.

As of today, TransparentNevada contains just under 200,000 employee records from 2007 to 2009. In our most recent update, we added salary information from the Nevada System of Higher Education, the Clark County School District and various governmental agencies. We've also included disbursements made by Nevada's House delegation, a searchable interface to examine contracts awarded by the state as well as the results of our transparency survey we sent out to every candidate that ran in last month's elections for a state legislative or executive office.

Because sunlight is the best disinfectant, TransparentNevada will release 2010 salary data for Nevada public employees early in 2011.

Also make sure to read the TransparentNevada Blog and follow us at @TransparentNV.

Province names new freedom of information officer - Winnipeg Free Press

ICO targets University for FOI procedures - IT Pro


Sent to you by Greg via Google Reader:


The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has made the University of East Anglia (UEA) sign an undertaking to improve its procedures when it comes to freedom of information ...


Things you can do from here:


ICO pushes for FoI compliance


ICO pushes for FoI compliance
Published on Google Alerts - "foi" -"ma foi" | shared via feedly
... has required the University of East Anglia (UEA) to sign a commitment to further improve the way it responds to Freedom of Information (FoI) requests. ...
See all stories on this topic »

Quote of the day

"Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful."
  - Samuel Johnson

Wikileaks cables show nations concerned about ACTA secrecy | MyCE – My Consumer Electronics

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

BC Ferries shoots itself in the foot with Freedom of Information policy - The Paper Trail with Chad Skelton

North Pole abuzz with controversy - Niagara Review


North Pole abuzz with controversy - Niagara Review
Published on "freedom of information" - Bing News | shared via feedly
Results of a freedom of information request have revealed gaping holes in the North Pole's now-famous "Naughty and Nice List." There have been rumours of Santa taking freebies -- in ...

House Rules Transparency Victory


House Rules Transparency Victory
Published on Sunlight Foundation | shared via feedly

While we're still waiting to see the draft copy of the House Rules from the incoming majority today, we're now hearing some of the provisions that will be included in the draft.

Many of these provisions are just what Sunlight has asked for in our proposed Rules reforms.

First and foremost, it looks like a 72 Hour Rule will be included in the House Rules. "In Electronic form" will be the way the online requirement is phrased, and all bills will need to be available to the public "in electronic form" for three calendar days before a vote. This will be a huge victory for the ReadtheBill movement, and for transparency in the way the House considers legislation.

Also, committees are going to be posting far more information online. It's going to become much easier to follow along as committees pursue their work, and to know what's going to happen, online, before it happens. Committees will be required to post notice of markups three days in advance, post committee votes online, post amendments online, post disclosures about witnesses who testify, and webcast hearings and markups.

Again, many, many of these changes are contained within our Rules recommendations, and we're elated to see so many of them included in this Rules draft. While the devil is always in the details, and implementation of these kinds of changes can be tricky, these are the kinds of changes that can change the way citizens relate to the legislative process online.

Update: Also worth reiterating: the Office of Congressional Ethics will continue its operations in the 112th Congress. Even though Boehner opposed its initial creation when it was first formed, the independent Ethics watchdog will continue its vital work. This is fantastic news.

Update 2: Here is Speaker-Designate Boehner's tweet about the 72 Hour Rule:!/GOPLeader/statuses/17584517178986496

N.M. launches prototype of open government website


N.M. launches prototype of open government website
Published on The FOI Advocate | shared via feedly
from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press: New Mexico went live Dec. 16 with a prototype of its planned online open government resource called the Sunshine Portal. The website, which is scheduled to go fully live on July 1, 2011, opens to journalists and citizens information that otherwise might take weeks or months to gain access to through information requests.The site contains

UK Media Law for Journalists - the Freedom of Information Act


UK Media Law for Journalists - the Freedom of Information Act
Published on Google Alerts - "foi" -"ma foi" | shared via feedly
The UK lagged behind much of the rest of the world in terms of freedom of information for many years - the USA has had FOI legislation from the 1960s, and Sweden has now had it for centuries. In Britain, though, government records ...
Suite101: Resources for Writers Articles -

Rather than keeping secrets, today we circulate them

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Personal Emails in a Goverment System: Subject to Access to Information Law?

