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United States

Data Quality Act 247

The New York Times has a heads-up about a little-noticed add-on to a massive appropriations bill, signed into law by Clinton but taking effect in October. The amendment allows anyone to challenge data published by the Federal government and have it changed or deleted. The main proponents of the law are pro-business groups seeking to tie up environmental and similar regulations by challenging the government's data.
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Data Quality Act

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  • With all the news about fraudalent accounting can we challegne gov's data from SEC and FAASB concerning frims liek MS and CISco who play accountign scams?
    • Why? The information the SEC has is probably true.

      No, this will have a major good effect. Right now, the US didn't sign the new greenhouse gas emission reduction treaty. Everyone else agreed to an 8% reduction, yet the US only agreed to 7%. This is a big deal. The EU is now saying that we don't make an adequate effort to protect the environment.

      The United States EPA looks at automobile tailpipe emissions in a fundamentally different way than the rest of the world. Right now, the smog laws are quite out of whack, and the new CARB laws are making things even more difficult for enthusiasts. This new law will make it easier for many of us to play with our cars. According to CARB, almost any change made to an engine will cause it to produce more emissions. That is just not true; yet without this law, there really isn't any way for the enthusiast market to fight back. Right now, the only way to get an Executive Order(EO) to state that a new engine part does not increase emissions is a quite lengthy process and is far beyond the reach of most enthusiasts or shops.

      Maybe, with the aid of this new act, tailpipe emissions will remain strict while allowing those of us who make cars our hobby to do what we want. I fear the abuse that many will use it for, but it does have many legitimate purposes and this is but one example.
      • by Zeinfeld ( 263942 ) on Monday June 03, 2002 @07:59AM (#3630171) Homepage
        No, this will have a major good effect. Right now, the US didn't sign the new greenhouse gas emission reduction treaty. Everyone else agreed to an 8% reduction, yet the US only agreed to 7%. This is a big deal. The EU is now saying that we don't make an adequate effort to protect the environment

        You have accepted the Bush admin spin, oh sorry it was the Clinton whitehouse that did spin, the hero of Air Force One on 9/1 does not spin.

        The real difference is that the Kyoto treaty mandates an actual reduction of greenhouse gases of 8% for the biggest polluters - which includes the US which is per capita the biggest polluter of all.

        What the Bush admin 'committed' to was to reduce greenhouse emissions per unit of economic output by 7%. Why is this different? Well if we lived in the Victorian age when economic output was output of physical stuff the commitment might mean something. The US economy grew by 3-4% each year under Clinton but the actual manufacturing base was almost unchanged, the economic growth comes in industries that do not produce much in the way of greenhouse gases, mainly IT.

        So in fact comparing like for like the EU is cutting emissions by 8% while the Bush admin is allow itself to increase them by 30%. So don't be suprised if the EU say that the US is not doing its share.

        It will be interesting to see what the car industry does with this act since the recent increase in US steel tarifs will cost them (and consumers who buy cars) hundreds of millions. The data on which the tarif was justified is pretty flimsy, not all of the US steel industry is having dificulties. The mini-mill manufacturers in the US are as competative as the ones in the EU or anywhere and can sell steel to the auto industry for less than anyone because of shipping costs. The uncompetative steel producers are operating the old integrated plants

        • The real difference is that the Kyoto treaty mandates an actual reduction of greenhouse gases of 8% for the biggest polluters - which includes the US which is per capita the biggest polluter of all.

          Since the pollution is a product of production and not the size of the population, it doesn't make much sense to measure it per capita. Measuring it against production would obviously provide a much better indication of how "environmentally efficient" a nation is. In fact, if you measure it by how much the US produces, the US is not the biggest polluter of all.

          If you use a misleading approach like measuring it per capita, you run the risk of having people dismiss your whole position once they realize you've misled them on this point (It's like the WoD ads that pretend that anyone who uses MJ becomes like Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High). And, really, what do you get in return for the false impression? Does it really matter if the US was the "biggest polluter" or not? It's still a good idea to explore ways to reduce environmental impact even if the US isn't the biggest polluter, isn't it?

          The fact is that the US, like the other established, prosperous nations, is producing cleaner and cleaner all the time, because they can afford to now that they are established and prosperous. Why not give them a pat on the back for current efforts even as you encourage them to continue their efforts? Constantly casting everything like the US is the Great Satan isn't going to be very convincing to the people who don't already agree with you.

          • I agree with everything you've just said, except for this line:

            The fact is that the US, like the other established, prosperous nations, is producing cleaner and cleaner all the time.

            This statement, while arguably true, does not represent the "whole picture." Cars today pollute less than they did 20 years ago. But there is also an increase in the total number of cars! In a very general sense, it's like a stock split. Our cars pollute half as much, but there are twice as many of them. The net result is that total pollution from automobiles hasn't changed.

            Now, I don't know the actual stats, and I'm not sure how we would come up with them, since there are so many oddities (like the hugely popular SUVs that aren't categorized as "cars" by certain gov't standards) but to simply say "Look, the average car is so much more efficient and less polluting than before, we're making great progress here" is only half the story.

            The U.S. does deserve a pat on the back for having a decent environment and air quality. But the U.S. also needs to recognize there's still plenty of work to be done. Moreover, we should realize that the work will never be done, until we make it to the Rodenberry Utopian age. The article on SlashDot a month or so ago about computer waste is just one example of the new challenges we'll have to face as an ever-increasing American population continues to foul our own nest with the latest disposable plastic crap from Wal-Mart/China.
            • Right on. At the end of the day, we're doing this to reduce damage on the planet. So, even if cars are more efficient, if the total ((pollution/per-car)*#_of_cars) is going up, we're still talking an increase in the damage we're doing.

