Tag Archives: information

Journalists mark Sunshine Week at extraordinary time in history

Whenever Donald Trump fumes about “fake news” or labels the press “the enemy of the people,” First Amendment scholar David L. Hudson Jr. hears echoes of other presidents — but a breadth and tone that are entirely new.

Trump may not know it, but it was Thomas Jefferson who once said, “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper,” said Hudson, a law professor at Vanderbilt University.

“But what’s unusual with Trump is the pattern of disparagement and condemnation of virtually the entire press corps. We’ve had presidents who were embittered and hated some of the press — Richard Nixon comes to mind. … But I can’t think of a situation where you have this rat-a-tat attack on the press on virtually a daily basis, for the evident purpose of discrediting it.”

Journalism marks its annual Sunshine Week, which draws attention to the media’s role in advocating for government transparency, at an extraordinary moment in the relationship between the presidency and the press.

First Amendment advocates call the Trump administration the most hostile to the press and free expression in memory.

In words and actions, they say, Trump and his administration have threatened democratic principles and the general spirit of a free society: The demonizing of the media and emphatic repetition of falsehoods. Fanciful scenarios of voter fraud and scorn for dissent. The refusal to show Trump’s tax returns and the removal of information from government websites.

And in that battle with the Trump administration, the media do not have unqualified public support.

According to a recent Pew survey, nearly 90 percent of respondents favored fair and open elections while more than 80 percent value the system of government checks and balances.

But around two-thirds called it vital for the media to have the right to criticize government leaders; only half of Republicans were in support.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that Americans by a margin of 53-37 trust the media over Trump to tell the truth about important issues; among Republicans, 78 percent favored Trump.

“We’re clearly in a particularly polarizing moment, although this is something we’ve been building to for a very long time,” says Kyle Pope, editor in chief and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, a leading news and commentary source for journalism.

“I think one of the mistakes the press made is we became perceived as part of the establishment. And I think one of the silver linings of the moment we’re in is that we have a renewed sense of what our mission is and where we stand in the pecking order, and that is on the outside, where we belong.”

Hudson, ombudsman of the Newseum’s First Amendment Center, says it’s hard to guess whether Trump is serious or “bloviating” when he disparages free expression. He noted Trump’s comments in November saying that flag burners should be jailed and wondered if the president knew such behavior was deemed protected by the Constitution (in a 1989 Supreme Court ruling supported by a justice Trump says he admires, the late Antonin Scalia).

Hudson also worries about a range of possible trends, notably the withholding of information and a general culture of secrecy that could “close a lot of doors.” But he did have praise for Trump’s pick to replace Scalia on the court, Neil Gorsuch, saying that he has “showed sensitivity” to First Amendment issues. And free speech advocates say the press, at least on legal issues, is well positioned to withstand Trump.

“We have a really robust First Amendment and have a lot of protections in place,” says Kelly McBride, vice president of The Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism education center based in St. Petersburg, Florida. “That doesn’t mean that attempts won’t be made. But when you compare our country to what journalists face around the world, I still think the U.S. is one of the safest places for a journalist to criticize the government.”

The First Amendment, which states in part that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” is far broader and more uniquely American than when ratified in 1791.

At the time, free expression was based on the legal writings of Britain’s Sir William Blackstone. The First Amendment protected against prior restraint, but not against lawsuits once something was spoken or published. Truth was not a defense against libel and the burden of proof was on the defendant, not the plaintiff. And the Bill of Rights applied to the federal government, but not to individual states, which could legislate as they pleased.

The most important breakthrough of recent times, and the foundation for many protections now, came with the New York Times Co. v. Sullivan case of 1964.

The Times had printed an advertisement in 1960 by supporters of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that noted King had been arrested numerous times and condemned “Southern violators of the Constitution.” The public safety commissioner of Montgomery, Alabama, L. B. Sullivan sued for libel. He was not mentioned by name in the ad, but he claimed that allegations against the police also defamed him. After a state court awarded Sullivan $500,000, the Times appealed to the Supreme Court.

Some information in the ad was indeed wrong, such as the number of times King was arrested, but the Supreme Court decided unanimously for the Times. In words still widely quoted, Justice William Brennan wrote that “debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” He added that a libel plaintiff must prove “that the statement was made … with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”

“It was breathtakingly new,” First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams said of Brennan’s ruling. “It was an extraordinary step the court was taking.”

