Public Records Access Outside of the United States

Recent press coverage of ties between a Mexican company with major public works contracts and the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto demonstrates that public records are useful in many international research applications. Here's a primer on how to find records internationally. 

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Twitter Now Searchable Back to 2006

This week Twitter announced that all public Tweets are now indexed and searchable back to 2006.  Until now, searching on Twitter's interface returned recent results from within about the last week, but searching for older Tweets required using a third-party service, such as Topsy.  While third-party services are still helpful tools for searching deleted Tweets and other advanced analyses, this is a welcome addition to Twitter's use as a research tool.  Read more in this excellent article in Wired, and more about the technical details behind the index on Twitter's Engineering Blog.

Federal Contractor Misconduct Database

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) maintains a useful tool for researchers.  The organization’s Federal Contractor Misconduct Database includes information on federal contractors with histories of contract fraud, environmental, ethics or labor violations.  The database, which includes records of misconduct involving top federal contractors between 1995 and the present, is compiled from a number of sources including documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), court records and official government reports. Use the database to find instances of misconduct (organized by contractor) and a total amount paid in misconduct-related fines or legal settlements. 

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Quick Ways to Check a Stock Broker's Background

 A Liz Moyer short in this weekend's Wall Street Journal called out the easiest ways to check a registered broker dealer's background.  To see what is on file use the BrokerCheck tool on the finra.org website.  The Moyer short also notes the advisability of checking with state-level broker regulators since BrokerCheck doesn't capture every investor complaint.  A list of state regulators can be found here.

Keep in mind that quick and thorough seldom amount to the same thing so be aware that additional checks might need to be conducted (e.g., lawsuit, lien and judgment searches).

Private Equity Fund Fees -- Exempt from Disclosure?

Recent focus on the fees and expenses charged to clients by private equity firms has caused a ripple on the public records pool as these firms work to keep what they charge public pension funds under wraps.  The Wall Street Journal has reported on its efforts to obtain fee and expense data and the resistance the paper has met.  This is not the first, nor will it be the last battle that plays our around whether this type of information is in fact secret under trade secrets exemptions contained in state open records laws.  Read the WSJ story here.

California City and County Financial Data Online

The California State Controller has posted a new data tool that will help researchers with an interest in municipal finance.  The new By the Numbers tool is drawn from the Controller’s annual financial transaction report compiling municipal revenue, spending and asset information.  The tool allows comparisons between cities and also allows raw data export and will come in handy for researchers looking at city and county budgets.

Office of Government Information Services Resolves Disputes, Guides Requesters & Agencies through FOIA Process

Established by the OPEN Government Act of 2007 and opened in 2009, the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) oversees federal agencies’ compliance with FOIA, serving as a mediator between citizens requesting records and the agencies responsible for furnishing them. A glance at OGIS’ case logs shows that they address the full variety of roadblocks one might encounter in the FOIA process.

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FOIA Nets Letters from Companies that Didn't Want Records Released

The Wall Street Journal has turned a tried and true Freedom of Information Act tactic on its head with some interesting results. In an instance reported in today's Journal, the paper used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain letters written by companies and individuals who wrote to the Federal Aviation Administration requesting that their private jet flight plans be excluded from public flight tracker databases.  

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Digital Public Library Launches

The Digital Public Library of America was launched today.  Led by Executive Director Dan Cohen, the DPLA may very well become the modern answer to the Library of Alexandria -- the ancient world's most extensive knowledge center. At present, the library contains over two million items in multiple formats (texts, pictures, movies, etc.) drawn from the collections of multiple partner institutions including the New York Public Library, the Smithsonian Institution and the Minnesota Digital Library.

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Storm Feed Captures, Archives Congressional Tweets

LegiStorm continues to expand its impressive collection of House and Senate documents with its most recent addition causing a mini-storm of its own by capturing, archiving and making text searchable all Capitol Hill tweets and press releases.  In so doing, the StormFeed service caught a few Capitol Hill staffers by surprise since their tweets, not all of which were strictly official, became word searchable and accessible as a whole, as opposed to on a feed-by-feed basis.  (More on this from the Washington Post's Al Kamen.) In the meantime, keep an eye on LegiStorm as the service rolls out new products on a fairly consistent basis.

Update: San Jose Appeals Ruling on Access to Gov. Officials' Private Devices

As expected the City of San Jose has appealed a Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge's ruling on the applicability of the California Public Records Act to communications contained on private devices maintained by elected and other government officials.  (For background on the ruling, see our entry here.) The City is basing its appeal on a number of arguments ranging from the practical (i.e., applying a search requirement across an entire city workforce would be overly burdensome) to the purely legal argumentative (e.g., individual government officials are not governmental entities as defined under the California Public Records Act.)

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