Two thoughts on Web filtering

Posted by: on Apr 17, 2007 | No Comments

I was skimming last month’s issue of Government Technology. An essay, “The Cost of Free Wi-fi,” discusses the use of filtering software by cities providing free wi-fi access, fearing liability for the actions of users on the network. I am guessing that most MNCOGI supporters would agree with the author’s thoughts.

Shane Peterson writes, “I pay taxes, and I don’t care about who does what on a Wi-Fi network supported by my tax dollars. I don’t think I’m alone. It’s like being offended that some people use taxpayer-funded interstate highways to drive to Nevada to gamble or engage in other, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” activities.”

His essay ends with, “It’s not for government to say what Web sites a person visits. Unless, of course, that government’s headquartered in Beijing.”

Second, as Director of the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, I have been asked a few times in past years whether the Legislative Reference Library public access computers have filtering software. They do not – what if users were searching for information on breast cancer, or sex education, or many other things that might be blocked? This morning I noted a book being returned to our library, one that certainly would get filtered out, a 1994 report from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, Sex and America’s Teenagers.” Robbie LaFleur

Hands-on Access to Government Information

Posted by: on Apr 11, 2007 | No Comments

An article in the Star Tribune, “Of, and For, The People,” discusses citizens academies run by cities. Attendees learn about all the departments and budgeting – it is an example of hands-on access to government information! The picture at left is a group from the Hopkins Citizens Academy. From the article: “The goal is to give residents insight into what the city does behind the scenes. But there are side benefits. Participants are likely candidates the city can pluck for its police reserves, boards or commissions. And they often have fun.”

Google seeks better access to gov’t info

Posted by: on Apr 7, 2007 | No Comments

Google seeks better access to government information

Oct 25, 2006

By Daniel Pulliam

Officials from the leading Internet search engine are working to remove barriers that prevent their technology from reaching vast troves of information buried in government databases.

Internet users want government information because it has a reputation for being reliable and accurate, said J.L. Needham, a strategic partner development manager at Google. But while portions of agency Web sites are easily indexed by Google and other common search engines, the engines cannot search other areas, known as the deep Web.

For instance, Google cannot scan information in the database housed at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site, Needham said. The site allows users to view government regulations and post comments on proposed agency rules.

“If you were a business owner and found out you were potentially subject to a new regulation that you wanted to find out more information on, it may be difficult to find this information using a search engine like Google,” Needham said. “The problem is that search engines are unable to crawl the full text of many government agencies’ databases.”

As much as 40 percent of the content on agency Web sites is invisible to Google’s crawlers, Needham said. This means that for a majority of Internet users who do not know how to look beyond a search engine site, that information is effectively invisible.

Needham said he is meeting with a variety of agencies to discuss how the information housed in their databases can be made available in the search results from engines such as Google, Yahoo or MSN. One method would be to use Google Sitemaps, which enhances Google’s search results, Needham said.

Implementation of Google Sitemaps by a federal institution that maintains one of the world’s largest networks of sites, including many databases, doubled the number of Web links found by Google, Needham said. This allowed for millions of new documents to be included in search engine results, he said.

A Dec. 16, 2005, memorandum from Clay Johnson, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, required all agencies by Sept. 1, 2006, to set up their public information so that it is searchable. It stated that “increasingly sophisticated Internet search functions” can “greatly assist agencies in this area.”

Agencies also were required to provide all public data in an open format that allows the public to aggregate “or otherwise manipulate and analyze the data to meet their needs” by Dec. 31, 2005, according to a separate OMB memorandum signed by Johnson on Dec. 17, 2004.

Mark Luttner, director of EPA’s Office of Information Collection in the Office of Environmental Information, said the agency’s e-rulemaking program management office is working with OMB to respond to a recent request from a search engine company that wants to index the data.

In addition to the technical challenges presented by the company’s request, EPA has to consider whether a commercial company could assert proprietary ownership on federal data and whether providing government data to one company would provide an unequal playing field for other companies, Luttner said.

Needham said Google, for one, does not want to assert ownership over any information obtained from agencies, and agency efforts to improve the ability to search their Web sites would likely be equally beneficial to its competitors.