A lawyer with the City of Ottawa was active in community activities, and with permission of his employer spent some time on those activities at the office. His email to and from one of the charities became the subject of an access to information request under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA). He resisted disclosure of the emails on the ground that they had nothing to do with government business, the disclosure of which was the purpose of the Act.

The Information and Privacy Commissioner held in April 2009 that the emails must be disclosed: Order MO-2408 [PDF] dated April 9, 2009.

The Divisional Court has now reversed that decision, holding that MFIPPA did not extend to personal communications just because they were stored on a government computer. City of Ottawa v. Ontario, 2010 ONSC 6835. The court held that the documents were not in the custody or control of the City, even though they were on its computer. Further, subjecting personal documents (electronic or paper-based) to access requests would hurt the privacy rights of the employees.

This seems right to me. Otherwise community organizations and charities would not want public-sector directors or even volunteers if their private communications were subject to disclosure by what I think is a collateral attack through access to public information laws.

Do you agree? What's the other side?

FoI requests halved, but costs double over 4 years - Local News - News - General - The Canberra Times

Times Sues Police Dept. Over Access to Information - New York Times
The Times's lawsuit said the Freedom of Information Law imposed "specific deadlines, which the N.Y.P.D. persistently and as a matter of practice fails to meet."

Personal e-mails stored on government servers exempt from FOI laws ... - Globe and Mail
Personal e-mails stored on a government computer are not subject to freedom of information legislation, according to an Ontario court ruling. The issue has "broad ...

Samara | What was the best moment in Canadian democracy in 2010?

FOI: Some end-of-year reflections - BBC


Sent to you by Greg via Google Reader:


I think we're at an intriguing stage in the development of freedom of information in the UK. A year ago the context surrounding FOI was dominated by the role it had played in ...


Things you can do from here:


Monday, December 20, 2010

Why FOIA Requests Are Made

National Public Radio has this story on a FOIA request it jointly made with ProPublica.  The story discusses an ongoing FOIA request made to TriCare (the Defense Department's Health Care Organization), why the request was made and the requesters struggle to receive documents.

It's a good illustration of problems FOIA requesters have with agencies and why they make those requests in the first place.

@INFORRM - EU Law, Freedom of Information and Data Protection - Part 3 - Aidan O'Neill QC

12/18/10 8:19 PM
EU Law, Freedom of Information and Data Protection - Part 3 - Aidan O'Neill QC:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Government secrecy provided fertile ground for WikiLeaks - Age
Dr Johan Lidberg is a senior lecturer in the school of journalism and Australian studies at Monash University, specialising in freedom of information and whistleblowing.

Mont. Supreme Court considers access restrictions - Forbes
Freedom of information advocates say the proposals are unnecessary and would run counter to the right-to-know provisions in the state constitution.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Freedom of Information Act - Hurdles to overcome - The Patriotic Vanguard

Why Virginia should keep its Freedom of Information ... - Washington Post
AS MEMBERS of Virginia's legislature a decade ago, Robert F. McDonnell (R) and Bill Bolling (R) - now the state's governor and lieutenant governor - struck a blow ...

Town Hall's refresher course -
Documents obtained through Freedom of Information reveal councillors and council staff spent $209,816 on food and alcohol in the 12 months to March this year. The council's ...

Friday, December 17, 2010

David Higgerson - FOI: When the reason for refusal provides the story

Information freedom tied to politics, culture, economy

Judicial Ruling on Public Information Could Set a Precedent

A Travis County State District Judge has determined that the Greater Houston Partnership is a governmental body – not a contract vendor.  The distinction in terms of transparency and open government is significant.  As a result, for example, the Partnership is subject to disclosure requirements under the Texas Public Information Act.  They must provide details about their check register which were requested two years ago.  However, that's not likely to happen anytime soon since the Partnership's attorney says the ruling will be appealed to Texas' Third Court of Appeals.

