Tag Archives: transparency

Does the public really care about HB477?

Does the public really care about HB477 ?

It’s a fair question. Because while the media is stirring a tempest, without public support, it will never get outside of the teapot.

When the bill changing Utah’s decades old GRAMA law was proposed in the closing days of the Utah Legislative session, the press went crazy. Bloggers went crazy (not all…some were just extensive). Radio hosts (cough–Doug Wright-cough) went crazy. We saw public protests, editorials written to and by the newspapers, and a referendum petition. (And yes, the law did fly through the Legislature at far higher than normal speed.)

The Utah Legislature listened, and the Governor listened. Governor Herbert reversed himself (he had signed HB477, and now he wants it repealed), several legislators admitted it was a bad choice and that they will support repeal, and an official working group was formed to reevaluate the law. Finally, tomorrow, at the call of Governor Herbert, the Legislature will meet to consider the law.

But does the public care that much?

I ran into a buddy of mine who was up on the Hill for the official Working Group, in a staffing capacity. When I asked him how it went, the most notable thing to him was the lack of the public’s presence. Sure, there were all sorts of media types, reporters, and camera crews, but the public was noticeably absent. Further, he noted, out of a state of over 2 million, the live stream only had, at max, 70 people logged on to watch and listen to the proceedings.

Does the public care?

I believe they do, even if they couldn’t all drop what they were doing to watch or drive up Capitol Hill. However, we, the public, could do a better job of making our voice heard.

Do you care?

You should. The transparency of government is important for our democracy (or republic, as it were).  The Working Group has identified 36 issues/questions about HB477 that need to be addressed in the law, posted them online here, and asked for your input. You can listen to the audio of the discussion at the first meeting here.

So do something. Speak up.

If you can find the time to care, put in your two-bits and prove it. Take a moment to say something, to comment on the Utah Senate or Utah House website, however small and short the comment may be.

You can find the 36 questions on the Utah Senate site and Vox Populi, the Utah House Republicans’ site.

APROPOS: For an interesting perspective on GRAMA, HB477, and, of all things, Wikileaks, check out “Killing Conspiracy: Wikileaks and GRAMA” on Phil Windley’s site.

Utah Legislature Watch: The HB477 Working Group is Up

With House Republicans calling for repeal and the Governor saying the same, the Utah Senate announced the working group on House Bill 477 this afternoon.

They will meet for the first time this Wednesday at 9 AM. A website to keep the public updated is planned for GRAMArevisited.com (or HB477.com). Check back there later for more information.

The group is diverse, but still lacking a few notables, such as, anyone from the Salt Lake Tribune. Lane Beattie will chair the effort (and good luck to him).

Here’s the list as posted on the Utah Senate site:

House of Representatives:

John Dougall – Utah State Representative
Holly Richardson – Utah State Representative
Brian King – Utah State Representative
Steve Handy – Utah State Representative

Senate:

Steve Urquhart – Utah State Senator
Curt Bramble – Utah State Senator
Stuart Adams – Utah State Senator
Patricia Jones – Utah State Senator

Governor’s Office:

John Pearce – General Counsel

Attorney General’s Office:

Laura Lockhart – Assistant Attorney General

League of Cities and Towns:

Mark Johnson – Ogden City

Traditional Media:

Randy Wright – Daily Herald
Linda Peterson – Valley Journals
Geoff Liesik – Uintah Basin Standard
Paul Edwards – Deseret Media Group
Jeff Hunt – Utah Media Coalition

New Media:

Jason Williams – KVNU-FTP host and blogger
Jesse Stay – Social media technologies consultant
LaVarr Webb – Utah Policy Daily

Public Members:

Michael Wilkins – Former Supreme Court Justice
Janet Frank – Utah Valley Regional Medical Center
Liu Vakapuna – SLCC Student Body President
David Kirkham – Tea Party Leader
Phil Windley – Web & Technology Pioneer
Lane Beattie – Salt Lake Chamber

____________

PHILADELPHIA - MARCH 19:  Jimmer Fredette #32 ...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Also, Jimmer Fredette doesn’t appear on the working group list. That’s  mistake that I hope doesn’t come back to bite. As if he couldn’t handle the assignment from anywhere five feet behind the three-point line (also known as “Jimmer Territory”). Mark my words: he could teach the legislature how to Jimmer.

Utah Legislature Watch: See what happens when voters pay attention?

So It's A Crime Scene?

Image by makelessnoise via Flickr

House Bill 477 has caused quite the stir up on Capitol Hill, Utah. Let me explain…

No, there is too much. Let me sum up:

Last week, Rep. John Dougall presented House Bill 477 to limit GRAMA (Government Records Access and Management Act) requests from including text messages and instant messages. Within 72 hours, it had passed both House and Senate. Meanwhile, the press and public, not having ever heard of HB 477 before Dougall introduced it, went to work and, in a word, freaked. Commentators and academics started comparing Utah to third world countries like Mexico.

“Point after point, Utah’s record laws are going to be more backward than a Third World country’s,” David Cuillier, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Arizona, said Sunday. “That’s not hyperbole.”

Cuillier pointed out that the Mexican Freedom of Information Act specifies that electronic records be public, greatly restricts what the government can charge for records and places the burden on the government to show why something should not be disclosed.

The Utah bill, HB477, would prohibit the disclosure of text messages and instant messages, allow government agencies to charge fees that can include administrative and overhead costs and require requesters wanting records protected by the government to show with a preponderance of evidence the records should be released.

“In Mexico they favor disclosure, not secrecy,” Cuillier said. “In Utah it would be the other way around.”

