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Dec 2 / Amy Greschaw

Open Government vs. Privacy

Michael DiMuzio

This September, one David Allen Van Vleet filed an official open records request in Tacoma, Washington to obtain information including the names, addresses, photographs, and dates of birth of 70 nude dancers who work at a nightclub near where he lives. These women have to pay for licenses from the state to do this work, which is why this information is on file with the State of Washington. The county granted his request, but also informed the dancers and their managers, who sued to block the release of information on October 21st. A county judge then filed a temporary order that the release be blocked until a final decision can be reached in December (Zurcher, 2014).

The case, Roe vs. Anderson (Leighton, 2014) has moved to federal court, where the injunction was upheld. The defendants are the county and Mr. Van Vleet, who claims that he only wants to “pray for those dancers by name” (Volokh, 2014) while the dancers feel that their right to privacy is being violated, with potentially dire implications. “Stage names” are the norm for people engaged in such work, as a means of preventing unwanted harassment outside of work, stalking, or worse (Zurcher, 2014). It is also interesting to note that part of their case is that their First Amendment right to creativeexpression is being violated by making their real names public, as their stage names are considered part of their performance (Peters, 2014).

The State of Washington has an unusually open government, thanks to their Public Records Act (Washington State Legislature, 2006). Under this law, license information of the sort sought by Mr. Van Vleet is generally provided. In this case, it is hard to imagine very much good coming from making this information public, and indeed most of us wouldn’t want our home addresses and phone numbers disclosed to strangers simply because we had some sort of license, no matter what it was for. However, this situation does bring up the somewhat fraught question of where and how to draw the line between freedom of information, and the right to privacy.

Under the Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) the government is allowed to accept or deny a request based on the nature of the information or record being sought. Records specifically exempt from FOIA requests are those which involve “personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” (United States Congress, 2010). If the records are deemed to be primarily information about one or more citizens, and there is sufficient detail that it could be seen as an invasion of privacy, then that is adequate grounds to deny the request. Furthermore, the request must result in information about the government being revealed, not individual citizens. The Supreme Court decided in 1989 that requests for FBI rap sheets could be denied because they only pertained to individuals, not the actions of the government (Peters, 2014). While each state has their own laws regarding open government, most follow this standard (Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 2009). This seems fairly reasonable, as the right to privacy is every bit as sacred as the right to information.

However, it is not so simple. Allowing the government to decide what information is shareable generally goes against the idea behind open government laws. Even with good standards, review processes etc. there is the potential for an official, motivated for some reason to conceal information that should be made available, to abuse such a system. On the other hand, there is every reason for people to be concerned about protecting their privacy, which in this country is considered a right implied by much of the constitution; indeed that is why the Federal government in the United States adopted the Privacy Act of 1974 (United States Congress, 1974). How then do we balance the need for transparency in government with the right to privacy for individuals? There may be no easy answers to this question, but one possible solution may be reflected in how many public libraries currently operate.

Public library records, specifically circulation records showing who has checked out what, have been and continue to be a topic of much debate. As Swan pointed out in 1983, there had already been a long history of attempts by the federal government to use circulation records to gather information about citizens (Public Records & Library Privacy). The ALA’s response in the 1970’s was to take a stance firmly in favor of patron privacy, one that they maintain today through policies such as the Policy on Confidentiality of Library Records (American Library Association, 1986) which states that all libraries should not disclose patron records of any sort with anyone, even agents of federal, state, or local governments without properly vetted court orders, subpoenas, etc. The USA PATRIOT Act made it substantially easier for various government agents to obtain subpoenas and the like, which resulted in many libraries receiving an increased number of legal requests for patron records (Minow, 2002). Furthermore, patrons could no longer be notified of the fact that their records were being scrutinized by the government (Drabinski, 2006).

Many librarians objected strongly to these changes, and the ALA encouraged resistance to them where possible: some put up signs warning patrons that their records could be secretly reviewed by government agents without their knowledge, while others began shredding circulation records on a daily basis (Drabinski, 2006). To this day, the library where I work does not maintain circulation records of any sort unless the patron takes steps to set up computerized record keeping of their checkout history, which only they can access and which they may then delete or cease at their own discretion. Otherwise, the fact that a patron has checked a book out vanishes as soon as they check it back in (Ann Arbor District Library, 2014). Records which do not exist cannot be subpoenaed.

This brings us back to the question of other sorts of government records that contain private information. Perhaps part of the solution is questioning where and when we truly need licensing, and how much private information ought to be recorded for licensing purposes and thus potentially subject to FOIA type requests. Perhaps, when personal information is required to be part of a license, and licensing is reasonable, we simply need to implement exemption clauses that make that information no longer subject to such requests, without the need for officials to make judgment calls. In any case, it seems fairly clear that not all records kept by all governments are necessarily something that should be shared with everyone.

Dec 2 / Amy Greschaw

Password Security: Complexity or Length?

Written by Erin Vader

Information security is an important topic, and passwords still appear to be the primary method for protecting our data online. We use passwords for our e-mail, our bank accounts, our social media accounts, and for seemingly every website from which we purchase even one product. Passwords protect our credit card information, our address, and our identity in general. So on the surface, it makes sense that our passwords should be secure. But does a “strong” password—one with various numbers and symbols—really protect our information? Or does it just make it difficult to sign on to almost every website we try to visit?

