When the Bureau of Investigative Journalism asked to see a contract between property developers and the North London borough of Haringey, its reporters were disappointed to receive a heavily-redacted document. This was part of a drive by the UK nonprofit to test the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014, which gives citizens and journalists the right to access the accounts and related documents of city councils and other local authorities.
Public records sometimes say the darnedest things. One example: A declassified memo from 1977 shows that the NSA wondered if psychics could nuke cities so that they became lost in time and space (yes, like in the post-apocalyptic anime Akira). Other times, it’s what they don’t say — like when the FBI found it necessary to redact the name of Superman’s alter-ego, Clark Kent.
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Research into property records has played a major role in uncovering corruption. The following sampling, mostly from 2018, shows the variety and importance of investigative reporting in this area. Tracking Official Corruption
“Millionaires Among the Nominees” is a story by the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN) based on investigating the property holdings of 121 Bosnian politicians, highlighting the assets of the 10 richest ones. CIN reporters compiled information about the candidates’ property from land records and from asset declarations, combining them into a CIN database of “politicians’ assets.”
Sometimes it’s about tracking down expensive homes owned by public officials and corporate executives, as was done on several occasions by journalists in Armenia. “Skirting Disclosure Laws: Armenian Officials and Their Assets in the Czech Republic” describes a probe conducted by Hetq Online, published by the Association of Investigative Journalists, which also wrote: “Undue Influence?
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The lack of transparency about property records gets little media attention. It’s just not sexy enough for most journalists, as several land policy experts have lamented. Specific conflicts over land ownership, between local communities and corporate interests, for example, may make national headlines. But the underlying causes of such controversies — including power imbalances, corruption, weak land rights laws and hazy records — go underreported. The lack of accurate records is one of the key problems and the source of widespread insecurity about property rights, experts say. The scope of the undocumented land problem is dauntingly huge.
What’s the best way to protect you and your sources from commercial spyware? When the actual systems and applications used in everyday communications aren’t transparent and lack adequate security measures, using open source programs with encryption can be the best line of defense. Katarina Sabados rounded up some options for open source digital security for GIJN.
Many in the journalistic profession fear Artificial Intelligence will leave them without a job. But AI could become the savior of the trade, making it possible to better cover the increasingly complex, globalized and information-rich world we live in. Open Society Foundations’ María Teresa Ronderos writes about the ways some of the world’s newsrooms are using it now.
Two French investigative journalists are launching Disclose, a nonprofit newsroom which plans to produce investigative reports free of commercial pressures – and generate the impetus for meaningful change. Olivier Holmey writes about the new media group on the block for GIJN.
How can a journalist request Federal Bureau of Investigation’s files on an individual? MuckRock’s JPat Brown prepared a useful step-by-step flowchart guide for all scenarios to help you make sure you’ve gathered all the materials you need before you file that FOIA.
For the last three years Gavin Chait has been fighting — and winning — multiple freedom of information cases to unlock data on vacant properties. Here are the lengths he took to disprove the City of London’s excuse for not publishing information on unoccupied commercial properties.