SSRN-Friends or Foes? Creative Commons, Freedom of Information Law and the EU Framework for Re-Use of Public Sector Information by Mireille Van Eechoud

UPDATED Rights & Democracy Watch: In camera meeting called off, but Deloitte audit leaks out online ...
... courtesy of the dependably intrepid Daniel LeBlanc and the Globe and Mail, who somehow managed to get hold of the unredacted, still not officially released report, and promptly posted it online -- "in the spirit of transparency," and also now available in Scribd format, so hit the jump to peruse it at your leisure from the comfort of your browser. 

Oh, and as for that now-cancelled in camera foreign affairs committee that was originally scheduled to take place this afternoon, I'm still trying to figure out exactly what happened. It looks like it may have been automatically cancelled in response to the imminent adjournment of the House -- which is scheduled to happen right after Question Period -- but I'm trying to get an official explanation, since it seemed to take those involved by surprise. As soon as I hear more, I'll let you know.

UPDATE: From indefatigable colleague Fitz-Morris: Very few people seem to know why the meeting was cancelled. The office of one of the MPs on the committee says it was Latulippe and Braun who had a scheduling conflict.

Stephane Bourgon, the spokesperson for Rights and Democracy who's been sitting with Latulippe and Braun in an Ottawa hotel for two days, says that's simply not true.

He says they got a call from the clerk this afternoon simply telling them the meeting is off - no reason given. Calls to the Committee Chair, Dean Allison, have not yet been returned.

Meanwhile, Chief Government Whip Gordon O'Connor, reading the motion on the now-cancelled meeting, says Latulippe and Braun weren't available for the contingency plan, which called for a 10 a.m. appearance.

again from Fitzmo: Rights and Democracy received a call from the clerk of the committee on Tuesday informing them of a  recent motion passed by the committee that said that IF (emphasis mine) the House should rise on Wednesday, then their hearing slated for 3:30pm Thursday would be rescheduled to 10am on the same day.

Bourgon said that was too early for them and suggest 1p.m. -- which he says was accepted.

On Wednesday, when the House did not rise, Bourgon assumed that meant the 3:30 p.m. time still stood.

An assumption he confirmed by phone with the committee clerk this morning.

At 1p.m. today, Bourgon received another call, this time saying the hearing is cancelled - with no reason given. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Editorial: A Tough Year for Open Government

A guest editorial from James C. Ho, private attorney and former Solicitor General of Texas

It's been a bumpy year for supporters of open government.

Last Christmas Eve, the U.S. Senate passed sweeping health care reform—without the public debates the President promised to air on C-SPAN.

No legal reasons were invoked for refusing those broadcasts—just a concern that publicity would harm the bill's chances for passage.

A few weeks later, however, a team of Texas lawyers took things one step further:  They filed a lawsuit arguing that open meeting laws are unconstitutional.

A group of local officials, represented by noted criminal lawyer Dick DeGuerin, are challenging the criminal penalties of the Texas Open Meetings Act as a violation of the First Amendment.

The lawsuit is not just meritless—it turns the Constitution on its head.

The First Amendment protects citizens against government oppression, not government against citizen oversight.

Vancouver Sun loses fee fight with BC Ferries - The Paper Trail with Chad Skelton

Privacy V/s Public Interest - Outlook India
Given that freedom of information laws have at their core the purpose of disclosure, exemptions are strictly construed, and it has been said that the public right to know should ...

Vancouver city council passes motion calling for ... - Georgia Straight
Anton introduced a motion calling for the Freedom of Information and Privacy officer position to be filled, and for staff to be permitted to speak directly to the media on reports.

Nova Scotia health privacy bill passes despite media fear of jail or fines - Brandon Sun

BC Ferries waives some Freedom of Information fees - The Paper Trail with Chad Skelton

Case Report – Personal e-mails not subject to FOI legislation ...


