Peter Scheer
On Access by Peter Scheer

Government officials should listen to voters instead of lawyers selling strategies for blocking access to information

Regardless of what they say to the contrary, government agencies are in the business of withholding information from the public (or, what amounts to the same thing, disclosing only that information that the agencies want the public to have). This tight-fistedness about information is written into government’s DNA. But some efforts to withhold information are […]

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On Access by Peter Scheer

FAC files amicus in SCOTUS case testing 1st Amdt rights of gov workers. FAC’s lawyer: Floyd Abrams.

In an amicus brief filed in the US Supreme Court this week, the First Amendment Coalition urged the Court to clarify and expand the free speech rights of government employees when speaking out on matters that relate to their job. The case is Lane v. Franks, which will be decided in the next three months. […]

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On Access by Peter Scheer

Ballot measure to subdivide CA assumes smaller government is closer to voters. But it’s also closer to special interests.

Tim Draper, the legendary venture capitalist  (Tesla, Baidu, Yahoo), also dabbles in politics—albeit at a much lower rate of return. His latest foray into the political arena is a ballot initiative to subdivide California into six states of roughly equal size. This proposal faces serious hurdles, not least that the federal government would say no, […]

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On Access by Peter Scheer

When mayors evade disclosure rules by using personal email accounts for city business, it is democracy that suffers. We’ll know soon if the courts, like the public, have lost patience.

For years government officials in California have known that their emails about official business are subject to disclosure as public records. Although mayors, city managers, supervisors and superintendents may not like this, the applicability of the public records law to email messages is settled. You will not be shocked to learn, however, that many government […]

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On Access by Peter Scheer

US relaxes gag order, permitting Google, Facebook et al to disclose scope of NSA access. But what if the firms don’t know the extent of NSA access?

Ever since Edward Snowden began leaking classified documents about NSA surveillance, Google and other tech companies have wanted to reveal the extent of NSA’s access—pursuant to orders of the secret FISA Court—to their customers’ accounts. They have wanted to disclose specifics on NSA access not just because they care about transparency, but because they expected […]

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On Access by Peter Scheer

Are journalists who use leaked records engaging in the “fencing” of stolen property?

Some government officials have been pushing the theory that journalists who write stories based on leaked classified documents—think Glenn Greenwald, for example—are engaging in the “fencing” of stolen property. Mike Rogers, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee, made this point yesterday when questioning FBI Director James Comey at a congressional hearing. Rogers asked,“So […]

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On Access by Peter Scheer

For Google, Facebook et al, the best defense against NSA surveillance is not legal reform, but technology that forces the agency to come through the “front door”

Although America may be more divided, more politically and ideologically polarized, than at any time in the last 50 years, on at least one issue—the National Security Agency’s surveillance of phone and internet communications—there appears to be a near consensus of disapprobation. Everyone distrusts the NSA and wants to see its activities curbed. Democrats and […]

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On Access by Peter Scheer

Score one big victory for access to government data

In a long-running test case about government transparency and public access to government data, the First Amendment Coalition recently won a big victory. The California Supreme Court sustained FAC’s claim that the State Bar—an arm of the judiciary that regulates lawyers—must disclose extensive data on applicants for admission to the Bar (minus their names and […]

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On Access by Peter Scheer

Can a journalist “plead the fifth” to avoid having to name a confidential source? A federal judge say yes.

Several years ago, when journalists by the dozen were being threatened with jail for refusing to name their confidential sources, I wrote an article urging them to invoke the fifth amendment’s protection against self-incrimination–to use the fifth amendment to reinforce the first amendment-based “journalist’s privilege.” This idea hasn’t gotten much traction, until now: a federal judge […]

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On Access by Peter Scheer

NSA may have adhered to legal rules, but legal rules can’t keep up with changes in surveillance technology

A year or two from now, when investigators have taken stock of all the revelations in the NSA records released by Edward Snowden, the verdict is likely to be that the exposed NSA surveillance activities were NOT unlawful. That isn’t to say the NSA’s scarfing up of email and phone call metadata filling acres of […]

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