Tags : Freedom of information

In Pennsylvania, culture of secrecy, Right to Know Law remain work in progress

Pennsylvania’s records laws were for many years among the most restrictive in the country, and though the letter of the law has since improved drastically, freedom of information advocates say the spirit of the law has lagged.

Pennsylvania overhaul of its Right to Know Law four years ago was a major victory for government transparency, journalist Patrick Kerkstra recalls in a recent article for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Pennsylvania’s old public records law, enacted in 1957, put the burden on the requester to prove that the desired document was indeed public. The law also created a narrow definition of ...

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NY Times executive editor stresses importance of investigative reporting

By Pamela Cyran 
@CyranStar

New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson's keynote address during the IRE Awards Luncheon stressed the importance of investigative reporting and warned of a crack down against sources who leak information. 

Abramson reminded us that 2012 marks an important year in investigative reporting history – the 40th anniversary of Watergate.

“Their reporting sparked my interest in investigative reporting,” she said. 

Abramson said she now has a computer chip in her brain that constantly tells her to ...

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The data behind "Toxic Waters"

Assessing the health of the nation's water is a daunting task, and the subject of an ongoing New York Times series called "Toxic Waters." It can't be done through data alone, but there is plenty of data available, particularly at the federal level. But working with it proved to be a difficult and occasionally frustrating task. Here's the story behind the database that we built for our readers.

Records describing enforcement of the Clean Water Act can be found at the federal level and among dozens of states that have authority to administer some or all of ...

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Felon hunters story is off the table in Minnesota

This spring, the Minnesota Legislature made it impossible for news organizations here to do the classic "felons with hunting license" story that many newspapers (including mine) have done in the past. They passed a bill that made private key information from the Department of Natural Resources' license database. This includes everyone who has obtained a license for fishing, hunting, trail use and other activities. The person's name, address, driver's license number and date of birth are now private. The Minnesota Newspaper Association's lobbyist tried to stop the measure, as well as a citizen activist who does a ... Read more ...

Links: Our CIO and Tufte

It sounds like Vivek Kundra, the federal government’s first chief information officer gets the importance of releasing unadulterated data. In an in-depth interview with Wired, Kundra says, “The core principles are using open standards, presenting raw data, and distributing it in as many formats as possible. Public policy decisions are made using the data anyway, but the raw data is important because if it is massaged too much, you can lose the big issues.” Amen to that. Journalists doing CAR have long used raw data about bridge inspections, voter registration and campaign finance to help report stories. Let’s ... Read more ...

ATV data shows "renegade riders"

Go to one of Minnesota’s many state forests, and you’re likely to see — or hear — one of the state’s fastest growing recreational activities. Ownership of all-terrain vehicles has more than tripled in the past decade in Minnesota, with 264,000 vehicles registered with the state. ATV riding is permitted in many state forests. Eventually, ATV riders will have thousands of miles of trails and forest roads to explore once state natural resource officials finish an assessment of the trail system. Five years ago there were virtually no restrictions on ATV use in 46 of 58 state forests ...

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Journalists push FOI for Toronto crime stories

Making a freedom of information request in Canada is as simple as asking and cutting a $5 check, and quite often, the documents are in your hands in a couple of months — sometimes sooner. It’s a different story when you’re asking for raw, electronic data that has never been publicly released by the government. We are far behind the U.S. in terms of openness with data. In the case of the criminal record and sentencing data that served as the foundation for the Toronto Star’s investigative “Crime and Punishment” series, it is a long — and at ...

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Building a better FOIA

Many journalists who use the Freedom of Information Act to get data have suffered long under the Bush administration. In the early days, the administration used the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as a pretext to hide data that had been in the public view. But even before that, new Attorney General John Ashcroft directed federal agencies to review FOIA requests more strictly than the Clinton administration had under its “presumption of disclosure” policy . Despite a 2005 executive order to improve FOIA disclosure, journalists still face massive backlogs, recalcitrant FOI officers and last-minute moves by agencies to limit access to ... Read more ...

Daycare centers lose kids

In the fall of 2007 my wife became pregnant with our first child. Like many expectant parents, one of the first things we began worrying about was daycare. There is an acute shortage of child care services in Canada. Often the only way to get your child in to one is to get your name on their waiting list as soon as you get pregnant. But when it came time decide which daycare to apply to, it was hard to choose. Government lists showed us which daycares were near our home, but we had no way of knowing which facilities ...

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Minn. lawmakers scrutinize public jail-booking data

An interesting discussion about criminal data has been brewing in Minnesota for several months now, and I suspect it will come up in other parts of the country if it hasn’t already. At issue is how criminal data — including jail bookings and convictions — are disseminated by so-called "data miners" and then used by the public, often for crucial decisions on job hiring and housing rental. The discussion in Minnesota is in its infancy, but some of the key people leading the discussion are advocating shutting down or severely limiting access to bulk data, particularly jail bookings. The reason for ... Read more ...