Case Report – Personal e-mails not subject to FOI legislation ...
Published on Google Alerts - "foi" -"ma foi" | shared via feedly
On December 13th, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice – Divisional Court held that employee personal e-mails stored on government e-mail servers are not subject to provincial FOI legislation. The Court read "custody or control" ...
All About Information -

Two more Tory staffers tried to block access to information requests - Globe and Mail


Two more Tory staffers tried to block access to information requests - Globe and Mail

Globe and Mail

Two more Tory staffers tried to block access to information requests
Globe and Mail
Ms. Andrews intervened in a separate access-to-information request, about preparations for US President Barack Obama's visit to Canada in February 2009. ...

and more »

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Press Association: Rise predicted in information pleas

eGov monitor - A Policy Dialogue Platform | Promoting Better Governance

BBC - Open Secrets: Cabinet Manual gets it wrong on FOI

Royal Family and FOI- the state of play
At present, the Royal Family itself is not covered by the FOI Act. Where government departments and other public authorities hold communications with Royal Family, that information is subject to the Act and potentially disclosable . ...
UK Freedom of Information Blog -

Health info act operates on presumption of secrecy - The Chronicle Herald
The bill also combines a sweeping removal of health information from the jurisdiction of our freedom of information legislation with a broad definition of health information that ...

How GCHQ keeps tabs on FOI requestors • The Register

Leaks and Open Government

Some recent discussions of WikiLeaks have labeled information leaks as the silver bullet in creating a more transparent government. There certainly have been times when leaks have had profound effects on how the government operates, and this is among them (the Pentagon Papers, Mark Felt a.k.a. Deep Throat, and Thomas Lawson also come to mind). It is, however, shortsighted to conceive of leaks as a replacement to the systematic requirements for openness that are essential to our democracy. Leaks are a supplement to transparency; not the foundation for it.

For that reason, Sunlight has focused on building tools and databases of influence data; pressuring the government to adopt policies for transparency; investigating political influence; and cultivating fundamental, systemic, and cultural changes by both citizens and government officials. And while we have from time to time built projects out of non-public information -- accepting anonymously submitted invitations to political fundraisers to build our site, as well as supporting, which makes Congressional Research Service reports available to the public for free -- the core of our work is to create a government whose default is to be meaningfully transparent online, in real time, so that our government's operations and influences are available to the public.

Information leaks can be a powerful tool for openness, but they are just a single tool among many.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Senate Should Change its Rules for Easy Transparency Fixes


The Senate Should Change its Rules for Easy Transparency Fixes
Published on Sunlight Foundation | shared via feedly

At the beginning of each new Congress, both the House and the Senate have the opportunity to update their respective rules. We transparency wonks at Sunlight dusted off the old Rules and found ways to modernize them to better ensure real time public access to what's going on in Congress. The majority of changes we recommended for House Rules a few weeks ago also apply to the Senate. A few of the most important are highlighted below.

First and foremost, Senate Republicans should stop blocking a Rules change that would allow Senate candidates to file their campaign finance disclosure reports electronically. There is no legitimate reason to continue to delay public access and review to who is giving what to Senate candidates. This Rules change is one that happens to belong to the Senate alone. House candidates have been filing electronically for years.

After the election, too, greater transparency could help ferret out potential conflicts of interest or unethical behavior. Right now, most ethics-related disclosures are still available only on paper, and only if an individual physically visits an office on Capitol Hill. All congressional ethics documents that are publicly available should also be made available online. This includes personal financial disclosures, travel reports and filings regarding negotiations for future employment.

Also missing from public view are the "Dear Colleague" letters Senators write to one another. Often they are used to urge another Senator to cosponsor legislation or attend a briefing. Constituents should know what issues and events their Senators think are important enough to merit a letter to their fellow Members. Dear Colleague letters should be put on a centralized publicly available database for all to see.