But freedom of speech has long been championed more in theory than in reality. Abraham Lincoln’s administration shut down hundreds of newspapers during the Civil War. Woodrow Wilson championed the people’s “indisputable right to criticize their own public officials,” but also signed legislation during World War I making it a crime to “utter, print, write, or publish” anything “disloyal” or “profane” about the federal government. During the administration of President Barack Obama, who had taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago, the Wilson-era Espionage Act was used to obtain emails and phone records of reporters and threaten James Risen of The New York Times with jail.

Predicting what Trump might do is as difficult as following his views on many issues. He often changes his mind, and contradicts himself.

During the campaign last year, he spoke of changing the libel laws to make it easier to sue the media. But shortly after the election, he seemed to reverse himself. He has said he is a “tremendous believer of the freedom of the press,” but has worried that “Our press is allowed to say whatever they want and get away with it.”

Trump’s disparagement of the media has been contradicted by high officials in his administration. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said recently that he did not have “any issues with the press.” Vice President Mike Pence was an Indiana congressman when he helped sponsor legislation (which never passed) in 2005 that would protect reporters from being imprisoned by federal courts. In early March, he spoke at a prominent gathering of Washington journalists, the Gridiron Club and Foundation dinner.

“Be assured that while we will have our differences — and I promise the members of the Fourth Estate that you will almost always know when we have them — President Trump and I support the freedom of the press enshrined in the First Amendment,” he said, while adding that “too often stories make page one and drive news with just too little respect for the people who are affected or involved.”

Sunshine Week celebrates the public’s right to know

Rita Ward had a question: Why did a weekly listing of causes of death suddenly stop appearing in the local newspaper?

It turned out the health department in Vanderburgh County, Indiana, halted its practice of providing causes of death to the Evansville Courier & Press. When Ward and a reporter for the newspaper asked why those records were no longer available, the department cited an Indiana law intended to protect citizens against identity theft.

“I truly do believe printing the cause of death is important,” Ward told the Courier & Press in a 2012 interview. “Maybe a reader might see a neighbor who died of colon cancer and make the decision to have their first overdue colonoscopy. It can be a first step toward a change for the better. It can touch a reader. It’s personal. That’s why it is important.”

Ward and the newspaper sued for access to the information under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act. They lost two lower-court rulings before the Indiana Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that the records, focused on the decedent’s name, age and cause of death, should continue to be made available to the public. In their ruling, the judges underscored “the importance of open and transparent government to the health of our body politic” and held that “the public interest outweighs the private.”

The court’s explicit link between government transparency and the welfare of citizens underpins Sunshine Week, a national, non-partisan effort to highlight the critical role of open government and freedom of information at the local, state and federal levels. The March 12-18 celebration is led by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Gridiron Club and Foundation.

Now, more than ever, Americans are urged to recognize the importance of open government to a robust democracy. Access to meetings, minutes and records of our elected and appointed representatives is a key element of the constitutional right to petition the government for redress of grievances. It is not strictly for the benefit of the news media.

In addition to ordinary citizens such as Rita Ward, access to government information helps citizen’s groups hold public officials accountable through firsthand observation of their actions. Access also enables historians to accurately describe past events and gives individuals critical information about public safety in the neighborhoods where they live.

The National Park Service, fulfilling a request under the Freedom of Information Act, provided aerial photographs last week that showed a sharp contrast between crowds on the National Mall for the inauguration of President Trump and those who turned out for the first inauguration of President Obama.

Despite public statements by Trump and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer that crowds for Trump dwarfed those of Obama, the photos _ not the words of government officials _ told the full story.

In addition to state laws in Indiana and across the country, the Freedom of Information Act gives citizens the right to obtain information from the federal government _ information that your tax dollars paid to collect. In addition, more and more local governments are leveraging technology to make public information, from traffic data to public transit schedules, even more accessible and more useful to citizens.

This week and every week, take a moment to consider what your life would be like if government officials operated in total secrecy and restricted your access to information. Support organizations fighting against those in power who seek to weaken open government protections. Join with fellow citizens in seeking disclosure. When you want information from a police department, local government or school board, ask for it.

Just like Rita Ward learned in the Indiana death records case, you have the right to know.

Mizell Stewart III is president of the American Society of News Editors and Vice President/News Operations for Gannett and the USA TODAY Network. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MizellStewart

Where’s the sunshine? Trump’s actions raise fears about access to government data

Wondering who is visiting the White House? The web-based search has gone dark.

