Celebrate Public Participation on Human Rights Day

Today is Human Rights Day. This year's theme, "inclusion and the right to participate in public life," is close to our hearts here at OMB Watch.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights," and goes on to define a life of dignity as one in which freedom of opinion and expression, the right to health, and the right to participate in government are guaranteed. All governments are obliged to respect and promote these rights, and national and international mechanisms exist to enforce them.

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Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board Begins Work

This morning, the long-awaited Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is holding its first public meeting. Congress created the board in 2007 to ensure privacy and civil liberties are protected from overzealous domestic counterterrorism activities.  However, the board has laid dormant since its creation. The Senate failed to confirm President Bush's nominees in 2008.

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Scaling Up Transparency: New Approaches Could Yield Greater Openness

Two reforms launched by federal agencies this month represent new approaches to more efficiently releasing government information. New websites to publish declassified documents and records released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) could set new precedents and improve on older practices by making the information available to everyone online.

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New Website Will Make Government Information Easier to Obtain

A new federal website launched Oct. 1 could speed processing of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and release more information to the public. FOIAonline is a multi-agency portal that allows the public to submit and track requests, receive responses, and search others' requests through a single website. The system also provides agencies new features to assist with processing requests, which could improve timeliness and reduce backlogs. Agencies can also use the system to publish their responses to FOIA requests, which would make this information more widely accessible.

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One Year Later, Delivering on the Commitments of the Open Government Partnership

Sept. 20 marked the one-year anniversary of the launch of the global Open Government Partnership (OGP) and the release of the U.S. National Action Plan detailing the Obama administration's commitments to strengthen transparency in the federal government. The partnership and the administration's implementation efforts have both made significant progress toward their goal of more open and responsive governments in the U.S. and worldwide.

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New Freedom of Information Guidance Advances Openness

 New guidance issued Friday by the Department of Justice (DOJ) will help to ensure that a little-known part of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) will not be inappropriately used to shield agency activities from public scrutiny.

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Law that Legalized Warrantless Wiretapping Up for Reauthorization Today

The FISA Amendments Act, the 2008 law that legalized the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, is up for reauthorization on the House floor, with a vote scheduled for later today. The law authorizes the government to get permission from a special, secret court to investigate international communications of American citizens, without specifying suspicion of wrongdoing. 

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Chevron Refinery Fire Highlights Need for Better Risk Management, Safer Chemical Alternatives

In August, a major fire at a Chevron oil refinery in California sent thousands of people to hospitals and forced local residents to hide in their homes with their doors and windows shut. The fire, which sent clouds of black smoke over the San Francisco Bay area, highlights the risks that refineries and chemical plants can pose to local communities and the need for ready access to information that residents can use to protect themselves and their families from chemical disasters.

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New Federal Agency Hits the Ground Running with Proactive Standards for the Release of Information

A new federal agency is making a strong start out of the box by establishing a proactive policy of releasing information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). FOIA regulations published today by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) include an important clause committing the agency to proactively disclose the information it collects. The agency adopted the policy in response to a recommendation by OMB Watch.

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New Complaint Database Will Empower Credit Card Users, May Expand to Other Financial Products

On June 19, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a policy that establishes a public online database of credit card complaints from customers. The database allows consumers shopping for a credit card to view data about other customers' experiences in order to avoid abusive practices and poor customer service.

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