Today in Open: Using open data to combat sexual assault, Kenya signs FOIA into law, NJ goes GLOMAR


ACCOUNTABILITY: Emily Shaw on using data to track police response to sexual assault: “Maryland accident lawyer of Justice employed to evaluate police response to sexual assault were fundamentally different than those that they used to evaluate racial bias in policing. First, investigators found themselves looking for police failure to act — failure to investigate, failure to evaluate held evidence and failure to arrest — rather than excessive police action.

“Second, while we can identify racial profiling using the public stop, search and arrest data which is becoming increasingly easy to access, most data about sexual assault cases cannot be publicly released. However, by following the DOJ’s use of data that is held in federal datasets like the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, or by submitting a public records request for data which does not contain personally identifying information, we can nonetheless find ways to use data to see how individual law enforcement agencies respond to sexual assault.” [READ MORE]

MOST TRANSPARENT? White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest wrote a letter to The New York Times asking journalists to “give [President] Obama credit for government transparency.” The letter and a tweet sharing it were received with blistering criticism by said journalists and the public.

“There there’s a lot wrong here,” said Sunlight’s John Wonderlich, commenting on the letter. “The visitor logs were disclosed to settle a lawsuit. and demanding credit undermines credibility. It’s unfortunate for the press secretary to suggest primary motivation for transparency reform is to gain media acclaim. Seeing the media’s function as an exchange where Presidents get credit is dissonant with vision for democracy President Obama lays out often. The White House press secretary is treating openness as though it’s a ledger balance. That’s a bad faith way to determine public interest in decisions.”

While Sunlight remains a staunch supporter of and open data, we didn’t see anything about the Obama administration’s record on the Freedom of Information Act, prosecuting whistleblowers, drones, surveillance or access to government scientists in the letter. We’ll have more to say about the administration’s claims tomorrow, but for now, read Andrew Beaujon’s evaluation of the Obama administration’s record on transparency. [Washingtonian]


  • University of Minnesota law professor Richard W. Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007, recommended that all Clinton family members permanently step down from the Clinton Foundation. [New York Times]
  • Mark Schmitt suggested that seeing the challenges that the Clinton Foundation represents through the prism of campaign finance and money in politics is too limited. [Vox]
  • Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump traveled to Mexico to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto. He left the American traveling press corps behind. Reminder: the actions of presidential candidate during a campaign are a bellwether for open government in his or her White House.


  • Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) doesn’t support exempting the Department of Defense from the FOIA. We don’t, either.
  • A new story on the presidential transition focused on focuses on secrecy in the presidential transition and the threat of hacking, but failed to ask where secrecy was warranted and what the public should know. Sunlight is calling for more transparency into the transition. [Politico]
  • The White House claimed an estimated $37 billion in cost savings and reduced paperwork through retrospective regulatory reviews. If you know of an independent analysis that can prove or disprove this estimate, please share. [White]
  • The U.S. General Accountability Office issued a new report calling for a long-term strategy to improve the usability of

    GAO is making three recommendations that OMB work with GSA and the PIC to 1) ensure the information presented on consistently complies with GPRAMA public reporting requirements for the website’s content; 2) analyze and, where appropriate, implement usability test results to improve; and 3) develop a strategic plan for the future of that includes goals, objectives, and resources needed to meet website requirements; a customer outreach plan; and a strategy to manage and archive data. OMB staff agreed with GAO’s recommendations and provided technical clarifications, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. [USGAO]

  • The Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press released the results of its survey of journalists’ views on a proposed “release to one, release to all” policy under the FOIA. (Open data of the results in a .CSV] A quarter of the more than 100 respondents support the policy unconditionally. 60% support it conditionally, if a delay were introduced. 13 respondents did not support it at all. [RCFP]
  • Team Upturn issued a report on the evidence on predictive policing civil rights which found that 40% of the largest U.S. police departments are using the approach but do not have public policy documents. At a minimum, police departments should be transparent and accountable about how they’re using predictive policing.

State and local

  •  The Superior Court of New Jersey in Bergen County incorporated the “Glomar response” into the state’s public records laws in a decision released today. We can neither confirm nor deny that we frowned about states adopting this federal intelligence agency approach to freedom of information requests. [Judiciary.State.NJ.US]
  • The California legislature passed Senate Bill 1349, which would direct the Secretary of State to modernize California’s online system for filing and disclosing campaign finance reports. “This necessary upgrade would make the California’s reporting and disclosure system more reliable, more informative, and easier to use,” said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, in a statement. “It’s time to shelve the shoestring and bubble gum, and build a 21st Century disclosure system that give campaigns and voters real-time, real-world access to information.”
  • The New Orleans Police Department is now publishing use of force data on its website and will update it daily. If you have questions for the superintendent about 21st century policing, please write to us today at [RouteFifty]
  • Maine Governor Paul LePage said that he “will no longer speak to the press ever again after today.” This is not a tenable vow by a sitting governor, nor one that is in any way respectful of the role a free press plays in Maine or the USA writ large. [Boston Globe]
  • The University of Maryland has created a new Web-based tool that enables you to help them make sidewalks more accessible for everyone. [Project Sidewalk]
  • Approximately 1,100 poor residents of West Calumet are looking for homes after the mayor of East Chicago announced that the city would raze their homes due to “staggering levels of lead” in the soil outside of them. Abby Goodnough: “…the most pressing question for residents is why they were not informed until last month that even the top six inches of soil in their yards had up to 30 times more lead than the level considered safe for children to play in, and that it also had hazardous levels of arsenic. Farther down, the contamination is much worse. There have been no satisfactory answers. A spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management said the E.P.A. was the lead agency with the authority and responsibility for this site.'” [New York Times]


— Uhuru Kenyatta (@UKenyatta) August 31, 2016

  • The Open Government Partnership congratulated the government of Kenya and the Kenyan people for shepherding the Access to Information bill into law, which was a commitment in Kenya’s 2nd National Action Plan.“By providing greater access and transparency to government decision-making, Kenya’s Access to Information Act will further strengthen the essential bond between citizens and government,” said Maureen Kariuki, OGP’s Regional Civil Society Coordinator for Africa and the Middle East, in a statement. “This was a flagship commitment in the recently approved second Kenya OGP National Action Plan, and will help Kenyan citizens access vital information about how the country is run.”
  • India and the United States discussed many topics today, but protecting journalists, open government, open data and the Open Government Partnership were not among them. Please bring these issues up, Secretary Kerry. [State Department]
  • 61 of Brazil’s 81 senators voted to impeach the country’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff. [Newshour]


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