              It's really a catch-22 in many ways. As individual componants become less polluting, the population tends to engage in heavier use of those componants (hey, afterall, they dont pollute as much anymore), and you dont neccessarily benifit from a reduction in emmissions. It really just comes down to the bottom line. The purpose of making products and manufacturing processes pollute less is not to make the individual user feel better about the fact that their one thing (car, factory) now pollutes less ... its to reduce the total amount of pollution!
          • Since the pollution is a product of production and not the size of the population, it doesn't make much sense to measure it per capita. Measuring it against production would obviously provide a much better indication of how "environmentally efficient" a nation is. In fact, if you measure it by how much the US produces, the US is not the biggest polluter of all.

            If you are looking at the effect a given country has on the planetary ecosystem harm done per person does seem a reasonable way to measure things.

            Dividing by 'economic output' is a deceit when the increase in economic output is in information products.

            Comparing as the original post did the proposed 8% reduction in real terms by the EU with the 7% reduction per unit of economic activity by the US without stating the different basis is a deceit. The 'reduction' in output rate under the Bush plan comes exclusively from economic growth.

            Constantly casting everything like the US is the Great Satan isn't going to be very convincing to the people who don't already agree with you.

            Spot the straw man time, anyone who disagrees with US policy is anti-american, if not a member of Al-Qaeda! It is quite possible to be pro-US and anti-George W. Bush. The fact that the Bush camp constantly try shroud and flag waving makes them opportunists, not patriots. I don't think anyone needs lessons in patriotism from someone who hid from the draft in the National guard and was AWOL if not a deserter for much of it.

            Since when did patriotism mean accepting without argument an energy policy written by Keneth Lay?

  • Eyeballs (Score:4, Interesting)

    by valentyn ( 248783 ) on Monday June 03, 2002 @06:53AM (#3629923) Homepage
    Given enough eyeballs, all your documents are shallow.
    • by MarkusQ ( 450076 ) on Monday June 03, 2002 @07:15AM (#3629978) Journal
      Given enough eyeballs, all your documents are shallow.

      Good point, valentyn. With slightly different spin, the ability of anyone to challenge data would have been seen as a Good Thing. I have no idea why you were modded "Offtopic."

      -- MarkusQ

      • Given enough eyeballs, all your documents are shallow.

        Good point, valentyn. With slightly different spin, the ability of anyone to challenge data would have been seen as a Good Thing. I have no idea why you were modded "Offtopic."

        Because the moderators are crack whores. (I can feel the karma burning away right now...)

  • Challenge it all (Score:3, Insightful)

    by robburt ( 139183 ) on Monday June 03, 2002 @06:56AM (#3629929)
    The heart of this is democracy in its most purre form. We should challenge the government, and make them/it own up to findings and declarations. I have to say however that I am not thrilled (or surprised) that this type of freedom will be exploited for what is ultimately a harmful situation for the American public (this includes the harm on the environment).

    I seem to recall people doing this kind of thing to try and get out of a speeding ticket too =)

    • by 00_NOP ( 559413 ) on Monday June 03, 2002 @07:33AM (#3630034) Homepage
      The heart of this is democracy in its most purre form.

      The problem is that the truth is not democratic. Just because some corporate fat cats - or even every member of the US Senate - finds a fact uncomfortable it does not mean it should be deleted or litagated against.

      There are other freedoms at stake here too - the freedom to state the facts, no matter how inconvenient.
      • "The problem is that the truth is not democratic. Just because some corporate fat cats - or even every member of the US Senate - finds a fact uncomfortable it does not mean it should be deleted or litagated against."

        One can infer from your statement that you believe in Truth, with a capital T, and that data that is "True" is sacrosanct.

        The problem is that, in science, there is no such thing as "Truth with a capital T." Accepted theories are always subject to change, data is often reinterpreted or discarded as flawed, and scientists occasionally (or more often) take the role of advocate and design their studies to get to a certain "fact" that they want.

        Anyone remember the studies that showed how radiation treatment followed by bone marropw transplants was a successful treatment for breast cancer. The insurance companies didn't want to pay for it because it was an experimental treatment, until Congress legislated that they do so, based on the previously mentioned study. Turns out the study data was faked because the researchers just KNEW that the treatment should work , and wanted the insurance companies to pay for it. In reality, the outcomes were worse for some women who underwent the treatment. Is Congress going to give them back the months they lost?

        The right to challenge the data the Government uses and produces? Betcherass!
        • The right to challenge the data the Government uses and produces? Betcherass!

          BTW: I am familiar with the nature of scientific positivism.

          I am not familiar with the cancer treatment example you quote, but it certainly isn't clear to me that this was government data!

          How are you going to feel if/when all sorts of government scientific data is challenged by creationists?
          • "How are you going to feel if/when all sorts of government scientific data is challenged by creationists?"

            Just fine - let them.

            This isn't about censorship by narrowly focussed groups (although I'm sure some narrowly focussed groups will utilize it to try and censor).

            It's about the ability to stand up and shout "Bullshit - prove it!" when a statement of fact is made. If proof is offered, sit down. If proof is insufficient, others will take up your call. If one is being unreasonable, one will be laughed at. Previously, one wasn't allowed to call data into question w/o court challenge.
    • by mumblestheclown ( 569987 ) on Monday June 03, 2002 @07:43AM (#3630063)
      No, the heart of democracy is not "... challenge the government and make __them/it__ own up ..."

      The above implies that "the government" in a democracy is something seperate from "us." What you have described is a closely monitored custodianship that can occur in any policical structure--democracy, communism, monarchy, etc, but is most closely associated with european-style socialist bureaucracies.