Other changes we'd like to see would open up the work of Senate Committees. All committee votes should be posted online in XML. Information about hearings, including schedules and information about witnesses should be posted online as far in advance of a hearing as possible. Committee reports should be available online and all hearing rooms should be wired for videotaping/live streaming so that all committees can broadcast and archive all open proceedings.

These should not be controversial or difficult changes. As it looks to update its Rules, the Senate should harvest this low hanging fruit so the public can benefit from a bounty of data about the way Washington works.

Ombudsman calls foul over 'secret' stadium talks


Ombudsman calls foul over 'secret' stadium talks
HCN also filed a Freedom of Information request to review the minutes of the ... Ontario Realty Corporation, and had contacted the Canada Lands Corporation. ...

Freedom of information: A basic right


Freedom of information: A basic right
Published on Google Alerts - "foi" -"ma foi" | shared via feedly
By admin, on 14 December 2010 The widest consultation is necessary to ensure the FOI Act lives up to the expectations of the rakyat, says Anil Netto. ...
See all stories on this topic »

Aliran Monthly

quote of the day

The Parkland Institute held its 10th annual Pa...

Image via Wikipedia

Zemanta helped me add links & pictures to this email. It can do it for you too.
"The citizen's job is to be rude - to pierce the comfort of professional intercourse by boorish expressions of doubt. "
John Ralston Saul

Read more:

Thanks Waye.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Beeb ordered to release TV licensing contract ... - The Register


Beeb ordered to release TV licensing contract ... - The Register
Published on "freedom of information" - Bing News | shared via feedly
The Freedom of Information Act is proving an irritant to the BBC. Under pressure from campaigners, last year it began publishing the pay and expenses of top executives and stars.

Freedom of Information Council shouldn't be on the chopping block - Daily Press


Freedom of Information Council shouldn't be on the chopping block - Daily Press
Published on "freedom of information" - Bing News | shared via feedly
We've long found the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council to be one of the most effective agencies in state government. That's why it's so disconcerting ...

AFN resolutionnecessary step


AFN resolutionnecessary step
A plan by Canada's national chiefs to "lead by example" and open their books ... an Access to Information request made by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, ...

UN Human Rights chief 'concerned' about pressure on companies working wi...

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern that governments may be leaning on Internet service providers and others to stop them doing business with Wikileaks. Speaking on the eve of Friday's International Human Rights day, she said the case raises complex questions about balancing freedom of information, the right of people to know, and the need to protect national security.

Freedom of Information 4HFX: Flash back to 2007 with Dean Beeby

Apr 2010: Culture of Deceit: The most secretive government in history

Suzanne Legault, Information Commissioner of Canada

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Jennifer Stoddart On the eruption of government secrets from WikiLeaks

Jennifer Stoddart- On the eruption of government secrets from WikiLeaks:

"This isn't about open government. These are leaks of information that would otherwise be inaccessible. It seems folly to say there are things in government that should not be confidential, particularly in a volatile world where national security issues in a heavily armed world are crucial."

Call for freedom of speech - The Sun
"Malaysians are ready for freedom of information and speech despite detractors, like former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed, saying otherwise," he said at the opening of a ...

Currie says P.E.I. government much to secretive - Prince Edward Island Guardian
In the dying hours of the fall session of the P.E.I. legislature last week, Currie called for changes to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and for the ...

A guide to getting public records - Press & Sun-Bulletin
To make it easy for you to file a Freedom of Information request, the newspaper has compiled the directory to the right. If an E-mail address is provided, click that link to ...

The Sun News On-line | It’s abuse of information freedom – Osoba, Senator Eze By Willy Eya & Bolatito Adebayo

Government proposes blanket ban on release of information about royal family
The Queen is at the centre of a Government row over proposed moves that would give the public sweeping rights to demand secret information.

The Liberal Democrats have been incensed by Conservatives' attempts to restrict a new 'right to data' law so that it excludes the Royal Family.

The new open access law, which was secured by the Lib Dems as part of the Coalition agreement, would extend the freedom of information rules, which have unearthed scandals such as last year's furore over MPs' expenses.