Curious about climate change? Some government sites have been softened or taken down.

Worried about racial discrimination in housing? Laws have been introduced to bar federal mapping of such disparities.

Since taking office, the Trump administration has made a series of moves that have alarmed groups with a stake in public access to information — historians, librarians, journalists, climate scientists, internet activists, to name a few. Some are so concerned they have thrown themselves into “data rescue” sessions nationwide, where they spend their weekends downloading and archiving federal databases they fear could soon be taken down or obscured.

Previous presidential transitions have triggered fears about access to government data, but not on this scope.

“What is unprecedented is the scale of networking and connectivity of groups working on this, and the degree it is being driven by librarians and scientists and professors,” said Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, a group that tracks transparency in government.

Moves by the Trump administration have helped stoke the fears. In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture removed animal cruelty data from its website, prompting protests from animal welfare advocates, including the Humane Society, which has filed a lawsuit against the USDA.

Also in February, the Trump administration suspended an Obama regulation aimed at protecting whistleblowers who work for Department of Energy contractors. The regulation would have permitted civil penalties against contractors that retaliate against whistleblowers. Supporters of the rule say that its rescission will make it harder for contract workers at the government nuclear facilities to report waste, abuse and safety concerns.

Trump, Howard said, has made clear he will seek to prosecute leakers and has labeled the media an “enemy of the people.” He has dismissed climate change science and raised questions about the use of vaccines.

“The reaction we are seeing is driven by concerns unique to this administration,” Howard said.

During his eight years in office, President Barack Obama was hardly a darling of open government advocates. His Justice Department prosecuted nine cases against whistleblowers and leakers, compared to three by all other previous administrations.

But Obama also took some steps to increase transparency, including establishing a web-based log of visitors to the White House. That log allowed journalists and others to track lobbying at the White House, including links between the Obama administration and the pharmaceutical industry.

But easy access to the log disappeared after Trump was sworn in. The National Archives and Records Administration stopped paying a contractor to maintain an embedded web application for the Obama-era visitation records. They are still available at the Obama White House archive, but only on zip files that are difficult to download and analyze.

As of last week, the Trump administration had not built a web page with information about recent visitors to the White House, although it has said it will post such records “on an ongoing basis, once they become available.”

Other information of interest has also disappeared. The phone book for employees at the U.S. Department of Energy has been removed from the agency’s website. Several federal websites have been altered to eliminate or tone down evidence linking human activities to global climate change.

While all incoming administrations put their ideological stamp on federal websites, librarians and other professionals fear that previously accessible raw data could be put behind walls. They have started networking on how to salvage what they can.

Bethany Wiggin, founding director of the environmental humanities program at the University of Pennsylvania, and others started organizing dozens of “data rescue” sessions nationwide, in which activists were invited to bring their laptops and ideas for federal data sets deemed vulnerable.

Fearing that federal data on gun violence might also vanish under a president with close ties to the National Rifle Association, Dr. Garen Wintemute called together his partners in the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis.

Within minutes, the team was downloading a crime victimization survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. They scoured the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, gathering data on retail gun sales. They preserved mortality records from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which includes a field for deaths caused by firearms.

“I don’t think the CDC would do that of their own volition, but they might be directed to,” said Wintemute, an emergency room doctor. The data sets are now stored on a secure server at UC Davis.

Access to existing federal records is one concern of data rescuers. The other is whether the government will continue to collect information as it has in the past. Earlier this year, for example, a group of Republicans that included U.S. Sen Mike Lee of Utah, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona introduced legislation to undo a 2015 Obama regulation aimed at reducing past patterns of housing segregation.

How Trump may approach access to federal data is not entirely known, but one upcoming appointment will provide a signal. In coming weeks, the administration will appoint a director to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which it is charged with guiding federal policy on information technology, information policy, privacy and statistics.

“That is going to be a key position in the federal collection of data going forward,” said Raphael Calel, an assistant professor of public policy at Georgetown University.

Your Right to Know: Trump raises stakes for press, public

Two days before the new president’s inauguration, the Society of Professional Journalists and dozens of other media and government transparency groups sent a letter asking Donald Trump for a meeting to discuss his administration’s relationship with the press.

Among other things, the groups wanted Trump to affirm his commitment to the First Amendment, assure media access to his presidential activities, and allow expert government employees to talk to the media rather than muzzle them in favor of public relations officials.