      If a democracy is rule by the people, then the "most pure form" of democracy would be precisely the opposite--where you could not see the dividing line between "the people" and "the government." There would be no issue of whether you could "challenge the government figures"--it would just be sorta obvious that you could actively participate in any discussion and work on them.

    • What really bothers me about this is this quote from a representative of the "Center for Regulatory Effectiveness:"
      "With the blossoming of the Internet, it's turned into a huge problem for industry," Mr. Kelly said. "Agencies were encouraged to post virtually everything on the Internet. It wasn't such a problem when people had to go through a Freedom of Information Act request."
      I read that as a very thinly-veiled comment suggesting that, really, only the right people should have access to this material -- those with the resources and wherewithal to go through the onerous FOIA process. This isn't really about improving the quality of government data; the emphasis isn't on making data better, but making data that "someone" questions unavailable.

      There is an interesting article regarding the data quality act at the Univ. Colorado science policy newsletter [colorado.edu] (pdf). It points out that the law passed as a rider to a spending bill, not even on its own full merits as legislation. Note that the article points out possible benefits, as well as problems, with the bill -- it reads evenhandedly, but cautiously, worrying that the bill will spur increasing politicization over scientific data/policy.

      -schussat

    • Science facts are not subject to opinion. Take a vote 1000 years ago and it would have established as "fact" that the earth is flat. The following may sound elitist, but dammit it's true: The majority of people don't know a damn thing about science. There's a reason for that - it takes years of hard study to become good at it. And even those who do know a lot about some science are only really knowlegable in their main field, with more "layman" knowlege than average about the other fields.


      How would you like it if computer issues got to be decided by public vote: "Because CPU X has more megahertz that cpu Y it must be faster!" - "But, it's not the same kind of archetecture, you can't make that comparasin!" - "Shut up, eletist tech-boy, We can see one is faster than the other - look at the numbers! You've been outvoted."

  • by Angry Toad ( 314562 ) on Monday June 03, 2002 @06:58AM (#3629933)

    Fabulous. Now lawyers will be the final framers of the scientific and technical truth. They've done such a spectacular job with the concept of "justice" that this is only the next logical step.

    Lots of things have been described as "Orwellian" lately, and this just follows the trend...

    • by Anonymous Coward
      So it is OK that political power groups would remain the final framers of scientific and technical truth?

      I'm usually the last to defend lawyers, but in this case I have no problem with lawyers getting involved in damaging the power of the ruling class to control our lives and create whatever "truth" it wants to perpetuate its own power.
      • The only problem with this philosophy is: who has more lawyers available to them to define the truth, citizens or companies? What will prevent Philip Morris using their lawyers to strike out any claims that links cigarettes to anything except a glamorous lifestyle? How long until the automotive and oil industries funds lawsuits to strike out any correlation between automotive exhaust and environmental or health effects?
      • So it is OK that political power groups would remain the final framers of scientific and technical truth?

        They already are.

        It's just that the groups currently framing the "facts" are the ones with which you apparently agree.

    • by guran ( 98325 ) on Monday June 03, 2002 @07:11AM (#3629964)
      Take it easy.

      As I read is, it is about changing or deleting incorrect data, not questionable conclusions drawn from correct data.


      If moderated wisely, this is a Good Thing. It might be a way to deal with those "estimations of lost revenue" that keeps popping up as soon as we don't buy enough copyrighted stuff...

      • As I read is, it is about changing or deleting incorrect data, not questionable conclusions drawn from correct data.

        Right - heavens forbid that we change or delete the questionable conclusions from correct data (which among other examples already listed would put most of the anthropogenic global warming banter away for good).

        Sigh - I miss science and the scientific method.

        Does anyone remember back in 1997 when Gore announced practically every month was the warmest month ever recorded? Does anyone remember that for most (all?) of those months when the data was actually processed that it really wasn't true?
        (What? Your local paper didn't carry that story?)
        • Does anyone remember back in 1997 when Gore announced practically every month was the warmest month ever recorded? Does anyone remember that for most (all?) of those months when the data was actually processed that it really wasn't true?

          I don't remember this, but it rings true. The one effect that this law can never have and will never have, is to control the massive social influence that scientific lies spoken by politicians have. We need a law against BS spoken by public figures. Scientific slander? If you can't find any scientific authority to back up your data or conclusions, then you go to jail.

      • Since a conclusion is derived from the originating data, it follows that it should be fairly easy disrupt the conclusion by making changes to the said data.

        With all the flaws bureaucracy has, I would still trust a bureaucrat to be considerably more reliable and truthful in an analysis that affected the viability of any particular product or industry than any of the proponents of said industry.

        Rememeber, at the end of the day, a civil servant is there to serve us. A business man serves the almighty dollar and the stockholders of his/her business.
        • Rememeber, at the end of the day, a civil servant is there to serve us. A business man serves the almighty dollar and the stockholders of his/her business.

          Or, put another way: remember, at the end of the day, a business man, having made his profit, will have no further incentive to lie to the public. A civil servant, on the other hand, dependent on convincing the public to fund him and his beauracracy by assuring us that he and it are "serving" us, will never tire of lying to us, no matter how much money and power he extracts from us by force.

          (That is, in essence, a paraphrase of some quote I can't quite recall, having to do with the distinction between a tyrant trying to satiate his base desires and one who is trying to satisfy his "sense" of doing good; the point of the quote being, the latter is far more dangerous, for he is never satisfied, there never being enough "goodness" in the world by his reckoning.)

          • Rubbish. Businesses very often have an incentive to lie - to increase future profits.

            What battiness "libertarianism" produces!

            • Rubbish. Businesses very often have an incentive to lie - to increase future profits.

              I didn't say they didn't -- the discussion was about people, not organizations.

              Making moral judgements about people based solely on their chosen professions or job titles ("businessman vs. beauracrat") is foolish.

