Thursday, July 26, 2007

Government Data News Summary July 17 to July 21

Strib = Star Tribune and PPD = St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch

Strib, 7/17, p. A10: In Nation and World section, story headlined "University President, two others forced out" is about what happened after these officials covered up a rape and murder in a dorm at Eastern Michigan University.
(Same/similar story on page 2A of 7/17 PPD.)
University president, two others forced out
Three Eastern Michigan University administrators -- President John Fallon, Vice President of Student Affairs Jim Vick and Public Safety Director Cindy Hall -- lost their jobs at the 23,500-student university, months after they were accused of covering up the rape and slaying of a student. The school officials publicly ruled out foul play in the Dec. 15 death of Laura Dickinson, 22, despite evidence to the contrary. It was not until another student, Orange Taylor III, was arrested in February and charged with murder that Dickinson's family and other students learned that she had been raped and killed. Taylor has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for trial Oct. 15.

Strib, 7/19, p. 1B: "Folks still flocking to Cities? Maybe not" is a story based on government data and disagreements between agencies about how to count migration.

PPD, 7/20, p. 1A: "Reported dog attacks on rise" is a story based on government data. Similar story in Strib on same day.

PPD, 7/21, p. 4B: "Couple exposes drug raid error" is a story about a drug raid gone awry. This story presents an interesting public data issue because the police agencies refuse to name the officers involved.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

News Summary - July 4th to July 8th

Strib=Star Tribune PPD=St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch

Strib, 7/4, p A7. In "World and Nation" section, a story headlined "Michigan university breaks law in handling killing" describes a cover up of information about an on campus murder. The cover up violates a federal law that requires public reports of incidents of violence on campuses.

Strib, 7/4, p. A11. "She wrote a check, became a target" is a story about use of federal campaign contribution information to harass someone because they worked for a company that does testing using animals.

PPD, 7/4, p. 3A. "Private contractors outnumber troops in Iraq" is based on government data.

Strib, 7/5, p. A3. "Contractors exceed troop level in Iraq" is the Strib version of the story noted above.

Strib, 7/5, p. A8. "Passport crisis diverts diplomats" is based on government data.

PPD, 7/5, p. 1B. "Background checks for volunteers will be free" describes another creative use of government data, i.e. checking up on the backgrounds of school dance chaperones and other volunteers.

PPD, 7/8, p. 1A. "From dreams to desolation" is a story based on government data.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Recent Freedom of Information Act article

FOIA Facts: Two Steps Forward, (At Least) One Step BackBy Scott A. Hodes, Published on June 25, 2007
[Mr. Hodes served at the Department of Justice's Office of Information and Privacy from 1991 until 1998. His website is, and he is a member of the DC and Maryland bars.]

Public Access to government records is moving forward in at least a couple of areas. The Department of Justice has released a searchable Foreign Agents Registration Act database, available here. While not all FARA documents are available due to some privacy issues that the Department of Justice is still working out, a publicly available database is a great step in the direction of public access to documents.
And the FOIA amendments continue to move along in Congress. The House has passed its version, and Senate approval is pending the removal of a once secret hold put on the legislation by Sen. Jon Kyle of Arizona. Kyle claims he put the hold on the bill because of Department of Justice objections to the bill (which makes me think that the Department of Justice folks all failed civics class because they can offer changes to the bill through different legislators such as the previously mentioned Sen. Kyle). While I have some trepidation about some parts of the amendments, overall they are another step in the right direction in fixing some of the problems in FOIA processing. And I also believe that, eventually, the amendments will pass in some form and become law.
However, recent moves by the administration are at least one step back in public access to government records. The White House has recently taken steps to make visitor logs to the White House inaccessible through the Freedom of Information Act. In the past, the logs were maintained by the Secret Service, which is a component agency of the Department of Homeland Security. A requester could seek the records through a FOIA request to the Secret Service. However, the administration recently brokered a deal through the National Archives in which the logs for the White House and the Vice President's residence are no longer considered to be maintained by the Secret Service, but by a component of the White House that is not subject to the FOIA. Thus, the only means of access to these logs is through the Presidential Records Act, which withholds the documents until the current administration is long gone from Washington, D.C.
These maneuverings, have been, and continue to be contested by a number of plaintiffs. The issues are whose records are they (White House or Secret Service); and if they belong to the Secret Service, must they be released pursuant to the FOIA. Regardless of the outcome of the litigation, the mere fact that groups have had to go to court to get access to the identity of visitors to the White House and the Vice-President's residence and office is a huge step back for public access to information. And the bigger question is, what other government records formerly covered by FOIA have been transferred to non-FOIA status recently? The answer to that determines how many steps back have been taken, not just for the FOIA, but for democracy itself.
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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

News about government information

Strib=Star Tribune and PPD=St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch

Strib, 6/24, p. A9: "The silent influence of Dick Cheney" contains interesting comments about how the V.P.'s office handles government information.

