Today in OpenGov: Tear down this (pay)wall


In today's edition, a Congressman wants to remove the paywall around judicial information, we consider how the create smart cities that don't double as surveillance cities,  an anti-corruption fight continues in Guatemala, and more. 

washington watch

PACER revenue has skyrocketed in recent years and far outstrips the costs of running the system. Credit: Free Law Project
  • New bill would get rid of paywall around federal judicial information. "Judicial records are public documents that are supposed to be freely available to the public. But for two decades, online access has been hobbled by a paywall on the judiciary's website, called PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records), which charges as much as 10 cents per page. Now Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) has introduced legislation that would require that the courts make PACER documents available for download free of charge." (Ars Technica)
  • New York Rep. Chris Collins (R) will seek reelection despite insider trading indictment. "Representative Chris Collins, the New York Republican indicted on insider trading charges last month, reversed course on Monday and announced he would seek another term. Mr. Collins opted to stay on the ballot on the advice of lawyers who said his removal — a Byzantine procedure governed by New York’s complex election laws — would most likely face a Democratic lawsuit, and would muddle the election for his replacement, ultimately leaving the Western New York seat vulnerable to Democrats." (New York Times)
  • Momentum to reform the Foreign Agents Registration Act appears to be disappearing in Congress. "When Paul Manafort was indicted last year for failing to register as a foreign agent, lawmakers vowed to crack down on people who skirt the rules on lobbying for foreign interests. Nearly a year later, amid partisan clashes and pushback from foreign-owned companies, the push to strengthen the Foreign Agents Registration Act appears to be going nowhere fast." (POLITICO)
  • Are journalists vulnerable to surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act? "The U.S. government can monitor journalists under a foreign intelligence law that allows invasive spying and operates outside the traditional court system, according to newly released documents. Targeting members of the press under the law, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, requires approval from the Justice Department’s highest-ranking officials, the documents show." (The Intercept)

states and cities

  • How to stop "smart cities" from becoming "surveillance cities". Maryiam Saifuddin and Chad Marlow explain how "urban officials dream of a future of “Smart Cities” that use new technologies to gather comprehensive data and algorithms to achieve increased efficiencysustainability, and safety. While many of these benefits are real, we must be vigilant to ensure that they don’t come at too high a cost, as the adoption of such technologies can also lead to an unacceptable increase in government surveillance." The key to protecting privacy? Transparency and public oversight. (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Bay Area transit system approves new surveillance oversight policy. "On Thursday, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Board of Directors voted to approve a new policythat requires that it be notified if the local police department wishes to acquire new surveillance equipment. BART is one of the largest mass transit agencies in northern California, with a system that stretches from the San Francisco International Airport, through San Francisco itself, across to Oakland, north to Antioch and south to Fremont—adjacent to Silicon Valley. This new policy puts it in line with a number of other regional cities that impose community oversight on the acquisition and use of surveillance technology. It is believed to be one of the first, if not the first, such policies for a transportation agency in the nation." (Ars Technica)
  • New Mexico Attorney General knocks University of New Mexico for public records violations. "The state Attorney General’s Office took University of New Mexico officials to task last week, citing several instances where the university violated the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act and Open Meetings Act. The 32-page 'transparency report,' which the AG’s office issued Sept. 6, looked at the most recent 11 complaints dating back to 2015. It blasts the university for a number of violations and states 'UNM has failed to ensure that the citizens of New Mexico are given the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts' of public officers and employees." (Albuquerque Journal via NFOIC)

around the world

Members of Guatemala's Constitutional Court. Image via Global Voices.
  • Guatemalan Supreme Court rules in favor of return of UN anti-corruption commissioner, setting up possible showdown with President Jimmy Morales. "The next 48 hours will be crucial for Guatemalan democracy. In a unanimous decision, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala ordered the government to allow Colombian jurist Ivan Velasquez to return to the country and resume his work as head of the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity (CICIG in Spanish). Last month, President Jimmy Morales announced that he will no longer renew the mandate of the CICIG aside from barring the return of Velasquez, who is now based in the United States. The decision caused outrage nationally and internationally, prompting protests and condemnation from human rights defenders. The president's decision followed the Commission's allegations of corruption, specifically illicit campaign financing against Morales himself, and against members of his family who are now facing a fraud trial before the Constitutional Court. The next two days constitute not only a test for Guatemala's democratic institutions, but also for the sectors which backed the president in the past. According to the Court's official document, disobeying the Court's orders could mean the president's removal by constitutional mechanisms." (Global Voices)
  • Former Argentine president indicted in wide reaching corruption probe. "An Argentine federal judge formally indicted former president and current Senator Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner on corruption charges on Monday as part of a widespread graft probe that has embroiled many officials in her former government." (Bloomberg)
  • Governments are an untapped open data user group. "…we need to expand the way we think about governments and open data. In the existing paradigm, governments are seen as the targets of advocacy campaigns, to release data they hold for public good, and enact legislation which binds themselves, and others, to release. Civil society tries hunts for internal champions within government, international initiatives (EITIOGP etc) seek to bind governments in to emergent best practise, and investigative journalists and whistleblowers highlight the need for better information by dramatic cases of all the stuff that goes wrong and is covered up. And all of that is as it should be. But what we see regularly in our work at OpenOil is that there is also huge potential to engage government – at all levels – as users of open data." (Open Knowledge)


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