Category Archives: Government information

Freedom of Information Day 2017 – An unprecedented challenge

It strikes me that it is more than appropriate that Sunshine Week, March 12-18, 2017, begins on the first day of Daylight Savings Time!  Maybe an extra hour of sunshine will actually help!  One can hope.

I have written so often about open government, transparency, the right to know, the First Amendment and the free press that I mention just one recent blog post that perhaps best expresses my deep concerns about the crisis in which we find ourselves. https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/information-and-media-not-weapons-but-tools/  

As citizens of a threatened democracy we need to think more than ever about our rights, the role of the press, and our need to discern truth in an incredible barrage of data, misinformation, fake facts, propaganda and, happily, thoughtful exposition of ideas, issues and facts.  We can’t give up.  

Nationally, the week is sponsored by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.  The SW website offers an excellent introduction to the principles, the issues, a valuable Tookkit for local activists including a calendar of what’s happening around the nation. It’s an essential starting point and inspiration to take action.  All is revealed through multiple channels, including #Sunshineweek@asne.org, and on Facebook.

For many years the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) has commemorated Sunshine Week by sponsoring a Freedom of Information Day event. The history of FOIA Day (March 16) respects the birthday of James Madison, author of the First Amendment.  And so each year MNCOGI hosts a Freedom of Information Day public event.  This year’s event is set for Thursday, March 16, Noon at the Minneapolis Central Library.

Keynote speaker at FOI recognition is Patrice McDermott, founder and long-time director of OpenTheGovernment.org, a DC-based coalition of organizations that endorse government accountability and access.  Her talk is entitled “Secrecy and Accountability – Looking Forward, Looking Back.”  Member of the National Freedom Act Hall of Fame Dr. McDermott is a national authority on the principles and challenges to the right of the people to access to information by and about the government.  

At the same gathering the Coalition will honor Tony Webster, recipient of this year’s John R Finnegan FOI Award.  Webster  is a self-proclaimed “web engineer, public records researcher, and policy nerd”. (@webster)  MNCOGI chair Gary Hill observes that “Tony Webster is a shining example of the power of a single individual to make government more transparent and hold it more accountable.”   

Sponsored each year by the Coalition, the Finnegan Award honors Minnesota newspaperman John R. Finnegan, installed in 2011 as a member of the Freedom of Information Hall of Fame (http://www.nfoic.org/2011-open-government-hall-fame)

(https://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2012/10/eulogies-john-finnegan-sr)

The FOI Day event is free and open to the public.

Related updates:

A powerful statement of press freedom endorsed by a broad coalition of agencies:  http://ncac.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Press-Freedom-Statement-FINAL.pdf

Recipient of the James Madison Award, sponsored by the American Library Association Washington Office, is Jon Tester (D-MT).  The award will be presented at one of the main events of Sunshine Week, a gathering at the Newseum in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, March 15 – streamed live from the Knight TV Studio in the Newseum.  http://www.newseum.org/live/)

DataRescue TC’s – Call to Action!!!

Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right. ― George Orwell1984

With the help of a host of friends the federally produced datasets housed at the University of Minnesota Libraries will escape this Orwellian fate. The University Libraries have issued a resounding call for researches, tech-savvy coders, archivists, librarians, and “passionate community members” to share their time, skills and commitment to access as participants in the crisis-dictated DataRescue-Twin Cities project.

The goal of DataRescue-Twin Cities is to “capture and archive” the immensely valuable and irreplaceable data housed at the U of M Libraries. It’s one of many institutions participating in a vigorous national initiative now activated on university campuses, in government agencies, anywhere that the people’s data are threatened by unprecedented policies that fly in the face of science, open government and people’s right to know.

Emphasis of the call to action is on volunteers’ willingness to help rather than on sophisticated skills. Volunteers will find the job that fits from a range of options including Seeding and Sorting, Researchers/Harvesters, Checkers, Baggers, and Toolbuilders. The “position descriptions” are spelled out in detail in the call to action.

There’s much more information re job descriptions on the U of M website:

http://www.continuum.umn.edu/event/datarescue/2017-02-24/#.WK3stBIrKpg

DataRescue-Twin Cities Details:

Dates:         Friday, February 24, 1:00 – 6:00 p.m.S

Saturday, February 25, 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Site:             Humphrey School of Public Affairs, 50B

RSVP to the event on Facebook!

