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Why Section 230 is essential for civic websites like OPRAmachine

Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team

Why Section 230 is essential for civic websites like OPRAmachine

You may have recently heard about attempts to reform a federal law known as Section 230 or ongoing legal battles involving big tech companies over possible challenges to the law. But "big tech" isn't the only thing at stake in the debate surrounding possible changes to the law - your ability to obtain public records via OPRAmachine is at risk if this law were to be reformed.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is a crucial law that protects online platforms from liability for user-generated content. This law is essential for running civic websites like OPRAmachine, which allow citizens to easily access and request public records. It has been a topic of much debate in recent years, with some arguing that the law needs to be reformed to hold platforms accountable for the spread of misinformation and harmful content. However, others argue that changing the law would have a detrimental effect on the free flow of information and the ability of platforms to provide a space for public discourse and civic engagement.

The OPRAmachine platform is a powerful tool for increasing government transparency and civic engagement. It allows citizens to make public records requests to state and local government agencies, and provides an easy-to-use interface for searching and viewing the records that are obtained. This is essential for holding government officials accountable and promoting informed participation in the democratic process.

Law protects free flow of information on OPRAmachine

However, attempts to reform Section 230 would put the OPRAmachine platform at risk. Without the protections provided by Section 230, platforms like OPRAmachine could be forced to censor or remove content contained in public records or posted by our users in order to avoid legal liability. This would undermine the very purpose of the platform and prevent citizens from accessing important information.

According to a report by the Center for Democracy and Technology, "Section 230 allows online platforms to host a wide range of speech without fear of legal liability for that speech. This protection allows platforms to facilitate robust public discourse and civic engagement without having to constantly monitor user-generated content for potential legal violations."

Furthermore, without Section 230, platforms like OPRAmachine could be subject to frivolous litigation designed to stop public participation. This would not only be a costly burden for the platform, but it would also make it harder for citizens to access the information they need.

We call on policy makers to reject any attempts to reform Section 230 and to support the continued operation of civic websites like OPRAmachine, which play a vital role in promoting government transparency and civic engagement. The free flow of information is a cornerstone of a democracy and citizens should have access to the information they need to hold their government accountable.

We encourage citizens to voice their support for Section 230 and the continued operation of civic websites like OPRAmachine. By working together, we can ensure that government transparency and civic engagement remain strong.

Contact your congress member and tell them to #SaveSection230

One way you can take action is by reaching out to your congress member and letting them know how important Section 230 is to you. You can find your congress member and their contact information by visiting this website: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

We also encourage you to join our campaign and spread the word about the importance of Section 230 on social media using #SaveSection230. Together, we can ensure that public records remain easily accessible to all citizens.

An update to content removal procedures at OPRAmachine

Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team

An update to content removal procedures at OPRAmachine

We wanted to let you know about some important changes to our procedures for content removal that have recently taken effect. These changes are in line with our updated terms of service, and we believe they will help streamline the process for users seeking to have content removed from our platform.

Effective December 12th, 2022 there is now a single method for submitting content removal requests regarding user-generated content hosted on the OPRAmachine platform. To request the removal of an OPRA request or response, individuals must utilize the form provided on the individual web page for that request. We will no longer be responding to content removal inquiries sent via email or the website's general contact form for reasons of operational efficiency and to ensure that we have all information needed to take action on a request.

Under our new content removal procedure, users seeking to have content removed from the OPRAmachine platform must follow the steps outlined below:

  1. Navigate to the web page of the OPRA request that you believe has content that warrants removal (should start with https://opramachine.com/request)
  2. On that page, click the "Actions" menu.
  3. Select the "Report this request" option.
  4. Fill out the form provided, including a brief description of the content you would like removed and the reason for its removal. The reason must be one of those listed in our Terms of Service in order to be considered.
  5. Submit the form.
An update to content removal procedures at OPRAmachineThe actions menu can be found on the top, right-hand side of an OPRA request page on OPRAmachineAn update to content removal procedures at OPRAmachineWhen clicked, the fourth option down on the "Actions" menu contains a button to report a request for removal labeled "Report this request."

Please note that these revised procedures do not modify our existing procedures for removals related to the Digital Millenium Content Act (DMCA), which remains the same as outlined in the terms.

As per our terms of service, as an interactive computer service that provides a platform for user-generated OPRA requests and content, OPRAmachine reserves the right, but not the obligation, to remove content that violates our terms of service in our sole discretion.

We do not entertain bulk "opt out" requests from individuals or organizations and will typically only remove confidential, personal identifiers that are improperly redacted or illegal content within a specificly identified file hosted on the OPRAmachine service, as outlined in our terms of service.

It is important to note that we have no control over external search engines or websites that may display content hosted on the OPRAmachine platform, such as Google. If you would like to request the removal of content from an external source, you will need to contact that source directly.

We appreciate your understanding of these updated procedures for content removal. If you have any questions or concerns, please refer to the full OPRAmachine terms of service. Thank you for using OPRAmachine!

