Carter Center: Access to information is a fundamental human right

March 31, 2008

Last week, participants in the International Conference on the Right to Public Information released the Atlanta Declaration and Plan of Action for the Advancement of the Right of Access to Information. The Atlanta Declaration sets out the group’s findings, lays out key principles, and sets out a plan of action to advance access to information as a fundamental human right.

The principles include:

1. Access to information is a fundamental human right.

2. All states should enact legislation to give effect to the right of access to information.

3. The right of access to information applies to all intergovernmental organizations, including the United Nations, international financial institutions, regional development banks, and bilateral and multilateral bodies. These public institutions should lead by example and support others efforts to build a culture of transparency.

[See the rest of the principles and the plan of action here]

The plan of action sets out steps for international and regional bodies, donors, states and corporate, professional, and civil society organizations to support access to information all over to the world.

The Declaration comes as a result of the International Conference on the Right to Public Information sponsored by The Carter Center in February. The conference brought together representatives from key stakeholder groups – governments, donors, media, civil society, private sector, and academia. You can hear The Carter Center’s Laura Neuman discuss the conference and the then-forthcoming report by listening to the podcast of the panel on international transparency at Washington College of Law’s Collaboration on Government Secrecy‘s First Annual Freedom of Information Day Celebration, held during Sunshine Week.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


Exploring money in politics

March 31, 2008

Looking for a way to track money in politics and learn more about members of Congress or your state legislator? MAPLight.org and Congresspedia have joined forces to create a more comprehensive database to allow you to search for information about the money going to your legislator.

MAPLight.org allows users to explore the connection between campaign donations and legislative votes. Users are able to search their state legislature or the U.S. Congress. When you search for a bill, you can see the supporters and opponents, the latest votes, and a timeline of contributions.

MAPLight.org‘s new partnership with Congresspedia allows you to easily access background and source information on a legislator, in addition to the money in politics information previously available. All you need to do is click on the new Congresspedia Tab. Here’s an example.

Thanks to the Sunlight Foundation blog, SunSpots, for the tip!

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


March Edition of the Washington E-Bulletin

March 27, 2008

Catch up on this month’s news from the Washington Affairs Office! The March edition of the Washington E-Bulletin is now available. This month, we highlight March’s many hearings and Sunshine Week events, as well as new FOIA and FISA legislation. As always, we have news from our chapters and a section devoted to further reading for the information policy junkie!

Here is the Table of Contents from the March edition:

UPDATES FROM THE HILL AND THE WASHINGTON OFFICE
-House Holds Hearings on Network Neutrality, Orphan Works, and EPA Library Closures
-New FOIA Legislation Would Further Improve Freedom of Information Act
-House Passes FISA Legislation

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY: CHAPTER NEWS
-Sunshine Week Webcast a Big Success!
-NOCALL/SLA Hold Exciting Sunshine Week Program
-Maryland Legislation to Cut Funding to Circuit Court Libraries Rejected in House

FREE TIME WELL SPENT: Further Reading for the Information Policy Junkie
-Never Too Late for Some Sunshine
-Clinton’s First Lady Schedules released
-Declassification Board Offers Recommendations to President

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


Sunshine Week and Open Government Resources

March 25, 2008

On Wednesday, March 19, OpenTheGovernment.org and AALL co-sponsored the third annual Sunshine Week National Dialogue on Open Government and Secrecy, “Government Secrecy: Censoring Your Right to Know.” The event was a great success! The program was webcast live from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to sites and individuals around the country. There were over one hundred attendees at the National Press Club, twenty-two host site events which included hundreds of participants around the country, and over seven hundred registrants for the webcast. You can now watch the archived version of the webcast on the National Press Club site. The webcast will soon be permanently available on OpenTheGovernment.org’s website.

Thanks to all of the law libraries and chapters that participated in the event: Lake County Law Library (OH); the Lyon County Law Library (KS); the Westminster Law Library at Sturm College of Law, University of Denver; the Law Librarians of Puget Sound (LLOPS) with the Washington State Library; and the Northern California Association of Law Libraries (NOCALL) with the San Francisco Bay Region Chapter of the Special Libraries Association. Many thanks also to all of the volunteers and participants! We are thrilled that so many AALL members took part in the event this year.