According to Casey Johnston (“Password complexity rules …,” 2013), there is evidence that putting restrictions on the complexity of our passwords for various sites may indeed be more of an annoyance than a security measure. Johnston explains, “As it turns out, there is some contrary research that supports both how frustrating these restrictions are and suggests it’s possible that the positive effect of complexity rules on security may not be as great as long length requirements.”

In my own personal experience, I have found that it must not be very clear cut since every site seems to require passwords to be constructed differently. For instance, one site may require at least one number OR a special character, while another requires at least one number AND a special character. And some sites require a minimum number of characters, while others set a maximum number of characters that can be used to create a password. This means that while a hacker may not be able to guess my password for a given site—something that is by no means guaranteed—what is guaranteed is that it will take meseveral tries to guess my own password. Sometimes it takes me so many tries that the security lockout engages, and I have to reset my password—making it even more difficult to guess the next time.

Johnston (“Password complexity rules …,” 2013) cites two studies that show that shorter, more complex passwords are easier to crack than lengthier passwords, meaning that perhaps length is what we should shoot for when constructing our passwords, rather than making them complex by adding numbers and special characters.

Of course, that would mean that websites would have to allow us to use longer letter-based passwords in the first place—something that few websites currently do. Johnston (“Password complexity rules …,” 2013) conducted a brief survey of websites and found that 16 characters tended to be the maximum on most sites rather than the minimum and that complexity requirements were much more common than length requirements.

In another article, Johnston (“Why your password …,” 2013) looks at one particular example: Charles Schwab, which requires that passwords for its user accounts be between six and eight characters. The company’s spokesperson could not provide a reason for the limit on characters, although it does offer a secondary step (entering a six-digit number) to provide extra security. However, the fact that the company has no reason for its password construction rules is puzzling at best and disturbing at worst. After all, Charles Schwab’s user accounts contain a great deal of personal financial information, so it would seem to make sense that the company would have a plan to keep its users’ accounts from being hacked.

Given that most websites require complex passwords rather than long ones, even though studies show that length trumps complexity in the password security arena, it would seem that most companies have not taken this topic seriously. Perhaps it’s time to change that.

References

Johnston, C. (2013, April 29). Why your password can’t have symbols–or be longer than 16 characters. Retrieved November 9, 2014, from http://arstechnica.com/security/2013/04/why-your-password-cant-have-symbols-or-be-longer-than-16-characters/

Johnston, C. (2013, June 28). Password complexity rules more annoying, less effective than lengthy ones. Retrieved November 10, 2014, from http://arstechnica.com/security/2013/06/password-complexity-rules-more-annoying-less-effective-than-length-ones/

Dec 2 / Amy Greschaw

A Brief Introduction to the Open Access Divide

Written by Courtney Whitmore

Last week the Library Journal posted an article titled “AB 609: California Leads on Open Access to Publicly Funded Research”. The article explains by January 1, 2015 “the products of more than $200 million in annual research paid for by California taxpayers will be freely available,” and although there are some limitations and concessions towards publishers, the bill overall is seen as a boon for the Open access (OA) movement (Peet, 2014, October 13). OA has been in the news recently, and is a philosophy and a movement that has been gaining steam over the past two decades (Xia, 2013). Although the term could be broadly applied, the specific movement gaining so much attention in recent years refers to free access to research content and academic scholarship such as “journal articles, scholarly books, textbooks, and dissertations” (Cirasella, 2014). The most obvious benefit to open access is increased access to information and research. However, there are also negative aspects to OA as it stands, and still many barriers to it becoming more widely used. These obstacles are not only created by publishers, but also by would-be users of OA models. Additionally, there is enough dissent within the community of potential users that the term “open access divide (OAD)” actually exists (Xia, 2013). The following provides a brief introduction to these issues in order to demonstrate the multifaceted nature of this issue.

Current legislation demonstrates that the government is behind open access as it pertains to work funded by governmental programs. As the aforementioned article states, California is making a move towards open access for work funded by their taxpayers, and other states are following suit (Peet, 2014, October 13). Other organizations are responding to directives from the government by creating collaborative systems to increase sharing of work and research, such as SHARE (Shared Access Research Ecosystem). Founding director, Tyler Walters, stated in a Library Journal interview that the collaborative effort “is about leveraging the repositories that are in the ecosystem already, and coordinating the higher education community to make sure that research and scholarly output is open wherever possible” (Peet, 2014, November 6). Studies on the subject show that many scholars are aware of and willing to participate in open access publishing and self-archiving (Xia, 2013). For those in the LIS profession, however, it may not be surprising that organizations and scholars would embrace such a concept.

