FCC Releases National Broadband Plan with Lofty Goals

The FCC released the National Broadband Plan today, setting out ambitious goals for how the federal government conducts business in cyberspace. The Plan targets several concrete goals, including

  • 100 million homes with affordable access to 100 megabit per second internet access.
  • At least one institutional (e.g., hospital or university) connection at one gigabit per second in every community. 

Closer to open local government’s home, the Plan’s “Civic Engagement” chapter may raise the bar for municipalities in providing access to records and officials. Although the Plan is directed to the federal government, citizens are likely to expect the same level of service from all government agencies, including their local city hall.

Some Plan recommendations that could make their way to local government requirements in the next few years include:

  • All responses to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests should be made available online (rather than delivered only to the requester), in part to cut down on time and money spent processing multiple similar requests.
  • All government meetings, hearings, and town halls, should be broadcast online.
  • Government should accelerate the adoption of social media technologies given the success stories to date, e.g. 37 million views of H1N1 flu-related media feeds.

Given the potential impacts of the Plan (and technological innovation generally) local government stakeholders would be well-advised to educate themselves about broadband technology and its impact on citizen interaction with their government leaders.

 

"Lauderdale city attorney tells politicians: Stay off Facebook"

Update 7/12/09

Here is another article from Florida on whether governments should use web 2.0 sites:
"Attorneys, legislators to pull plug on Marco government’s use of social Web sites? Increased accessibility to candidates and officials, public records concerns among the pros and cons being considered in use of Facebook, Twitter"

Update 7/7/09

Spies should also stay off Facebook:  "British spy chief outed on wife's Facebook page

Update 6/2

Apparently Judges should stay off Facebook too.  Here's an article about a Judge who was reprimanded after accessing a litigant's Facebook site. 

Original Post  5/18

As the benefits of Web 2.0 personalized communication -- like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter -- become more apparent, public agencies and politicians are quickly looking to these tools to communicate with the public. Several Washington State agencies, including the Secretary of State and Attorney General (links Twitter, Facebook and YouTube at the bottom of the AG's homepage) use Web 2.0 sites such as Facebook.  Here's a PowerPoint presentation from the Secretary of State's office explaining the benefits of Web 2.0 sites. 

Use of Web 2.0 sites is not without risk, however.  As highlighted in this article about the advice of a city attorney in Florida to his city council -- stay off Facebook, there are concerns about whether the use of such sites affects a government's ability to comply with public records, records retention and open public meetings laws.  The city featured in the article concludes:

It is a simple fact that the state of the law is lagging woefully behind the state of the art in communications technology. This presents unique challenges in following the intent and the letter of these laws regulating public meetings and communications of local government.  For this reason, this office discourages the City’s participation in a Facebook page or any similar interactive communication technology. 

Earlier this year the Obama administration highlighted some other issues with the "terms of service" users of YouTube and other Web 2.0 sites, such as one-sided reimbursement clauses and sites' use of cookies to track visitors.  Both were inconsistent with federal law or federal policy. 

Here is an article reviewing the use of Web 2.0 products by governments throughout the country.

"Please destroy after reading" -- FOIA case demonstates that emails are forever

When the U.S. Forest Service was considering whether to fire whistle-blower Glen Ith back in 2007, its ethics chief was keenly aware that his emails on the topic were public records, subject to discover.  His solution?  Instruct all recipients to destroy the emails:

This information is for your eyes only.  Please destroy after reading.  It's not protected by privilege and is subject to discovery.

Melvin Y. Shibuya
Chief, Labor/Employee Relations Branch

He repeated similar warnings in subsequent emails. 

Here is a link to an article that includes these excerpts from those emails.

Justice has prevailed, at least sort of.  Mr. Ith died of a heart attack while on administrative leave, after his job was "downsized" but his widow was recently awarded all of her litigation cost.  

President Obama blocks disclosure of abuse photos

Update 6/6

As reported by the Huffington Post, President Obama has now included a provision in a war-funding bill that would protect the detainee abuse photos from disclosure. 

Update 6/2

McLatchy Reports: "Why'd Obama switch on detainee photos? Maliki went ballistic."  While fear of foreign uprisings may not be an exemption under FOIA, maybe it should be.

