Today in OpenGov: Opening the Cabinet Files


In today's edition, we reflect on the state of the State of the Union speech in 2018, the FEC has a draft online ad disclosure rule, California takes a step towards passing its own net neutrality law, how a trove of secret government documents ended up in an Australian second-hand shop, and more. 

around the world

  • A trove of secret Australian government documents were accidentally sold at a second-hand shop. Ashlynne McGhee and Michael McKinnon tell the incredible story; "The Cabinet Files is one of the biggest breaches of cabinet security in Australian history and the story of their release is as gripping as it is alarming and revealing. It begins at a second-hand shop in Canberra, where ex-government furniture is sold off cheaply. The deals can be even cheaper when the items in question are two heavy filing cabinets to which no-one can find the keys. They were purchased for small change and sat unopened for some months until the locks were attacked with a drill. Inside was the trove of documents now known as The Cabinet Files." (ABC.AU)
  • The UK's mass surveillance law was ruled illegal by an appeals court. "Appeal court judges have ruled the government’s mass digital surveillance regime unlawful in a case brought by the Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson. Liberty, the human rights campaign group which represented Watson in the case, said the ruling meant significant parts of theInvestigatory Powers Act 2016 – known as the snooper’s charter – are effectively unlawful and must be urgently changed." (The Guardian)
  • How "publishing with a purpose" can lead to successful open data programs. The Open Data Charter explains that by adding "publishing with a purpose" to their 2018 strategy they "hope to encourage officials to respond to the problems they face in ways that are data driven and participatory. And that this influences how governments are building their broader data infrastructures — embedding “open by default” as a guiding norm." (Open Data Charter)
  • VW suspends chief lobbyist after reports that it helped finance emissions experiments with human subjects. "Volkswagen on Tuesday suspended its chief lobbyist Thomas Steg over allegations that live subjects were tested for prolonged exposure to vehicle emissions. VW co-financed tests by the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT) alongside other carmakers. The trials carried out by the think tank included 10 caged monkeys and separate trials on humans, according to media reports this month." (POLITICO


  • President Trump's first State of the Union was mobile and monetized. Alex Howard reflects on the state of the State of the Union speech in 2018, with a focus on the various platforms available for viewing and fact that, for the first time, "the names of campaign donors will be shown over the livestream of a President of the United States as he delivers the State of the Union to Congress." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • The State of President Trump's finances is opaque. We couldn't resist the chance to point out that President Trump has financial conflicts of interest in Virginia, Illinois, Florida, New Jersey, Nevada, California, New York, Connecticut and Hawaii.
  • State Department Inspector General will investigate alleged political targeting of career employees. "The State Department’s watchdog is “looking into” allegations that the agency is engaged in political targeting and other prohibited personnel practices, the office said Tuesday after whistleblowers sounded the alarm about unfair treatment." (Government Executive)
  • CDC director invested in tobacco company a month after taking over agency charged with fighting its use. "The Trump administration’s top public health official bought shares in a tobacco company one month into her leadership of the agency charged with reducing tobacco use — the leading cause of preventable disease and death and an issue she had long championed. The stock was one of about a dozen new investments that Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, made after she took over the agency’s top job, according to documents obtained by POLITICO." (POLITICO)

washington watch

  • The FEC is considering a draft online political ad disclosure rule. "The U.S. Federal Elections Commission is moving forward with a plan to introduce new rules on political advertising on social media ahead of the 2018 election cycle. The commission has a working draft of the rules in front of it now, longtime Democratic FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said Monday at a technology conference in Washington, though she divulged few details." (Bloomberg)
  • The Defense Department will look into privacy and security concerns around activity trackers. "Defense Department officials are studying security issues raised by physical conditioning trackers that also can be used to track service members’ whereabouts, a Pentagon spokesman told reporters today. The concern comes from a 'heat map' posted by Strava — the makers of a fitness tracking application that shows the routes service members run or cycle in their daily exercises. These maps can show military bases and may be used to target individuals." (DoD News)
  • House Oversight Committee chairman threatens to subpoena HHS over lack of disclosure. "Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said Monday the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has failed to fully cooperate with requests for information from his committee, threatening to subpoena the agency." (The Hill) You can read Gowdy's letter here.

states and cities

  • Irving, Texas is seeking feedback on its open data policy. You can read the draft and submit feedback via the Madison platform. The deadline for submissions is February 7, 2018
  • California Senate approves net neutrality bill. "The California State Senate yesterday approved a bill to impose net neutrality restrictions on Internet service providers, challenging the Federal Communications Commission attempt to preempt such rules…The bill passed 21-12, with all 21 ayes coming from Democrats. The bill is now being moved to the State Assembly, where Democrats have a 53-25 majority over Republicans." (Ars Technica)
  • How Philadelphia is leveraging open data and digital transformation efforts to improve services. Zack Quaintance explores how the relatively young Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation is handling its dual roles of managing Philadelphia's open data work and leading a redesign of the city's website.  (Government Technology)


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