It perhaps goes without saying that publishers may have a problem with the concept of open access. Despite this, many publishers have embraced the idea with varying levels of comprehensiveness. Although many forums and publishers are making headway, there are still some obstacles. One example is explained in a letter to the publication The Lancet, which applauds them for their recent foray into providing resources openly but has some constructive criticism about the current protocol only applying to particularly funded work and not addressing previously published work (Glynn &Thomas, 2013). These are good points to make for those in favor of OA. Only allowing open access to work from certain funding spheres skews the resource pool of what is publicly available. Additionally, the article notes that there are many other journals that have provided access to previously published work after a certain time frame for years (Glynn &Thomas, 2013). The current level of access would only ensure that certain future published works can be accessed but research often relies on older information, either for foundation or comparison. Xia (2013) also notes that this is a place where the divide may deepen ever further, as journals may be unlikely to increase access to past publications in an open access model. For those firmly in the OA camp of this particular publications readership, the current calibration is not good enough, and that may be the case for many others.

However, there could not be an “open access divide” without an opposing side. One of the more interesting barriers to open access is that many researchers and academic do not want to use it. There are several reasons for this, but two that carry particular weight. The first is perception, which Dan Inman (2013) expresses deftly in his editorial on Open Access for the Journal of Intelligent Materials Systems and Structures.

“To date, I have ignored OA journals in my own research for two reasons. First, my initial impression was that they are a vanity publication with light review. However, I know that several OA journals are well respected in other communities (medicine and biology). Second, most of the requests received in the past to publish in OA venues are from people with limited reputation or from non-academicians. This however is starting to change as more reputable scientists and engineers venture into the OA venue as editors. So for me, the jury is still out, but momentum is building in the direction of open access.”

In order for OA to gain any credibility, scholars need to demonstrate that it can represent quality work, but ironically, many scholars will not submit because it does not seem credible. As the author notes, this is changing, so perhaps this obstacle will dissolve over time. The other major roadblock for OA is what is known as “predatory open access”. In summation, it describes how one model of OA is that the brunt of the costs shifts away from institutions (who can now provide access freely because they are not being charged the same heavy fees as before) to those who wish for their articles to be published. This can place a heavy burden on researchers, not all of whom have access to generous grants or ample funding. Additionally, this model is viewed (often justly) for producing work of poor quality, which hurts the community it should serve in yet another way (Hansson, 2014). While these are just two of the barriers that have led to the open access divide, the nature of them demonstrates the complexity of this subject. For open access to become the norm in academic and other research settings alike, these and the other issues that have created this divide must be addressed.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you had any exposure to open access journals or the debate about them? What were your impressions?
  2. On which side of the “open access divide” do you stand, if any? Why do you feel that way?

 

References

Cirasella, J. (2014). Open access. Contexts, 13(2), 12-14. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1536504214533489

Glynn, J. R., & Thomas, S. L. (2013). [Letter to the editor]. The Lancet,381, 2082.

Hansson, S. O. (2014). Predatory open access [Editorial]. Theoria, 80, 289-291. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/theo.12059

Inman, D. (2013). Open access [Editorial]. Journal of Intelligent Material Systems and Structures24(3). http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1045389X12466976

Peet, L. (2014, November 6). AB 609: California leads on open access to publicly funded research. Library Journal.

Peet, L. (2014, October 13). Tyler Walters, founding director of SHARE, on next steps in sharing research. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2014/10/oa/tyler-walters-founding-director-of-share-on-next-steps-in-sharing-research/

Xia, J. (2013). The open access divide. Publications, (1), 113-139. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/publications1030113

Dec 2 / Amy Greschaw

Censorship and Social Media: What Should Twitter Do About Harassment?

Written by Robert H. Sullivan

In modern American life, social media websites have become important channels of communication. According to the Pew Research Center (2014), seventy-four percent of adult Americans who use the Internet use social media of some sort. One of the most popular social media platforms is the website Twitter, which is used by nearly a fifth of all Internet-using adults (Pew Research Group, 2014). With so many different people using Twitter, it is no surprise that there are disagreements, and it is even less of a surprise that some of these disagreements can turn uncivil. In response to user complaints, Twitter has taken steps to curtail harassment, including working with the advocacy organization Women, Action, and the Media to give users more options to report people who are behaving inappropriately (Sanneh, 2014). But are such measures appropriate? To what extent should Twitter control the content of its users’ messages? Unfortunately, as with other cases of harassment and censorship, there are no easy answers.

The first question is to what degree Twitter is allowed to regulate speech. Though some may object that any restrictions Twitter would place on speech would violate their First Amendment rights, Dunn (2009) says that “the Court has moved to a position that requires, regardless of the general economic or operational relationship between the government and the private entity, that the government have played a significant role in the specific policy or action at issue.” Dunn (2009) cites the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in the 2007 case of Wickersham v. City of Columbia as an instance in which a private organization’s relationship with the government qualified it as a state actor and therefore subject to the Constitution: an air show used local police to enforce a policy restricting the distribution of political literature, and the Court ruled that this was a violation of the distributors’ First Amendment rights. Twitter’s use of government resources, however, is probably small if not nonexistent, and so, as a private actor, Twitter has the freedom to put into place whatever policies it believes will best serve its user base.

Even if Twitter were to use government funds or employ government agents to enforce its policies, it is unlikely that its policies would violate anyone’s First Amendment rights. The behaviors that Twitter (2014b) prohibits—especially “Impersonation,” “Violence and Threats,” and “Unlawful Use”—would not be protected under the Supreme Court’s current understanding of the First Amendment. According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (n.d.), the First Amendment does not protect the right “to incite actions that would harm others” or “to make or distribute obscene materials,” both of which would likely qualify as the sort of harassment that Twitter is attempting to regulate.