Commonly used search engines like Google are able to index other agency Web sites used to disseminate information, such as the Small Business Administration’s Business Gateway e-government initiative.

Nancy Sternberg, the program manager for Business Gateway, said the initiative’s Web site,, has been optimized for all major search engines. But does not contain a separate database, Sternberg said, which would make indexing much more challenging.

Search engines cannot index the database housed at the Health and Human Services Department, according to John Etcheverry, director of grants systems modernization at HHS. But in 2007, will implement a Google search appliance that will let Google scan specified database tables with grant synopsis information, he said. Allowing search engines to crawl the entire database would create security vulnerabilities since it contains sensitive applicant information, he noted.

Google’s forays into the government include a U.S. Government Search Web page, which is intended to provide a single location for searching across agency information and for keeping up-to-date on government news. Google maintains the site is not intended to compete with the government search site hosted by the General Services Administration, called Rather, it is intended to complement it, company officials say.

John Murphy, director of technologies, said the pages are optimized for all search engines, but the MSN-run search tool is specifically directed to searching government Web pages, including those hosted by state and local governments.

©2007 by National Journal Group Inc. All rights reserved.

Posted by: on Apr 4, 2007 | No Comments

Following is a clip describing an interesting initiative of the Citizens League 0 Facts Unfiltered offers an ideal opportunity to contribute public information to the discussion. Depository librarians and others familiar with goverment information sources may be willing to post info about sources, access, finding tools to this public discussion of issues — issues discussed more knowledgeably by those who have identified and checked public information sources.

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Facts Unfiltered

One of the facets of MAP 150 this fall is to gather facts around key policy issues. The questions we’re posing focus on the capacity of different aspects of Minnesota in the future. The facts that we gather will be used to supplement our interviews with Minnesotans to better understand what Minnesota’s policy environment. These are the questions that we’re looking to put facts to.

Family’s capacity: What are the future prospects for Minnesota families in making ends meet?

State’s capacity: What does the fiscal health of the state budget hold for Minnesotans: can they continue to expect the same level of services at the same tax rates in the future?

Economy’s capacity in terms of human capital: Is the state’s educational system producing the labor force we’ll need to maintain Minnesota’s strong economic growth?

Capacity of the natural and built environments: Given Minnesota’s projected population growth, is Minnesota creating and preserving built and natural environments that will sustain Minnesota’s prized quality of life?

Capacity for innovation in the public interest: Is Minnesota retaining its capacity for civic and political innovation, especially in ways that reflect the growing diversification of the state population?

Posted by: on Mar 2, 2007 | No Comments

In this issue of the Utne (March 1, 2007) Mary O’Regan hits the proverbial nail on the head….

Censoring Our Educators
A nationwide effort is underway in statehouses to foster intellectual diversity by censoring professors
—By Mary O’Regan,

March 1, 2007 Issue

Political views in the United States are heavily divided, with each side worrying that the other is corrupting today’s youth. And who has more access to fresh, young minds than teachers? That’s why the latest argument about when and where free speech flies is taking place in the classroom. ….

Format or content?

Posted by: on Feb 28, 2007 | No Comments

Sen. Coleman’s website voted a www.winner

Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., received a “Silver Mouse” award for having one of the 10 best websites in the Senate.

His site was chosen for the honor by the Congressional Management Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan management consulting and research organization in Washington. The group examined 615 congressional websites, including all Senate and House members, committees and official leadership sites.

Coleman said he was proud of the award and that he has placed “great emphasis” on his website.

ROB HOTAKAINEN – Star Tribune 2-28-07

action alert

Posted by: on Feb 27, 2007 | No Comments

Sen. Kyl is pushing a vote in Congress this week on a broad amendment that would bring the United states an Official Secrets Act. The media hasn’t focused any attention on this, with the exception of a blog post from Rebecca Carr (and my blog, which doesn’t count:) We are encouraging any and all ways of bringing this to public attention.

The following areas would be particularly helpful:


The Situation:

Sen. Kyl plans to push an amendment that would in effect create an Official Secrets Act in the U.S. by prohibiting disclosure and publication of information “concerning efforts by the United States to identify, investigate, or prevent terrorist activity.”

