Transparency News 4/13/15

Monday, April 13, 2015  

State and Local Stories

The FBI and local law enforcement agencies are concerned about new changes to cellphones they say could hamper their ability to obtain crucial informationduring criminal investigations. But not everyone agrees, with iPhone maker Apple and some privacy rights organizations saying the new technology will make the phones more secure. Moreover, some privacy advocates contend police have alternative ways of getting much of the needed information. Sharing of telephone records by Hampton Roads police agencies: Is it legal?
Sharing of telephone records by Hampton Roads police agencies: Is it legal? The urgency began late last year, when Apple announced that its newest iPhones are being delivered with encryption software that makes it impossible to get data from the phone — including such things as text messages, voice mail and pictures — without the user's password. On a recent visit to Hampton Roads, FBI director James Comey voiced concern about the change. "We are drifting to a place in this country where there will be zones that are beyond the reach of the law," Comey said in a Feb. 19 visit to the Norfolk Field Office, saying the nation needs to discuss such a drastic change "as a democracy."
Daily Press

Rising tuition and falling research dollars prompted University of Virginia Board of Visitors member Dr. Edward D. Miller to quit one year before his term was up. In an interview Sunday, Miller said he submitted his resignation to Gov. Terry McAuliffe last month. He will formally step down June 30. First, he said he doesn’t agree with recent tuition increases. The university needs to focus on cutting costs instead of raising tuition, Miller said, adding that he’s not only disappointed with UVa but with higher education as a whole. The plan was introduced and passed on the same day, with no outlet for public comment, although Rector George K. Martin and John A. Griffin, chairman of the board’s finance subcommittee, said they consulted student leadership behind the scenes. Many student advocates said the process seemed rushed and secretive. Miller echoed those sentiments. “This proposal was presented in one day,” Miller said. “I had a feeling that the board wasn’t given an adequate amount of time to digest this information.” Miller’s vote was not tallied; he had called into the meeting remotely but had stepped away when the board actually voted. He said he was not expecting the board to make a decision so quickly. “I had no idea what the plan was going to be until the day of the meeting,” he said. “I was surprised it was done so quickly, without more discussion.”
Daily Progress

National Stories

The Department of Justice last week published newly updated regulations on implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, with several notable changes made in response to public comments. Fifteen sets of comments were submitted by individual members of the public or public interest organizations after the Department released its draft FOIA regulations in 2011. In a lengthy Federal Register notice on April 3, the Department addressed all of the comments, and actually adopted a number of the changes recommended by public commenters.
Secrecy News

Stanley I. Kutler, a historian who fought for the release of President Richard M. Nixon’s White House tapes and concluded that they proved Nixon was “deeply and intimately involved in sometimes criminal abuses of power, both before and after the Watergate break-in,” died on Tuesday in Fitchburg, Wis., a suburb of Madison. He was 80. Professor Kutler was an acclaimed constitutional scholar and taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 32 years until he retired in 1996. In 1992, he filed a lawsuit with Public Citizen, a liberal consumer-advocacy group, against the National Archives and Records Administration to win the release of more than 3,000 hours of conversations tape-recorded in the Oval Office during Nixon’s presidency. Only 63 hours had been made public decades earlier during the Watergate hearings and prosecutions.
New York Times


To recap: Norfolk is paying at least $89 million to help build a new convention center that will not appreciably change the size of conventions Norfolk can attract. Those changes, it is clear, weren't communicated well or adequately until Eberly reported them. Most troubling, it's likely that the city isn't finished with changes, which are inevitable in a project of this size and in its many particulars. All the more reason the city should have spent more time making sure that it was getting the best value for its huge expenditure. It should've spent more time studying the proposed deal to ensure it wasn't a fantasy. And it should've spent more time making the case to citizens, both for the initial plans and for the changes in the past two years. In the absence of any of that, the city's leaders now have problems with the project's cost, justification and communication. They have inspired even more mistrust from the citizens they bypassed in making the deal, the same citizens who are now helping pay for a convention center that isn't quite the grand project approved two years ago.

This bill would also increase transparency in the process by requiring the attorney general and the governor to post any contingency-fee based contracts online, and require them to report to the General Assembly on the use of outside counsel every year. These are simple, obvious and necessary steps to increase government transparency and protect taxpayers. In other states, attorneys general have awarded no-bid contracts to campaign contributors. Taxpayers have been forced to pay exorbitant fees without ever really knowing the details of the cases. That's not something we want happening in Virginia. The bill included exceptions when posting the contract would jeopardize or compromise the case. So again, the governor's argument that this bill somehow limits our ability to hire counsel just doesn't add up. The governor had the opportunity to amend the bill to address his alleged concerns. In fact, the Attorney General's Office indicated to House and Senate leaders they would work to do that. But instead, the governor vetoed the bill.
House Speaker Bill Howell and Sen. Mark Obenshain, Virginian-Pilot

Should government spy on its citizens without a warrant or reason? If you think so, you need read no further. If you think not, then you support bipartisan legislation in the Virginia General Assembly that would strictly limit the ability of government to collect information through “mass surveillance technology,” defined as the means to observe ordinary citizens without their knowledge or consent.
Sen. Chap Petersen and Del. Richard Anderson, Washington Post