To continue the momentum towards sunshine at the local, state, and national levels, OpenTheGovernment.org put together a fantastic set of resources on open government issues. Resources are organized by subject and include books and articles on Executive privilege, information and democracy, and information technology issues. OpenTheGovernment.org also put together a list of recent legislation on disclosure and open government with links to more information about the bills.

After this year’s successes, we happily look forward to Sunshine Week 2009!

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


Surveys Show Public’s Desire for Transparency

March 19, 2008

Two important surveys released in conjunction with Sunshine Week illustrate the public’s desire for a more open government.

The first, a Sunshine Week survey by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University, found that 74 percent of those polled view the federal government as very or somewhat secretive, up from 62 percent of those surveyed in 2006. Almost all of those interviewed, 92 percent, said open government is important to them in assessing candidates for state offices such as governor or attorney general.

The second survey is summarized in a report released today by OMB Watch, Top Open Government Questions for Candidates. The report names the top five open government questions that Americans would like candidates for federal office to answer before the November elections, based on a survey of more than 2,000 people. The questions can be used by voter groups, the media, and the general public to query candidates on openness and secrecy.

The top five open government questions are:

1) Manipulation of Facts
Concerns have been raised about possible manipulation of information produced by agencies and the influence of the White House over agency decisions. Do you support disclosure of all communications between the White House (including the Office of Management and Budget and other executive offices) and agencies regarding administrative decision-making and information disclosure?

2) Executive Privilege
What do you believe are the appropriate limits of executive privilege in the disclosure of information to Congress and the public?

3) Whistleblowers
Under the Sarbanes-Oxley law, only corporate whistleblowers revealing financial abuses are protected. In order to strengthen accountability against corporate crimes, would you support pending legislation that expands whistleblower protection rights to private sector workers who report violations of any federal public health and safety laws?

4) Presidential Records
Executive Order 13233 limits access to presidential records under the Presidential Records Act by giving former presidents the power to effectively veto the release of their records. Do you commit to reversing Executive Order 13233 to restore public access to presidential records after twelve years?

5) Health, Safety & Environment
Given the importance of health and safety information, how would you ensure that the public has easy access to understandable information about the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the products they use?

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


Celebrate Sunshine Week!

March 18, 2008

Now is the time to celebrate Sunshine Week! Sunshine Week is a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information and there are many ways to participate! Sunshine Week officially began on March 16, James Madison’s birthday.

Although the following events take place in the Washington, D.C. area, many of them will be webcast or podcast and available wherever you are!

Events this week include:

Tonight, Tuesday March 18:

Associated Press President and CEO Tom Curley will address Freedom of Information and other open government issues during a Sunshine Week dinner event at The National Press Club. The dinner is being jointly presented by Sunshine Week and the Eric Friedheim National Journalism Library.

Wednesday, March 19

OpenTheGovernment.org and AALL are sponsoring the third annual Sunshine Week National Dialogue on Open Government and Secrecy. This year’s panel discussions will focus on “Government Secrecy: Censoring Your Right to Know.” The event will be webcast for free from the National Press Club. Sites around the country will be hosting viewings and discussions.

Thursday, March 20

The Sunlight Foundation and Omidyar Network will host a discussion with Lawrence Lessig, law professor and director of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. Lessig will introduce a plan called “Change Congress,” designed to increase congressional transparency. The lecture is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at the National Press Club and will also be available via webcast.

Yesterday, the Washington College of Law’s Collaboration on Government Secrecy held its First Annual Freedom of Information Day Celebration and a podcast of the event will be made available in the near future. In addition, on Friday, March 14, the First Amendment Center hosted the 10th annual National FOI Day Conference at the Newseum. Read about that event here.


Summary of This Week’s Hearings

March 14, 2008

This week, the House held many hearings on issues of interest to AALL. Mary Alice Baish and I attended hearings on network neutrality, orphan works, and EPA library closures. Here are our summaries of those hearings.