The Kyl Amendment will come up this Thursday, February 29, during the Senate Judiciary Committee markup of S. 236, an unrelated bill dealing with data mining efforts.

As you can tell, it’s very broad & would eviscerate the public’s ability to learn about the federal government’s anti-terorrism efforts. Virtually any story related to homeland security, the war on terror or public safety threats could fall under this broad definition. Despite lots of discussion last year about unauthorized disclosures, including several congressional hearings, there’s been no public debate about this proposal.

Changes to 18 USC 798 as proposed in the Kyl Amendment

[Bold indicates proposed additions.]

TITLE 18 ” href=””>> > PART I ” href=””>> > CHAPTER 37 ” href=””>> > § 798
§ 798. Disclosure of classified information
(a) Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates, furnishes, transmits, or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes, or uses in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States or for the benefit of any foreign government to the detriment of the United States any classified information˜
(1) concerning the nature, preparation, or use of any code, cipher, or cryptographic system of the United States or any foreign government; or
(2) concerning the design, construction, use, maintenance, or repair of any device, apparatus, or appliance used or prepared or planned for use by the United States or any foreign government for cryptographic or communication intelligence purposes; or
(3) concerning the communication intelligence activities of the United States or any foreign government; or
(4) obtained by the processes of communication intelligence from the communications of any foreign government, knowing the same to have been obtained by such processes or
(5) concerning efforts by the United States to identify, investigate, or prevent terrorist activity” and
shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.

* * * * *

Sunshine in Government Initiative
Statement on Proposed Kyl Amendment to S. 236
February 26, 2007

The amendment that Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) intends to propose as an amendment to S. 236, a bill dealing with federal data mining efforts, would in effect create an “Official Secrets Act” that criminalizes the publication of classified information. There have been no public hearings or discussions about this proposal.

Specifically, the amendment would prohibit unauthorized disclosure, publication or use of any information “concerning efforts by the United States to identify, investigate, or prevent terrorist activity.” It also doubles from 10 to 20 years in prison the criminal penalty for violating any aspect of Section 798 of the Espionage Act, which is very narrowly drawn to prohibit disclosures of information relating to communications intelligence.

The media understand that leaks of some government information about the war on terror can cause harm. But existing laws are adequate to protect the information that truly needs protecting. The Kyl amendment is so broad that it would make criminal the unauthorized disclosure of virtually any government information relating to terrorism. The amendment would also fundamentally alter the espionage statutes of the United States – a statutory regime that has served us well for over 80 years.

Easing tensions over media coverage of national security matters involves better dialogue between government and the media, not new laws. Some conflict between government and the media is inevitable, and even healthy, in our democracy. At the same time, representatives of the media have supported and continue to support ongoing discussions among media and government representatives to reduce some of the current tensions and better serve the interests in both our nation’s security and an informed public. This dialogue has been formalized into an ongoing series of meetings now hosted by the Aspen Institute and involving high-level leaders in government and the media. This approach shows promise. We urge Congress’ continued support of and involvement in these discussions as a constructive way to address concerns over the potential harm from disclosure of legitimate national security secrets.

Discussion Points

The amendment is vague and overbroad. By defining the information whose disclosure or publication is prohibited to include any information “concerning efforts by the United States to identify, investigate or prevent terrorist activity,” virtually any activity by government plausibly linked to security and other anti-terrorism activities would be covered by the statute. Such information would include emergency response planning, security failures, public safety and health threats and government funding of related activities and other matters routinely discussed in the media. The amendment would provide government officials a powerful tool to hide actions or facts that could be embarrassing to an agency.

The proposed language is inconsistent with the existing statute it would amend.
This amendment is completely inconsistent with the information that Congress sought to protect by enacting Section 798. The statute is very narrowly limited to protection of communications intelligence information ˆ codes, ciphers and the like. In contrast, the proposed amendment encompasses a breathtakingly broad array of information that could plausibly be linked to anti-terrorism efforts.

Senator Kyl seeks to amend 18 USC 798, which is very narrowly drawn to criminalize the disclosure of communications intelligence information, or “COMINT” e.g., codes, cyphers and intercepted communications of our adversaries. When Congress enacted 798, they recognized the extremely important role that communications intelligence plays in our national security and so incorporated elements of proof that make it easier to prosecute an individual for disclosing COMINT than for disclosing other more routinely classified information – crimes that are prosecuted under 18 USC 793 and 794.

