Whistleblower Protection Act goes to President’s desk
The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) was unanimously approved by the Senate on Tuesday, marking a positive leap forward for federal employees who expose fraud, waste, and abuse in the government. The bill, which was unanimously approved by the House in September in a pro forma session, now moves to President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature.
According to the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and Project on Government Oversight (POGO), the legislation expands protections for exposing wrongdoing, ensures fair processes for whistleblowers, and addresses administrative authority to oversee whistleblower protection, among other issues. The legislation does not extend as far as it could, however. It leaves out members of the intelligence and national security communities, and it does not give jury-trial rights to enforce protections.
New version of the US Code online
Here is an announcement from the Office of Law Revision Counsel of the United States House of Representatives of a new version of the United States Code:
A little over a year ago, the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the United States House of Representatives released beta version 1 of a new website for the Office and the United States Code. Beta version 2 is now being released for testing and feedback. It is available at http://uscodebeta.house.gov. You are invited to test version 2 and give us your comments about its features, content, and ease of use. Version 2 includes the following new features:
– Default searching and browsing in the most current version of the Code (formerly USCprelim)
– Ability to search and browse previous versions of the Code back to the 1994 main edition (either separately or concurrently)
– Internal links to referenced Code sections
Freedom of Information
CDT and Legal Scholars to Court: Internet Providers Don’t Have a First Amendment Right to Edit the Net
Today the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) filed a brief urging the DC Circuit Court of Appeals to protect the free speech rights of Internet users and reject Internet service providers’ claims that they have a First Amendment right to edit their customers’ Internet experience. The brief responds to the companies’ (Verizon and MetroPCS) argument that they have a First Amendment right to exercise "editorial discretion" over the content they transmit, a right they argue renders unconstitutional the FCC’s requirement that they not block or interfere with their customers’ access to lawful Internet content.
Privacy to Porno: What censorship means around the world
Google released data today that shows requests for censorship and surveillance are on the rise worldwide. Google keeps track of government requests to remove its content (requests it sometimes abides) and releases data biannually. We mapped those numbers, which include July 2010 through June of this year, to show the main products each government is targeting and the reasons they gave for doing so. What it shows is that censorship varies greatly across the world – some of which stretches the definition of what people usually define as censorship. For example, since the reports began in 2010, the United Kingdom has led the way with 97,891 removal requests, 96,280 of which were for Google’s AdWords.
The Meaning of Transparency, and More from CRS
President Obama’s declared goal of making his "the most transparent Administration in history" generated successive waves of enthusiasm, perplexity, frustration, and mockery as public expectations of increased openness and accountability were lifted sky high and then – often, not always – thwarted. Part of the problem is definitional.
"Although there are laws that affect access to government information, there is no single definition for what constitutes transparency – nor is there an agreed upon way to measure it," observes a new report from the Congressional Research Service (PDF).
The CRS report does not explore political obstacles to greater transparency (such as the congressional policy that bars CRS publication of this very report on transparency).
Louisiana Death Row Inmate Sues DOJ Over Access to Records
A death row inmate is suing the U.S. Justice Department with the hope of acquiring documents that he claims will help prove his innocence in a shooting that left a police officer and two others dead in 1995 in New Orleans. Lawyers for the inmate, Rogers Lacaze, contend in the lawsuit the federal government has background information about the actual accomplice in the shooting. The Justice Department, according to the suit in Washington federal district court, will neither confirm nor deny the existence of any FBI records.
How an outdated law may endanger your fourth amendment rights
The ALA joins with like-minded groups such as the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a new campaign to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). The campaign site is VanishingRights.com.
ECPA was last updated in the mid-1980s and describes the lengths that government may go to in order to access private digital information. At a time when cloud computing is taking off and more and more of our daily interactions take place in the cloud, clarity of this law is essential. The government currently claims that our private information that resides in the cloud and the location information that can be accessed via our mobile phones is accessible without a warrant.
Intellectual Property Issues
Apple patents the virtual page turn
Apple is now the proud owner of the page turn. In a patent approved this week by the United States Patent Office Apple was awarded a design patent for "Display screen or portion thereof with animated graphical user interface."
The patent illustration shows three images: One with the corner of a page being turned slightly, the next with it halfway, and a third showing the page almost entirely turned over.
Book Scanning As Fair Use: Google Makes Its Case As Authors Guild Appeals Hathitrust Fair Use Ruling
Two new developments in the two big cases concerning book scanning and fair use: first up, we’ve got the somewhat unsurprising news that the Authors Guild is appealing its rather massive loss against Hathitrust, the organization that was set up to scan books from a bunch of university library collections. As you may recall, Judge Harold Baer’s ruling discussed how the book scanning in that case was obviously fair use. It was a near complete smackdown for the Authors Guild.
Meanwhile, in a closely related case, involving the Authors Guild suing Google over its book scanning efforts, Google has filed its appeal brief in response to an earlier ruling, which said that the Authors Guild can represent authors and has standing to sue. Google is arguing that its offering is also a clear case of fair use, as in the Hathitrust case. Google’s brief also argues that the Authors Guild cannot represent the class of authors in the case, since many authors are helped by Google Books and don’t agree with the Authors Guild that it’s somehow evil.
U.S. Copyright Surveillance Machine About To Be Switched On, Promises of Transparency Already Broken
The Copyright Alert System – an elaborate combination of surveillance, warnings, punishments, and "education" directed at customers of most major U.S. Internet service providers – is poised to launch in the next few weeks, as has been widely reported. The problems with it are legion. Big media companies are launching a massive peer-to-peer surveillance scheme to snoop on subscribers. Based on the results of that snooping, ISPs will be serving as Hollywood’s private enforcement arm, without the checks and balances public enforcement requires. Once a subscriber is accused, she must prove her innocence, without many of the legal defenses she’d have in a courtroom. And all of this was set up with the encouragement and endorsement of the U.S. government.
One of the mechanisms that was supposed to ensure some degree of fairness was independent auditing of the P2P surveillance methods used to identify alleged infringers, and of the ISPs’ procedures for matching Internet Protocol addresses to actual humans. But last month, the group set up to oversee the system – the Center for Copyright Information – revealed that its "independent" reviewer was Stroz Friedberg, a lobbying firm that represented the Recording Industry Association of America in the halls of Congress from 2004 to 2009.
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The Intersect Alert is a newsletter of the Government Relations Committee, San Francisco Bay Region Chapter, Special Libraries Association.