FOI DAILY DOSE: Agent accuses ATF of retaliation, Wired editorial examines open data dump issues

Ex-ATF agent accuses agency of retaliation over Project Gunrunner

An agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has accused his employer of retaliating against him for publicizing information on an agency scandal.

Vince Cefalu said he was given notice of his termination last week in a move he argues is motivated by his decision to speak out against “Project Gunrunner,” a scandal that revealed the ATF’s role in permitting thousands of guns to be sent across the U.S.-Mexico border and end up in the possession of Mexican drug gangs.

Cefalu’s termination letter doesn’t mention the Gunrunner situation, according to Fox News. One of the main reasons for firing him stated in the letter was his decision to leak documents on CleanupATF.org, a website Cefalu helped establish.

The Project Gunrunner fiasco led to congressional hearings on the issue and a public statement by Obama that the operation was a mistake.

Two days before Cefalu was notified of his firing, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., sent the ATF a letter telling its officials to refrain from retaliating against whistleblowers.

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, posted a short comment online stating that the only acceptable response to this action by the ATF, if it turns out to have actually been whistleblower retaliation, is for a race between a few legislators and Obama to be “the first to kick the ass of the idiot at ATF who tried this.”

Wired editorial: Open data initiatives not sufficient by themselves

A Wired editorial by Jesse Lichtenstein examines the push for open data programs throughout the world, noting that dumping tons of government information online doesn’t mean transparency has been achieved.

Putting more government information online – as at least 16 countries have been doing via open data initiatives – is a step forward for transparency, but it can backfire.

Lichtenstein mentions the Bhoomi Project, which aimed to digitize about 20 million land titles in the Indian state of Karnataka, as an example of how data dumps can cause problems rather than provide open government solutions.

Instead of helping small landholders, the project helped corporations and wealthy tycoons that used the newly revealed data to challenge titles and find potential bribery targets.

If people aren’t taught to access and sift through the data governments put online, then the so-called data divide will widen and open data initiatives will fail to provide countries’ whole citizenry with better transparency.

Read the entire Wired editorial.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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