              If it wasn't, then we could all be assured that beauracrats never lie, environmental scientists never falsify data, and priests never molest post-pubescent boys.

              What battiness "libertarianism" produces!

              Freedom is battiness? Hmm. (I'm not a Libertarian, by the way, but clearly you associate advocacy on behalf of individual choice versus government regulation with "battiness" and "nuttiness".)

        • Rememeber, at the end of the day, a civil servant is there to serve us.

          "State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it tells lies too; and this lie crawls out of its mouth: 'I, the state, am the people.' "
          -Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathushtra
      • from correct, to being incorrect in the eyes of someone else or vise versa.

        Remember that the next time someone decides to tax you because you live on a waste reclemation site. What you don't live on one? Well we can't spare anyone to come and check, so what we say sticks! Don't forget to pay the EPA on the way out.

    • Fabulous. Now lawyers will be the final framers of the scientific and technical truth.

      Yeah, I agree! Only former lawyers (legislators) should get to decide what is scientific and technical truth!

    • Lots of things have been described as "Orwellian" lately, and this just follows the trend...

      Yes, this story is VERY Orwellian, though not in the way you seem to mean. As I recall 1984 no one could question the governments data even when it was obviously wrong:
      'How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?

      'Four.'
      'And if the party says that it is not four but five -- then how many?'
      'Four.'
      The word ended in a gasp of pain...

      'You are a slow learner, Winston,' said O'Brien gently.
      'How can I help it?' he blubbered. 'How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.
      Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.'
      Obviously our government doesn't generally torture people until the acknowledge that 2+2=5. But government agencies are perfectly capable of getting hold of data that is just as obviously wrong (or at the very least debatable) and making decisions from that bad data that can have a profound impact on peoples lives. Even the sainted EPA which I'm sure would NEVER skew data for political purposes must *occasionally* get something wrong. It's not a BAD thing that there is a route of appeal (even for the invariabley EVIL businessman) other than: "'Four! five! Four! Anything you like. Only stop it, stop the pain!'"
    • As long as no one tries to decree the number of pi to be 3.2 [polytechnique.fr] again...
  • Liberals (Score:1, Interesting)

    by dome ( 574355 )
    The main proponents of the law are pro-business groups seeking to tie up environmental and similar regulations by challenging the government's data.

    Whine, whine, piss, bitch and moan. OH NO, big business is going to destroy mother nature!!! OH NO! Quit your bitching.

    Fact of the matter is, half the environmental "data" that is produced by the federal gov't comes from private organizations who are already hell-bent on saving every last inch of nature at whatever expense is necessary (fraudulent/deceiptful data). It's bullshit.
    • Re:Liberals (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bmongar ( 230600 )
      Fact of the matter is, half the environmental "data" that is produced by the federal gov't comes from private organizations who are already hell-bent on saving every last inch of nature at whatever expense is necessary (fraudulent/deceiptful data). It's bullshit.
      Everyone knows 60% of all statistics are just made up - Homer J Simpson.
    • Hasn't big business already destroyed almost all the environment we have? Preserving nature is not profitable and even costs money. The very act of growing the economy involved taking natural resources and turning them into products and services. As business grows nature will shrink. One is simply an outcome of the other.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 03, 2002 @06:59AM (#3629936)
    while the 'legal loop hole' trick has been used for decades as a way to take away individual rights, enforce political corectness and other morality, and empower the criminal while weakening the victim... I have to wonder if this is really such a good thing, what with the trend that has been set.

    Anyone that does not realize that such data is often willfully misrepresented or fabricated, or at best just a result of horrid incompetency and abuse by your friendly tax funded company/agency, has been asleep or is in a constant state of denial of reality. The question IMHO is not whether we should allow a reexamination of data from these organizations, but how that process is performed. At a bare minimum, the individual should have as much right as any formal organization (which includes lobbiests, companies, special interest groups, etc) Since there have been an increasing number of lies regarding environmentalism, it is important for a number of reasons to get the facts straight AND hold those responsible for misrepresentations accountable. Otherwise, the issue will continue to galvanize and polarize the positions and feelings of the very ones who are supposed to be the reason for all this... 'the Children[/people/future/etc]'. Maybe that is why honor and integrity are so important? Eco nazis that radiate nothing but irrational and inconsistent views, scorn, hate and malice have only given a weapon to those that would use that behavior as a weapon to gain more money and power. While the corporation is labled evil in a pavlovian jerking of the knee by those who lack gray matter and self thought, the fact that there will always be small to large companies who have people in them that WILL abuse such powers is the issue.

    • Global warming (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Maybe we can say goodbye to the myth of manmade global warming.

      Anyone who has been following this stuff for years will remember the dire predictions of the "new ice age" back in the 1970s. The way things go, it is likely within 10 years that the Chicken Littles will be offering their perfect "scientific proof" that the same fossil fuels and greenhouse gases that are said to be causing "global warming" right now will freeze the earth.
      • Re:Global warming (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Here's another little bit of facts you can stuff in your backpocket:

        NASAs global temperature satellite data shows virtually no change in average global temperature (search for it yourself!).

        If there is any global warming whatsoever, its going to happen so slowly that we will have the technology to either fix the problem or leave the planet en masse before it gets bad.
        • Woah, 3 anonymous cowards in a row. Why the reticence to create an account come from? Could it be that all three posts are by the same nutball, perhaps? Nah...

  • The law, which takes full effect on Oct. 1, creates a system under which anyone could point out errors in documents; if an error is confirmed, an agency would have to remove the data from government Web sites and publications.

    Wow, and I thought the government moved slow as it was. If they're having to devote staff to following up on any possible error pointed out by anyone they're either: a) going to grind to a complete halt or b) not post any information in the first place (which I guess is the point).

