Open Government Archives

April 12, 2010

Open (Federal) Government

Last year, an Open Government Directive was issued, instructing federal government departments and agencies to be more transparent and improve the quality of government information available to the public. As a result, plans have now been announced by various federal departments and agencies. The University of Pennsylvania Law School's "RegBlog" has summarized a few of them here:

April 15, 2010

Open Meetings Law Amendments

The Governor's Office recently posted a press release summarizing some new laws signed. Here's an excerpt about some amendments relating to the Open Meetings Law:

"...The signed bills include a package of Open Meetings Law reforms that were passed in the State Legislature during this year's Sunshine Week. The bills include A.5873/S.4284, which will ensure that public meetings are held in facilities that are able to accommodate members of the public; A.10093/S.3195, which will require State and local governments to establish rules to accommodate photographs, audio or video recording of open meetings; and A.10196/S.7054, which will add to the remedies a court can impose when it finds a violation of the Open Meetings Law. The latter bill is a revision of legislation vetoed by Governor Paterson last year, because it would have created monetary penalties for localities that violate the law, and thereby imposed costs on taxpayers. The most recent bill would require training for those who do not comply...."

Click here for the full press release.

April 26, 2010

Copy Machines Have Memories Too

In case you missed the recent CBS News item about the secrets inside office copy machines, it turns out that those nifty hi-tech copiers contain hard drives. And as they say, "where there's a hard drive, there's a memory!" (OK, maybe no one's ever said that before, but you get the "picture".) In other words, at least according to this story on the "Local Open Government Blog" the State of Washington's Archivist has now circulated a reminder that digital photocopiers contain hard drives with images of scanned records. These images must be treated as public records, and all applicable federal, state and local rules must be followed, including those rules mandating the protection of confidential information. The bottom line on this one seems to be, don't let the copier out of your office until it's been scrubbed. (Machine manufacturers apparently have tools for this.)
Just another day on the hi-tech highway.

April 28, 2010

Must Petition Signatures Be Disclosed?

Professor Ruthann Robson, Distinguished Professor of Law at CUNY School of Law, has written on the Constitutional Law Prof Blog an extensive summary of the oral argument before the United States Supreme Court today on whether or not the signatures on a petition for a ballot referendum must be disclosed. Click (or cut and paste) here for the full blog entry:

May 21, 2010

Good Marks for Government Online

Here's good news to end a hard week at work. According to this recent article in the New York Times, governments are doing a good job of serving their constituents online. In fact, it's reported that 79% of all users were able to achieve "most or all of what they wanted to accomplish on the last government site they visited."

Now that's public service!

June 11, 2010

Let the Sunshine In!

If your practice sometimes involves researching various state and federal "sunshine laws" (or "FOIL" and "OML", as we New Yorkers like to say), here's a great website for you called "WikiFOIA". This site compiles state and federal open government laws, and it also has news headlines and other relevant information about the topic. Of course, like Wikipedia and any other user-generated research tool, "caveat emptor" (as we lawyers like to say).

October 27, 2010

Saving Documents Online

Are your thoughts in the clouds these days? (And if you're not sure what "clouds" have to do with saving documents online, click here first.) If for no other reason, expectations for people to work via their smartphones from any location creates a case for saving documents in one place online that can be accessed from any location from any device. One emerging solution is to save documents online via services such as Google Documents. This presents a host of issues for lawyers in particular - not the least of which is the attorney-client privilege. And for lawyers in municipal or other public service settings, the questions raised multiply considerably. For a beginner's primer on some of these issues, check out the Sui Generis blog article which cites to both an ABA and NYSBA Opinion No. 842 discussing some of the relevant issues.

November 1, 2010

Technology & Public Participation

The University of Pennsylvania's Law School Blog, "Reg Blog", has an interesting piece on the impact, (or lack thereof), of technology on the public's participation in government policymaking. In a nutshell, the conclusion appears to be: "little has changed." But maybe it's still 'morning on the web?'

