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FRINFORMSUM: 8/12/2011

August 12, 2011

Last Friday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began operating a database of personal information derived from the highly criticized Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Terrorist Screening Database. Being mistakenly placed on this list can lead to problems if one such unlucky person decides to travel by air or cross an international border. The DHS is looking to make correcting such problems even more difficult to resolve via a proposed rule that would exempt the database from all provisions of the Privacy Act. The Privacy Act of 1974 does allow for exemptions in the case of criminal investigations, but the application of these exemptions by the DHS to a database, essentially declaring a perpetually ongoing investigation, goes beyond the limits of credulity.

Back in June, FRINFORMSUM reported on an article in the New York Times dealing with news on FOIA. The article discussed the difficulties of requesting records from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which are now under government stewardship. Judicial Watch sent a FOIA to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), overseers of Fannie and Freddie, asking for records of political contributions made by the two mortgage lending corporations. When the FHFA refused to provide records, Judicial Watch sued for the release of the information. Last Friday, a judge ruled that FHFA did not have to release records since officials at FHFA signed a sworn affidavit stating they have not seen records of political contributions.

This week, as part of the Open Government Initiative, the Obama Administration has updated their Open Government blog. In an effort to create a national plan for openness, the administration is asking to public to submit ideas on two challenges they hope to tackle: improving public services and integrity. In particular, the Open Government Initiative is seeking answers to three questions:

  • How can regulations.gov, one of the primary mechanisms for government transparency and public participation, be made more useful to the public rulemaking process?
  • OMB [Office of Management and Budget] is beginning the process of reviewing and potentially updating its Federal Web Policy.  What policy updates should be included in this revision to make Federal websites more user-friendly and pertinent to the needs of the public?
  • How can we build on the success of Data.Gov and encourage the use of democratized data to build new consumer-oriented products and services?

In wake of the debt ceiling resolution, a “super committee” to discuss how to make $1.5 trillion in deficit reductions was created. Before the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction can get to work, a bill has been introduced to the House Committee on Rules that would force the committee to operate with transparency. Joshua Green at The Atlantic worries that open negotiations will only encourage partisan posturing and special interest influence. However, with Congressional leaders like Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi coming out in support of transparency in the “super committee,” a transparent approach to deficit reduction will likely occur. The Sunlight Foundation has an informative update with additional information on the progress of the push for transparency on their blog (updated yesterday Aug. 10).

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