Sunshine Week March 15-21: Celebrate open government and freedom of information

I know there are a lot of open gov, open data, freedom of information folks out there so I wanted to share this info early. Pass it onto your friends and colleagues or maybe even plan your own local Sunshine Week events!

A little bit like virtue never tested – our information policies (open data, freedom of information) are only good when we test them.

The sun has shone and the sun has hidden behind many a bureaucratic and political cloud since the launch of Sunshine Week a decade ago. The decade has experienced cosmic change ranging from Wikileaks and Snowden to the emergence of open government groups such as Code for America to the President’s National Action Plan for Open Government to a last minute failure of the 113rd Congress to pass the FOIA Improvement Act.

Constant vigilance inspires Sunshine Week sponsors to join forces to plan for Sunshine Week 2015, March 15-21.

A bit of background: Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Prime movers are freedom of information proponents including journalists, civic society groups, libraries and archives, schools and universities, and an expanding cohort of advocates for transparency and accountability at every level of government. Key players at the federal level are the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the American Society of News Editors, organizations that welcome inclusion of the broadest possible circle of interest and activity.

By tradition, Sunshine Week is scheduled to coincide with the birthday of James Madison who was born March 16, 1751. Sunshine Week 2015 is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation along with The Gridiron Club and Foundation.

Sponsors and past participants in Sunshine Week offer a host of ideas and support materials, including an Idea Bank of “bright ideas” from a decade of Sunshine Week experience and a “Toolkit” rich with op ed pieces, editorial cartoons, logos, icons, sample proclamations and more. There is also a virtual catalog of Freedom of Information in action – samples of how federal and state freedom of information laws have been put to work to expose and resolve real life problems.

Most recently, the good people at have gathered a treasure trove of freedom of information quotations, arranged chronologically from the 18th Century to the present. ( “Light on ponderous material from the preambles of laws” the listing of quotes is lively, inclusive, and open-ended, inviting those who care about such things to add their own.

The other indispensable resource for Sunshine Week planners is the abundant assistance provided by Debra Gersh Hernandez who has been the illuminating presence since the pre-dawn of the national Sunshine Week initiative. Deb is responsible for the Sunshine Week website ( and for the steady flow of tweets that keep the ideas and energy flowing from Sunshine Week planners around the nation.

Harking back to the time and philosophy of James Madison, it is worth considering what our forefather might offer to this year’s Sunshine Week planners. On the one hand, Madison would hold the nation’s leaders’ feet to the fire, demanding that they move on passage of the bipartisan Freedom of Information Improvement Act sponsored by Senators Leahy and Cornyn. He would also stoke up the heat under the President’s commitment to transparency as stated in the National Action Plan for Open Government.

Madison would definitely applaud the unstinting work of state coalitions and national civic society efforts to keep the heat on – and to work with global freedom of information initiatives. And he would welcome the energy and commitment of the nation’s newest open government enthusiasts who are raising issues and developing new tools to make government information more accessible to more people. Most of all, he would work with leaders to make sure that all the players and stakeholders are at the table, talking with, not past, each other.

With specific reference to Sunshine Week 2015 Madison, the global thinker, would concur with his contemporary, British philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who wrote that “without publicity, no good is permanent; under the auspices of publicity, no evil can continue.” (1768)

Minnesota Senator Al Franken big voice for Net Neutrality

Ara Technica recently interviewed Senator Franken, one of the more vocal proponents of Net Neutrality in DC. The interview is brief, but I thought I’d pull out just one question…

Ars: You have called network neutrality the “First Amendment issue of our time.” We had a lot of push back on that from readers who are upset about other issues in the last decade such as warrantless wiretaps, Patriot Act misuse, the new COICA censorship legislation… why is net neutrality really that fundamental?

Sen. Franken: Well, because if you have a few ISPs essentially running the whole show and they’re charging for a fast lane, then really the information that people are going to get is going to be corporate information. People are getting more and more of their information on the Internet and this will mean that the speech will be controlled by big corporate interests. They’ll be the only ones able to pay for the faster access, and that essentially will be what people get. That’s why I call it the First Amendment issue of our time.

Although he has addressed the topic often, some readers may remember that Senator Franken spoke passionately about Net Neutrality at the FCC Public Hearing in Minneapolis last August

Government Standards for Information

Today I met with Kathleen Lonergan to talk about Government and Technology. Kathleen works for the Minnesota Legislature. She’s been very involved with the State Government Budget Division and has a great interest in access to information, transparency and government use of technology. She recently started a blog where she talks about Government Technology and Efficiency. Today Kathleen spoke to me today about how statewide policies can help local governments improve their services and how broadband fits in with the process.