November 22, 2010

Converting Government Paper to Electronic Records

What government papers can be safely transferred to electronic documents? And what should be done with the original papers after the conversion? These questions were perplexing when computers first invaded government offices; they're not much easier to answer today. The Law Librarian Blog has a good summary of some of the issues raised by a recent article called, "The Historical and Legal Underpinnings of Access to Public Documents," 102 LLJ 613 (2010) in the Law Library Journal.

November 29, 2010

Is Airport Security Landing in Courthouses Next?

The Associated Press reports that the U.S. Marshals service is exploring the use of full-body scanners at federal courthouses. The obvious questions arise (will there be alternative "pat-down" searches available, for example), but there are also unique issues in the context of the courthouse such as FOIA, (if the images are stored, will they be available to the public to see?); health (there are probably a lot more "frequent courthousers" than frequent fliers - will the courthousers frequent visits expose them to unhealthy levels of scanning?); necessity (is there a difference between protecting planes and protecting judicial activity?); and of course the usual "big brother" questions (is this where we want the third branch of our government to go?).
The debate surely has just begun.

January 5, 2011

COOG's Annual Report

Did you know that New York State has a COOG?  What's a COOG, you ask?  It's the State of New York's Committee on Open Government. If you don't know about this resource, get thee to this website right away: .  It's a great resource for attorneys in the public sector, and it's a great source for the public to learn about the public sector as well. 

And just in time for the New Year, COOG has just finalized its Report to the Governor and the State Legislature for 2010.  Very interesting reading to the say the least!

Happy New Year to all of our readers - and may it be a bright (and open government) one at that!  

*Fun tip from CAPS Committee Member Bob Freeman, who happens to also be the Executive Director for COOG:  If you type COOG in Google, the first result is the right one for the official home page for COOG.

March 22, 2011

Jurors and Sunshine

It's a classic clash of constitutional values - a juror's right to privacy versus the public's right to know the identity of those judging the accused.  The Associated Press, via the Long Island Press, has an interesting article called, "Juror's Privacy, Public's Rights to Know Collide," about these competing interests - in the context of the Rod Blagojevich trial as well as the recent Barry Bonds' trial.  Does it get any better than that - baseball, law and sunshine - all rolled up into one article?!  

(And by the way, Happy Sunshine Week - a week late but important enough to celebrate nonetheless!)

May 5, 2011

Plain Writing = Open Government

Can you imagine a world where every official document was written so that everyone could understand it? Imagine how nice it would be to never again come across a law -- or even a legal opinion -- that seemed to be written intentionally with the goal to obfuscate, rather than elucidate readers. (And yes, as you can see from that last sentence, big words don't necessarily frustrate readers - it's the bulky phrasing and endless sentences that produce the most confusion.) Well worry no more - the federal government has now promulgated The Plain Writing Act of 2010. While at first glance this could appear to be a joke, it actually at least tries to recognize the problem - even if it won't ever really fix it. Here's a link to the Federal Plain Writing Guidelines promulgated to aid government writers: So the next time you set yourself down to write a new law or regulation, or a legal brief, or even just a letter or email (notice no mention of texting), consider the reader's perspective and try to say it simply, say it plainly, and okay, we'll go there - just KISS it!* (And yes, extra credit to the reader who identifies the most violations of the guidelines in this entry. Just email: with your critiques.)

*KISS = Keep It Simple, Stupid ;-)

May 10, 2011

Oregon's Open - Especially on the Web

The State of Oregon has created a website for the public to access a variety of datasets and other information. Click here for a link to a news article about the website. It's fascinating just to glance at the different types of information available. But in addition to letting people view the available information, the website invites people to actually sort and create sets of information on their own. In fact, there's even a button to "suggest" new datasets. Although this is hardly a new idea (the White House has something similar, for example), it's nice to see this concept roll out to broader audiences.