Questions? Email datarescuetc@umn.edu

Advocates resist restraints, misuse of government information

Clearly, the challenge facing this nation will challenge most Americans in one way or another. It helps to focus – and to assess individual and societal resources within our reach. As past blog posts suggest, my tools of choice lean toward real facts, the truth and, above all, informed citizens “armed” with the tools (weapons?) of access and critical thinking tools to weigh the overwhelming flood of facts and alternative facts by and about the government.

Good information has a real advantage when it comes to weaponry – it’s agile, abundant and, as I often quote, Harlan Cleveland’s contention that “it’s better if shared.”

No wonder then, that the Commander-in-Chief is quick to grasp the potential of information and its manipulation — misinformation, disinformation, and, most recently, depriving Americans of information collected and analyzed at public expense.

We the public are at the ready to fight fire with fire, alternative facts with legitimate data, mindless tweets with authenticity, bluster with honest truth.   Seekers of truth are eager to share truth with citizen stakeholders who possess both the skills and technology to learn, assess, share and act on good and relevant information by and about the federal government.

Clearly, we have a long way to go – and yet at this juncture many Americans are keenly aware that information matters and that we have the people and the organizational power to act. Leaders of efforts to assure truth in government, transparency and accountability share a commitment to shape a powerful strategy built on truth, not trickery.

The founding fathers affirmed that the fundamental principle of this democracy is information, presumably in the hands and minds of citizens for whom government information is a mighty tool – until access is denied – or until the information tool is weaponized. That’s where we are now. https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/information-and-media-not-weapons-but-tools/

The weaponization of the peoples’ information has clearly caught the attention of the public and of those advocacy groups that have galvanized their efforts to collaborate and “resist.” The most overt of action is the forthcoming March for Science, a public expression of resistance set for Earth Day, April 29. Plans for the March are also underway. – some recent updates: http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/01/politics/science-march-earth-day-trnd/\

For a half century the most powerful tool in the hands of open government access proponents has been the Freedom of Information Act. More about FOIA here https://www.foia.gov/faq.html. Follow the FOIA website here: http://thefoiablog.typepad.com

Countless advocacy groups, including numerous coalitions, are “armed for action.”

These are just a very few of the insider entities at the forefront of truth-finding:

Muckrock suggests an action plan – https://www.muckrock.com/news/archives/2017/jan/04/how-we-can-all-work-towards-better-foia-process-20/ [note: if you have problems with this link, google the title]

http://www.openthegovernment.org/node/5414 – offers timely updates and an excellent list of coalition members that share a commitment to open government..

Federal News Radio provides just one of countless descriptions of the backlash to presidential halts to the free flow of federal government information – in this case the news is geared to inside the Beltway audience. http://federalnewsradio.com/

A couple of recent “Poking” posts underscore and elaborate the centrality of an challenges to an informed electorate:

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/category/access-to-information-2/freedom-of-information-act-foia/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/inquiring-minds-need-to-know-thoughts-on-sunshine-week-2016/

 In a Time of Universal Deceit Telling the Truth

Is a Revolutionary  Act ~ Source not certain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Words matter – and are now searchable in the Trump Archives

The opportunity before all of us is living up to the dream of the Library of Alexandria and then taking it a step further – universal access to all knowledge.  Interestingly, it is now technically doable Brewster Kahle

Founder of the Internet Archive Brewster Kahle is disinclined to back down from a challenge. He’s also a proponent of real facts, primary sources and the capacity of technology – in the hands of people of good will — to assure that real acts trump alternative facts and fake news. Basically, he believes that a democracy ruled by informed citizens is what the Forefathers envisioned….

Kahle’s Utopian vision is realized in the Internet Archive, now an accepted and essential pillar of today’s information infrastructure.

Sometimes a tool waits in the wing for just the right moment to be essential! Such is the case with the Internet Archives,  henceforth the home of the Donald Trump Archives.   Journalist David Lumb heralded the archive with a hearty “Fact-checkers, start your engines!”

Dating back to December 2009 the Trump Archives’ ultimate goal is to capture virtually every utterance, print, video, digital, or other of the Trump administration.   At the launch of the Trump Archive last month journalist Kalev Leetaru wrote this in Forbes:

For this first incarnation of the Trump Archive, the Archive chose to start with a manually curated collection of around 700 video clips, ranging from major events like presidential debates and major speeches to key policy statements and views espoused by the President-elect, drawing heavily from those video clips that journalists had already identified as particularly noteworthy or which received widespread attention. This means that the collection as it presently stands includes many of the most-talked about Trump statements, but is not an exhaustive record of Trump’s total television appearances.