Then, just as suddenly as the bill appeared on the docket, legislators started back tracking. First this morning was Sen. Dan Liljenquist, a likely candidate for the US Senate in 2012:

Right behind him was another federal office hopeful, Rep. Carl Wimmer:

And then Holly Richardson, the House’s newest Representative who had gone to bat for the bill on her blog before taking a second look at the issue:

That wasn’t the end of it. Jesse Fruhwirth of the City Weekly reported that Democrats who had supported it were having buyers remorse, as well:

He also compiled a list of legislators who were backtracking that included Sen. John Valentine (a likely candidate for Utah’s Attorney General post) .

Currently, the bill is not dead, but with a threat of a veto hanging over it (a visit to the Governor’s Office will do that), not to mention a full scale public backlash that is as immediate as rallies, phone calls, emails, and 140 characters of Twitter can provide.

Herbert’s office issued a statement last week saying only that “this is a highly charged issue with strong emotions on both sides. He will carefully consider this issue and weigh all options.” Also, Herbert has said he was not involved in drafting the bill.” His office did not immediately comment on developments on Monday.

Meanwhile, the bill is currently in “recall,” meaning it could still be passed. Sen. Waddups, President of the Senate, and Speaker Lockhart have both indicated that they have no interest in angering constituents or fighting a veto from the Governor.

I can’t help but note that the first two people to respond were two politicians with big ambitions for high federal office. Those that followed shortly there after had similar ambitions, if for other elective offices. That’s the power of voters showing up, not just on election day, but when it matters.

Meanwhile, intrepid reporter Billy Hesterman wonders about how popular Angry Birds is up at the Utah legislature.

I can’t wait to see that GRAMA request roll through the House.

APROPOS: Kudos to former candidate Jeremy Votaw for getting love from Paul Rolly in the Trib for Votaw’s online petition to get HB477 vetoed.

(h/t to the City Weekly, the Salt Lake Tribune, and, of course, all of #utpol on Twitter)

Google more considerate of your privacy?

A few days ago, I noted that it’s a little scary how much information Google carries about its users online activities.  Google hosts your email, calendars, web searches, documents, and maps (not to mention pictures of your street).  And health data, too.

But at least they’re conscientious about how that data is accessed. Eventually…like four months later than they should.  Gawker says that

David Barksdale, a 27-year-old former Google engineer, repeatedly took advantage of his position as a member of an elite technical group at the company to access users’ accounts, violating the privacy of at least four minors during his employment, we’ve learned. Barksdale met the kids through a technology group in the Seattle area while working as a Site Reliability Engineer at Google’s Kirkland, Wash. office. He was fired in July 2010 after his actions were reported to the company.

It took Google four months to catch on.  This from the company that has access to more data than any single entity in history, short of the Almighty Himself.

And what exactly was the creep doing?  Amongst other things, he was spying and taunting the teens.

In an incident this spring involving a 15-year-old boy who he’d befriended, Barksdale tapped into call logs from Google Voice, Google’s Internet phone service, after the boy refused to tell him the name of his new girlfriend, according to our source. After accessing the kid’s account to retrieve her name and phone number, Barksdale then taunted the boy and threatened to call her.

When Google executive engineer was alerted to the activities, he thanked the person and told them he would take care of it, but it wasn’t until later, when follow up contact was made, that Barksdale was actually fired.  Even then, Google has not been clear about the extent to which Barksdale abused his access to user information, though they did say this in their own defense:

“We dismissed David Barksdale for breaking Google’s strict internal privacy policies. We carefully control the number of employees who have access to our systems, and we regularly upgrade our security controls–for example, we are significantly increasing the amount of time we spend auditing our logs to ensure those controls are effective. That said, a limited number of people will always need to access these systems if we are to operate them properly–which is why we take any breach so seriously.”

Bill Coughran, Senior Vice President, Engineering, Google

Let’s hope they are upgrading those “strict internal privacy policies” sufficiently. They obviously caught on to what Barksdale was doing, but only after they were alerted by the parents of the teens he was spying on. Did he do more? Were others affected that never came forward?

It’s unclear how many accounts Barksdale inappropriately accessed while employed by Google, or if the company has conducted a thorough investigation into possible privacy abuses by other employees. (Calls to Google for comment were not returned.) It’s also not clear what measures are in place to prevent Google staffers from snooping on users.

The Barksdale case comes as Google has attempted to address concerns about privacy by encrypting Gmail to protect messages from hackers, and bysimplifying its privacy policies to make them more comprehensible to users. Ironically, just last week Google launched its Family Safety Center, dedicated to helping parents keep their children safe on the Internet. But as this disturbing incident suggests, the biggest threat to kids’ privacy might be Google employees themselves.

(italics added for emphasis)

The question I want to know is: why aren’t criminal charges being filed? And was there a settlement to the individuals spied on?

This isn’t the only employee that Google has fired for privacy violations. TechCrunch reports that it’s actually the second. Getting fired is one thing; criminal charges is another and would be a far greater deterrent to others violating that privacy, both at Google and Facebook, to say nothing of other companies that watch your online actions.

(Thanks to Gawker and TechCrunch)

The Pentagon Papers of the Afghan War? Or more smoke than fire?

Logo used by Wikileaks
Image via Wikipedia

Check it at the New York Times here, the Wall Street Journal here, Boing Boing here, and especially here, at Wikileaks.

It may be the “largest intelligence leak in history”.

Here are a few books that you might want to read: Taliban, by Ahmed Rashid, Ghost Wars by Steve Coll, Unholy Wars by John Cooley, and Descent into Chaos, also by Ahmed Rashid.  Will the past prove to be prophetic?

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