Trump has yet to respond.

However, the new administration issued orders to employees of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture not to convey information to the media or public. Officials also imposed a news blackout at the Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, Trump claimed, with no evidence, that up to 5 million illegal voters participated in the election; his White House spokeswoman used the term “alternative facts” to explain false claims that Trump’s inauguration audience was the largest ever; and chief strategist Steve Bannon called the news media an “opposition party” that should “keep its mouth shut” — views that Trump himself later endorsed.

All this happened within Trump’s first two weeks in office.

Where does that leave us, as members of the press and guardians of your right to know what government is doing?

First, we must report on official efforts to withhold information from the public — which is, after all, footing the bill for government. On day one, the new administration scrubbed references to climate change from the EPA website (echoing similar actions by Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources and Public Service Commission). Expect more of the same.

Second, we must continue to be vigilant in the face of Trump’s tendency, first as a candidate and now as president, to engage in bombast and exaggeration. It is our duty to expose unprovable, and outright false, claims.

Third, we must guard against politicians’ unwillingness to subject their actions to media scrutiny. It is our job to disclose what the administration is doing, even in the face of efforts to bypass the traditional White House press corps.

As law professors RonNell Andersen Jones and Sonja R. West recently wrote in The New York Times, while the First Amendment prohibits government censorship and offers protection against lawsuits, journalists have few constitutional rights to government documents and sources, or from being maligned by people in power. Trump, they noted, appears set on blowing up the “mutually dependent” relationships the White House press corps has had with presidential administrations from both parties.

“This is why we should be alarmed when Mr. Trump, defying tradition, vilifies media institutions, attacks reporters by name and refuses to take questions from those whose coverage he dislikes,” they wrote.

It’s not just about the media. It’s about your right to know. To quote Jones and West, “Like so much of our democracy, the freedom of the press is only as strong as we, the public, demand it to be.”

Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, a group dedicated to open government. Council member Mark Pitsch is an assistant city editor at the Wisconsin State Journal and president of the Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Study: Doctors devoting more time to computers than patients

For every hour that some doctors devote to direct patient care they may spend about five hours on other tasks, often because they’re tied up with computer work, a new study suggests.

The results are based on observations of just 36 doctors-in-training at one hospital in Switzerland. But research dating back more than half a century has documented physicians dedicating a similar amount of their workdays to direct patient care, said Dr. Nathalie Wenger, lead author of the current study.

“It has not really changed in 50 years,” Wenger, a researcher at the University Hospital of Lausanne, said by email.

During the study period, the doctors spent an average of 1.7 hours per shift with patients, 5.2 hours using computers and 13 minutes doing both, Wenger and colleagues report in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Patient care might not necessarily be better if doctors had less screen time, but cutting back could still have some advantages, Wenger said.

“It will clearly improve satisfaction of physicians, reduce their stress and improve medical education by freeing up time for that,” Wenger said.

For the current study, Wenger and colleagues observed medical residents for a total of about 698 hours.

Teams of observers recorded the residents’ activities throughout their shifts at the hospital, sorting tasks into one of 22 different categories such as direct or indirect patient care, communication, academic or nonmedical work.

Day shifts typically lasted 11.6 hours, or 1.6 hours longer than scheduled, the study found.

During day shifts, doctors spent about 52 percent of their time on activities indirectly related to patients such as writing in medical records, collaborating with other clinicians, looking for information needed to treat patients and handing off care to other providers.

Physicians spent about 28 percent of their day shifts on direct patient care including clinical exams and medical procedures and rounds done as part of the residency program to review treatment with colleagues.

They spent only about 2 percent of their time communicating with patients and families, and about 6 percent of their time either teaching, receiving training or doing academic research.

During shifts, physicians spent up to about 45 percent of their time on computers, the study found.

Beyond its small size and single site, other limitations of the study include the fact that residents knew they were being observed and may have adjusted their work accordingly, the authors note.

It also wasn’t an experiment designed to prove how different uses of physician time influence patient outcomes.

Still, the findings add to a growing body of research documenting how much of doctors’ time is taken up by administrative tasks, said Dr. Susan Thompson Hingle, a researcher at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Having observed residents and talked with residents, I do not think the findings are unique to the Swiss,” Hingle said by email. “It seems as though the studies continue to confirm the enormous administrative tasks that physicians and physicians in training, regardless of level, clinical venue, or geographic location, are faced with.”