As one can see, Twitter is well within its rights to create policies curtailing harassment. As a private actor, it can create whatever policies it wants, and even if it were a government actor, its policies would be well within the guidelines set by the courts. But this raises another question: what exactly constitutes harassment? Twitter’s policy (2014a) states:

Users may not make direct, specific threats of violence against others, including threats against a person or group on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, age, or disability. Targeted abuse or harassment is also a violation of the Twitter Rules and Terms of Service.

“Direct, specific threats of violence against others” should be relatively easy to define, but what counts as “targeted abuse or harassment” on Twitter may be more difficult to judge. As Sanneh (2009) notes:

You don’t just tweet about someone, much of the time; you tweet at someone, even if you’re mostly talking to your own followers…[Twitter has] blurred the line between different modes of communication. On a platform designed to turn idle thoughts into urgent messages, it can be hard to distinguish between a crude or splenetic observation and a menacing threat.

At what point, then, does an offensive comment become harassment? Are there messages that would be acceptable when addressed to a general audience but unacceptable when sent to a specific person? How does Twitter’s unique mode of communication affect this? These are all questions that Twitter must ask itself, and none of them have simple answers.

Twitter has a difficult task before it. If it does not take action against harassment, then it runs the risk of being taken over by bullies. On the other hand, if it is too strict in defining what speech is acceptable and what is not, Twitter may make users afraid to discuss certain issues for fear of retribution. Going too far in either direction would limit Twitter’s usefulness as a platform for political discussion, drive users away from the website, and reduce the website’s corporate viability. Twitter has so far acted responsibly, but it should take great care as it tries to deal effectively with the issue of online harassment.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you believe the measures Twitter has taken are appropriate? Do you believe they have gone too far, or do you believe they have not gone far enough? What measures do you think would serve as an effective compromise?
  2. To what extent do you believe speech should be protected? What speech do you regard as unacceptable?

Robert H. Sullivan is a graduate student in Wayne State University’s School of Library and Information Science. He is in his fifth semester at Wayne State and expects to earn his MLIS degree with a concentration in Information Management by the end of May 2015.

References

Twitter, Inc. (2014a). Abusive behavior policy. Retrieved from https://support.twitter.com/articles/20169997#.

Twitter, Inc. (2014b). The Twitter rules. Retrieved from https://support.twitter.com/articles/18311-the-twitter-rules#.

Dunn, C. (2009, April 28). Column: Applying the Constitution to private actors. New York Law Journal. Retrieved from http://www.nyclu.org/oped/column-applying-constitution-private-actors-new-york-law-journal.

Pew Research Group (2014). Social networking fact sheet. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/social-networking-fact-sheet/.

Sanneh, K. (2014, November 14). Censoring Twitter. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/censoring-twitter?intcid=mod-yml.

Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. (n.d.). What does free speech mean? Retrieved from http://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/get-involved/constitution-activities/first-amendment/free-speech.aspx.

Dec 2 / Amy Greschaw

Alzheimer’s Disease and HIPAA Challenges

Written by Vonda Derryberry

In keeping with the theme of the challenges facing caregivers of family members stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease, this blog is about the reoccurring problem I face with my aunt’s medical care – the dreaded HIPAA law.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) was enacted to regulate the privacy and security of individuals health information (HIPAA Administrative Simplification, 2013). HIPAA provides for many aspects regarding health care privacy and security. One of the Act’s many purposes is to prevent disclosure of an individual’s medical information without their authorization. On the surface, this is a great idea. However, it becomes more complex when involving an individual with a dementia-related illness, such as Alzheimer’s, who cannot cognitively process the best course of action in their medical care, especially in an emergency situation.

My aunt, prior to being stricken with this terrible disease, had established a well-written Durable Power of Attorney (2011) document with an entire section addressing HIPAA.  This section states, in part:

 

HIPAA Release Authority. The Principal intends that the attorney-in-face have access to medical records, including protected health information governed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (aka HIPAA), 42 U.S.C. § 1320d and 45 C.F. R. §§ 160-164, to the same extent that the Principal is entitled to, including the right to disclose the contents to others. The principal hereby authorizes any physician, health care professional, dentist, health plan, hospital, clinic, laboratory, pharmacy or other covered health care provider, and insurance company. . . to give, disclose and release to the attorney-in-fact, without restriction, all of the Principal’s identifiable health information and medical records regarding any past, present or future medical or mental health condition. (Durable Power of Attorney, 2011, p 4)

My aunt is a resident of a memory care facility located in Missouri; whereas, I live in California. The HIPAA problems arise when my aunt is transported to the hospital for emergency reasons. During these situations, I am immediately informed by the nursing staff of the facility where she resides. For each incident, I have called the hospital in advance of her arrival introducing myself, explaining my aunt has Alzheimer’s and that the paperwork on file with the facility, including a copy of the Power of Attorney, will arrive with my aunt. When I explain that I live in California and it will take at least 24 hours to get to the hospital, I am met with roadblocks by the hospital staff citing “HIPAA rules” without being specific to which exact rules. After speaking with 3 or 4 different staff members, I finally find somebody who understands they will have to communicate with me at some point if the hospital wants assurance of payment. For now, establishing a code word between me and my aunt enables the hospital to comply with the HIPAA laws. However, at some point, this is not going to work as the Alzheimer’s Disease progresses.

