AALL Comments on PIDB Priorities for Declassification

January 30, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

From November to mid-January, the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) solicited public input on its Transforming Classification blog about what the government should prioritize for declassification. The Board is now working to compile the responses and comments it received and will report back to the public its conclusions and suggested next steps to assist the President in his goal of transforming the security classification system.

Together with the AALL Government Relations Committee, we submitted the following statement to the PIDB:

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) supports the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board recommendation to make available opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. We also support the declassification of White House Office of Legal Counsel opinions.

In response to comments already received from agency declassifiers, experts, and the requester community., the PIDB also released several list of topics for declassification, including general topics of interesttopics related to the presidential libraries, topics on: formerly restricted data information, and both topics older than 25 years and topics 25 years old and younger. AALL is pleased that FISA court decisions are included on the list of topics 25 years and younger. These lists were also open to comment through the project’s mid-January end date.  PIDB says it hopes the lists “will serve as a guide to aid agencies in reviewing the information the public wants to see. “

AALL commends the PIDB on their public outreach. We were pleased to see the recent Second Open Government National Action Plan (NAP) adopt some recommendations of the PIDB to reduce classification and simplify the classification system for users, including the primary recommendation to establish a White House-led Security Classification Review Committee. We are encouraged by the White House’s commitment to undertaking the culture change necessary to combat secrecy and overclassification and look forward to next steps.

Agency Operations and Expanded Public Access: What’s in the FY 2014 Omnibus?

January 22, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

On Friday night President Obama signed the $1.1 trillion omnibus FY 2014 appropriations bill (H.R. 3547) into law. The comprehensive spending plan designates funding for every government agency and, with a 72-26 vote in the Senate and 359-67 margin in the House, passed both chambers of Congress easily.

Those agencies whose services are integral to providing access to government information managed fairly well in the budget deal. The Government Printing Office (GPO) maintained their 2013 funding level of $119 million. The Library of Congress is provided with $579 million, a decrease of $8 million below the Fiscal Year 2013 enacted level.  The Electronic Government Fund received a boost in funding from recent years to $16 million. The Fund will also retain its budgetary independence, despite the House Appropriations Committee’s proposal to merge it with another fund and cut their combined funding.

In a victory for open access advocates, the omnibus bill also included language that requires federal agencies under the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education with research budgets of $100 million or more to provide the public with online access to articles resulting from federally funded research within 12 months of publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The agencies covered would ensure that more than $31 billion of the total $60 billion annual U.S. investment in taxpayer-funded research is now openly accessible.

The language in the omnibus affirms the strong precedent set by the 2009 National Institutes of Health’s Public Access Policy and 2013 White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Directive on Public Access.

AALL continues to support the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR) (S. 350, H.R. 708), which would strengthen the language in the omnibus bill by requiring that taxpayer funded articles be made available through a central database no later than six months after publication. Using our Legislative Action Center, you can contact your members of Congress today to ask them to support FASTR.

Following a series of short-term spending deals, sequestration cuts, and the September government shutdown, AALL was pleased to see the omnibus package address funding through Fiscal Year 2014. This budget agreement is an important step toward bipartisanship and provides greater certainty in agency operations. The uninterrupted operations of agencies like GPO and LC are essential to informing the American public about their government and promoting a healthy democracy.

President Calls for NSA Reform but Statutory Fix Most Necessary

January 17, 2014

Today, President Obama outlined steps to reform the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. AALL supports several of the proposals outlined in President Obama’s speech, including increased transparency of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, changes to the use of National Security Letters and increased executive branch oversight. However, AALL believes that in order to protect the privacy of library users and all Americans, Congress must enact reform to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.

AALL strongly supports the USA FREEDOM Act, which would amend the USA PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 to better protect Americans’ privacy and require greater oversight, transparency, and accountability with respect to domestic surveillance authorities. We urge members to take action in support of the Act.

Court Deals Blow to FCC Net Neutrality Rules

January 15, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court struck down the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) effort to require broadband providers to treat all Internet traffic equally and give consumers equal access to content, a principle known as net neutrality. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said in its ruling the FCC could not apply anti-blocking and nondiscrimination rules to broadband providers, as it did in its 2011 Open Internet Order. The ruling means that companies could block or slow down any website, application, or service, as well as create a tiered pricing structure for Internet access. The decision threatens law libraries’ ability to provide users with a consistent, uncensored, and reliable way of accessing online legal information.