Happy Sunshine Week

It’s going to be a busy week. The National Broadband Plan is expected to be released on Wednesday. (Did they not know that March 17 was St Patrick’s Day?!) The Minnesota broadband bill may make it to the legislative floor this week – although that’s not set in stone and next week may be more likely. And it’s Sunshine Week!

According to the Sunshine Week web site

Sunshine Week is a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include print, broadcast and online news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.

Sunshine Week is led by the American Society of News Editors and is funded primarily by a challenge grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation of Miami.

Though spearheaded by journalists, Sunshine Week is about the public’s right to know what its government is doing, and why. Sunshine Week seeks to enlighten and empower people to play an active role in their government at all levels, and to give them access to information that makes their lives better and their communities stronger.

I know that’s kind of long but I wanted to fit in the part about enlightening and empowering people to play an active role in government at all levels – because I think that ties in so closely with one of the basic reasons that the government is and should be interested in broadband. Because as more and more government information is being made available online (sometimes avialble online only), it is important that every citizen have equal access to that information – brodband is the medium. Also broadband can give voice to the citizenry that was previously hard to hear – but only those with broadband have that advantage.

Locally, Sunshine Week will be celebrated on March 16 when the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information awards Reed Anfinson, recipient of the 2010 John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award. (Get details on event.)

Anfinson is publisher and owner of the Swift County Monitor-News, based in Benton, MN. According to the MN COGI web site…

In this role he has published frequent editorials and articles on open government, including articles on the state’s Data Practices Act, open meeting regulations and discussions of the impact of video and digital technology on public access.

The keynote speaker is Chief Justice Eric J. Magnuson. He will be speaking on the open approach used in the contentious Senate recount and the impact on the public perception of the outcome. He will also address the Court’s decision to initiative a new test of cameras in the court in Minnesota. I think of the impact The Uptake had on the recount – filming and posting the recount online. It’s just one aspect of the importance of broadband.

FCC blogs & tweets

The FCC just started their own blog on the National Broadband Initiative. They are also on Twitter. Both are very new but so far they are prolific.

On the blog
I thought their synopsis of a recent workshop was good – though I didn’t attend so I just have to assume it’s accurate. I enjoy the comments as much as the blog itself.

On Twitter
So far it’s more of a broadcast agenda – but I don’t mind that.

We’ll see what becomes of both. The claim is that they’re a step towards transparency. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll learn more than we would otherwise – but I would think we’d learn things more quickly.

No broadband wreaks havoc on the day

I look at a lot of broadband reports. I hear stories of broadband success and failure. But mostly I have decent (not great) access. So I forget what it’s like not to have decent access.

Ann Higgins sent this kind of quirky comment from a Current listener about how sad she is that the Current Morning Show has moveed online. If you’re not an MN Public Radio listener (or maybe not a morning listener), here’s the scoop. Dale Connelly and Jim Ed Poole have been doing the Morning Show forever. I think they picked up when Garrison Keillor quit mornings. Actually I think Jim Ed (if not both) worked with Keillor. They play a different kind of alternative music. They played the kind of alternative music that your dad likes.

Well Jim Ed retired. Thursday was their last show. So now the show has moved to Heartland Pubic Radio – available online and via HD radio. Here’s a comment from one say rural listener who can’t access the show the way she used to…

Well, I woke up to what I’ve termed “Black Friday” – December 12. I live in rural MN, where HD radio has yet to deliver Radio Heartland and most home-based internet connections are dial-up, so live-streaming music is pretty patchy. I couldn’t help thinking about how much laughter and darn good music I have enjoyed on my 30 mile commute to work. Luckily at work we have high-speed access – I’ve never been so over-joyed to arrive at work! Right away, I tuned in to Dale’s voice and his high quality musical choices. All was set right in my world again – my spirits were lifted, my mind at ease. I could greet my students with a bounce in my step! I’ll do everything I can to support Radio Heartland – thanks for still being there Dale and Mike.

This led to another email from Ann that helped me find Eldo Telecom, a blog in California that covers ‘the shameful travesty of America’s incomplete “last mile” telecommunications infrastructure that leaves millions without broadband access, stranded on the dark side of the digital divide and still connecting to the Internet the same way they did when Bill Clinton was beginning his first term as president and more than a decade after Clinton signed the 1996.” The blogger is a journalist – so it’s well written from a guy in the trenches of broadband neverland.

Medtronic pulls YouTube “ad”

I always kind of enjoy watching policy catch up with technology.

Fridley-based medical device maker Medtronic Inc. pulled a video Wednesday from YouTube after a Boston-based consumer group charged the video was an advertisement that lacked warnings required by the Food and Drug Administration. You can get the whole story on the Pioneer Press.

The consumer group is The Prescription Project. They are petitioning some medical device folks too. Ironically, you can access the offending videos from their online petition.