The difficulty I experience because of the long distance factor is emotionally draining. The last time I dealt with the hospital where my aunt is taken, I asked them if I could submit a HIPAA release form so we did not have to go through this situation each time my aunt is taken to this hospital. The hospital’s response was “no,” stating that it treats too many people every day to keep track of such a document on a long-term basis.

As more individuals are diagnosed with dementia-related illnesses, caregivers will face the privacy and security challenges of HIPAA. Consequently, policymakers need to re-examine the way HIPAA is currently written and take into consideration the rights and responsibilities of caregivers.

Discussion Question(s):

  1. Do you favor revising the HIPAA law which addresses the difficulties of long-distance caregivers such as the example relayed in this blog?  Why or why not?
  2. Do you think the HIPAA law adds unnecessary challenges tolong-distance caregivers?

Vonda Derryberry currently works for the U.S. Treasury Department.  She received her Bachelor’s of Science from California State University – Fresno.  She expects to receive her Master of Library and Information Science in 2017 from the Wayne State University School of Library and Information Science.

References

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (2013, March 26). HIPAA Administrative Simplification, Retrieved 6:59 pm, October 7, 2014 fromhttp://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/administrative/combined/hipaa-simplification-201303.pdf

Durable Power of Attorney of Betty Doe (pseudonym) (2011).  Original in possession of Vonda Derryberry.

Dec 2 / Amy Greschaw

Introduction to E-Government

Written by Erin Barnes

 

Governments have taken advantage of the Internet to provide unprecedented access to information. The White House and federal agencies have extensive websites where citizens can learn about current issues and download relevant laws and regulations. There are continued efforts to make government more transparent, such as the Obama administration’s Open Government Initiative (White House, n.d.). There are also efforts to increase citizen involvement. This post will examine Dennis Linders’ (2012) article “From E-government to We-Government: Defining a Typology for Citizen Coproduction in the Age of Social Media” and its ideas regarding what e-government could or should be.

 

Linders defines citizen coproduction as a relationship in which “government treats the public not as customers but as partners” (p. 446). There are three primary categories:

 

  • Citizen Sourcing: “the public helps government be more responsive and effective”
  • Government as a Platform: “enables government to make its knowledge and IT infrastructure available to the public” in order to “help citizens improve their day-to-day productivity, decision-making, and well-being”
  • Do It Yourself Government: provides “opportunities for citizen-to-citizen coproduction, potentially presenting a substitute for traditional government responsibilities”

(Linders, 2012, p. 447)

 

Examples of citizen sourcing range from politicians seeking input from constituents via social media to NASA’s use of a “’micro-tasking platform’ to coordinate the activities of 85,000 volunteer participants … to sift through vast amounts of satellite imagery” (Linders, 2012, p. 448). Citizen sourcing also includes the ability to report problems. “SeeClickFix provide[s] mobile and online reporting platforms that give citizens the ability to report things like potholes and crime using their mobile phones” and then offers a way to follow up to ensure the issue has been addressed (p. 448). Government as a platform includes opening up GPS (a personal favorite, as I have no sense of direction and prior to its wide availability was constantly lost) and providing “massive government datasets via data.gov that the citizenry and private sector can then mine for their own purposes” (p. 449).

 

Do It Yourself government is a much more problematic concept. Some examples, such as the rise of carpooling with strangers known as “slugging,” seem like a benign part of the expanding sharing economy. Others are cause for concern. When citizens need to “take matters into their own hand by using social media to coordinate their actions when government fails to act,” such as the Chinese citizens forced to solve crimes and search for missing children “which have been forgotten by the state” (Linders, 2012, p. 450), that is not an expansion of democratic possibility but a tragic abrogation of government responsibility. In England, critics of David Camerson’s Big Society program accused his administration of “cynically attempting to dignify its cuts agenda by dressing up the withdrawal of support with the language of reinvigorating civic society” (Prince, 2010).

 

Open government – in which information is widely shared, government officials integrate public sentiment into their decision-making, and citizens are empowered to use that information to improve their lives – is an excellent use of the Internet’s possibilities. Government outsourcing its responsibilities to citizens is another matter. Linder (2012) states that “taking such concepts from theory to practice requires dramatic changes to the systems of government and, indeed, the social contract” (p. 451). Such a radical re-imagining should not take place without a full public debate and consideration of the costs and benefits it would entail.

 

Discussion Questions

1) Do you think that citizen coproduction is a good idea?

2) Which category do you find most beneficial and/or most challenging? Why?

3) If do it yourself government expands, would you sign up as a volunteer? In what area?

 

References

Linders, D. (2012). From e-government to we-government: Defining a typology for citizen coproduction in the age of social media. Government Information Quarterly, 29, 446-454.