Hearing on Network Neutrality

On Tuesday, March 11, the House Judiciary Committee Antitrust Task Force held its hearing on network neutrality. The hearing brought together an interesting set of bedfellows, including Michele Combs, Vice President of Communications Christian Coalition of America and Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, who argued that net neutrality is a free speech issue. Damian Kulash, Lead Vocalist and Guitarist of the band OK Go and Susan P. Crawford, Visiting Associate Professor of Law at Yale Law School also testified in support of net neutrality. Christopher S. Yoo, Professor of Law and Communication and Director of the Center for Technology, Innovation, and Competition at University of Pennsylvania Law School, argued against mandating network neutrality, and Rick Carnes, President of the Songwriters Guild of America testified that internet regulation would harm the fight against internet piracy. Testimony is available on the Committee website.

While members of OK Go were up on the Hill, they sat down to talk with Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA-7), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, about why net neutrality is important to them and why they support Chairman Markey’s recently introduced net neutrality bill (H.R. 5353). OK Go has relied heavily on the internet, especially YouTube, to popularize their music videos, and one of their videos, “Here it Goes Again,” won a Grammy in 2007. “This video certainly would not have gotten out if it weren’t for Net Neutrality,” Kulash said.

Hearing on Orphan Works

On Thursday, March 13, the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property held an important hearing on “Promoting the Use of Orphan Works: Balancing the Interests of Copyright Owners and Users.” The term orphan works refers to the large volume of works that are likely still protected by copyright although their owners cannot be located after a reasonable effort. This is not a new issue for us. Following a 2005 investigation on orphan works by the U.S. Copyright Office, they published a report and recommendations that led to the introduction of the Orphan Works Act of 2006 (H.R. 5439). AALL strongly supported H.R. 5439 and many of you helped get cosponsors by responding to our action alert. Unfortunately, that bill did not move because of concerns raised by textile manufacturers and photographers.

Both groups were represented by witnesses at yesterday’s hearing who raised their continued concerns with the 2006 bill. Speaking on our side in support of the need for orphan works legislation were Register of Copyrights Marybeth Peters; Karen Coe, Associate Legal Counsel for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; and Allan Adler, Vice President of Legal and Government Affairs for the Association of American Publishers. Testimony of all witnesses is available on the Committee website. It was clear from the hearing that the Subcommittee wants to move forward on a new bill while at the same time responding to concerns from the photographers and textile manufacturers. Stay tuned for next steps and, hopefully, the introduction of a new orphan works bill shortly.

Hearing on EPA’s Library Closures

Also on Thursday, the House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a hearing titled, “EPA Library Closures: Better Access for a Broader Audience?.” The hearing was a lively one, and Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC) criticized the Environmental Protection Agency for its failure to talk to stakeholders and the public before closing the libraries and its continued failure to engage stakeholders on its plan to reopen the libraries, as authorized by the FY 2008 appropriations omnibus bill. EPA began closing regional libraries and its Headquarters library in 2006.

Witnesses included John Stephenson (GAO), Charles Orzehoskie (American Federation of Government Employees), Francesca Grifo (Union of Concerned Scientists), Jim Rettig (President–Elect of the American Library Association), and Molly O’Neill (Assistant Administrator for the Office of Environmental Information (OEI) and Chief Information Officer at the Environmental Protection Agency). Witness statements are available on the Committee website. AALL signed on to ALA’s statement.

The FY 2008 appropriations omnibus bill gave a $1 million order to the EPA to restore its library services across the country. The order included a direction to EPA to produce “a report on actions it will take to restore publicly available libraries to provide environmental information and data” to the Appropriations Committee by March 26. The report will include an explanation of EPA’s plan and progress for reopening the libraries.

AALL has been involved in this issue since February 2006, and we are pleased that at long last, the GAO report, “EPA Needs to Ensure That Best Practices and Procedures Are Followed When Making Further Changes to Its Library Network” has been released. We applaud its findings.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

 


House Hearing to Address EPA Library Closures

March 12, 2008

Adding another to the list of important hearings this week, tomorrow (Thursday, March 13), the House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight will hold a hearing titled, “EPA Library Closures: Better Access for a Broader Audience?.” The hearing will be held at 9:30 a.m. in Room 2318 of the Rayburn House Office Building. A live webcast will be available.