While the decision is a real loss for Internet users in the United States, the ruling strongly suggests that Internet access services and neutrality rules are well within the FCC’s purview; the agency’s legal problems stem from the decision to classify broadband Internet as an “information service,” rather than “telecommunications service.” In his recent remarks in Silicon Valley, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler expressed strong support for Internet neutrality and reaffirmed his commitment to the open internet in a statement responding to yesterday’s ruling.  The FCC will “consider all available options, including those for appeal, to ensure that these networks on which the Internet depends continue to provide a free and open platform for innovation and expression, and operate in the interest of all Americans.” Should the FCC reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service, net neutrality rules would stand on much firmer legal ground.

AALL strongly supports net neutrality, which protects the unique, open nature of the Internet, and promotes innovation, competition, and intellectual freedom. Without net neutrality, libraries may be unable to afford the imposed fees for preferred access, and thus could not provide equal access to the online legal information their users need. Following the D.C. Circuit’s decision, AALL will continue to work to advocate for net neutrality and will lobby policy-makers to take the necessary steps to restore the important principle of an open Internet.

Congress Considers the Scope of Copyright

January 14, 2014

By Emily Feltren

The House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet met today to consider the “scope of copyright protection.” The hearing covered the need for a making available right and a broadcast right, and the availability of state laws, technical standards, and codes under copyright. The witnesses were David Nimmer, Of Counsel, Irell & Manella, LLP and Glynn S. Lunney, Jr., McGlinchey Stafford Professor of Law, Tulane University School of Law on a making available right; Mark F. Schultz, Associate Professor of Law and Director of Faculty Development, Southern Illinois University School of Law and James Love, Director, Knowledge Ecology International on a broadcast right; and Patricia Griffin, Vice President and General Counsel, American National Standards Institute and Carl Malamud, President, Public.Resource.Org on copyright of state laws, standards, and codes.

While the hearing covered several important topics of interest to law librarians, the testimony and follow-up questions on copyright and accessibility of state laws, standards, and codes were particularly noteworthy. Underlying the discussion was the Fifth Circuit’s correct finding in Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress that “a continuous understanding that ‘the law,’ whether articulated in judicial opinions or legislative acts or ordinances, is in the public domain and thus not amenable to copyright.” Several members of the Judiciary subcommittee expressed support for this idea, including Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). As Rep. Lofgren said, “It seems to me very clear that you cannot have secret law.”

AALL’s Government Relations Policy clearly articulates the need for public access to legal materials. It states: “Government information, including the text of all primary legal materials, e.g., judicial and administrative decisions, statutes, and regulations, must be in the public domain and available to the public without restriction.” On June 1, 2012, AALL joined other open government organizations on a letter to the Office of Management and Budget urging reform of the incorporation by reference system. The letter stated, “We believe it is imperative that the law be readily accessible for all to read and use. That is a central requirement of our democratic system. Accordingly, we strongly agree that standards incorporated by reference into federal regulations should be widely available to the public, without charge, and that such standards be should deemed in the public domain rather than subject to copyright restrictions.” Recently, AALL promoted Malamud’s petition for an amendment to the Copyright Act that would make clear that edicts of government have no copyright in the United States. A number of law librarians signed the petition, which was discussed during the hearing.

This week, AALL is taking part in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Copyright Week, six days of discussion about key principles that should guide copyright policy. Appropriately, the topic for today is the public domain. The principle states, “The public domain is our cultural commons and a public trust. Copyright policy should seek to promote, and not diminish, this crucial resource.” AALL strongly supports this principle, and we’re pleased to be participating in Copyright Week. For more on copyright issues impacting law libraries, please visit AALL’s Copyright Committee’s blog and follow them, and the GRO, on Twitter. And stay tuned for more on Copyright Week!

January Washington E-Bulletin

January 6, 2014

The January issue of the Washington E-Bulletin is now available on AALLNET.


Vol. 2014, Issue 01





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