Transparency News, 11/28/2022


November 28, 2022

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state & local news stories


VCOG is seeking nominations for its open government awards for citizens, press and government.
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In the hundreds of pages of legal documents filed in a Southside Virginia courthouse as part of a closely watched gambling lawsuit, an image from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” succinctly captures what the surrounding legalese is about. It shows the android character Data standing at a craps table in a spaceship casino, using superior robotic precision to throw winning dice rolls over and over.  Over months of legal wrangling, the state government and the skill-game industry have filed reams of documents in the Greensville County Circuit Court in a case that touches on free speech, the nature of video games, legislative privileges, the origins of pinball, lobbying ethics, whether Virginia’s Indian tribes are beyond the reach of court subpoenas, the gambling norms of ancient Rome and Pac-Man. But before the court gets to any of that, the judge has to resolve the more mundane matter of whether the General Assembly’s habit of tucking unrelated legislation into the state budget has gotten so bad it violates the Virginia Constitution. Sen. Bill Stanley, working with lawyers affiliated with leading skill-game company Queen of Virginia and one of the nation’s top free-speech attorneys, is arguing the General Assembly violated a constitutional rule requiring all bills to have “one object” stated in the legislation’s title. The pro-skill game team argues the 2022 budget provision on skill games was a rushed, opaque attempt to broaden the reach of a law that carries criminal penalties.
Virginia Mercury

Another sizable, code-named development project is in the works in eastern Henrico’s White Oak Technology Park, and it appears to be a social media giant behind it. Conceptual plans for a “Project Tropical” were filed with Henrico County earlier this month. The plans call for a pair of data centers to rise at 3951 Portugee Road, a 475-acre plot that was purchased by an entity tied to Meta, Facebook’s parent company, in October for $35.3 million. Details such as the size of the buildings were not included in the preliminary plans. However, Henrico documents show that two data centers and three auxiliary buildings would rise on the currently wooded area. Scout Development LLC, the same entity Meta used to develop and purchase land in White Oak in 2017, was the buyer of the 475 acres at 3951 Portugee Road. County records show that the deal closed on Oct. 31 with Henrico’s Economic Development Authority as the seller.
Richmond BizSense

Why, yes, tomorrow IS Giving Tuesday!

national stories of interest

"They discovered that PDFzorro and PDFescape Online allowed full access to text that had allegedly been redacted."

Michigan’s education system got $6.2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding to help school districts mitigate the pandemic’s impact on students. Now state officials want to charge journalists $10,620 for access to public records that contain detailed, updated information about how districts across the state plan to spend that money. 
Detroit Free Press

FOR YEARS, IF you wanted to protect sensitive text in a document, you could grab a pair of scissors or a scalpel and cut out the information. If this didn’t work, a chunky black marker pen would do the job. Now that most documents are digitized, securely redacting their contents has become harder. The majority of redactions—by government officials and courts—involve placing black boxes over text in PDFs.  When this redaction is done incorrectly, people’s safety and national security can be put at risk. New research from a team at the University of Illinois looked at the most popular tools for redacting PDF documents and found many of them wanting. The findings, from researchers Maxwell Bland, Anushya Iyer, and Kirill Levchenko, say two of the most popular tools for redacting documents offer no protection to the underlying text at all, with the text accessible by copying and pasting it. Plus, a new attack method they devised makes it possible to extract secret details from the redacted text. During the new research, which has been published as a preprint, the team analyzed 11 popular redaction tools. They discovered that PDFzorro and PDFescape Online allowed full access to text that had allegedly been redacted. All they needed to do to access the text was copy and paste it. The researchers registered CVE numbers—used to catalog unique security vulnerabilities—for both of the issues.

Government agencies that have become accustomed to using Twitter as a communication tool have watched the platform undergo tumultuous changes under its new leadership. The situation has been fast-changing. A move away from previous verification methods and the launch of Twitter Blue, since put on hold, raised impersonation and misinformation risks. Early staff resignations also reportedly saw the company’s chief privacy officer, CISO and chief compliance officer exit, per The Verge. The flood of employees leaving late last week also included “half the trust and safety policy team, including a majority of those who work on spotting misinformation, spam, fake accounts and impersonation” an employee told The Washington Post. This doesn’t necessarily mean an end to government use of the platform. Some agencies say they’re taking a wait-and-see approach and adjusting their use of the social media platform as needed.