Regular service restored to OPRAmachine

Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team

Regular service restored to OPRAmachine

We are happy to announce that normal service has been restored on OPRAmachine. We have completed server upgrade work to better handle the increased volume of traffic to the OPRAmachine service, as well as other "under the hood" changes to more efficiently run the platform.

We also apologize for any inconvenience that may have been caused by the recent issue that was preventing users from submitting OPRA requests from the evening of December 14th to the afternoon of December 15th, 2022.

After extensive investigation, we have identified the issue and implemented a fix. We encourage users who encountered an error today, December 15th, 2022 or the previous day, to try submitting their requests again.

We appreciate your patience and understanding as we worked to resolve this issue. If you continue to experience any issues or have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to our team.

Batch requests by category now available for OPRAmachine Pro users

Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team

Batch requests by category now available for OPRAmachine Pro users

We are excited to announce the release of a new feature for our platform: batch request by category. This feature allows users to easily submit batch requests to entire categories of public authorities in just a few clicks. To prevent abuse of this powerful feature, this functionality is currently available to OPRAmachine Pro members.

Previously, making batch requests required manually selecting each individual public authority, which could be time-consuming and tedious. Now, with the new batch request by category feature, users can simply select the category they are interested in and submit their request to all relevant authorities in one go.

Batch requests by category now available for OPRAmachine Pro usersAn example of batch OPRA request by category shown using Municipal Utilities Authorities

This new feature is particularly useful for users who need to make comparative research for academic purposes or bulk requests to gather business intelligence. It's also useful for public-interest open government advocacy, as this can be useful for requesting documents and data that would show how compliant particular localities are with state mandates. It also saves OPRAmachine users time and effort, allowing users to quickly and easily access the information they need.

To use the batch request by category feature, simply log in to your OPRAmachine Pro account and start a new batch request. Select "browse by category" from the main menu. From there, you can choose the category you want to submit your request to and follow the steps to complete your request.

We hope that this new feature will be a valuable addition to your OPRAmachine Pro experience and make it even easier for you to access public records. As always, we welcome your feedback and suggestions, so please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or comments.

Degraded performance & downtime affecting OPRAmachine

Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team

Degraded performance & downtime affecting OPRAmachine

We wanted to let you know that we are currently experiencing degraded performance on our service. We are actively investigating the cause, and it is possible that there has been a server or equipment failure on the server that hosts the OPRAmachine service.

We have created a status page that allows you to check whether OPRAmachine is currently working or not. We encourage you to check that page regularly if you are having problems accessing the service.

In order to resolve the issue, we may need to perform a migration to a new server, among other remedial measures. This means that there may be some downtime or interruption of service while we work to fix the problem. However, please be assured that any responses to your OPRA requests will not be lost during this downtime. They will be received by our mail server and processed by the service when it is back to full capacity.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, and we are doing everything we can to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. We will provide updates as we have them.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Debunking 5 common misconceptions about OPRAmachine

Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team

Debunking 5 common misconceptions about OPRAmachine

As the OPRAmachine platform celebrates its 5th anniversary, we want to take a moment to address some of the common misconceptions that local officials still have about our platform. Despite the widespread recognition and success of our platform, there are still some officials who are unsure about what we do and how we do it. In this blog post, we will debunk the top 5 misconceptions that local officials still have about the OPRAmachine platform and explain why they are simply not true.

1. OPRAmachine does not create an added burden to public entities

OPRAmachine is often blamed for increasing the volume of requests that public entities receive because we make it easier for people to seek out public records. However, many of the bottlenecks seen in responding to OPRA requests stem from a lack of resources or antiquated paper-based processes in government. It is fair to say that OPRA is an "unfunded mandate" from the state to local government because the law was passed mandating compliance from local authorities without the provision of state resources for the same. But OPRAmachine's role is to simply facilitate

Furthermore, many municipalities fail to adequately provide clerks with the resources they need to effectively respond to records requests. This can include inadequate staffing, training, and technology, which can make it difficult for clerks to keep up with the demands of their job. In these cases, using a tool like OPRAmachine can actually help clerks overcome these challenges and more easily fulfill requests in a timely and efficient manner. In short, OPRAmachine can be a valuable resource for both individuals submitting public records requests as well as public entities, making the process of requesting and fulfilling records requests more efficient and effective.

Lastly, as responsible platform operators, since OPRAmachine was first developed the platform has included rate limits that limit how many requests free users can submit per day. This limit is currently 3 requests per day. This prevents abuse of the platform by vexatious requesters.

2. No "machine" is automatically generating OPRA requests sent to public entities from OPRAmachine

Some records custodians, particularly a subset of municipal clerks, have complained that "they don't want to respond to a machine," wrongfully believing that the OPRAmachine platform is generating automatic requests from robots and not humans. This is simply untrue. The platform has not, and will never support the automated generation of OPRA requests without human approval. All users must manually select the public authorities they'd like to request records from and they complete the act of filling out our easy to use online form and affirmatively complete the act of confirming their submission of the request. Then, OPRAmachine generates a special email address that uniquely tracks all correspondence related to the OPRA request and enables its automatic publication online.