Patients often complain that doctors don’t spend enough time with them and that physicians spend more time focused on the computer than on them, Hingle said.

“When our attention is not on the patient, we miss important non-verbal cues; we are distracted and not actively listening; we miss opportunities to build a trusting, healing relationship with our patient,” Hingle added. “Without that trust, patient adherence is less which impacts patient outcomes, and patient satisfaction is less, which also impacts patient outcomes.”

Your Right to Know: Release John Doe II case records now

One of the most important court decisions in Wisconsin political history was argued largely in secret. The arguments were made in briefs that were heavily redacted or entirely shielded from public view. The evidence was hidden. Most of the litigants were anonymous.

The level of secrecy “is something I haven’t ever heard of happening in Wisconsin,” says David Schultz, a retired University of Wisconsin law professor who has watched the state Supreme Court for 40 years.

Unless the high court decides to unseal its files, the public will remain ignorant of the full facts and arguments it considered when it shut down the John Doe II investigation centered on Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign — known in court documents as “Unnamed Movant No. 1.”

Leaked and inadvertently unsealed records revealed that Walker raised large, undisclosed donations for ostensibly independent political groups, which in turn ran “issue ads” prior to the 2011 and 2012 Senate recall elections and the 2012 gubernatorial recall. These are unregulated, thinly veiled communications often intended to influence elections without expressly advocating for or against any candidate.

When two lawsuits aimed at killing the probe and a third filed by prosecutor Francis Schmitz attempting to save it made their way to the Supreme Court, the majority of justices agreed that most of the issues should be argued in secret to prevent “testimony which may be mistaken or untrue from becoming public.”

In July 2015, by a 4-2 vote, the court ended the probe, declaring that the conduct under investigation was not illegal and ordering that the evidence be returned to the subjects or destroyed. The court later amended its order to direct that the remaining evidence be turned over to the court. No one was ever charged.

But questions remain: What exactly did Walker do behind the scenes to fight the recalls? What evidence did prosecutors offer that two of the justices had conflicts of interest? Did prosecutors abuse their discretion in investigating activity that the subjects argued was protected political speech under the First Amendment?

And, importantly, did the court follow the law and precedent when it decided to shut down the investigation? Or did it, as Justice Shirley Abrahamson charged in her dissent, engage in a “blatant attempt to reach its desired result by whatever means necessary”?

In October, two nonprofit and nonpartisan groups — the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism — filed a public records request with Diane Fremgen, the clerk of the Supreme Court, asking that the case file be opened.

Fremgen denied the request, saying the court had directed her to maintain “certain filings” in the case under seal — even essential records such as motions and briefs filed with the court.

There are, we understand, concerns about releasing some exhibits attached to the court filings, on grounds that this evidence was illegally seized by prosecutors and should remain sealed. But Fremgen decided not to split those hairs, denying the entire request.

Abrahamson, for her part, has argued the case should be open, writing, “The public has a constitutional, statutory and common law right of access to judicial proceedings and judicial records.”

We agree.

Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council (www.wisfoic.org), a group dedicated to open government. Dee J. Hall is the group’s secretary and managing editor of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.


Yahoo built secret software to scan customer emails for U.S. intelligence

Yahoo Inc. last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials.

The company complied with a classified U.S. government directive, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said two former employees and a third person apprised of the events.

Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to a spy agency’s demand by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time.

It is not known what information intelligence officials were looking for, only that they wanted Yahoo to search for a set of characters. That could mean a phrase in an email or an attachment, said the sources, who did not want to be identified.

Reuters was unable to determine what data Yahoo may have handed over, if any, and if intelligence officials had approached other email providers besides Yahoo with this kind of request.

According to the two former employees, Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer’s decision to obey the directive roiled some senior executives and led to the June 2015 departure of Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos, who now holds the top security job at Facebook Inc.

“Yahoo is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States,” the company said in a brief statement in response to Reuters questions about the demand.

Yahoo declined any further comment.

Through a Facebook spokesman, Stamos declined a request for an interview.

The NSA referred questions to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which declined to comment.

The demand to search Yahoo Mail accounts came in the form of a classified directive sent to the company’s legal team, according to the three people familiar with the matter.