For the most part, sections 793 and 794 require the government to prove that the individual intended to harm the United States. By contrast, section 798 requires the government to prove only that the information was “classified” and that it relates to COMINT. If the Kyl amendment is adopted, the government would have vast power to prosecute an individual merely for “communicating” or “publishing” any information “concerning” terrorism. The potential for abuse is significant and the chilling affect on the public’s – and Congress’ – right to know would be substantial.

This amendment is so broad that it may be unconstitutional. At a minimum, its vagueness imperils the effectiveness of section 798, a statute that seeks to protect some of our most vital secrets. For example, if the amendment is adopted and the government seeks to prosecute an individual for disclosing COMINT relating to terrorism, the courts may well throw the prosecution on constitutional grounds.

The amendment would greatly increase the likelihood of prosecution under the Espionage Act. Anyone who discloses information related to efforts by the United States to identify, investigate or prevent terrorist activity ˆ whether related to communications or not ˆ could be punished.

This amendment may hamper the flow of information to the Congress and the general public. The amendment precludes the public from obtaining information about government activities of great public interest. The language prevents the American public and likely many members of Congress from being fully informed about and knowledgably discussing actions taken in the name of the “war on terror.” The amendment would work to constrain critical reporting on homeland security ˆ even information as basic as homeland security grants ˆ as well as national security and foreign policy matters.

The published stories that have attracted the greatest criticism for revealing sensitive information are unquestionably within the public interest and were published after careful consideration of government arguments for protecting specific information. Individuals with knowledge of the government activities in question raised significant questions regarding to their legality. At the very least, the stories have triggered a healthy national debate as to tension between security and liberty.

The amendment hampers public involvement in anti-terrorism efforts. This will make the “war on terror” the exclusive province of a handful of intelligence agencies. It will further discourage information sharing in an area that has already been seriously hurt by a stovepipe culture within and among the agencies. The language runs counter to key 9/11 Commission recommendations that the federal government engage the public more effectively in anti-terrorism efforts.

A proposal of this magnitude should have full and open public debate. In fairness to the American people and the seriousness of the issues involved, a measure of this magnitude and consequence should not be appended to a totally unrelated piece of legislation. The proposal would dramatically alter the relationship between the government and the press. This relationship has been defined in the U.S. constitution and any significant change to it that is proposed should enjoy full and open debate.


— Charles N. Davis. Ph.D.
Executive Director, National Freedom of Information Coalition
Associate Professor, University of Missouri School of Journalism
179B Gannett Hall
Columbia, MO 65211
(573) 882-5736

Voices from Silence

Posted by: on Feb 27, 2007 | No Comments

It’s a long URL but it leads the searcher to a pivotal report describing the impact of 9/11 on the lives of immigrants, refugees and religious minorities in Minnesota. “Voices from Silence: Personal Accounts of the Long-Term Impact of 9/11” was issued last week by Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights. It’s a call for attention to freedom of information, the sine qua non of a democracy — and a freedom eroding in the rush to focus public attention and resources on national security, counter-terrorism and immigration.

Don reads two newspapers

Posted by: on Feb 25, 2007 | No Comments

2/23 Star Tribune, main section, page A-4:
“Brits Cry Big Brother Over Sensors in Trash Cans”. This is another story about RFID technology and what it might bring, or is bringing, to all of us.

2/23 Pioneer Press, local section, page 10b, opinion page. A very thoughtful column by Ellen Goodman about the perils of blogging entitled “Confronting a Culture that Records Indiscretions Permanently”. This presents another side of the discussion about preserving electronic information.

Archiving online content

Posted by: on Feb 25, 2007 | No Comments

Utne, always “thinking ahead”, has a great article about “Preserving the Internet” by Mary O’Regan (February 8, 2007) She quotes the nonprofit Internet Archive website: “If libraries are to continue to foster education and scholarship in this era of digital technology, it’s essential for them to extend these functions into the digital world.” She introduces a term new to me, our “right to remember.” MT