Update 5/19

A federal appeals court has now affirmed the position of President Obama that White House Office of Administration is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, reasoning that the entity only implements administrative decisions and does not form policy.

Update 5/16

Here is some more food for thought on the President's reasons for not releasing the photos.

Update 5/15

As noted in this article, "Like Bush, Obama White House Chooses Secrecy for Key Office," President Obama is continuing the Bush-era policy of exempting the White House Office of Administration from the Freedom of Information Act.  The article ends by reminding reader's of one of the President's campaign promises on openness:

"More and more, the real business of our democracy isn't done in town halls or public meetings or even in the open halls of Congress," he told an Iowa audience in 2007. "Decisions are made in closed-door meetings, or with the silent stroke of the President's pen, or because some lobbyist got some Congressman to slip his pet project into a bill during the dead of night. We have to take the blinders off the White House."

President Obama has now reversed his position on the release of the additional photographs showing the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.  When the first batch of photos were released in 2004, it caused world-wide outrage.  This article analyzes and deconstructs the six reasons  President Obama seems to be relying on for this change. 

Freedom of Information Act Decisions for 2009

The Department of Justice posts summaries of all FOIA decisions on a monthly basis.  Here is the post for April 2009. Here are earlier posts for March, February and January 2009.

Obama trying to force the Brits to keep U.S. "State Secrets"

Not only has President Obama maintained Bush's position on "state secrets" in the U.S. -- claiming a civil lawsuit must be dismissed because the plaintiff's evidence are "state secrets" -- he is now threatening the British Government if they allow U.S. "state secrets" to be used in a civil suit in that country. 

Supreme Court Nominee's Open Government Record

Here is a post from Og-Blog on the open government record of Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court.   

"Open government laws are designed to build public trust"

Here is an editorial on the "torture memos" from the Olympian written by the editor of this blog, Ramsey Ramerman.  It was inspired by George Will's recent statement on ABC's This Week:  "The problem with transparency is that it’s transparent for the terrorists as well.”

Update 5/13:  Here's the Og-Blog's take on the editorial.  As it correctly notes, President Obama's administration has not been as transparent as many had hoped, particularly with regards to the Federal Reserve and the AIG bailout. 

Open Government at work: the Bush "torture memos" released

President Obama made news Thursday (April 16) by releasing four public records -- the infamous Bush "torture memos."  You can find copies all over the web, but here's a link to an article on Talking Points Memo that has all four in PDF format. 

Openness is basic to democracy

Open Government Around the Country for the Week of March 22

Federal government:

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has recently issued this memorandum for the implementation of President Obama's January 21 FOIA directions.  All of President Obama's efforts are nicely highlighted in this editorial in The Daily News, from Longview, Washington. 

A recent study of freedom of information laws throughout the world found that the United States has one of the highest ranked freedom of information laws in the world.  This was before President Obama's recent initiatives.

California:

In a recent article, the Sacramento Bee, reported on the open government issues that arise from a mayor using "volunteer" private help.  The article notes that under California law, it is "unclear about whether the emails, text messages, voicemails and other writings produced on non-City equipment and property are public records."

Under Washington law, every record that (1) is related to the conduct of government and (2) is "prepared, owned, used, or retained" by a government is a public record. RCW 42.56.010(2).  Thus records related to the conduct of government that are located on non-public agency equipment will be still be public records as long as the records are used by the agency. 

Maryland:

The Maryland general assembly (its lower house) has just passed new legislation that purports to subject the Maryland legislature to the state's public records and open meetings laws. According to at least one legislator, however, the changes actually make the legislature more opaque. For public records, the new legislation would exempt all emails to and from legislators.  Under current law, some of these emails may have to be disclosed.  For meetings, legislation allows party caucuses, budget meetings between party leaders and lunch meetings with the governor to remain private. These exceptions authorized by the new law may allow legislators to make important decisions outside of the public eye. 

In Washington, the laws permit even greater legislative secrecy.  As noted in this post, the Washington Legislature has defined "public records" to exclude all of a legislator's records. Likewise, the Legislature has excluded itself from the definition of "public agency" in the Open Public Meetings Act, meaning that none of its meetings are subject to that law.