U.S. phone and Internet companies are known to have handed over bulk customer data to intelligence agencies. But some former government officials and private surveillance experts said they had not previously seen either such a broad directive for real-time Web collection or one that required the creation of a new computer program.

“I’ve never seen that, a wiretap in real time on a ‘selector,'” said Albert Gidari, a lawyer who represented phone and Internet companies on surveillance issues for 20 years before moving to Stanford University this year. A selector refers to a type of search term used to zero in on specific information.

“It would be really difficult for a provider to do that,” he added.

Experts said it was likely that the NSA or FBI had approached other Internet companies with the same demand, since they evidently did not know what email accounts were being used by the target.

The NSA usually makes requests for domestic surveillance through the FBI, so it is hard to know which agency is seeking the information.

Reuters was unable to confirm whether the 2015 demand went to other companies, or if any complied.

Alphabet Inc’s Google and Microsoft Corp, two major U.S. email service providers, did not respond to requests for comment.


Under laws including the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, intelligence agencies can ask U.S. phone and Internet companies to provide customer data to aid foreign intelligence-gathering efforts for a variety of reasons, including prevention of terrorist attacks.

Disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and others have exposed the extent of electronic surveillance and led U.S. authorities to modestly scale back some of the programs, in part to protect privacy rights.

Companies including Yahoo have challenged some classified surveillance before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret tribunal.

Some FISA experts said Yahoo could have tried to fight last year’s directive on at least two grounds: the breadth of the demand and the necessity of writing a special program to search all customers’ emails in transit.

Apple Inc made a similar argument earlier this year when it refused to create a special program to break into an encrypted iPhone used in the 2015 San Bernardino massacre. The FBI dropped the case after it unlocked the phone with the help of a third party, so no precedent was set.

Other FISA experts defended Yahoo’s decision to comply, saying nothing prohibited the surveillance court from ordering a search for a specific term instead of a specific account. So-called “upstream” bulk collection from phone carriers based on content was found to be legal, they said, and the same logic could apply to Web companies’ mail.

As tech companies become better at encrypting data, they are likely to face more such requests from spy agencies.

Former NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker said email providers “have the power to encrypt it all, and with that comes added responsibility to do some of the work that had been done by the intelligence agencies.”


Mayer and other executives ultimately decided to comply with the directive last year rather than fight it, in part because they thought they would lose, said the people familiar with the matter.

Yahoo in 2007 had fought a FISA demand that it conduct searches on specific email accounts without a court-approved warrant. Details of the case remain sealed, but a partially redacted published opinion showed Yahoo’s challenge was unsuccessful.

Some Yahoo employees were upset about the decision not to contest the more recent directive and thought the company could have prevailed, the sources said.

They were also upset that Mayer and Yahoo General Counsel Ron Bell did not involve the company’s security team in the process, instead asking Yahoo’s email engineers to write a program to siphon off messages containing the character string the spies sought and store them for remote retrieval, according to the sources.

The sources said the program was discovered by Yahoo’s security team in May 2015, within weeks of its installation. The security team initially thought hackers had broken in.

When Stamos found out that Mayer had authorized the program, he resigned as chief information security officer and told his subordinates that he had been left out of a decision that hurt users’ security, the sources said. Due to a programming flaw, he told them hackers could have accessed the stored emails.

Stamos’s announcement in June 2015 that he had joined Facebook did not mention any problems with Yahoo. (http://bit.ly/2dL003k)

In a separate incident, Yahoo last month said “state-sponsored” hackers had gained access to 500 million customer accounts in 2014. The revelations have brought new scrutiny to Yahoo’s security practices as the company tries to complete a deal to sell its core business to Verizon Communications Inc for $4.8 billion.

A man walks past a Yahoo logo during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain in this February 24, 2016 file photo. REUTERS/Albert Gea/File Photo
A man walks past a Yahoo logo during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain in this February 24, 2016 file photo. REUTERS/Albert Gea/File Photo

Auto intelligence: What happens to the info autos collect about drivers?

Your car knows more about you than you think. Newer cars that connect to the internet can collect vast amounts of data about drivers, such as where you went to dinner, if you broke the speed limit or if your seat belt was buckled.

When you buy a car, you cede data control to your car company. Most automakers say they won’t sell information without an owner’s consent. But they’re not legally required to inform you if they do.

