Today in OpenGov: Facebook’s new relationship status in DC? “it’s complicated”


In today's edition, Congress has a busy week on transparency, secrecy around immigration policy and enforcement, Facebook prepares for Mark Zuckerberg's big week at the Capitol, DHS proposes tracking journalists and destroying drones, police departments look ahead to facial recognition in body cameras, and much more. 

Washington watch

  • Transparency is on the agenda as Congress comes back from a two week break. Our friend Daniel Schuman rounded up transparency tied happenings on this week's Congressional calendar. Highlights include Mark Zucerkberg's meetings on the Hill, a markup for the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act, consideration of "A Regional Strategy for Democratic Governance Against Corruption ," and more. 
  • Sunlight joined 44 other groups in support of the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act. The letter, addressed to the chairman and ranking member of the House Administration Committee, argues that the "ACMRA will strengthen Congressional oversight and improve government transparency. ACMRA establishes a central repository for agency reports submitted to Congress and tracks whether agencies have submitted the reports." Read the full letter here. As we noted in the previous item, the House Administration Committee is slated to markup the ACMRA this week.
  • Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) resigns amid ethics inquiry over sexual harassment allegations. "Rep. Blake Farenthold announced Friday he would resign immediately from Congress, after an ethics inquiry was opened into allegations of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior from former staff members. The Texas Republican had said he would not run for reelection, but he had previously resisted calls to step down." (POLITICO)
  • Defense rests in fraud trial of former Rep. Steve Stockman, calling only two witnesses. "The defense rested its case Thursday in ex-GOP congressman Steve Stockman's federal campaign fraud trial, after calling only two witnesses who together testified for less than an hour. The former Republican lawmaker from Clear Lake told the judge presiding over his trial that he did not intend to testify in his own defense. Stockman’s scant defense was in sharp contrast to the dozens of witnesses government prosecutors called over nine days in an effort to prove their case that the Clear Lake lawmaker, and a darling of the Tea Party movement, intentionally schemed to divert $1.25 million in charitable donations from top-level conservative contributors." (Houston Chronicle)
  • In wake of Sunlight reporting on removal of breast cancer, LGBTQ health information, ranking member of House Oversight Committee requests information from HHS. Citing the Sunlight Web Integrity Project's research, Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) sent Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar a letter asking for more information about why public health resources on breast cancer, preventive services under ACA, and various LGBTQ health issues were removed from You can read the letter here. Our view? We hope and expect to get more answers to our questions for the public in the weeks as a result of this letter from the ranking member of the U.S. House Oversight Committee, along with renewed focus on public engagement about changes to federal websites.

facebook and the hill? It's complicated

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Image credit: Maurizio Pesce.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is slated to appear before Congressional committees on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

As the company prepared for his testimony, Zuckerberg announced "several new authentication requirements for ads and Pages. Zuckerberg also firmly endorsed the Senate's pending Honest Ads Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that would cement many of these policies into law." (Wired) We were glad to see Zuckerberg's formal endorsement of the Honest Ads Act. We hope Congress likes the idea of transparency, and shares it with the public too.

That said, some other topics are likely to come up when Zuckerberg faces the Hill this week:

  • Facebook admits that executives had access to tool allowing them to delete old messages from the platform. "Three sources confirm to TechCrunch that old Facebook messages they received from Zuckerberg have disappeared from their Facebook inboxes, while their own replies to him conspicuously remain. An email receipt of a Facebook message from 2010 reviewed by TechCrunch proves Zuckerberg sent people messages that no longer appear in their Facebook chat logs or in the files available from Facebook’s Download Your Information tool. When asked by TechCrunch about the situation, Facebook claimed in this statement it was done for corporate security…" (TechCrunch)
  • Facebook suspended another outside data firm over allegations of data misuse. "Facebook suspended another data firm after allegations surfaced that it may have improperly handled users’ information. The social media giant said it suspended Cubeyou pending an investigation. CNBC reported the data-analytics company was misleading users by saying information it collected through quizzes was for academic research, even though it was in fact being shared with marketers." (Bloomberg)
  • Consumer groups file a complaint against Facebook with the Federal Trade Commission over facial recognition technology…"Consumer groups filed a complaint with federal regulators Friday, saying Facebook Inc. violates users’ privacy rights through its facial-recognition software." (Wall Street Journal)…that may also fail to comply with new European data protection rules. "European and U.S. privacy experts are raising concerns that the social network’s rollout of facial recognition across the 28-member bloc may not comply with new EU data protection standards that come into force on May 25." (POLITICO)

droning on

Image credit: DFSB DE on Flickr.

According to a draft legislative proposal obtained by the Washington Post the Trump administration is seeking new authorities for the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to track, reroute or even destroy drones. The reason? The threat of “terrorists” using drones as weapons or for surveillance. 