Prince, R. (2010, July 18). David Cameron launches his Big Society. Retrieved from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/david-cameron/7897445/David-Cameron-launches-his-Big-Society.html.

White House. (n.d.). Open Government Initiative. Retrieved from: http://www.whitehouse.gov/open.

Nov 5 / Amy Greschaw

Michigan’s Wolves

by Grace Caruso

Propaganda:  ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause;

Wolf –  cry wolf – Little Red Riding Hood – wolf hunt – endangered – howl – carnivore – pups – pack –  family – fairy tales –  who’s afraid of the big bad wolf –  the wolf is at the door.

The wolf is native to Michigan and was once found in all 83 counties. The wolf became scarce in the lower peninsula by 1935 when a bounty was paid as part of a state wide predator control program. The last wolf pups were born in 1954 near what is now the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. In 1960 the state discontinued the bounty program and the state Legislature granted full legal protection to the wolf in 1965. The federal government listed the gray wolf as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1973. At that time there were six wolves in the UP, and an isolated population on Isle Royale. An attempt to reintroduce four wolves in to the Upper Peninsula in 1974, ended when  all four animals were killed by humans. In the 1980s there was a natural emigration of wolves from Minnesota, Ontario and Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula.  There are currently  700 wolves in Michigan distributed across the UP. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources monitors the number  and location of the wolf packs.  In fact the wolf has been so successful it currently occupies fully 5% of it’s ancient range. Because of this success it is time to consider our ancient habits and hunt them.

There has been a great deal of controversy about the wolf hunt in Michigan with several competing interests appealing to the legislature and the public by providing information from a specific point of view – scientific, emotional, econiomic, and sporting. The question for the public, as we continue to determine whether the wolf will be hunted or not, is:  who should we believe. Is what you hear or read true, partially true, slanted in one direction or another? Do some groups withhold or provide information that seems scientific  but comes from institutions that have not been scientific in the past. Is the question of wolf hunting surrounded by propaganda?

Elected officials have made the wolf hunt possible with state law. (MCLA, PA 520 of 2012, Section 324.43528b). The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) claims to be scientifically managing the wolf population and believes that a controlled hunt in specific areas will not hurt the population. Since this is a “management “ agency that provided the bounties on wolf kills in the past, is the information they provide truly scientific or is it biased in favor of a strong sport hunting groups  who provide a great deal of project funding. Is it slanted towards the idea of management for people and not the survival of the wolf population.

Native American cultural and religious interests have not often been primary concerns;  are there enough voters who understand the tribal desire to protect the wolf as a symbol. The wolf  has been the the bad guy of fairy tale and legend for centuries. Since much of the rhetoric about the wolf is related to wolf-human contact,  do Michigan voters know that according to reports on wolf-human contact, there has not been a person killed by wolves in North America during the 20th century? (International Wolf Center, 2013)  In Michigan, people are already allowed to shoot a wolf who is attacking stock or domestic animals and  farmers are compensated if it is proved that wolves are responsible for killing livestock.

Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, is the combined group of local and national animal rights organizations who have funded the campaign to stop the wolf hunt in Michigan. The Humane Society of the United States is leading this group. Their ads and the page of their web site devoted to the Michigan wolf holds a petition you can sign, a way to donate money, and two beautiful pictures of the wolf as an adult and as a pup.  This is a highly emotional appeal which has worked for them in protecting other animals. Certainly the picture of a wolf pup is compelling. (HSUS ,2014)

The United Conservation Clubs on the other hand publishes their “don’t worry” philosophy on this issue and a complete belief that there will be a wolf hunt, that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with hunting the wolf  and that it will continue. They say that the outside interests that are interfering with the scientific management of the wolf will lose any court case. Through licensing fees and voluntary donations, this group has purchased and rehabilitated of wildlife habitat in many areas of the state and represent powerful economic and sporting interests.

Between these two competing interests stands the Michigan Department of Natural Resources the “managers” of the wolf.  Is this state department  neutral and scientific? In the past the state has had a bounty on the wolf, paying hunters, farmers and anyone who cared to kill one until the wolf disappeared almost completely from Michigan. While the DNR could provide the scientific option, economic interests have prevailed in other  similar struggles  (Woziniak, 2013) and there is other evidence of difficulty with animal management;  consider the difficulties with deer diseases and overpopulation .

There are certainly competing interests and advocates. Is the public being given the facts or the facts colored by the interests of the information providers; which is propaganda after all.

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Reference List

PA 520 of 2012, amending Act 451 of 1994. Section 324.95163

Removal, capture, or use of lethal means to destroy gray wolf; conditions; procedure.

Section 324.40110b Legislative findings and declaration; establishment of first open season for wolf.

Section 324.43528b Wolf hunting license; eligibility beginning March 1, 2014; fee; kill tag.

Section 324.43540e Wolf management advisory council.

Section 324.95153 Gray wolves; removal, capture, or use of lethal force; report to department official; violations as misdemeanors; penalties; photographs; response by department official; use of hotline to report taking of gray wolf.

Outdoors: Biologist says wolf hunt vote ‘makes no sense’

August 25, 2014 /  MUCC Staff  /  Make A Comment  /  BlogIssuesRight to Hunt, Fish, Trap, Shoot,

https://secure.humanesociety.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=5833.