Car data is about to become big business. A new report from consulting firm McKinsey says automotive data could be worth $450 billion to $750 billion globally by 2030. Automakers, insurers, high-tech firms, city planners and advertisers are among those who could use data to refine services. Drivers could share data in exchange for navigation systems, or they could pay extra for perks like a parking spot finder.

Here’s a primer on the emerging issue of connected-car data:

Q: Which cars collect data?

A: Just under 20 percent of new cars sold globally now can be linked to the internet, according to BI Intelligence. That figure is expected to reach 75 percent by 2020.

For example, General Motors Co. will have 12 million connected vehicles by the end of this year worldwide, which it says is the most for any automaker.

Q: Do I own data that’s collected?

A: That’s unclear. Under federal law, drivers own data stored in event data recorders, or “black boxes,” which monitor vehicles in a crash. Police and insurers need a driver’s consent – or a court order – to get that data. But there are no laws addressing data collected by automakers through vehicle internet connections.

Q: How do automakers use the data?

A: It depends on the vehicle and the manufacturer. Some turn data into notifications. Cars can automatically signal for help if an air bag deploys, for example. Some will send a message if oil needs to be changed or a vehicle is being recalled.

Tesla Motors has used data to reveal – sometimes within hours of a crash – how fast the driver was going and whether or not the company’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system was engaged.

Q: Can automakers sell data without my knowledge?

A: They could, depending on language in owners’ manuals. But under voluntary principles established by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in 2014, most agreed to get permission before sharing anything about a driver’s location, health or behavior with third parties.

Twenty companies – including GM, Toyota, Ford, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz – signed that agreement, which is effective by the 2017 model year.

The policy doesn’t require consent for automakers to share data with emergency workers or to share it internally for research.

Q: Can I stop an automaker from collecting my data?

A: Most automakers let owners opt out, but that’s usually buried in fine print, says Khaliah Barnes, former associate director of the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center, who now works on privacy issues for the federal government.

Under the 2014 agreement, automakers committed to providing clear notices about data, the reasons for collecting it and where it can be shared. But that’s not always happening. For example, some GM owners’ manuals tell people about data storage, but they must track down separate policies to learn more, Barnes says.

Q: Are there benefits to sharing data?

A: Yes. Upon a driver’s request, GM will send driving data to insurance companies like Progressive and State Farm to see if the driver qualifies for lower rates. OnStar will send coupons to your phone for businesses along your route.

Tesla collects data in order to improve cars via software updates.

There’s evidence people aren’t fretting about data sharing. McKinsey found 79 percent of the 3,000 customers it interviewed in the U.S., China and Germany were willing to share. More than 70 percent were willing to pay for data-enabled services that would save time, like a parking spot finder.

Q: What’s the downside to sharing data?

A: Insurance companies could require drivers to let them monitor driving before they grant a policy. They could see if you go fast around curves, accelerate too quickly or if you don’t wear a seat belt. That could raise rates. You could also get overwhelmed with unwanted coupons.

Q: What’s the future of car data sharing?

Mark Thomas, head of connected car marketing for Cisco-Jasper, predicts automakers will eventually go from charging monthly internet fees to monetizing the service other ways, perhaps by selling data. Internet costs could be split, with part going to an insurer, music provider or other data user. Without a monthly charge, more drivers would sign up, he says.

Currently, data charges can be steep. New GM vehicles come with a free OnStar Guidance Plan trial. It automatically calls emergency services after a crash, tracks and slows down a car if it’s stolen and provides hands-free calling. But it costs $34.99 per month when the trial is over.

Wisconsin high court deadlocks on blacked-out police reports

A Wisconsin Supreme Court left deadlocked by the death of Justice Patrick Crooks in September delayed a decision in a closely watched case about whether police must censor personal information on accident or crime reports.

Crooks died days after the court heard arguments in the case. The justices who heard the case deadlocked 3-3 on whether to affirm a lower court judge’s ruling in favor of open records, so the Supreme Court vacated its decision to accept the case directly and sent it back to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Last year a St. Croix County judge ruled in favor of the New Richmond News. The newspaper sued the City of New Richmond alleging police were redacting — or blacking out — too much information, a violation of Wisconsin’s open records law.

Judge Howard Cameron found that censoring agencies were misconstruing a federal law.

An increasing number of Wisconsin agencies are redacting personal information on reports after a federal appeals court ruling in an Illinois case. But Cameron ruled the 1994 Driver’s Privacy Protection Act does not require that information to be redacted.

