Posts Tagged ‘government’

FOI Daily Dose: Whistle-blowers wanted to call out curious NSA programs, Patriot Act under fire

As reporters continue to pull back the curtain on sweeping government surveillance, whistle-blowers are gaining wind as a vital and ever-threatened cog in the American democracy machine.

The Atlantic Monthly published an article June 6 calling all citizens to arms to help hold the government accountable  especially those working on the inside of National Security Agency (NSA) programs recently exposed for monitoring and mining information about the American public.

Since the revelation that the government has the ability to track every citizen like a potential terrorist (collecting personal phone records and using programs like PRISM to tap into information from U.S. Internet giants), The Atlantic is encouraging insiders to report these programs’ activities to the press so the public can learn more.

Now that we know phone lines and computers are being watched (and that’s only scratching the surface, The Atlantic says), we need whistle-blowers more than ever to expose secrets about other ways Feds are collecting information and how they’re using the information they have.

The Atlantic said these top secret NSA programs are “probably illegal,” so blowing the whistle on them is essentially “the moral response to immoral activity by those in power.”

On June 7, MSNBC published an article saying the author of the Patriot Act, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), denounced the government’s overbroad interpretation of it as “un-American” and potentially un-Constitutional. But despite his apparent dismay, The Atlantic notes that Sensenbrenner has “a curious history of insisting that it is good law” since he first introduced it in 2001.

In their editorial board on June 6, The New York Times called for the infamous act to be either sharply curtailed or repealed to prevent overbroad interpretations in the future.

But intrusive government surveillance isn’t a problem unique to Patriots. The Human Rights Watch tracked the issue on Twitter, showing that appalling abuses of federal power are stirring up controversy everywhere from the European Union, to India, to Singapore, to Jordan and Azerbaijan — just to name a few.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

FOI DAILY DOSE: ESPN sues Ohio State, Kundra talks top transparency principles

ESPN suing Ohio State for records withholding

ESPN has sued The Ohio State University for withholding records regarding an NCAA investigation into its football program.

The suit, filed Monday, accuses the university of breaking state public records law, according to The Associated Press. ESPN wants the Ohio Supreme Court to force OSU to release the requested public records and cover court fees.

The university allegedly cited a federal student-records privacy law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, that wasn’t applicable in this situation when it denied ESPN access to various records.

Requested records included emails between former Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel, who resigned in May, and a mentor to former OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor, according to the Columbus Post-Dispatch’s

FERPA is designed to ensure student educational records remain confidential, but it is often misused to wrongfully keep records private. SPJ’s online Reporter’s Guide to FERPA has more information on dealing with records roadblocks and related issues.

Vivek Kundra lays out his key points on open government

Vivek Kundra, the Federal Chief Information Officer, testified before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Thursday on government transparency issues.

In his testimony, Kundra mentioned 10 key principles for transparency that he said would serve as helpful guidelines in assessing the federal government’s $3.7 trillion budget.

Kundra’s major points included the importance of using common data standards and ensuring equal access to data.

For more, read Kundra’s entire testimony. You can also see his 10 principles listed without the extra information in this Sunlight Foundation blog post.

Kundra plans to leave his government position in August for a Harvard University Fellowship.

– Morgan Watkins

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


FOI DAILY DOSE: Another birthday for FOIA, gov goes mobile

FOIA celebrates 45 years of openness

As children wielded sparklers and fireworks were shot off of rooftops to celebrate Independence Day on Monday, FOIA turned 45.

For four-and-a-half decades, the United States’ Freedom of Information Act has provided legal support for citizens when they asked for information the government was hesitant to provide. It has demanded that the government prove why information should be kept secret rather than force a journalist to prove why it should be disclosed.

Without FOIA, countless government injustices would have gone unnoticed.

FOIA has cast a light revealing information that would otherwise have been hidden in the shadows of government secrecy.

Implementation of FOIA isn’t perfect. There are disputes every day over whether people should have access to certain government information, especially where national security is concerned. The issue of how FOIA and technology should be used to provide searchable documents has also become a point of contention.

But with 45 years under its belt, FOIA is here to stay. It just needs some tweaking to ensure it keeps up with the fast-paced times in which we live.

Check out this article from the Sunlight Foundation also wishing FOIA a happy birthday. The National Security Archive commemorated FOIA’s anniversary as well with a Knight Open Government survey revealing some of the oldest unfulfilled FOIA requests and a list of 45 FOIA-related stories published this year.

Government mobile project launched

It’s time for government to go mobile.

At least, that’s what the U.S. General Services Administration is hoping to convince government agencies to do.

The GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies recently launched a new project called Making Mobile Gov. It aims to help federal departments collaborate on efforts to provide more government data to mobile devices like smartphones.

Government agencies will be able to use Web tools provided by the GSA program to help them create or revise their own mobile-sharing plans and to implement them successfully.

While advancing government openness to the mobile level is a great idea, OMB Watch published a June 30 blog post arguing that government agencies should first focus on making their websites more easily accessible for mobile devices before funneling the bulk of their resources toward creating cell phone apps that may not be as widely used.

– Morgan Watkins

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


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