    • If the dataset is big enough, it *will* have errors in it. If it is the case that data must be pulled if it is found to contain errors, it's going to be a trivial exercise for anyone vaguely numerate to remove any kind to scientific data from consideration in say a legal case.

      In many years of working with large datasets, I am yet to find one that doesn't have some kind of error in it. The key thing to remember is that most of the data is right and it usually doesn't matter if there's a few problems.

      (hoping this legislation has some kind of sanity clause to prevent such abuses)

      Xix.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Excellent point. I believe this is exactly why this law is being supported by big business. What better way to keep a lid on any "scientific evidence" you don't like than by keeping it mired in some dumb law until it becomes useless. Already you see big business is using it to suppress information about global climate change, and I would not be surprised to start seeing challenges to documentation about evolution by creationists.
  • "The policy seems to be, take everything down, and we'll make decisions later."


    Does it really surpise anyone that the government is taking a similiar approach to the Internet as the RIAA?

  • Who wants to be the first to challenge the extraordinarily limited government data [slashdot.org] that video games are incapable of expressing ideas?

    -Evan
    • That finding was misrepesented on slashdot (as usual, sigh). The finding was NOT that video games are incapable of expressing ideas, but that they aren't guaranteed to, and thus don't automatically get free speech protection. That is a very different finding from the one slashdot claimed, which is that they CANNOT get free speech protection. (Which would be damn near impossible to defend in court because you would have to define which computer software is a "game" and which isn't.)

  • (c) NYT (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Questions About Online Data By REBECCA FAIRLEY RANEY

    AN the easy distribution of data promised by the Internet actually bring the type of scrutiny that ultimately leads to less information being available?

    That is the question being raised by a new law called the Data Quality Act, which requires the government to set standards for the accuracy of scientific information used by federal agencies. It is the latest move from Washington highlighting the balance of risks and rewards when disseminating information on the Internet.

    The law, which takes full effect on Oct. 1, creates a system under which anyone could point out errors in documents; if an error is confirmed, an agency would have to remove the data from government Web sites and publications.

    The Data Quality Act, along with recent efforts by government agencies to scrub their Web sites of information to guard national security, indicate a substantial shift to a more conservative culture of information, said Darrell West, a political scientist at Brown who tracks government information on the Web.

    Though the Internet created fewer fortunes than had been expected, it did deliver riches of information, creating an age of government disclosure not seen before. Not so long ago, the mantra was openness; some legislators even scrambled to get lists of campaign contributors into cyberspace where the voters could see.

    But that age may be over.

    "The open-access people just put things online and worried about the consequences later," Professor West said. "Now we're hitting the consequences."

    The Center for Regulatory Effectiveness, a primary backer of the Data Quality Act, has already started requesting changes in government information that is published in print and online.

    This year, the center requested that the United States Global Change Research Program withdraw dissemination of the National Assessment on Climate Change on the basis of "numerous data quality and scientific flaws," according to a letter posted on the group's Web site.

    The center also asked the Environmental Protection Agency to modify its Web site on global warming to reflect the scientific uncertainties about global climate change.

    William Kelly, western representative for the center, said the poor quality of federal data created problems for everyone who used it, from regulators to consumers.

    "With the blossoming of the Internet, it's turned into a huge problem for industry," Mr. Kelly said. "Agencies were encouraged to post virtually everything on the Internet. It wasn't such a problem when people had to go through a Freedom of Information Act request."

    Some watchdog groups say that agencies need to create policies on how to treat information on the Internet, arguing that otherwise, haphazard decisions would lead to more restrictions.

    "The problem is, it's much easier to make decisions about taking down information," said Ari Schwartz, associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit group in Washington. "The policy seems to be, take everything down, and we'll make decisions later."

    Employees of the Interior Department learned the consequences of that approach earlier this year, when a federal judge ordered all the department's computer communications shut because its Web sites were vulnerable to hacking. Agencies fielded complaints from a wide range of people, from those planning vacations to national parks to those seeking the status of bird species. Most of the its Web sites have since been restored.

    Removing information from Web sites became more of a government interest after Sept. 11, as agencies took down information they thought might be useful to terrorists.

    A nonprofit group in Washington called OMB Watch is trying to assess just how much information agencies removed from public Web sites under the new directives. The group sent requests under the Freedom of Information Act to a dozen agencies in January. So far, only the Environmental Protection Agency has sent back a list.

    According to OMB Watch, E.P.A. officials have restored much of the information that they withdrew from its Web sites last fall, including pages dealing with watersheds in New York City and the Envirofacts database, which allows users to retrieve information about air pollution, chemicals at government and business installations, water pollution and grants.

    Responses to the group's inquiry indicate that other agencies may have removed a significant amount of information from the Web. The Energy Department, according to OMB Watch, reported that it had stacks of information waiting to be organized before it could be sent.

    "We have nothing we can nail them down on, and we have no index of what they had in the past," said Sean Moulton, a senior policy analyst with OMB Watch. He said the directives to remove data and the new data-quality guidelines were part of "an overarching mosaic that is about restricting information and removing information from public access."

    "Unfortunately," Mr. Moulton said, "Sept. 11 is being utilized as a pivot point for industry to push an agenda they already had."

    OMB Watch has advocated creation of an office that would oversee what data agencies publish online and the security measures they use.

    But even when done with care for quality and security, publishing on the Internet can still bring unexpected trouble to agencies.

    Five years ago, the Social Security Administration set up a service on its Web site that let individuals look up their income histories and check what benefits were available. People had to enter five pieces of information: full name, Social Security number, date of birth, place of birth and mother's maiden name.