But after lobbying from Buckingham Palace – which is worried that it would lead to a rash of fresh revelations – the Justice Ministry has proposed a blanket ban on the release of details about the Royals.

The move has infuriated Lib Dems, who argue that the Royals should be held to account for the way they spend taxpayers' money.

Under the current rules, although members of the Royal Family cannot be directly subjected to Freedom of Information (FoI) requests, Whitehall departments holding information about them can be ordered to release details if it is deemed in the public interest.

Recent disclosures have included secret correspondence between the Government and the Royal Household which showed that courtiers were lobbying for a top-up to the annual £42 million maintenance grant for palaces.

The Royals have been embarrassed by repeated revelations about the cost of global junkets by Prince Andrew in his role as a British trade ambassador, and by details of Prince Charles's 'black spider' memos – a reference to his handwriting – to ministers on issues such as the environment, architecture and education.

FoI requests have disclosed how Charles foiled a £3 billion redevelopment of London's Chelsea Barracks after personally meeting planning officials, and how he lobbied the NHS to provide homeopathy.

One senior Lib Dem with access to the negotiations said he was 'livid' over the attempt to restrict the reforms.

'It was written into the Coalition agreement that the scope of the Freedom of Information Act would be extended,' he said.

'Openness in Government is part of the spirit and philosophy of the party, and that should extend to finding out how the monarchy is spending taxpayers' money. We have made enough compromises as it is to take our place in the Coalition and we are not really in the mood to make any more.'

Last night Lib Dem MP Tom Brake demanded the inclusion of the Royals in the new law.

'The Royal Family should be subject to freedom of information rules, with the sole exception of the usual considerations about security,' he said. 'The balance of these things should always lie on the side of transparency.'

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: 'We are looking carefully to see where we can further increase the openness and transparency of public affairs whilst ensuring that sensitive information is properly protected. We will announce the next steps on this in due course.'

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said they could not comment because the proposals had not yet become law.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The FOI Advocate: EFF compares documents from similar FOIA requests

The FOIA blog: Friday's Mega FOIA News Roundup

Reaction to WikiLeaks better than information - The Chronicle Herald
Of course, there is a balance to be struck between air-tight secre cy and the wild west of freedom of information. If lives are clearly put at risk by certain facts then no ...

Public Should Know Details about El Paso Corruption Probe

In El Paso, a corruption probe is underway and Federal Judge Frank Montalvo wants to keep most of the details, secret.  He has sealed official documents related to the investigation which reportedly involves paid informants and more than a dozen defendants who have already pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.  According to a news report by @KVIA, '"The fact that informants are being paid is a matter of concern not only to the defendants, but to the general public," said first amendment attorney and a board member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, Joe Larsen.  He says revealing some documents can pose a risk to the ongoing investigation, by exposing cooperating witnesses but, "I do believe the sealing is excessive here."'

The Courier, Russellville, Ark.- Leaders, citizens attend FOI workshop

WikiLeaks says has no link to cyber attacks - Reuters


WikiLeaks says has no link to cyber attacks - Reuters
Published on "freedom of information" - Bing News | shared via feedly
Some freedom of information campaigners who are sympathetic to WikiLeaks look askance at the Anonymous attacks, saying the website's cause cannot be furthered by denying ...

Resident accuses FOIL violations - The Journal Register


Resident accuses FOIL violations - The Journal Register
Published on "freedom of information" - Bing News | shared via feedly
Jennings detailed how he believed his Freedom Of Information Law request was mishandled by members of the village government and Rebeck, who Jennings said lied in an affidavit ...

Poor public response disheartens Penang FOI panel - Malaysiakini


Poor public response disheartens Penang FOI panel - Malaysiakini
Published on "freedom of information" - Bing News | shared via feedly
The Penang Freedom of Information Select Committee is "disheartened" by the lack of response from members of the public in discussions it has planned on the draft, which was ...