 

 http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10370_12145_12205_63607_63608-292026–,00.html#Michigan History.

Are Wolves Dangerous to Humans?  http://www.wolf.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Are-Wolves-Dangerous-to-Humans.pdf.

Lisa Wozniak: Take Hartwick Pines State Park off of the Auction Block http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/story/opinion/contributors/outlook/2014/09/06/lisa-wozniak-take-hartwick-pines-state-park-auction-block/15231133.

Michigan Wolf News and Habitat, Michigan Department of Natural Resources. http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10370_12145_12205_63607_63608-292027–,00.html

Nov 3 / Erin Vader

Facebook Messenger App: Information Privacy Concern

by Jessica Judd

The new Facebook Messenger application has the ability to access personal information and record conversations without notifying users (Brown, 2014).  Many users are uncertain of their privacy online and whether or not Facebook is accessing information without their knowledge or consent.

The Facebook Messenger app has access to users’ cameras and microphones.  This access becomes available when a user accepts the notification to allow access.  “The app will also be able to access your contact list, and see your phone call log including who you called and how long the call lasted” (Brown, 2014).  Is this an invasion of privacy?  If a user decides not to download the Facebook Messenger, which they do have that option, the user will not be able to send messages through the Facebook application itself.

When the Facebook Messenger was released, some may think what specifically makes this app different from others I have downloaded.  I believe most applications can access personal information.  Milston (2014) gives examples of another application that accesses a users’ personal information.  Instagram allows its users to send pictures back and forth, which means the user has given the app permission to access their photos.  Below are some of the personal data Facebook can access, which is mentioned in their Terms of Service (Fiorella, 2013).

  • Allows the app to change the state of network connectivity
  • Allows the app to call phone numbers without intervention
  • Allows the app to send SMS messages-which may result in unexpected changes
  • Allows the app to take pictures and videos with the camera
  • Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on a user’s phone
  • Allows the app to read personal profile information stored on a device, such as name and contact information
  • Allows the app to retrieve a list of accounts known by the phone

Despite these privacy points in Facebook’s Terms of Service, there may be cause for concern by Facebook users.  Facebook argues that it needs to access some of these things, such as the camera, so a user can send pictures or the user’s contact information so, if a user is playing a game, the call will not interrupt where they left off.

While some users may think they are forced to give up their personal information and privacy, they are not actually allowing access to any more than the actual Facebook app already has access to.  Facebook’s Terms of Service is presented to each and every user, so they are made aware of the privacy policy and guidelines before they choose to download the application.  Privacy is a major concern for Facebook users when downloading the new messenger application.  Users should read the guidelines listed in the application and be self-aware of what Facebook can and cannot access.

Helpful Sources

Albergotti, Reed.   “Facebook Messenger Privacy Fears? Here’s What You Need to Know.”The Wall Street Journal.   8 August 2014.

Dewey, Caitlin.   “Yes, the Facebook Messenger App Requests Creepy, Invasive Permissions.”The Washington Post.   5 August 2014

Techdirt.   “To Read All of the Privacy Policies You Encounter …”20 April 2012.

References

Fiorella, Sam.   “The Insidiousness of Facebook Messenger’s Mobile App Terms of Service.” The Huffington Post.   1 December 2013.

Brown, S. (August 8, 2014). New Facebook Messenger app raises privacy concerns.Retrieved from http://wtvr.com/2014/08/08/facebook-messenger-app-raises-privacy-concerns/

 

Nov 3 / Amy Greschaw

The Politics of Information: Battling Freedom of Information

Written by Cindy Wyckoff

The Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), governed and managed by the Office of the President of the United States and the Executive Branch since 1967, allows for access to governmental documents and records through specific requests made to governmental agencies (United States Department of Justice, n.d.).  As the citizens of not only the United States, but also globally, desire easier access to more information, the current President, Barack Obama, “pledged to make this the most transparent Administration in history” (United States Department of Justice, n.d.).  Despite this vow to a more open American government, more lawsuits were filed seeking enforcement of the FOIA in requests for information under the last two years of the first Obama Administration than in the last two years of the second Bush Administration (The FOIA Project, 2012).

The Freedom of Information Act allows federal agencies to withhold some information.  There are nine specific exemptions and three categories of exclusion (see Tables 1 and 2).  Federal agencies may deny the release of records containing information ranging from national security to trade secrets to personal privacy, among other protected areas (White House, n.d.).  Records that are requested often have not previously been available for public viewing; hence, the submission of a FOIA request.  Consequently, how is the public to know whether this withholding of information from public release is a matter of security or politics?

 

table1

table2

The advocacy group, Cause of Action, is currently suing twelve federal government agencies alleging the White House works with agencies receiving FOIA requests of information in order to delay release of records that may be “politically sensitive or embarrassing to the Administration” (Ehley, 2014).  Specifically, the nonprofit organization cites in its Complaint:

[a] previously undisclosed White House memorandum from April 2009 written by the then-Counsel to the President, in which the White House advised all federal agency and department general counsels to consult with the White House on all document requests that may involve documents with “White House equities” (Cause of Action v. IRS, 2014).