The agencies’ stances have upset open government advocates and made it more difficult for reporters to add details in news stories and for crime and accident victims to submit insurance claims.

According to the opinion, three members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court _ Chief Justice Patience Roggensack and Justices Michael Gableman and Annette Ziegler _ would have reversed the trial court ruling, siding with those who argue that Congress intended the act to pre-empt the state’s open records laws.

Three others — Justices Shirley Abrahamson, Ann Bradley and David Prosser — would have affirmed the decision that the traditionally open records remain open. Justice Rebecca Bradley, who was appointed to the court on Oct. 9 by Gov. Scott Walker to replace Crooks, did not take part in the case. 

Food safety advocates sue Agriculture Dept. for withholding records

Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service under the Freedom of Information Act. The group alleges that APHIS violated FOIA by routinely failing to respond to requests for records related to genetically engineered crops, unlawfully delaying its responses and withholding public disclosure of information.

APHIS has failed to provide a timely final response to at least 29 of CFS’s FOIA requests or appeals, according to a news release from the organization. Of these, APHIS has entirely failed to provide a final response to 10 requests and two appeals. The lawsuit asked the court to direct APHIS to promptly provide CFS with the requested information and to order APHIS to stop its practice of failing to respond to FOIA requests related to GE crops.

“APHIS has a track record of irresponsible and inadequate regulation of GE crops. In the absence of thorough government oversight, public access to information about these crops becomes all the more critical,” said Cristina Stella, staff attorney for Center for Food Safety. “This lawsuit is necessary to stop APHIS from continuing to ignore its duty to provide the public with information that affects farmers, communities, and the environment.”

CFS said GE crops are known to cause agronomic and environmental harms, such as transgenic contamination of traditional and organic crops. The vast majority of GE crops are engineered to be resistant to pesticides and as a consequence, their introduction has dramatically increased the total pesticide use in U.S. agriculture.

APHIS still oversees GE crops under regulations drafted in the 1990s and, in March, suddenly abandoned plans to update its GE crop regulations, which the agency had proposed to do since 2004.

Under the current regulations, experimental field trials of GE crops have repeatedly been found to escape containment and APHIS has refused to monitor or regulate GE crops once they are commercialized.

“The longer APHIS fails to use its full authority to regulate the environmental and agricultural harms from GE crops, such as transgenic contamination of nearby crops, pesticide drift, and endangerment of protected species, the more these harms will occur,” said Stella. “CFS has been seeking information about these harms for over ten years—and for over ten years, APHIS has continually ignored our requests. It cannot continue to do so.”

The following examples of APHIS’s failure to comply with FOIA illustrate the potential for damage:

New crops evading regulation: APHIS failed to respond to a FOIA request related to GE sorghum, a crop that has evaded review and regulation. GE developers are increasingly avoiding regulation by engineering GE crops without inserting transgenes from APHIS’s “plant pest” list. USDA has declared these types of GE crops beyond its authority to regulate, so they receive no federal oversight before potential commercialization. This loophole makes public disclosure of all information related to the unregulated GE crop, like GE sorghum, all the more crucial.

Crops escaping field trials: GE crops that escape the confines of field trials, called “unauthorized releases,” are of particular concern because these GE plants can live in the wild and cross with native plants, or contaminate related conventional or organic crops. Timely public disclosure of information related to releases from field trials is essential for mitigation of these potential harms. CFS has filed several FOIA requests regarding field trials to which APHIS failed to provide timely responses, jeopardizing local farmers and environments.

In 2004, CFS filed a FOIA request related to field trials of GE “Roundup Ready” creeping bentgrass. APHIS delayed its response for over four years; meanwhile, the state of Oregon is still trying to find and destroy escaped feral populations of the GE bentgrass. CFS made another FOIA request regarding GE bentgrass in 2010, to which APHIS took over 5 years to respond.

CFS has made three requests regarding GE wheat field trials since 2002 and APHIS has failed to provide a timely respond each time. In the first instance, CFS had to file a lawsuit to compel APHIS to respond. To date, APHIS has failed to make any response to date to CFS’s most recent request. GE wheat contaminated an Oregon wheat field in 2013, causing millions of dollars of lost revenue for wheat growers in the subsequent years as sensitive foreign markets temporally shut down.

This is the fourth time CFS has had to sue APHIS to compel compliance with FOIA, and is the most extensive challenge to APHIS’s pattern of unreasonable delays to date.