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The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the 21st Century: Using Technology to Improve Transparency in Government

Today, March 21, 2012, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on using technology to improve transparency in the federal government.  This hearing comes on the heels of the Committee’s Report Card on Federal Government Efforts to Track and Manage FOIA Requests, which was issued on March 15, 2012.  The findings of that report assigned the government a grade of C-.  The report stated that the Committee “assigned its grade of government-wide FOIA logs based on the average of the 17 Cabinet-level departments, which have the most components and receive the majority of requests. This grade was a C-, which is slightly below average, and it most accurately reflects the performance of the Federal government in this evaluation as related to the overwhelming majority of FOIA requests.”

The Proposed European Privacy Directive and What It Means for Internet Privacy: A Presentation by the Director General for Justice in the European Commission

Yesterday, March 19, 2012, Francoise Le Bail, Director General for Justice in the European Commission, spoke at a congressional privacy briefing sponsored by the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee in conjunction with the European Internet Foundation.  Ms. Le Bail discussed the recently unveiled draft European Data Protection Regulation designed to supersede the 1995 European Union’s (EU) Data Protection Directive as a comprehensive reform measure to strengthen online privacy rights in light of global technology advancements.  She emphasized that this proposed directive will replace the current law's fragmentation and costly administrative burdens with a single set of rules on data protection valid across the EU.

Google and Apple and the Latest Privacy Concerns

In separate developments both Google and Apple are facing new privacy probes by the government.  In Google’s case, both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and a European effort led by the French Commission Nationale de L’Informatique et des Libertes (CNIL) are investigating the company for bypassing users’ privacy settings on their Apple Safari browser.  The Wall Street Journal reported in February that Google was installing cookies on devices even if the person had set the device to block this type of tracking.  Once contacted by the newspaper, Google did report that it had stopped the practice. 

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Federal Research Public Access Act: An Update

On March 5, 2012, a group of 81 scholarly journal publishers sent a letter in strong opposition to the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) (S. 2096 and H.R. 4004) to Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.  Note that these members are not the sponsors of these bills, but rather the committees to which the bills have been referred.

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Google's Privacy Policy: Does It Impact Campuses or Not?

Today, March 1st, Google’s new privacy policy goes into effect.  While Google says that sharing user data across its web services will deliver better search results and targeted advertisements for the user, privacy advocates have criticized it widely for the ease with which Google will be able to collect and connect data on individuals. 

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Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) Referred to the European Court of Justice for Rights Breaches

The European Commission (EC) announced on Wednesday, February 22, 2012 that it was referring the ACTA anti-piracy treaty to the European Union’s top court.  The Court of Justice will be asked to assess whether ACTA is incompatible with the European Union’s (EU) fundamental rights and freedoms.

GRANT Act: Implications for the Research Community

The Grant Reform and New Transparency (GRANT) Act (H.R. 3433) is raising alarm throughout the research community.  Of greatest concern is a provision requiring publication of full research grant proposals on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) website, making an applicant's ideas and data publicly available to all.  A second provision would require public disclosure of the names of all grant peer reviewers.  The bill's co-sponsors, Reps. James Lankford (R-OK), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Mike Kelly (R-PA), and Patrick Meehan (R-PA), argue that the bill is needed to create greater transparency in the federal grants process. 

Among other provisions, the legislation would: 

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Federal Research Public Access Act of 2012 and What It Means for Access to Research Findings

Today, Rep. Michael Doyle (D-PA) introduced the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2012 (FRPAA) (H.R. 4004), which is bipartisan legislation that directs federal agencies to encourage open public access to federally funded scientific research.  In his press release, Rep. Doyle said:

“Americans have the right to see the results of research funded with taxpayer dollars.  Yet such research too often gets locked away behind a pay-wall, forcing those who want to learn from it to pay expensive subscription fees for access. 

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Office of Science and Technology Policy Comments Available on Federally Funded Scientific Research Results

In November 2011 ,the  Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued two calls for public comment—one on Public Access to Peer-Reviewed Scholarly Publications Resulting From Federally Funded Research and the other on Public Access to Digital Data Resulting From Federally Funded Scientific Research (See November blog for background information.).  Today, January 30, 2012, OSTP is making available all of the comments it received. 

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The Research Works Act and What It Really Means

Recently, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced the Research Works Act (RWA) (H.R. 3699) to "ensure the continued publication and integrity of peer-reviewed research works by the private sector.”  The bill is short, but the reverberations have been swift and strong throughout the research and scholarly publishing community.  The basic question, posed by a Chronicle of Higher Education article is this: “When taxpayers help pay for scholarly research, should those taxpayers get to see the results in the form of free access to the resulting journal articles?”

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