Cause of Action is hopeful the information requested and now demanded in the lawsuit “will reveal” “whether and how the White House politicizes records requests sent to federal agencies”” (Cohen, 2014).

Despite receiving a written response from a governmental agency as to a denial of release of information, it is extremely difficult to know the true cause of the denial given the current allegations in the Cause of Action lawsuit.  Regardless of a political or protective purpose, in my work as a legal assistant handling many Freedom of Information Act requests, my colleagues and I have experienced first-hand what a challenge it can be to locate and obtain information.  Time delays usually occur with a request to a federal agency and many times receive a denial in response.  These responses can impact our work whether discovery in a lawsuit, an environmental compliance issue, or the progress of real estate development.  While the Cause of Action litigation may not provide a solid winner or loser to the battle of politics versus freedom of information, all advocates to information access may be one step closer to a more “open government.”

 

References

Cause of Action v. Internal Revenue Service, et al. (2014). Retrieved from http://causeofaction.org/assets/uploads/2014/08/ECF-No.-1-Complaint.pdf

Cohen, K. (2014, August 18). Cause of Action sues 12 departments that allowed White House to intervene in FOIA responses. Washington Examiner. Retrieved from http://washingtonexaminer.com/cause-of-action-sues-12-departments-that-allowed-white-house-to-intervene-in-foia-responses/article/2552131

Ehley, B. (2014, August 19). Group sues Obama over access to information. The Fiscal Times. Retrieved from http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2014/08/19/Group-Sues-Obama-Over-Access-Information

FOIA Project, The. (2012, December 20). FOIA lawsuits increase during Obama administration. Retrieved from http://foiaproject.org/2012/12/20/increase-in-foia-lawsuits-during-obama-administration/

United States Department of Justice. (n.d.). What is FOIA? Retrieved from http://www.foia.gov/about.html

White House. (n.d.). About the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): FOIA exemptions and exclusions. Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/library/foia/about#FOIA%20Exemptions

Nov 3 / Erin Vader

Data Security on Mobile Phones

by Srikar Vemuri

The newest version of IOS, Apple’s mobile device software platform, will encrypt private data on mobile devices with a user’s passcode. This will render the company unable to access any information on a user’s device without passcode and subsequently released to law enforcement and other organizations. Google’s stated that its popular Android platform will follow suit with it new release (Love & Solanga, 2014). This comes on the heels of several high profile cases in which confidential data on the mobile devices of several notable celebrities was compromised. (Celebrity hacking, 2014)  Even with additional encryption there is no foolproof way of completely securing confidential data on mobile devices, data backed up to Apple iCloud service can still be accessed without a passcode for example.

This brings up the interesting topic of reasonable expectations for privacy on mobile devices, and whether it is user responsibility to monitor what they do and store on their mobile devices. In the past confidential data was mainly stored on physical mediums affording individuals much more security in that for the most part it was stored in a physical location which was known only to who the owner of the data informed and allowed access to. Although theft is possible in these cases as well, the thief or hacker would have to physically go to the location the data was stored in order to steal it. In contrast in today’s day and age most data is in electronic format and to determine a set physical location for it is extremely difficult and in some cases impossible. While I believe that everyone has the right to privacy and the freedom to access any information that is in accordance with the law, I think that individual users should take more responsibility on how they use their mobile devices. The essential function of a mobile communication device is for communication, collaboration, and sharing of information. To expect to get 100% privacy on a platform such as this seems to go against the nature of what these devices are for. I personally feel that any highly private or confidential data a user does not want shared or collaborated should be stored on other types of media such as, electronic devices that do not communicate externally, physical media etc.

While some may argue that responsibility lies with the companies that manufacture and provide services for these devices to provide security for the data on them, at some point common sense of the end user has to take over.  I think individuals, and society as a whole, needs to determine a balance between the convenience and increased productivity that comes from the ability to collaborate and share data instantly and our desire to have and store confidential and private data. We can’t have it both ways as it simply contradicts the main purpose of what mobile and electronic communication devices were designed for. While I am a firm believer that everyone should have the ability to store and access confidential information as long is it is accordance with the law, I don’t think that this is an issue can be addressed by government organizations or private firms. Rather it is up to every individual to make educated decisions on where and how to store private and confidential data and risks involved with this task. While information policies to regulate how companies that manufacture and provide services for these devices protect secure data may be effective in forcing companies to take additional precautions that may help reduce data theft, at this time there is no 100% foolproof way to secure information on these devices.  Therefore any information put into place to combat this issues should include clear disclaimers to end users on what they should and should not be storing on these devices.

References

Love, J., & Solanga, R. (2014, October 1). Law enforcement grapples with iPhone’s enhanced encryption.The ViewPoint . Retrieved October 27, 2014, from http://neviewpoint.com/2014/10/01/law-enforcement-grapples-with-iphones-enhanced-encryption/

Celebrity hacking clouds iPhone 6 launch – The Times of India. (2014, September 3). The Times of India. Retrieved October 27, 2014, from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tech/tech-news/Celebrity-hacking-clouds-iPhone-6-launch/articleshow/41601067.cms