October 19, 2011

NYPD Pensioners' Names Exempt from FOIL

The New York Law Journal noted in today's online edition a First Department decision which held that the names of all retired members of the New York City Police Pension Fund were exempt under FOIL. Because we can't link to the NYLJ story online (because subscriptions are required to read most of its articles),* below is the relevant part of the decision. Luckily, it's short:

The petition was properly denied. In Matter of New York Veteran Police Assn. v New York City Police Dept. Art. I Pension Fund (61 NY2d 659 [1983]), the Court of Appeals held that Public Officers Law § 89(7) exempts from disclosure both the names and addresses of retirees of the New York City Police Department receiving pensions and annuities. Thus, respondent correctly denied petitioner's FOIL request seeking the names of its retired members. Petitioner offers no persuasive argument distinguishing its FOIL request from that in Matter of New York Veteran Police Assn.

For the full opinion, here's a link to it on the First Department's website:

*Note to NYLJ: Why not set your website up so blogs can link to stories without the subscription wall?

November 21, 2011

Opening Federal Government a Little Wider

We may be a little late to this party, but the federal government has been providing what appears to be wider and wider access to information in its possession. Click here to see all of the different types of information available from the main "Good Government" website. You can find a listing of excess federal properties, community health information, and information about the federal government's "revolving door" policies for federal employees - all from the home page. There's even a link to a press release about an upcoming initiative called "We the People" which will permit anyone to petition the federal government directly from the internet. All good ideas which seem at first blush anyway to be do-able even at the state and local levels.

December 7, 2011

Still Arguing About Cameras in the Courtroom

From the "Deja Vu All Over Again" file, according to the ABA Journal Law News Now, because the Supreme Court still doesn't permit cameras in its courtroom, federal lawmakers are "pondering" over whether they should enact a law mandating that the Supreme Court televise its proceedings.
See also, Generalíssimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

January 17, 2012

Providing Records for Open Meetings

Effective February 2, 2012, the public will have greater access to records discussed during open meetings. According to the COOG* website:

The purpose of the legislation is simple: those interested in the work of public bodies should have the ability, within reasonable limitations, to see the records scheduled to be discussed during open meetings prior to the meetings.

For the amendment to the statute, click here to see NY Public Officers Law Section 103(e).
For the long-form summary of the changes, click here.

*For those following this blog from its inception, you may remember the tip for finding the NY State Committee On Open Government's ("COOG") website just by typing into Google: COOG

April 3, 2012

Federal Ethics

Here's a one-stop shopping center for finding records and other information in various forms about federal government accountability. No need to bookmark this one, if you're looking for something about federal government ethics, just type:

June 19, 2012

Government as Enabler (in a good way!)

Here's a link to a post, "A Government Program That Could Improve the Economy," from David Pogue (the tech savant/writer extraordinaire for the New York Times), about how the federal government is nudging its agencies to help app developers get more information out to the masses. According to the post, "[t]he ultimate idea behind all of this, says the Obama administration, is to inspire a burst of innovation, apps, development, small businesses and jobs."

Sounds like something that should trickle down to local governments too. Any of our readers have similar efforts in the pipeline?

October 4, 2012

Judicial Squabble on the West Coast

If you're a fan of inside-the-court news, you should definitely bookmark the Courthouse News Service website. Today's edition has a lengthy story called, Battle of Information in Judiciary, about a little kerfuffle out in California among the judges. This one has everything for the courthouse connoisseur - mystery, intrigue and even an open records squabble.

June 27, 2013

New State Open Government Guidelines

The always informative New York Personnel Law blog has a recent entry summarizing Governor Andrew Cuomo's provisional open data guidelines intended to increase transparency among state agencies. You can access the "provisional handbook" by clicking here.

About Open Government

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to CAPS in the Open Government category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Municipal Law is the previous category.

Social Media is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.