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June 1, 2011

In a lawsuit filed on May 19, the Electronic Frontier Foundation alleges that the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Council is in violation of federal open-records laws.  The Department of Justice refuses to release its legal opinion that allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation to obtain telephone records of international calls made from the U.S. without taking formal legal steps. Both the FBI and DoJ will not comment on the legal opinion and the DoJ claims that it cannot release the memorandum for national security reasons. Senior counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, David Sobel said that “The public has a right to know the government’s reasons for engaging in a questionable, invasive practice.”

Continuing the theme of whistleblowers from last week’s story of National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake, the Securities and Exchange Commission approved a new set of rules for Wall Street whistleblowers. The rewards for financial whistleblowers are significant under the new rules. Whistleblowers would be entitled to 10 to 30 percent of the money that the SEC collects from enforcement actions. Corporations and business groups lobbied against the new rules particularly the lack of an amendment that would require whistleblowers to inform the companies they are accusing before reporting to the SEC.

Forty years ago, Daniel Ellsberg leaked a classified document on the Vietnam War to the New York Times that would become known as the Pentagon Papers. Next month, the government will be releasing the document in its entirety – with the exception of eleven words on one page that remain classified. Archivist of the United States David Ferriero suggested that readers could play a game of “Mad Libs” with the offending page.

Two weeks ago, rumors were swirling about a draft executive order that would require organizations seeking out government contracts to disclose political donations of $5000 or more. Last Thursday, Republicans in the House and Senate introduced legislation that would block such an executive order from coming into effect. Those opposing the measures brought forward in the draft executive order claim that it “would insert politics into the federal procurement process.” Additionally, the Senate has already rejected legislation that would force the disclosure of political contributions to third-party groups.

Budget trimming will force the White House to curtail its efforts to push government openness electronically. Last Tuesday, the Office of Management and Budget announced that they were cancelling two websites. One of the websites would have allowed federal workers to exchange work tips and information and the other would have given information on the quality of federal services rendered to the general public. This comes in the wake of cuts by budget negotiators in April that reduced the Electronic Government Fund from $35 million to $8 million.

At a forum hosted by the Public Interest Declassification Board, Central Intelligence Agency chief of classification management, Harry Cooper, Jr. called for the dismantling of the government classification and rebuilding it for the 21st century. He claims that the current system is antiquated: “dates back to the 1940s and has evolved only modestly since” and is simply not intended to handle the massive volume of data circulating in electronic networks. Most significantly, Cooper said that without major reform, “government business – as well as public access – will be impossible.”

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