    "By requiring those five items, we felt that was adequate security. It was addressed," said Mark Hinkle, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration.

    That is more information than most people need now to check their bank accounts online, but the agency received a letter from several senators with concerns that hackers could steal individuals' personal information from the site.

    Though no fraud was ever reported, the agency took down the database. Now, Social Security sends earnings records each year by mail.

  • by cperciva ( 102828 ) on Monday June 03, 2002 @07:04AM (#3629946) Homepage
    Libel law states that if someone publishes false and damaging statements about you, they can be forced to retract the statements and/or publish a correction. (If they published the false material deliberately, they can also be required to pay monetary damages.)

    This is just the logical extension of that: Instead of having to prove that the statements caused harm to you, it is merely necessary to prove that the statements are false.

    This is a Good Thing. Yes, it will result in less material being published... but the material which doesn't get published will be primarily the material which wasn't defensible in the first place.
    • Libel requires you to direct specific false and damaging statements against a particular person. Public figures usually cannot sue for libel, and corporate suits are rarely accepted by the courts.

      This law is different, because you do not have to direct a damaging statement at anyone.

      If a government report says "Sulfur Dioxide emmissions were up 20% this year" or something similar, claim that the data is false and sue to keep the information away from the public. And you do not need to prove anything, just tie matters up in court.

      This law is the logical extension of an Internet Denial of Service attack.
      • And you do not need to prove anything, just tie matters up in court.

        No, that isn't how it would work. Under the act, the publisher would have to either amend/retract the material, OR affirm that it was correct. This is just like the DMCA and removal of copyrighted material: As long as the legality of the material is in dispute, it can still be published.
        • Actually, the DMCA says if you comply immediately and remove the material you can't get into trouble, but if you fight it and are found wrong, you do. That is in essence a disincentive to holding out. (If you comply and remove the material we claim is an infringement, you incur zero risk. If you ask us to prove it first, you incur some risk.) So even if you know you are in the right and think you have, say, a 85% chance of winning and being allowed to keep the material on line, you are still talking about incurring a 15% risk versus no risk at all. That is often enough to silence people.

      • Is libel print or is that slander?

        :P
  • by Latent IT ( 121513 ) on Monday June 03, 2002 @07:10AM (#3629963)
    I mean, it's a step in the right direction, but to the /. crowd, it should seem pretty darn obvious - if someone points out a mistake, you have to fix it. Oddly enough, since the government is there to serve the people, if the people point out that the government is a bozo, this is exactly what *should* happen.

    The problem with this bill is just what the article says - no one is going to be challenging the data where a minor functionary has his phone number listed incorrectly. The *big* companies that probably want this sort of ability to challenge data would be the tobbaco companies. After all, those surgeon general warnings are technically government data.

    Theoretically, it will depend on how this data can be used, once changed. A whole hell of a lot of court cases have been won and lost through government researched data. If some important stuff gets debunked, appeals will flood the system more than they do now, digging up old cases from as far back as human memory.

    As an aside - remember the FOIA? It turns out that if the paper you're writing is a draft, it's not FOIA-able. Which is why, (and I'm in government service, sorry to say) that I spend so much time stamping draft on things.
    • by Clemence ( 16887 ) on Monday June 03, 2002 @08:38AM (#3630386)
      "After all, those surgeon general warnings are technically government data. . . .and I'm in government service, sorry to say."

      I concur in your regret that you're in government service.

      First, the Surgeon General's Warning is most certainly NOT government data under the Data Quality law. It is a legally mandated regulatory statement, like the VIN number of your car or the safety warnings on your airbags. There is absolutely no way anyone could challenge those mandates under the Data Quality law, or the OMB Guidelines or Agency Procedures issued in the Federal Register to implement it. To change this a party would need to change Federal laws and regulations, not challenge data.

      Everyone is ranting generally about these challenges. The law and the OMB Guidelines and agency procedures will require more than a mere challenge. A request to correct or remove data must be accompanied by a specific explanation of the basis for the challenge and proof that the challenge is legitimate. In other words, a challenger must prove not only that the gov't is wrong, but that s/he is right.

      Second, merely stamping a document as "DRAFT" does not automatically exempt it from FOIA. To paraphrase "A whole hell of a lot of court cases have been won and lost" through government folks applying such a simplistic understanding of the FOIA. To be exempt from disclosure, the document generally must be exempt from discovery in litigation - there must be a privilege such as attorney work product, attorney-client privilege or deliberative process privilege. Also, the document must be both "pre-decisional" and "deliberative." This often includes drafts, but not because some functionary simply stamped the document "DRAFT." No wonder no one has faith in the FOIA anymore.

      More important, just because a document is exempt doesn't mean it's not "FOIA-able." The FOIA is a *disclosure* law, not a *secrecy* law (i.e. the Privacy Act or the Bank Secrecy Act) - it is intended to encourage disclosure by leaving to the agency's discretion whether to apply the available exemptions. Request whatever you want, the agency is not required to assert an exemption and it is often in the agency's interest to release drafts at some point. LatentIT's agency's practice undermines confidence in the gov't and the FOIA because it is failing to actually consider whether any given document should be disclosed and avoiding the trouble by reflexively stamping it "DRAFT" - that's lazy government at work.

      I share many reader's frustration with lawyers and with the government, but being a lawyer and having some small experience with government service, I also know that much of that frustration stems from ill-informed judgments of what lawyers do and how the law works (and is supposed to work). IMHO it is *always* more effective to gripe about the law and the government based on actually reading the law and the procedures rather than react to the media's characterization . . .

      For the OMB Data Quality Guidelines:
      http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/inforeg /iqg_draft_gu idelines.pdf
      BTW - the comment period is open through July, make all this back and forth worthwhile - read the proposal and submit some comments "this is exactly what *should* happen."

