Accuracy Isn’t Priority as VA Battles Disability Claims Backlog
A lawsuit filed by the former VA disability claims representative provides a rare glimpse into what veterans’ advocates call systemic problems in how the agency handles compensation claims filed by Americans wounded physically or mentally in the line of duty. A Center for Investigative Reporting review of the VA’s performance data reveals chronic errors – committed in up to 1 in 3 cases – and an emphasis on speed over accuracy that clogs the VA system with appeals, increasing delays for all veterans. "When the VA makes a mistake processing a veteran’s claim, then our veterans face another unacceptably long wait," said Paul Sullivan, a Gulf War veteran and former senior VA project manager who now works for the Washington, D.C.-area law firm Bergmann & Moore. "These veterans, many of whom are unemployable due to disabilities, often lose their homes and are unable to put food on the table for themselves and their families."
As of mid-October, appeals represented nearly a third of the more than 819,000 pending disability claims. Nationwide over the past year, the average time a veteran waits for a decision has increased by more than two months – to 260 days. Veterans who appeal wait an average of 3½ years, according to VA performance data obtained by CIR through the Freedom of Information Act.
Court Blocks [California's] Proposition 35′s Restriction on Anonymous Speech
A few hours after EFF and the ACLU of Northern California filed a class action lawsuit in San Francisco federal court challenging California’s recently enacted Proposition 35, the court issued a temporary restraining order, blocking implementation of the initiative due to the existence of "serious questions" about whether it violated the First Amendment. Proposition 35 is ostensibly about increasing punishment for human traffickers, but would also require all registered sex offenders in California to turn over a list of all their Internet identifiers and service providers to law enforcement.
Proposition 35 eliminates the ability of a whole class of people — 73,000 individuals in California — to speak anonymously online by forcing them to turn over any identifier they use, whether its "Anonymous" or their real name. Plus, it requires disclosure of information about online accounts unrelated to criminal activity, like Yelp or Amazon.com. And most troubling, it allows the government to monitor and record a wide swath of innocent Internet activity, from a registrant with a fantasy football team to the one who comments on a political discussion group.
Intellectual Property Issues
HathiTrust Verdict Could Transform University Access for the Blind
While the verdict in the Authors Guild v. HathiTrust case has been widely hailed for its impact on how libraries can handle digitization for search, the findings on access for the print-disabled may lead to even more profound changes in practice. On an Association of Research Libraries (ARL) webcast, Daniel F. Goldstein, counsel of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), said the decision could revolutionize university services to their blind and print disabled students.
According to Goldstein, up until now, many colleges and universities have re-digitized the same books over and over, on demand, for each blind or print-disabled student that needs them. Now that the HathiTrust verdict has held that digitizing works for the purpose of providing access to the blind and print-disabled is not only a fair but a transformative use, schools can feel safer hanging onto those scans until the next student who needs them comes along, and can spend their efforts on improving them or scanning more books, instead of doing the same bare minimum of texts over and over.
LCA Issues Statement on Authors Guild’s Appeal of HathiTrust Decision
The Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) has issued the following statement regarding the appeal filed yesterday by the Authors Guild in its lawsuit against the HathiTrust and five partner libraries:
"We are deeply disappointed by the Authors Guild’s decision to appeal Judge Baer’s landmark opinion acknowledging the legality, and the extraordinary social value, of the HathiTrust Digital Library. Libraries have a moral and a legal obligation to provide the broadest possible access to knowledge for all of our users, and the HathiTrust and its partners have assembled an invaluable digital resource that will ensure for the first time that library print collections can be made available on equitable terms to our print-disabled users. The database also facilitates preservation and cutting-edge scholarship, all with no harm to authors or publishers. As we predicted, Judge Baer did not look kindly on the Guild’s shortsighted and ill-conceived lawsuit, saying, "I cannot imagine a definition of fair use that … would require that I terminate this invaluable contribution to the progress of science and cultivation of the arts that at the same time effectuates the ideals espoused by the ADA." If there is an upside to this misguided appeal, it is that the Second Circuit will now have the opportunity to affirm that powerful insight.
Freedom of Information
When Congress Comes Back: How It Can Help Protect the Internet
Now that the election is over, Congress can get back to work doing the people’s business. And if that work is going to affect online expression, innovation, and/or privacy, it should start with a simple proposition: bring in the nerds (aka experts) and Internet users who care deeply about protecting their digital rights.
