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Gingersnap
09-15-2009, 10:42 AM
Critics say technology is enemy of open government

The growing use of difficult-to-trace e-communications has raised concerns about public officials circumventing open-government laws.

BY SHANNON COLAVECCHIO AND MARY ELLEN KLAS
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE -- State Sen. Mike Fasano sat through a meeting of his chamber's banking and insurance committee last spring and watched a fellow lawmaker field instant messages on his BlackBerry from a lobbyist.

``That's inappropriate,'' said Fasano, R-New Port Richey. ``I leave my BlackBerry in my office. But I look down the row in committee and half of [the lawmakers] are looking down at their BlackBerrys.''

The era of electronic communication has changed the way elected officials communicate -- complicating compliance with the state's public-records law, and raising concerns about inappropriate contact that lobbyists and businesses might have with the agencies and lawmakers who can decide their fate.

Just last week, three staff members of the Public Service Commission were either reassigned or put on administrative leave after they sent their BlackBerry PIN codes to a Florida Power & Light lobbyist.

The dustup brought to light a practice that is likely unfamiliar to many citizens but common in Tallahassee.

Walk through the Capitol or its surrounding streets during the legislative session, and you will witness a sea of lawmakers and lobbyists pecking message after message into their BlackBerrys, iPhones and cellphones. Kill this bill. Add that amendment. What's the vote going to be? We need to talk.

Often, the messages are sent not through state e-mails but via text messages or PINs, unique instant messages that are routed between individual BlackBerrys without leaving a paper trail. Capitol reporters use PINs and text messages, too -- in part for speedy delivery, and in some cases because sources feel most comfortable using a medium they perceive as less traceable than e-mail.

``It has given me grave concerns,'' said PSC executive director Mary Bane, whose agency is reviewing the practice to see how other agencies handle it. ``We don't want to violate public-records laws but it seems like a gray area.''

Bane said the controversy comes at an especially difficult time as the PSC, the state's utility regulators, hears a rate case.

``We are concerned about public perception,'' she said. ``We don't want to lose the public trust.''

State agencies, legislators and Gov. Charlie Crist were warned months ago about the impact that fast developing communication mediums like iPhones, Facebook and BlackBerrys have on public-records access. A report delivered in January by the Commission on Open Government Reform alerted them to the growing trend and recommended the creation of ``policies and procedures for ensuring that public records maintained on personal computers or transmitted via personal Internet accounts are disclosed and retained according to law.''

Commission leader Barbara Peterson, president of the First Amendment Foundation, has drafted legislation based on the group's suggestions. But Crist spokesman Sterling Ivey said the governor -- a vocal advocate for public records -- has not decided on his legislative agenda.

Crist formed the group in 2007, shortly after taking office, to review public-records laws and recommend necessary changes or improvements.

The commission stressed that while the use of personal computers and handheld devices like iPhones and BlackBerrys ``has changed the nature of communication,'' it ``has not diminished the value of Florida's open government laws or the need for public officials to consistently follow the law.''

The fabled two-edged sword.

Miami Herald (http://www.miamiherald.com/news/florida/story/1234012.html)

Crystal Wizard
09-15-2009, 12:28 PM
Unfortunately, technology is the enemy of personal liberty as well. The government will soon be able to trace you virtually all of the time. The usual answer to that is either (a) "Why would the government want to trace my activities?" or (b) "If you haven't done anything wrong, why care?" Response (b) is stupid on its face, but (a) can be answered quite simply. Perhaps the government doesn't want to trace you now, but with the advances in facial recognition technologies, should they ever wish to in the future, they will soon be able to go back and retrocatively trace your every step.

The Soviet Union's centralized planning failed simply because the technology wasn't there. It soon will be, and that should scare everyone who believes in personal freedom.

ralph wiggum
09-15-2009, 12:37 PM
Unfortunately, technology is the enemy of personal liberty as well. The government will soon be able to trace you virtually all of the time. The usual answer to that is either (a) "Why would the government want to trace my activities?" or (b) "If you haven't done anything wrong, why care?" Response (b) is stupid on its face, but (a) can be answered quite simply. Perhaps the government doesn't want to trace you now, but with the advances in facial recognition technologies, should they ever wish to in the future, they will soon be able to go back and retrocatively trace your every step.

The Soviet Union's centralized planning failed simply because the technology wasn't there. It soon will be, and that should scare everyone who believes in personal freedom.

I understand that response (b) is somewhat stupid on its face, but why would the government or any agency want or need to hack into my blackberry to read my text messages on where I'm meeting my friends for drinks, or what tee times we have for Sunday? I'm just not that interesting, and based on what I'm told that are the contents of most Iphones/Blackberries, there just ain't nothing there to be concerned with.

Rockntractor
09-15-2009, 12:43 PM
Unfortunately, technology is the enemy of personal liberty as well. The government will soon be able to trace you virtually all of the time. The usual answer to that is either (a) "Why would the government want to trace my activities?" or (b) "If you haven't done anything wrong, why care?" Response (b) is stupid on its face, but (a) can be answered quite simply. Perhaps the government doesn't want to trace you now, but with the advances in facial recognition technologies, should they ever wish to in the future, they will soon be able to go back and retrocatively trace your every step.

The Soviet Union's centralized planning failed simply because the technology wasn't there. It soon will be, and that should scare everyone who believes in personal freedom.
Well said!

pssvr
09-15-2009, 12:47 PM
why would the government or any agency want or need to hack into my blackberry to read my text messages on where I'm meeting my friends for drinks, or what tee times we have for Sunday?
Because you could be talking about your favorite political candidate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ron_Paul) and that could make you a terrorist in the state of Missouri (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,510325,00.html).

Gingersnap
09-15-2009, 12:49 PM
I understand that response (b) is somewhat stupid on its face, but why would the government or any agency want or need to hack into my blackberry to read my text messages on where I'm meeting my friends for drinks, or what tee times we have for Sunday? I'm just not that interesting, and based on what I'm told that are the contents of most Iphones/Blackberries, there just ain't nothing there to be concerned with.

Because you may have messed up your mandatory government health insurance payments and the IRS will want to know where to pick you up after they've destroyed your house while you were gone.

Rockntractor
09-15-2009, 12:51 PM
Because you may have messed up your mandatory government health insurance payments and the IRS will want to know where to pick you up after they've destroyed your house while you were gone.

Thanks Ginger that is one of my greatest fears!