The Hearing Charter is posted on the committee website. It provides some background on the EPA library closures and outlines five key questions to be addressed during the hearing. These questions are:

1. Did EPA Have a Plan for Maintaining Continuity of Library Services When the Plan Was Implemented in 2006?
2. Did EPA Realize Budget Savings Through Implementation of Their Plan?
3. Has EPA’s Effort to Digitize Library Holdings Resulted in Greater Access to Library Collections?
4. Did Implementation of EPA’s Plan Ensure Continuity of Library Services to EPA Employees and the Public or Improve Library Services?
5. What Is The Path Forward?

The witnesses at the hearing will be:

Mr. John Stephenson
Director Natural Resources and Environment
Government Accountability Office

Mr. Charles Orzehoskie
President
American Federation of Government Employees, Council 238

Dr. Francesca Grifo
Senior Scientist and Director of the Scientific Integrity Program
Union of Concerned Scientists

Mr. Jim Rettig
President-elect
American Library Association

Ms. Molly O’Neill
Assistant Administrator for the Office of Environmental Information (OEI) and Chief Information Officer
Environmental Protection Agency

The closures of EPA libraries started in 2006 without any public announcement or congressional approval. AALL strongly opposed the closures and we are pleased that the Subcommittee is devoting a hearing to this issue tomorrow.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


House Hearing on Orphan Works

March 12, 2008

Tomorrow (Thursday, March 13), the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property will hold a hearing on orphan works, titled, “Hearing on Promoting the Use of Orphan Works: Balancing the Interests of Copyright Owners and Users.” The hearing will take place at 10:00 AM in Room 2141 of the Rayburn House Office Building. A live webcast will be available.

Mary Alice Baish, Acting Washington Affairs Representative for AALL, wrote a letter on behalf of the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) to the Subcommittee Chairman Howard L. Berman (D-CA-28 ) and Ranking Member Howard Coble (R-NC-6) to express gratitude to the Subcommittee for holding a hearing on orphan works. The LCA consists of five major library associations: the American Association of Law Libraries, the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, the Medical Library Association, and the Special Libraries Association. The letter associated the LCA with Karen Coe’s testimony on behalf of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and emphasized the importance of orphan works to museums, libraries and archives as institutions that collectively preserve our cultural heritage.

Witnesses will include:

Marybeth Peters
Register of Copyrights
U.S. Copyright Office
Washington, DC

Allan Robert Adler
Vice President of Legal and Governmental Affairs
Association of American Publishers, Inc.
Washington, DC

Corinne P. Kevorkian
President and General Manager
Schumacher, A Division of F. Schumacher & Company
New York, NY

Karen C. Coe
Associate Legal Counsel
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum,
Washington, DC

Victor S. Perlman
General Counsel and Managing Director
American Society of Media Photographers, Inc.
Philadelphia, PA

Maya Gura
Director of Marketing and Sales
PicScout
San Franciso, CA

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


House Hearing on Net Neutrality

March 10, 2008

Tomorrow at 2:00pm, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing titled Net Neutrality and Free Speech on the Internet” in the Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2141. A live webcast will be available. The Witness List is not yet available, but should be posted to the Judiciary Committee website later today.

As reported in the February Edition of the AALL Washington E-bulletin, AALL supports legislative efforts that assure the continuation of an open and non-discriminatory Internet where all providers and users of information have equitable access to the diverse content and innovations of the Internet. Two recently introduced bills would affirm this principle in law and would prevent network operators from discriminating against certain types of Internet traffic. In January, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act (S.215) which amends the Communications Act of 1934 to ensure net neutrality. On February 12, Rep. Edward Markey (D-7-MA) introduced a House version of the bill (H.R. 5353).

AALL is a member of the SavetheInternet.com Coalition, which bands individuals, non-profit organizations, businesses and bloggers together to support net neutrality.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


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