Just about a year ago, we watched in horror as ranking members of the House Judiciary Committee did their level best to ram through the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a massive piece of legislation that would have undermined basic Internet architecture and security, chilled innovation and free speech. Standing against them were a few brave legislators, who suggested that maybe, just maybe, it would be a good idea to hear from the numerous folks who had expressed concerns about the bill, including the widely-respected engineers who helped create the Internet, law professors, human rights groups, and ordinary Internet users.
FOIA for Profit
The next time you request documents for declassification, it is likely your submission will be processed by a private contractor, not a government employee. The privatization of the FOIA process has proliferated in recent years. According to a recent Bloomberg article, "At least 25 agencies are outsourcing parts of the FOIA process, a 40 percent jump since Obama’s inauguration." Since 2009, the government has awarded at least 250 FOIA related contracts, and in most cases contractors now outnumber government employees three to one.
Levels of involvement vary from agency to agency, but these contractors are now routinely involved in nearly every stage of the process, including submitting recommendations for what to redact, corresponding with requesters, locating records and drafting responses to FOIA requests.
Pentagon Inspector General to Probe Overclassification
The Department of Defense Inspector General (IG) announced that it will begin to review the Department’s classification practices, as required by the 2010 Reducing Over-Classification Act. The review will evaluate the policies and procedures "that may be contributing to persistent misclassification of material." It will also address "efforts by the Department to decrease over-classification," wrote Acting Deputy Inspector General James R. Ives in an October 3 letter sent to Department officials.
As Libraries Go Digital, Sharing of Data Is at Odds With Tradition of Privacy
Colleges share many things on Twitter, but one topic can be risky to broach: the reading habits of library patrons. Harvard librarians learned that lesson when they set up Twitter feeds broadcasting titles of books being checked out from campus libraries. It seemed harmless enough – a typical tweet read, "Reconstructing American Law by Bruce A. Ackerman," with a link to the book’s library catalog entry—but the social-media experiment turned out to be more provocative than library staffers imagined.
Harvard suspended the practice after privacy concerns were raised. Historically, libraries have been staunch defenders of patrons’ privacy. Yet to embrace many aspects of the modern Internet, which has grown more social and personalized, libraries will need to "tap into and encourage increased flows of personal information from their patrons," says the privacy-and-social-media scholar Michael Zimmer.
Lawmakers Release Information About How Data Brokers Handle Consumers’ Personal Information
A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), co-Chairmen of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, today released responses to letters sent to nine major data brokerage companies querying each about how it collects, assembles and sells consumer information to third parties. The companies – Acxiom, Epsilon (Alliance Data Systems), Equifax, Experian, Harte-Hanks, Intelius, Fair Isaac, Merkle, and Meredith Corp. – responded to lawmaker questions about policies and practices related to privacy, transparency and consumer notification. Data brokers represent a multi-billion dollar industry, aggregating information about hundreds of millions of Americans from both online and offline sources, which they then may sell to third parties for targeted advertising and other purposes. Consumers often have little knowledge of the existence of these companies.
Pediatrics Group: EHRs [electronic health records] Should Better Protect Privacy of Adolescents
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a new policy statement calling for modifications to electronic health record systems to better protect the privacy of adolescent patients, FierceEMR reports. AAP wrote, "Continued lack of privacy protection in EHRs risks diminishing adolescent access to care, potentially resulting in higher adolescent pregnancy and [sexually transmitted infection] rates, and unraveling significant gains that have been achieved."
UNESCO launches Global Survey on Internet Privacy and Freedom of Expression
How do the "digital footprints" of Internet and cellphone users affect privacy, and what impact does this have on freedom of expression? These questions lie at the heart of a new study released by UNESCO this week … This publication seeks to identify the relationship between freedom of expression and Internet privacy, assessing where they support or compete with each other in different circumstances. The book maps out the issues in the current regulatory landscape of Internet privacy from the viewpoint of freedom of expression. It provides an overview of legal protection, self-regulatory guidelines, normative challenges, and case studies relating to the topic.
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The Intersect Alert is a newsletter of the Government Relations Committee, San Francisco Bay Region Chapter, Special Libraries Association.