The Appleton Post-Crescent reports that “most people requesting records from Gov. Jim Doyle’s office last year did not have to wait long to get them.”
In their “fifth annual review of public records requests found that about two-thirds of people seeking records got them within two weeks….
The P-C could discern a response time for 65 requests. Of these requests, 43 received requests within two weeks, and 59 requestors, more than 90 percent, received request within about a month.”
Did you know that Wisconsin was the first state to pass an open records law? See Wisconsin Statutes Chapter 10, Section 137 from 1849.
Thanks to Greg Lambert for passing on this CNet article about open-law activist, Carl Malamud.
He’s devoted his life to liberating laws, regulations, court cases, and the other myriad detritus that governments produce daily, but often lock up in proprietary databases or allow for-profit companies to sell for princely sums….
Malamud’s solution typically has been to create a proof-of-concept Web site, with the hopes of embarrassing government entities into building that infrastructure themselves. In the 1990s, his activism was responsible for persuading the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Patent and Trademark Office to make their data available for free on the Internet. Now, on his public.resource.org Web site, he’s resumed posting hundreds of thousands of pages of government documents–all of which are, or at least should be, in the public domain….
“I believe access to knowledge is a human right,” Malamud said. “When I see people putting barriers around useful information, I find that offensive.”
Malamud even created a lego animation to make his point.
Some of Malamud’s recent acquisitions include the CFR and state safety and building codes.
“A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction yesterday ordering Vice President Cheney and the National Archives to preserve all of his official records.” Read more at the Washington Post.
“Countless federal records are being lost to posterity because federal employees, grappling with a staggering growth in electronic records, do not regularly preserve the documents they create on government computers, send by e-mail and post on the Web,” writes Robert Pear of the New York Times.
This confusion is causing alarm among historians, archivists, librarians, Congressional investigators and watchdog groups that want to trace the decision-making process and hold federal officials accountable. With the imminent change in administrations, the concern about lost records has become more acute.
“We expect to see the wholesale disappearance of materials on federal agency Web sites,” said Mary Alice Baish, the Washington representative of the American Association of Law Libraries, whose members are heavy users of government records. “When new officials take office, they have new programs and policies, and they want to make a fresh start.”
AALL’s Washington Blawg has more on the potential disappearance of these government records and the “short-sighted and disappointing decision of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) not to harvest agency Web sites at the end of this administration.”
From Bev Butula’s Wisconsin Law Journal blog:
Looking for documents from a defunct government agency? You might dig it up at the CyberCemetery. This website is a collaboration of the University of North Texas and the GPO. The site is described as “an archive of government websites that have ceased operation (usually websites of defunct government agencies and commissions that have issued a final report).”
The latest issue of the Wisconsin Law Review features a thought-provoking examination of state public records law in the digital age.
“Wisconsin’s Public-Records Law: Preserving the Presumption of Complete Public Access in the Age of Electronic Records,” by Leanne Holcomb and James Isaac, 2008 Wisconsin Law Review 515 (2008).
[The article does not yet appear to be accessible on LexisNexis or Westlaw, but it is available in print here at the Law Library]
The authors write:
[Under Wisconsin’s public-records law,] the public is permitted access to the actions of government officials in order to act as an effective check on government power and give force to the democratic system. This policy translates into the legal right of inspection by any person of any public record, . . . Over the last three decades, however, statutes have not kept pace with technological advancements that have dramatically transformed public records, threatening the presumption of complete public access.
The authors explore how the emergence of electronic documents as the preeminent record of government activity has clouded the application of existing public-records law, records-retention practice and the disclosure of public records.
Faced with this problem, the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) has decided to wait until technology is better understood before requesting that the legislature update the statutes. [citing a 2004 webcast] While it waits, the absence of adequate public-records statutes allows electronic storage to easily conceal records from the public view and, even worse, to destroy them through obsolescence.
Email, logs, and metadata are specifically considered – what kind of information is available and whether they should be considered a part of the public record (authors argue yes)
The article wraps up with recommendations on how to update Wisconsin’s public records statutes to adequately address retention and access to these electronic records.
Source: Legal Research Plus
Boing Boing reports on Carl Malamud’s investigation of the exclusive deal in which the Government Accountability Office has contracted with Thomson West to provide complete federal legislative histories compiled by GAO law librarians.
John Wonderlich of the Sunlight Foundation alerted me to a situation about a month ago that we’ve been pursuing (with EFF’s help) at the Government Accountability Office, which is an arm of the U.S. Congress.
The law librarians at GAO have compiled complete federal legislative histories from 1915 on. These are the definitive dossiers that track a bill through the hearing process and into law. If you want to divine the intent of Congress, this is where you go.
GAO cut a contract with Thomson West to have these documents scanned. Thomson West claims they have exclusive access to these public documents and even go so far as to boast that you should purchase this exclusive “product” from West because the GAO law librarians (public employees!) have done all the work for you!
If you’re interesting in tracking this issue, I’ve [Carl Malamud] created a Scribd group that has all the documents we’ve obtained so far. Next step: we asked for a copy of every document scanned under the FOIA laws!