Transparency News 6/17/13


Monday, June 17, 2013
State and Local Stories

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, have used taxpayer money for a range of small personal items theyshould have paid for themselves under state policy, according to spending records. Under the Freedom of Information Act, The Washington Post sought records of personal expenses covered by the state over the couple’s 31 / 2 years in the mansion. The full cost of those items is unknown because the state released only 16 sales receipts, most of them from 2011. State records show that there were many more personal shopping trips — nine others in January 2011 alone, including two to Bed Bath & Beyond to pick up “college stuff” for the McDonnells’ children.
Washington Post

The faces of more than 120 million people are in searchable photo databases that state officials assembled to prevent driver’s-license fraud but that increasingly are used by police to identify suspects, accomplices and even innocent bystanders in a wide range of criminal investigations. The facial databases have grown rapidly in recent years and generally operate with few legal safeguards beyond the requirement that searches are conducted for “law enforcement purposes.”

No central office raises will be given after all. In a special called meeting Friday morning, Halifax County School Board members voted to rescind Monday night’s vote to give two members of the central office staff raises. The decision was made following a closed session at Monday night’s regular scheduled school board meeting.

National Stories

In the sprawling national intelligence community where nearly 5 million Americans have security clearances, more and more information is being classified, creating an even more massive secrecy bureaucracy. Experts say the tendency to err on the side of classification is watering down the definition of “secret,” leading to more people needing security clearances to do even non-sensitive government jobs and meaning that true secrets could potentially be accessed by more people.

In a secret court in Washington, Yahoo’s top lawyers made their case. The government had sought help in spying on certain foreign users, without a warrant, and Yahoo had refused, saying the broad requests were unconstitutional.
New York Times

A U.S. District Court judge in New York ruled that a New York Times reporter cannot be forced to testify about his personal observations in a wrongful arrest case involving two Occupy Wall Street protestors. The judge ruled that Times freelancer Colin Moynihan's personal observations were protected by the state's strong shield law. City officials subpoenaed Moynihan to testify about whether police officers warned two protestors to move out of the park before arresting them on Jan. 10, 2012 at Zuccotti Park.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

The Ohio legislature's evolving state budget will move this week to a conference committee, where a select group of lawmakers must settle on a version for Gov. John Kasich's approval. Some members of the six-man committee -- four Republicans and two Democrats -- say their changes to the budget will be aired during open meetings. But experts on the process say the real negotiations will happen behind closed doors, while the public meetings will merely serve as a forum to reveal what's already been decided in private.
Cleveland Plain Dealer

While the list of government (and corporate) whistleblowers continues to grow, their options for leaking continue to shrink. We now live in a world where public servants informing the public about government behavior or wrongdoing must practice the tradecraft of spies and drug dealers à la The Wire. So here’s my guide for safely leaking to the press.


Donald Luzzatto, Virginian-Pilot: There's a difference between the personal information most of us have given the big Internet companies and the database dossier the government has built: The Internet's is more complete. For now at least.  In the name of communication and narcissism, most of America chooses every day to surrender vast and intimate details of our lives to the great information maw that is the Internet.