      For good FOIA information:
      http://www.usdoj.gov/oip/
  • Sounds good to me! (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The main proponents of the law are pro-business groups seeking to tie up environmental and similar regulations by challenging the government's data.

    Gosh, what if the data is wrong or like the case out west, where gov't scientists falsified reports (planted fur from a rare animal on a scratching post) in order to support their environmental aims?

  • by heretic108 ( 454817 ) on Monday June 03, 2002 @07:14AM (#3629975)
    rm -i `find / -name \*truth\*`
    vi `find / -name \*truth\*

    Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.
    • Unless you only want to rewrite the part of the truth you didn't forget (the opposite of what you are saying), try this instead:


      find / -name \*truth\* -exec rm -i {} \; -exec test \! -e {} \; -exec emacs {} \;


      This way you get to rewrite everything you delete/forget. You also avoid passing the whole lot as arguments in one go.

      Oh and the second line of yours doesn't parse, it lacks a trailing `.
  • So how do we challenge CIA data?

    I assume that now means that no CIA data wil ever be published whether it has been un classified or not..

    lets see politician wants to hide acrime..oh thats National Security you can;t have access to it..

    Can you see where this is going?
  • This isn't exactly shocking news.

    We have:
    1) Lies
    2) Damn Lies
    3) Statistics

    The part of this that's really irritating of course is: Who is it that ultimately decides the validity of the data? I've read very few reports commissioned on behalf of any government agencies that contained figures that could be considered concrete, i.e. "there are X widgets in the DOD inventory". Generally what are reported are statistical results - "eighty two and a half percent of all households headed by white males are likely to own one or more upright vacuum cleaners". So who is it that decides? Are the originators of said data allowed a rebuttal of any kind? Is there an arbitration process to determine whose figures are closer to reality? Or is it just the party involved who can afford the better lawyer?

    Orwellian indeed.
  • Use vs. DMCA? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by crc32 ( 133399 )
    With Congress giving power to the librarian to create regulations (such as for internet-radio), this act mght actualy be of use to defeat bad copyright law. Just a thought.
  • by BigJim.fr ( 40893 ) <jim@liotier.org> on Monday June 03, 2002 @07:27AM (#3630019) Homepage

    The information processing and liberties act from 6 January 1978 ("loi informatique et libertés") provides a good deal of protection of the citizen against abusive uses of information regarding him, and it has actually proved a very useful piece of legislation although enforcement is not the easy part.

    Article 36 of the law n78-17 of 6 January 1978 states (my translation...) that "The holder of the right of access can require that be rectified, supplemented, clarified, updated or erased information relating to him which is inaccurate, incomplete, ambiguities, out-of-date or whose collection or use, communication or conservation are prohibited.

    When the interested party makes the request of it, the service or organization concerned must deliver without expenses copies of the modified record.

    In the event of dispute, the burden of proof falls on the service before which the right of access is exerted except when it is established that disputed information was communicated by the person concerned or with her agreement".

    The original text (in french) [www.cnil.fr] The obligatory Babelfish translation (in english) [www.cnil.fr]

  • warning: "information wants to be free" rant.

    Not so long ago, the mantra was openness; some legislators even scrambled to get lists of campaign contributors into cyberspace where the voters could see.

    But that age may be over.

    Feh. If the government is unwilling to post this sort of data to the web, other people will post it - accurate or otherwise.

    At the moment, only a small sliver of the population really knows how to get information off of the web. I think that is going to change; the change may be slow, but based on my observations of my little brother's cohort (who are wealthy, white and asian, so not representative of the populace as a whole), I think it's going to be drastic and unexpected in nature and scope. I anticipate that I will continue to be surprised by the form and ends of human activity - this is not a stance whic has disappointed me so far.

    So, in the long run, the government can either post factual information to the web (which most people will trust, even if the government has a proven track record of lying) or remain silent and let the loony/cranky/honest provide the information, instead.

    Regarding the legislation itself - Since the present administration is complicit with industry in scraping environmental laws, I think this will be a very effective means of accomplishing that end. Other agencies may use this legislation as an excuse not to provide information, but I don't think it will have much real effect.
  • by shepd ( 155729 )
    Maybe now businesses can finally counter silly laws such as those that ban harmless Freon [junkscience.com].
    • Pah! Get yourself a decent seat cover then!

      I've seen the sunburned cows that the ozone hole has brought us, and the rediculously short burn times.

      I think it is no coincidence that the people most keen on creating global warming and other forms of pollution (the americans) are in a country that is mostly nicely above sealevel (global warming) and conveniently far from the south pole (ozone "hole" (actually a thinning) - the north pole hole is much smaller).

      NZers on one hand and Dutch people on the other are a little less blasé.

      • I didn't say I don't feel bad for anyone affected by the ozone hole, and I didn't say I don't want to see it closed.

        I'd like to see both things. But banning the sale of freon is like banning the sale of heatpacks to stick in ski-gloves. It just doesn't solve anything whatsoever related to the problem.

        Some quotes from the article:

        "The problem with this theory is that the chlorine molecules in Freon are heavier than air; they settle to the ground upon release - many tens of thousands of feet below the ozone layer."

        "natural processes release exponentially more chlorine into the surrounding air than anything done by the hand of man. For example, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines generated more chlorine in a few short hours than if all the man-made CFCs in the world were vented en masse."
  • This could be a powerful tool for those of us interested in eliminating the costly, futile, foolish, and evil War On (Some) Drugs. The vast majority of respectable research demonstrates that the harm caused by drug use is far less than the government would have you believe and the harm caused by the drug warriors is much greater. Providing a means for us to challenge the bogus information currently used to support this travesty of justice could result in finally bringing some sanity to the discussion.