Strib, 6/25, p. A8: "The silent influence of Dick Cheney" is the second part of this series with more information related comments. This article focuses in part on the role secrecy played int he development of the administration's position on torture. Both these stories raise difficult questions about how the history of the Bush administration will be written given the penchant for secrecy and keeping information "off the books".

Strib, 6/26, p. A8: "Cheney's secrecy fits long pattern" is an editorial discussing the V.P. and secrecy. It contains the following quote. "Secrecy is antithetical to the American values of government openness and public access."

Strib, 6/27, p. A1: "CIA releases files on illegal spying in U.S." is largely focused on CIA activities in the 1970's. Can we imagine what kind of spying is going on now that a lot of it has been legalized by the Patriot Act?

Strib, 6/27, P. A3: "Prisoner's bid draws big costs, experts" is a story about a Massachusetts' convict's demand to have a sex change operation. Much of the story is based on documents obtained under the Mass. FOIA with interesting results. For example, the operation would have cost $20K. So far, the State's fight has cost $52K.

Strib, 6/27, p. B1: "Health chief grilled for four hours" describes the hearing about the Health Department's Commissioner withholding information. There was testimony from a Health Department employee that she was told not to put information about these the issue in writing. (Clear attempt to evade the Data Practices Act?)

Strib, 6/27, p. B2: "Court rules doctor's rights were violated, but he may get license back" includes a discussion of part of the Court's decision upholding release of data about doctors under the Data Practices Act.

PPD, 6/27, p. 1B "Told to quit, health chief apologizes" is the PPD's story about the hearing discussed above.

PPD, 6/27, p. 5B. "Court rules for board in cancer doctor case" is PPD story about the doctor issue discussed above.

PPD, 6/27, p. 3A, "CIA domestic spying detailed" is the PPD story about the CIA 1970's spying.

Strib, 6/28, p. A1, "State's drug law goes to Congress" continues the discussion about the drug company payments to doctor's data base. This story includes information that when the reporters first started looking for these reports, they were found in dust covered boxes.

Strib., 7/1, p. A5: Garrision Keillor's column, entitled "The public library: A place of respite, still" is a reminder of why many of us LOVE libraries.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 10-16.

Some stories have links to the online version.
Strib=Star Tribune
PPD=St. Pauo Pioneer Press Dispatch

Strib, 6/10, p. B1. "Chasing a cold case" is a story that illustrates the importance of retaining old records in criminal matters.

Strib, 6/11. p. A8. "Immigration judges often picked based on GOP ties, records show" is a story based government data.

Strib, 6/11 p. B1, "Drivers, MnDOT feel more bumps in the road" is a story based on government data.

Strib, 6/11, p. E4. In the "Fixit" column, which is headlined "Road repair crews are on a roll with TP", there is a question about access to police incident data. The answer says nothing about the access under the Data Practices Act. Another teaching moment lost.

Strib, 6/12, p. B1. "Integration effort can't stop old patterns" is a story based on government data.

Strib, 6/12, p. D1. "Farm subsidies for the rich" is a story based on government data.

PPD, 6/12, p. 1C. "Who gets all that farm aid" is a story based on government data.

PPD, 6/12, p. 2A. "Official accused on unlawful advocacy" is a story based on government documents.

PPD, 6/12, p. 3B "Two arrested in master key prank" includes information about police refusing to release public arrest data.

Strib, 6/12, p. A11. In a column headlined "Shine more light on drug clinical trials", a Minnesota legislator advocates establishment of a publicly accessible data base.

PPD, 6/13, p. 2A. "Congressmen question FBI's proposed data base" is about a plan to create a terrorism data base that would have six billion records. A similar story appears in the Strib, on 6/13 at page A12.

PPD, 6/13, p. 1A. "State cops seize more property, cash in '06" is a story based on government data.

PPD, 6/13, p. 5A. "Hurricane satellite on last legs" is a story based on government documents.

PPD, 6/13, p. 8B. "Agency: Drinking water in good shape" is a story based on a government report.

PPD, 6/13, p. 1C. "State jobless rate edges up" is based on a government report.

Strib, 6/13, p. B1. "A big disparity in graduation rates: is a story based on government data.

Strib, 6/13, p. A1. "State tops U.S. jobless rate for first time in 31 years" is based on government data.

Strib, 6/13, p. A11. "Poisoned patriots" is a story based on government data.

PPD, 6/14, p. 1A. "Drivers shun car pools despite high gas prices" is a story based on government data. A similar story is in the Strib. for 6/14 at p. B5.

PPD, 6/14, p. 3A. "House votes to fix gun check system" is a story about a development that will enhance government data collection and sharing. A similar story appears in the Strib. for 6/14 at p. A3.

PPD, 6/14, p. 6A. "FBI finds it overstepped bounds in data collection" is a story based on government data.

Strib, 6/14, p. A1. "Victims' advocate being investigated for selling government data" is a story about the alleged theft of government data.

Strib, 6/14, p. E5. In "News of the Weird" there is an item about the malfunction of computerized data in Alaska which results in two months of round the clock work to use paper records to re-create a data base.

PPD, 6/14, p. 1C. "Farm subsidy database is only part of the story" is an opinion column based on government data.