Read Leetaru’s full article here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kalevleetaru/2017/01/06/the-internet-archives-new-donald-trump-and-white-house-archives-transparency-and-history-as-data/#26efe1907d98

It’s been nearly a month now since The Launch.   To get a sense of the goals, and to keep up-to-date on the scope, response and impact, follow the Trump Archive blog here:  http://blog.archive.org/2017/01/23/in-the-news-trump-archive-end-of-term-preservation-link-rot/

A well informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny. Thomas Jefferson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Information and media – Not weapons, but tools

Informational Power is where a person possesses needed or wanted information. This is a short-term power that doesn’t necessarily influence or build credibility. Vivian Giang

The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses. Malcolm X

The fact is, information and media are unique and powerful tools, to be wielded by sentient creatures for good or for evil. When the American Library Association was promoting the “information power” theme years ago I worried at the value-free assumption that the information would be put to good purposes. And when we hyped the potential of the communications media, from cable to the web, I wondered more….

My skepticism is affirmed today as we experience the reality of information and communications expertise brilliantly coupled to disrupt our democracy.

This should not be news. It was either Mark Twain or H.L Mencken who advised his readers to “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.”   The technology, but not the meaning, has been updated here. http://www.adweek.com/fishbowlny/ink-by-the-barrel-on-the-internet/252889

But that’s a diversion from the real fact – that the administration has effectively wed the power of information with the power of the media to shape reality.   Those in power wield information as a sword to silence, to pervert, to foment, to shape, to craft alliances and to conceptualize, then propagate, alternative truth.   We who are but “subjects” are ill-prepared to meet the challenge; we lack, or fail to unsheathe, the information/communications skills and attitudes to withstand the onslaught.

And still it is a real fact that we are not a passive people. The Women’s March and forthcoming March for Science clearly reflect our power to harness the human power to resist.

The first line of resistance to alternative facts is well-meant but knee-jerk –- placing blame and responsibility on the communications channels, or even the sources, of misinformation and disinformation is short-term and futile.

We are challenged to fully accept that information and communications technology have been “weaponized” – and that it is incumbent upon us to “arm” ourselves. We need to assume the responsibility to become critical thinkers – and to shape a learning environment that enhances the critical thinking of future voters, including both youth and future voters.

We can’t fall for the press-bashing and post-truthiness cleverly designed to divert our focus and our energy. Instead, we need to embrace the challenge to seek the truth and to stand firm when it is information is thwarted, perverted, suppressed, hidden from public view – or is not collected in the first place!

Thomas Jefferson, a man who dealt in truth, had this to say on the subject

Wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.” –  Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Richard Price, Jan. 8, 1789

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Related posts – Selected:

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/marchers-will-support-research-science-real-facts/#respond

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/discovering-truth-starts-with-independent-thinking/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/creating-a-culture-of-encounter-some-info-tools/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/12/23/relax-learn-then-resolve-to-resist-post-truth-thinking/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/information-literacy-universal-challenge-of-the-digital-era/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/information-literacy-curriculum/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/national-information-literacy-awareness-month-2016/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/11/19/facing-the-facts-about-facts/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/scrubbing-history-scrapping-the-facts/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marchers will support research, science, real facts

It’s hard to specify the “tipping point.” It could have been the fact that the President considers climate change “a hoax”; or it could have been the gag orders issued to federal agencies; or maybe it was funding cuts for scientific research; or the team of researchers, archivists and librarians rushing to preserve essential scientific records. For many non-scientists it was simply the challenge to comprehend the concept of “alternative facts.”

Whatever the efficient cause, the effect is a planned March for Science – a march similar to the Women’s March, to be held in Washington, DC, in Europe, and in communities throughout the nation.

This is not to be a march of scientists but rather a March for Science. Planners describe a non-partisan march that “reaches far beyond people in the STEM fields and should concern anyone who values empirical research and science. “ Focus is on policy, including communication of findings from tax-funded research as well as funding for and nature of tax-funded research initiatives.   A fundamental premise of the initiative is that facts matter.

Details – including date – are in the works and should be out in the next few days. Meanwhile, stay informed – or get involved – through these channels:

Twitter: @ScienceMarchDC

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1862739727343189/

Reddit: /r/scientistsmarch

Get Email Updates

To help: https://goo.gl/forms/zAdY02dBEz3Ykii42

Contact: scientistsmarchonwashington@gmail.com

Who can participate? Anyone who values empirical science. That’s it. That’s the only requirement.