Michael Laris writes that "the legislation would free safety and security officials from those agencies, and their contractors, from laws against intercepting electronic communications that officials say have hamstrung their ability to protect sensitive facilities from increasingly cheap and powerful unmanned aircraft, which already number in the millions. It would also give wide discretion to those working for the government, outside observers said. The full picture of which facilities would fall under the new authorities remains unclear. Those facilities would be subject to what the proposed legislation calls a 'risk-based assessment' as well as regulations and guidance that would be shielded from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.“

The proposal manages to raise both open government and First Amendment problems. On the one hand, it would to carve out a new area for secrecy around government uses of autonomous vehicles on land, air or in water. On the other, it would enact unprecedentedly vast new tracking, remote access and destructive capability and put it the hands of federal law enforcement. If this is more than a trial balloon, American civil society should be concerned.

elsewhere in trumpland

Image credit: Alex Howard.
  • Agencies tasked with implementing President Trump's hard-line immigration policies are notoriously closed to the public. Dana Liebelson reports, "President Donald Trump has made his promise of aggressive immigration enforcement the centerpiece of his domestic agenda. But two agencies tasked with enforcing the nation’s immigration laws — U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — have long attracted criticism for failing to release documents and data in a timely manner, if at all. That makes it hard for journalists, advocates, lawyers and the public to keep tabs on what the administration is doing." (Huffington Post)
  • EPA move to rollback fuel-efficiency standards was a long standing auto-lobby priority. "Even as companies such as ToyotaFord and General Motors repeatedly profess their commitment to fighting climate change, their trade associations have aggressively lobbied to weaken the fuel-economy standards set in 2012. The largest of those groups, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, even submitted a regulatory filing that questions the science behind global warming, its consequences and the long-established connection between air pollution and health." (Center for Public Integrity)
  • Trump refugee resettlement chief keeps up-to-date list of unaccompanied minors seeking abortions. "Scott Lloyd’s unadorned job title betrays little hint of the power he has over the pregnant teenagers in his custody. As director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, he oversees the assistance program for the tens of thousands of refugees who still seek shelter in the United States, even with the Trump administration’s crackdown. But as the government official who is also responsible for the care of young, undocumented immigrants who enter the United States without their parents, he spends much of his time trying to stop those who want an abortion. He has instructed his staff to give him a spreadsheet each week that tells him about any unaccompanied minors who have asked for one and how far along they are in their pregnancy. In at least one case he directed staff to read to one girl a description of what happens during an abortion." (New York Times)
  • The Department of Homeland Security wants to track journalists and "media influencers," doesn't understand why that might be controversial. Sam Machkovech keeps up on the story, which was first reported by Bloomberg Law. He explains how, "earlier this week, Bloomberg Law uncovered a Department of Homeland Security job listing for a 'media-monitoring services' request to keep tabs on more than 290,000 'global news sources' and develop an extensive database for an unconfirmed number of 'media influencers.' After news outlets reported about the amount of data sought by this job listing, DHS Press Secretary Tyler Houlton issued a response on Friday to verify its legitimacy and allege that the data project's aims will be 'standard practice.' What's more, Houlton added, 'Any suggestion otherwise is fit for tinfoil hat-wearing, black-helicopter conspiracy theorists.'" (Ars Technica)

states and cities

  • Considering key reforms as police embrace facial recognition technology in body cameras. Jake Laperruque explains how, "this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that body camera vendors are preparing body cameras with real-time facial recognition capabilities, and law enforcement agencies could potentially deploy them as soon as this fall. Real-time facial recognition is especially concerning because it means that body cameras will continuously scan the face of everyone passing police officers on the street, and immediately log and relay data. Before adding real-time facial recognition to body cameras, it’s critical that departments and lawmakers implement necessary measures to avert the unprecedented mass collection of the identity and location of individuals in public." (Project on Government Oversight)
  • Following a public records fight, this Oregon newspaper put a lien on a public official's house. Jonathan Peters reports, "Following a successful fight for public records, The Oregonian placed a lien against a former public official’s house — to secure an award of attorney's fees." He asked a number of experts to weigh in on the unusual story. (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • Newly released emails show frustration towards D.C. government watchdogs by mayoral aides. "Aides to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) complained about the District government watchdog who was cracking down on agencies that flouted transparency rules last year, recently released emails show. The communications shed new light on tensions in city government before the ouster of the watchdog, Office of Open Government Director Traci L. Hughes." (Washington Post)
  • New Jersey Governor moves to make information about guns used for violence more accessible. "New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has signed an executive order making data on gun violence more accessible to the public. The so-called 'Name and Shame' order will cite the origin of a gun involved in a crime. According to the state, approximately 80 percent of guns involved in crime come from outside of New Jersey." (NPR)

around the world

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Image credit: European People's Party.

  • Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was re-elected to a third term, renewing concerns about democracy in the country. “Hungarian government spokesman Zoltán Kovács told NPR the new government…plans to exert more control over civil society. Earlier this year, the cabinet submitted draft measures to the Hungarian parliament aimed at banning NGOs deemed a security risk or that support immigration, while also imposing a 25 percent tax on foreign donations to those groups who help migrants.” (NPROur view? These proposals targeting non-governmental organizations engaging in political activity are renewing our concerns about the country’s slide away from healthy democracy.
  • Following brief standoff, former Brazilian President Lula reports to jail. "Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva spent his first night of a 12-year sentence in prison, after turning himself in more than 24 hours past a court-ordered deadline. Lula left the metalworkers union headquarters outside the city of Sao Paulo on Saturday, where he had hunkered down since Thursday, TV footage showed." (Bloomberg)
  • 6 Palestinian journalists shot by Israeli armed forces while covering protests in Gaza. One of the 6, Yaser Murtaja, died on Saturday. (Washington Post) In response, Reporters Without Borders called "on the Israeli government to comply with UN Security Council Resolution 2222 on the protection of journalists (adopted in 2015), urge an independent investigation and expect that the perpetrators of this crime against press freedom will be sentenced." We're inclined to agree. The military of democratic states should not target the press. Israel should respect press freedom and protect journalists.


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