PPD, 6/14, p. 1C. "IRS to revive random tax audits" is a story based on government data which tells us that the IRS often uses random audits not to check on tax compliance but to collect personal data to build better tax compliance systems.

Strib, 6/14, p. D1. "Fed survey sees solid growth, including in Upper Midwest" is a story based on a government report.

PPD, 6/15, p. 3A. "Money rolls in for Clintons" is a story based on filings with the Federal Elections Commission.

PPD, 6/16, p. 5A. In "Nation and World Briefing" section is a story headlined "Intern loses device with state data" about a missing disc with social security numbers and other information about Ohio state employees.

PPD, 6/16, p. 8B. "Scientist says state retaliated against him" includes an allegation that a fired state employee destroyed government data.

Friday, June 15, 2007

June 6th to June 9th

Strib=Star Tribune and PPD=St. Paul Pioneer Press

Strib, 6/6, p. D1. "Minneapolis Wi-Fi boots up."

PPD, 6/7, 10B. "Maybe it should be called Homeland Insecurity Department" is an opinion column including a discussion of a highly redacted Inspector General's report on the Homeland Security Department.

PPD, 6/7, 1A . "U, Google unite to put books on-line" describes the new agreement between the U and Google to computerize books in the U collection.
See whole article below as copied from this link:

U, Google unite to put books online
Pioneer Press - Article Last Updated: 06/06/2007 11:54:20 PM CDT

The University of Minnesota and other Big Ten schools will team up with Google to digitize as many as 10 million books, including 1 million from the U.
U officials Wednesday called the deal a big step in preserving important works - including its Scandinavian and forestry collections - and improving scholarly research by making materials easy to find and search on the Web. Google picks up the digitizing tab, estimated at $60 a volume; the schools pay to get the books ready.
Google will post "snippets" of copyrighted materials and point viewers to places where they can buy the book or get it at a local library. Entire books in the public domain can be searched or downloaded; generally, that means government documents and material published in the United States before 1923.
Visit library.html to read more.
- Paul Tosto

PPD, 6/7, 6A, In a story, headlined "Rights groups seek end to secret U.S. detentions" includes descriptions about FOIA brought which try to reveal the extent of the detentions.

Strib, 6/7, A1 "Study of 3M chemicals, no cancer cluster is found" summarizes the results of a government study.

Strib, 6/7, A1. "U deems its library collection Googleworthy" is similar to the PPD story noted above.

PPD, 6/8, 5A. "Report: CIA prisons in Poland, Romania" is a story based on a report of a European government agency.

PPD, 6/8, 5A. In a mini-editorial, headlined "Make FOIA Stronger", paper calls on Congress to enact pending improvements to FOIA

PPD, 6/9, 5A. Story, headlined "Why withhold officer's name?", discusses, among other things, the basis in the Data Practices Act for not releasing the name of the undercover officer involved in a road rage incident.

PPD, 6/9, 5A. Story, headlined "Rash of suicides, attempts infect Indian reservation." is based on government data. However, the story points out the data is incomplete because the computer tracking suicides and attempts was down for six weeks.

Strib, 6/9, A16. "Senate should pass open-government bill" is an editorial supporting changes to FOIA.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Catching-up on Government Info in the News

Strib= Star Tribune of Minneapolis and PPD = St. Paul Pioneer Press

Strib, 5/20. p. A1. "High hopes. Sad Reality" is a story about what has happened to the Minneapolis Public Library system. Much of the story is based on government data.

Strib, 5/20. p. A19. "Justices' questions reveal the people behind the law" is a story based on analysis of U.S. Supreme Court transcripts of Court proceedings.

Strib, 5/22. p. E2. "Tracking the cost of war" is a story about websites, using government information, that are devoted to reporting on the dollar and other costs of the war in Iraq.

PPD, 5/28. p. 4A "Anti-terror track record scrutinized" is a story based about the Department of Homeland Security based on a study of government information.

PPD, 5/28. p. 1B. Although the story headlined "Files stolen and identities used" does not involve government data, it does involve the College of St. Catherine's with which many COGI folks have strong associations.

PPD, 5/30. p. 12B. In the Metro/Regional section, a story headlined "City unveils new online crime map" describes how the City of Eagan has put some crime data on line. The City's decisions about what to put up indicate either confusion about what is public under the Data Practices Act, timidity or something else.

Strib, 5/31. p. D1 Story, headlined "Thomson, U to connect using speedy Internet 2" describes a coming development by which Thomson West and the University of Minnesota will stream court proceedings to law firms. Given the Minnesota judiciary's long term resistance to cameras in the courtroom, this is an interesting development.

Strib, 6/3. p. A6. This story, headlined "State-disciplined doctors still on drug payroll", describes another use, this time by the N.Y. Times, of the State of Minnesota data base into which doctors are required to report their contracts with drug companies. The story illustrates what can be done with government data and some creative analytical work.

PPD, 6/3. p. 11A "Doomsday plan shifts control to White House" is another story, based on government information, about expansion of executive authority by the Bush administration.