As a concerned non-scientist I’m eager to get instructions for gear that will appropriately represent the cause! Knitting needles are poised for action!

UPDATE:  http://www.commondreams.org/news/2017/01/25/war-facts-sparks-momentum-scientists-march-washington

 

 

 

To disempower disinformation focus on the “missing link”

Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored – American Library Association

Mark Zuckerberg is between a rock and a hard place, or at least a cushy version thereof. Though FB is not the source, it is the ubiquitous channel through which floods of disinformation flow. Now his empire is at the epicenter of post-election blame. Entrepreneur that he is, Zuckerberg proposes the classic quick fix, i.e. to label fake facts and bar the malevolent sources of the bald-faced lies that disinform public thought and discourse.   (http://www.cnbc.com/2016/11/19/mark-zuckerberg-outlines-how-facebook-plans-to-tackle-fake-news.html)

It’s the predictable feel-good, shift the blame, and invariably ineffective fix – a move that denies “the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction.” (American Library Association) — digital age throwing out the baby with the bath.

Placing the power and responsibility in the medium disrespects the individual’s inalienable right “to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction.” Furthermore, it won’t work.

The information chaos of the day demands a return to First Principles, in this case the core values of our political system. A fundamental tenet of this nation is respect for the responsibility of citizens to know how to self-govern.   The founders recognized that, in order to rule, citizens would need to depend on the free flow of information and ideas – thus, they stipulated the inalienable right to know coupled with the right to share thoughts and ideas. In the 18th Century that meant freedom of the press and free speech.

Ay, there’s the rub.

That was pre-social media, a time when information seekers were links in a more-or-less tangible – and linear – information chain that linked communicator and receiver. Though publishers and editors could filter the flow, their positions and proclivities were overt. Receivers of the information and ideas knew and considered the source, then exercised their right to adopt or discard the content and to talk back to the source. Though the system was far from inclusive, the basics were straightforward.

The information age expands access, gives voice to the masses, restructures the nature and power over the tools, removes the filters, and ultimately places unprecedented responsibility on the end user – who is also a sender – of the message. What is happening now is that the source holds the balance of power – receivers are uncritical accepters, frequent spreaders, of disinformation who have mastered the malevolent art of disinformation power.

As information receivers aid and abet the flow the power of information is magnified beyond calculation – the power to determine the content and manage the flow of information is nearly

Predictably, when the coin of the political realm is information – control of information corrupts and absolute control of information corrupts absolutely.

And yet, in the ongoing flap about fake news, focus remains on the sender end of the once linear information chain.   Though quick to fault the press for failure to fact check or other abuse of power, we instinctively avert attention, and thus fail to consider the power that rests with the receiver of disinformation.

Labeling fake facts — or blaming the press — fails to dig deep enough to get at the root of the pervasive and pernicious power of disinformation. The complexities of the digital age demand a radical [“of or growing from the root of a plant”] look at the linear information chain that no longer exists. What we have today is a distributed information mesh with sources welded into the links, a brilliantly designed system that, unchecked, wraps the receiver in a dark web of disinformation.

Info Power to the rest of us

Radical thinking demands a hard look at the “missing link” – the receiver of information. It is the receiver who is responsible for evaluating the message, for turning information into action. The first step is to understand and act on the fact that fabrications are powerless if critical receivers resist, dismiss or eschew the sources or content of fake facts.

Recent history suggests that we are ill equipped to ward off disinformation. Back in pre-FB days Franklin Roosevelt declared, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely” adding that “the real safeguard of democracy, is education.” The digital age challenges us to rethink the safeguards within our reach – to expand K-12 and lifelong learning options to encompass critical thinking skills that adapt with the times, to nurture a healthy dose of perceptive paranoia, to understand the power of information and the disastrous potential of disinformation.

No matter how well crafted or effectively spread disinformation is, lies are lies. Lies hide in the weeds, impotent until and unless they exercise their power to influence the thoughts or actions of the receiver. It will take creative thinking, coupled with bold action, to get ahead of disinformation.

As a democratic society under stress we need to focus unprecedented attention and energy on the receiver link of the information chain – how people know what they know, believe what they believe. Labeling or otherwise limiting propaganda at the head end is ineffective and short-term.

The best offense is a strong defense. The best defense against disinformation is a nation of voters with the skill and the will to defend ourselves against the irresistible lure of brilliantly packaged disinformation. As a democratic society we need to understand the intent of the forefathers, then decide if we are up to the radical action it will take to face the challenges of the Information Age.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Thomas Jefferson