    Then again, as the man said, "If voting could change anything, it would be illegal."

  • Is any government website that is "Best Viewed with Internet Explorer".

    --Joe
  • This act will enable politicians in individual states yet another inroad to challege the Census findings in their districts. I doubt much good will come from reworking numbers.
  • good (Score:1, Troll)

    by pinkUZI ( 515787 )
    The main proponents of the law are pro-business groups seeking to tie up environmental and similar regulations by challenging the government's data.

    Great. Its about time we get the ability to challenge many of the governments poorly done studies. Especially for businesses, as they often are forced to spend needless money due to regulations based on half-baked theories, such as global warming.
  • I did a little looking and found an interesting article on the FCC web site about the Data Quality Act and their proposed implementation of it. [fcc.gov]

    Apparently the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) is responsible for administering this new law under the Paperwork Reduction Act. and each agency is responsible to tell the OMB how they are going to implement it.
  • Does this mean we can resume counting of ballots in West Palm Beach? Chads were so much fun
  • I fail to see how laws that force te government to tell the truth can be "harmfu" or be "exploited" y business. Environmental agreements like the Kyoto protocol will have unfair and devistating effects on the American economy, and they are based entirly on scientific opinion that is highly questionable at best. "Global Warming" is generally accepted to be true by just about everyone, although there is only limited data proving it. Shouldn't the public be allowed to question massive, sweeping legislation that is based largely on distorted, unproven or sometimes outright fialse scientific data?
    • But maybe that's because the US Economy has unfair and devastating effects on the global environment?

      I'm not saying I'm for the Kyoto Treaty, (I'm not, but for the reason that I don't think greenhouse gases are the cause of the supposed warkimg) just pointing out another view.
  • Ok, so just get a private University like Harvard, Berkley, or MIT to publish the findings, and they can't be challenged. Problem solved.
  • Here are some claims in the bill submitted by Sen. Hollings et. al. that could potentially be affected by this law (the interesting ones in bold):

    The Congress finds:
    (1) The lack of high quality digital content continues to hinder consumer adoption of broadband Internet service and digital television products.
    (2) Owners of digital programming and content are increasingly reluctant to transmit their products unless digital media devices incorporate technologies that recognize and respond to content security measures designed to prevent theft.
    (3) Because digital content can be copied quickly, easily, and without degradation, digital programming and content owners face an exponentially increasing piracy threat in a digital age.
    (4) Current agreements reached in the marketplace to include security technologies in certain digital media devices fail to provide a secure digital environment because those agreements do not prevent the continued use and manufacture of digital media devices that fail to incorporate such security technologies.
    (5) Other existing digital rights management schemes represent proprietary, partial solutions that limit, rather than promote, consumers' access to the greatest variety of digital content possible.
    (6) Technological solutions can be developed to protect digital content on digital broadcast television and over the Internet. [OK, this is probably true since it does not mention the level of protection.]
    (7) Competing business interests have frustrated agreement on the deployment of existing technology in digital media devices to protect digital content on the Internet or on digital broadcast television.
    (8) The secure protection of digital content is a necessary precondition to the dissemination, and on-line availability, of high quality digital content, which will benefit consumers and lead to the rapid growth of broadband networks.
    (9) The secure protection of digital content is a necessary precondition to facilitating and hastening the transition to high-definition television, which will benefit consumers.
    (10) Today, cable and satellite have a competitive advantage over digital television because the closed nature of cable and satellite systems permit encryption, which provides some protection for digital content.
    (11) Over-the-air broadcasts of digital television are not encrypted for public policy reasons and thus lack protections afforded to programming delivered via cable or satellite.
    (12) A solution to this problem is technologically feasible but will require government action, including a mandate to ensure its swift and ubiquitous adoption.
    (13) Consumers receive content such as video or programming in analog form.
    (14) When protected digital content is converted to analog for consumers, it is no longer protected and is subject to conversion into unprotected digital form that can in turn be copied or redistribute illegally.
    (15) As solution to this problem is technologically feasible but will require government action, including a mandate to ensure its swift and ubiquitous adoption.
    (16) Unprotected digital content on the Internet is subject to significant piracy, through illegal file sharing, downloading, and redistribution over the Internet.
    (17) Millions of Americans are currently downloading television programs, movies, and music on the Internet and by using "file-sharing" technology. Much of this activity is illegal, but demonstrates consumers's desire to access digital content.
    (18) Piracy poses a substantial economic threat to America's content industries.
    (19) A solution to this problem is technologically feasible but will require government action, including a mandate to ensure its swift and ubiquitous adoption.
    (20) Providing a secure, protected environment for digital content should be accompanied by a preservation of legitimate consumer expectations reading use of digital content in the home.
    (21) Secure technological protections should enable owners to disseminate digital content over the Internet without frustrating consumers' legitimate expectations to use that content in a legal manner.
    (22) Technologies used to protect digital content should facilitate legitimate home use of digital content.
    (23) Technologies used to protect digital content should facilitate individuals' ability to engage in legitimate use of digital content for educational or research purposes.

    (I got the above text from the politechbot [politechbot.com] page.)

    Now, I don't have a clue whether the above document falls under the new law or not. Certainly it makes a number of claims and conclusions without using statistics (except the vague "millions"), so perhaps it would be protected by its ambiguity. But: If it is subject to the new law, then that means that any citizen can challenge the veracity of any phrase in proposed legislation. Big can o' worms! And if it's not subject, then expect even less actual background information in future bills as they are made more and more ambiguous so they do not become subject to the new law.

  • Think about it for a while and it seems that while pro-business groups could abuse it, it would also provide power to other groups to do good things. Envirmental groups wouldn't just sit there and let businesses create false results anyway..

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