Today in OpenGov: Challenging times


In today's edition, we consider potential challenges to open government from emerging technology, the Virginia General Assembly takes a long awaited step towards transparency, the Kushners get closer to Israeli investors, French President Macron's fake news take is debated, and more. 

washington watch

  • Emerging technology poses challenges to open government. Alex Howard laid out some of Sunlight's policy priorities for 2018 and highlighted a number of fresh challenges posed by emerging technologies. These challenges will require lawmakers, regulators, and policy advocates to consider how sunshine laws should adjust to novel context. (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Is Facebook changing its tune on data sharing around fake news? "After months of criticism over their refusal to share data on whether efforts to halt the spread of false news are working, Facebook officials told POLITICO they may be ready to slowly open up." (POLITICO)
  • FCC won't delay net neutrality repeal over fake public comments. "The Federal Communications Commission rejected calls to delay ending net neutrality rules over a flawed public comment system, saying it hadn’t relied on millions of identical or suspicious submissions in its decision making." (Bloomberg)
  • Major Internet trade group to join suit against FCC's net neutrality rollback. "The Internet Association, a trade group representing tech giants like Google and Facebook, announced Friday that it will be joining a growing list of net neutrality supporters who plan to sue the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to stop its repeal of the consumer protections." (The Hill)

states and cities

The Virginia State Capitol. Image Credit: Alden Schiller.
  • Virginia General Assembly to start live-streaming and archiving committee hearings. "The commonwealth is making a significant move this year to livestream and archive committee hearings of the General Assembly, which open government advocates have been pushing for years." (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
  • New York, California consider how to counter FCC's net neutrality rollback at the state level. "FCC Chairman Ajit Pai spent 2017 dismantling Obama-era rules on net neutrality. A handful of lawmakers in liberal-leaning U.S. states plan to spend 2018 building them back up. It’s a development that the FCC anticipated — the commission’s rules include language forbidding states from doing this, warning against an unwieldy patchwork of regulations. But lawmakers in New York and California aren’t aiming to be exceptions to the national rules; they’re looking to, in effect, create their own." (Bloomberg)
  • Should Minnesota rebrand and update its open records law? James Eli Shiffer thinks so. He argues that the "Minnesota Government Data Practices Act needs a new title. Desperately." The law also needs some more substantive reforms, according to Shiffer. "The Legislature still needs to bring its own members under a public records law. It needs to require police departments to reveal what surveillance technology they’re deploying. It needs to end the mass destruction of e-mails and other public records by government officials. It needs to remove the secrecy from investigations of botched care and patient harm by nursing homes and HMOs. And it needs to create a real appeals process with power over agencies that drag their feet or stonewall when people ask for public information." (Star Tribune)
  • Oregon Governor appoints former Sunlighter Ginger McCall as state's first open records advocate. "Governor Kate Brown announced today the appointment of Ginger McCall as Oregon's first Public Records Advocate. The creation of the Public Records Advocate was proposed to the legislature by Governor Brown to provide dispute resolution for public records requestors and state agencies and to lead the Public Records Advisory Council in evaluating practices, procedures, exemptions, and fees related to public records." ( We'd like to extend our congratulations to Ginger, a true open government champion, honorable public servant, and excellent colleague. Oregonians will benefit from her good works.


Jared Kushner.
  • Kushner companies got $30 million from major Israeli firm shortly before Jared Kushner and President Trump visited the region on diplomatic mission. Shortly before White House official Jared Kushner went to the Middle East on a diplomatic trip with his father in law, President Trump, in May 2017, his family's business received an undisclosed $30 million investment from one of the biggest firms in Israel. As Jesse Drucker reports, "the business dealings don’t appear to violate federal ethics laws…But the deal last spring illustrates how the Kushner Companies’ extensive financial ties to Israel continue to deepen, even with his prominent diplomatic role in the Middle East. The arrangement could undermine the ability of the United States to be seen as an independent broker in the region." (New York Times) It's worth remembering that Kushner has a wide range of potential conflicts of interest and has revised his financial disclosures a number of times to account for them. 
  • In wake of "voter fraud" commission dissolution, DHS has no plans to probe the issue. "The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s election security unit has no immediate plans to probe allegations of electoral fraud, despite President Donald Trump’s announcement this week he was giving the issue to the agency, according to administration officials." (Reuters)
  • President Trump renews intent to award "Fake News Awards". In a tweet on Sunday, the President announced that the "Fake News Awards, those going to the most corrupt & biased of the Mainstream Media, will be presented to the losers on Wednesday, January 17th…" instead of today as he had previously threatened. Our take? This statement by the President of the United States diminishes the office, erodes press freedom, and could put any journalists named at risk. The White House should protect and defend the role of journalism in democracies, not weaken the public’s immune system.

around the world

  • Germany struggles to balance protecting free speech and rooting out hate speech online. "Germany’s hate speech rules, known locally as NetzDG and which came into full force Monday, demand that social media giants promptly remove potentially illegal material, some of it within 24 hours of being notified, or face fines of up to €50 million. Enforcement of the rules has reignited debate about their practicality in an age when a tweet, Facebook post or YouTube video can spread virally around the globe within minutes. The law also highlights the problems that policymakers, in Berlin and elsewhere, now face when trying to police what can, and cannot, be posted online, as they try to balance people’s legitimate right to free speech with others’ desire to be protected against harmful material." (POLITICO)
  • Top Chinese news aggregator, under pressure from government on content moderation, will go on hiring spree. "China's top news aggregation app, Jinri Toutiao, plans to hire 2,000 new employees to monitor content on its platform, after the country's internet regulator cracked down on its content…While the application uses artificial intelligence to customized news feeds for readers, the technology is still subject to state censorship." (Global Voices)
  • Debating a proposed law to regulate fake news in France. Last week, we noted that French President Emmanuel Macron had proposed a law to regulate fake news during political campaigns. We noted our mixed feelings about the proposal explaining that, while the bill's transparency provisions regarding disclosures and disclaimers mirror our view of how paid political advertising should be treated, the judicial remedy could be abused to limit speech or journalism that powerful people or institutions do not like. Over the weekend, POLITICO EU devoted space to a debate over the proposed law. Aurore Belfrage argued that the law will help protect democracy while Alberto Alemanno explained how it will threaten democracy.  


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