For over 200 years, public notices have been published in newspapers in part as a consequence of the inviolability of newsprint. Legislators have always understood that when they passed laws requiring notice of official actions to be published in newspapers, a record of the notice would be easy to authenticate and would remain in newspaper archives in perpetuity.
A recent conference of independent researchers provides an excellent reminder that government websites fail miserably at meeting that traditional public-notice standard.
According to StateImpact Pennsylvania, about 100 researchers met in Philadelphia last month to participate in the University of Pennsylvania’s Data Refuge “hackathon,” to copy important environmental data that they fear may disappear from government websites for political reasons. The archivists, librarians, tech workers and students “hunched over computers” and made notations on white-boards as they raced to preserve climate data from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration that was potentially endangered by the incoming Trump Administration.
But regardless of whether their worst fears turn out to be valid, government websites are not a reliable place to store important information, assistant director for digital scholarship at Penn Laurie Allen told StateImpact, a collaboration between local NPR stations in the Pennsylvania.
“The internet is a terribly unstable way to keep information available,” said Allen. “A huge number of references to websites no longer work.”
Within hours of its inauguration, the Trump Administration demonstrated that the researchers who met at Penn were prescient, as reports quickly circulated about information that had been erased from the White House and other federal agency websites.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a new law clarifying that public meeting notices required by state law may be emailed to newspapers for publication. A review of the applicable law indicates the statute formerly stated merely that notice “shall be given to the news media.” The bill signed by Gov. Cuomo adds the words “or electronically transmitted” to the statute. “This is a positive step that will save time in getting notices to the media and therefore getting them out to the public,” the president of the New York State Town Clerks Association told the Albany Times Union. The new law also requires notices of government meetings that are live streamed to the public to include the web address of the site streaming the meeting.
The national media tend to operate in internet-saturated media environments and often overlook the value of print to key constituencies. As a result, Consumers for Paper Options, an organization funded by the paper and mailing industries, has an uphill battle to be heard as it tries to preserve the ability of the public to read information on paper.
So it was hardly surprising when the Wall Street Journal recently cast the print-vs-digital issue as a collision of lobbyists rather than a consideration of policy. That’s how it reported the Securities and Exchange Commission’s recent decision to scrap plans to let mutual funds resort to digital distribution of their reports instead of providing hard copies in the mail. SEC Chair Mary Jo White announced in August that the digital-default option would not be included in a package of sweeping reforms to be proposed by the agency. The comment period for the proposal had included opposition by citizens who did not like being forced to read from a screen and felt printed copies were easier to digest.
WSJ’s take on the story? “In the end, big paper scissored big mutual funds.” (subscription required) The consumer voice evidently counted with the agency. Not so much the Wall Street Journal.
Several newspaper representatives testified last week in favor of public notices in newspapers at the initial meeting of Wisconsin’s Legislative Council Study Committee on the Publication of Government Documents and Legal Notices. The committee was authorized by the legislature to study the state’s public notice laws and make recommendations for changes that “reflect technological advances.”
Beth Bennett, executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association (WNA) and Andrew Johnson, publisher of the Dodge County Pionier, board member of the WNA Foundation, and board member and government relations chair of the National Newspaper Association, were among those who testified. Former PNRC President Mark Stodder is a member of the committee. Stodder is now president and COO of Xcential Legislative Technologies and a board member of the WNA Foundation. WNA’s weekly newsletter covered the hearing (PDF), which is also available to view as an online video.
The high-profile cyberattack on Sony would have challenged almost any cyber security measures, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has said. An FBI investigation calls the level of sophistication of the software used by the hackers “extremely high” and the attacks “organized and certainly persistent.”
Joe Demarest, assistant director of the FBI’s cyber division, told the Senate Banking Committee that “the malware that was used would have gotten past 90 percent of the Net defenses that are out there today in private industry and [would have been] likely to challenge even state government.” His comments were officially confirmed later by the FBI.
The Washington Post editorial board wrote that this is “dangerous fallout from … the inability of Congress and the president to provide stronger protection for the private-sector networks that are at the heart of U.S. society in the digital age.”
FBI official calls Sony attackers ‘organized,’ ‘persistent’ – CNET (12.10.2014)
Sony hack would have challenged government defences – The Guardian (12.12.2014)
Hollywood gets hacked, highlighting a new cybersecurity threat – Washington Post (12.11.2014)