3. We don't represent users who submit OPRA requests using the platform or tell them what to do

OPRAmachine.com itself does not, and has not submitted requests on behalf of third parties nor do we act as their agent and / or attorney in connection with the OPRA request process. We simply operate a platform that hosts user-generated content that users voluntarily choose to use for the submission of their OPRA requests for added convenience, ease of use, and ready access to public information.

All individuals who submit requests via OPRAmachine do so at their own behest, and with full knowledge that the resulting response may be published on the internet and archived in perpetuity. So long as they are compliant with the platform's terms of service, we allow them to speak freely via the content of their requests and resulting responses.

Requests generated via the platform also contain a disclaimer that all responses will be published online, so clerks are well aware of the public nature of the platform. Still, some municipalities inaccurately log all OPRA requests submitted by third parties who choose to utilize OPRAmachine as if they were submitted by the platform itself, which doesn't tell the full story.

4. We don't operate on behalf of state & local government

OPRAmachine.com is unique in the sense that we provide insight into the process of making an OPRA request and responses to requests from the state's municipalities, counties and state agencies by acting as a "middleman" between requesters and public entities when requesters choose to utilize the OPRAmachine service. We don't have any contracts with any of the state, local or county governmental agencies whose records appear on OPRAmachine and have never acted as an agent on behalf of public authorities. We are an independent entity and not a governmental organization or vendor.

We don't have a vendor booth at the annual state League of Municipalities conference in Atlantic City and we're not out to get public contracts. We exist to serve the needs of individuals and organizations who seek public information released under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act in fulfillment of our public service mission and benefit the public by making access to public information easy.

5. We don't need special "approval" or a contract with public entities to operate the OPRAmachine service

Another problematic response that we've heard from some records custodians is that they should not have to respond to requests generated by OPRAmachine users because it's "not approved by the state." This argument also fails.

As long as a particular public entity accepts electronically submitted requests via email, they legally must respond to requests submitted by OPRAmachine users like any other OPRA request sent via email and they cannot refuse to release records solely because an individual chose to make use of OPRAmachine. Unfortunately, some public authorities still resist this without any justification.

Furthermore, in at least one county, we've learned of misleading OPRA responses where secretaries have been told to respond that "the county does not have a contract with OPRAmachine" as a basis for not responding to requests submitted through the platform. This also doesn't hold muster, for the reasons discussed above.

OPRAmachine celebrates 5 years of improving public access to NJ records

Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team

OPRAmachine celebrates 5 years of improving public access to NJ records

Today, we are proud to announce that the OPRAmachine platform is celebrating its 5th anniversary! Over the past five years, we have worked tirelessly to make access to public records in New Jersey easier, faster, and more transparent than ever before.

Since we first launched in 2017, we have been committed to our mission of increasing access to public records and providing a platform for people to easily and efficiently obtain the information they need - while also supporting a robust, wide open public debate by protecting the ability of our members to speak freely on matters of public concern.

As we look back on the past five years, we are proud of what we have accomplished and we are excited to continue serving the people of New Jersey. In the coming months and years, we have big plans for the platform and we can't wait to share them with you.

Unfortunately, our work has not always been met with open arms. Despite the clear benefits of government transparency, some in power have resisted our efforts to make public records more accessible. Recent trends in policy proposals aimed at weakening disclosure, such as those that hide disclosures of properties owned by public officials and attempts to weaken OPRA legislatively, are cause for concern and a reminder that access to information is an ongoing battle.

However, through our persistence and the support of those who believe in government transparency, we have been able to overcome many of these obstacles and move the needle significantly towards increased access to public information. There are too many individual supporters and community members who have contributed to the platform's success to name individually. Our platform has been widely recognized for its impact on access to information in New Jersey and has been lauded by journalists, activists, and everyday citizens alike.

In the past five years, we have seen incredible growth on the OPRAmachine platform. The platform has processed tens of thousands of requests for public records submitted by our users, with many users saving time and benefitting from the platform's easy to use interface.

We want to thank everyone who has supported us along the way and we look forward to continuing to improve access to public records in the state and serving our community of users and stakeholders. Thank you for being a part of our journey!

Updates to the OPRAmachine Terms of Service

Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team

Updates to the OPRAmachine Terms of Service

We're always working on ways to improve the user experience of OPRAmachine users. We're writing to notify our users that our terms of service and privacy policy have been updated.

These terms amend and supplement the original terms that govern your use of the OPRAmachine service. We encourage you to read the full terms of service on our website.

Among other things these updates:

  • Clarify acceptable use policies of the OPRAmachine service
  • Simplify our content removal policies and procedures, as well as policies for requests for user information
  • Revise the language of our terms for compliance purposes

No action is required from users to acknowledge these updated terms. Your continued use of the OPRAmachine service, including the submission of OPRA requests, constitutes your acceptance of any such changes.

These terms will take effect on December 12th, 2022 for existing OPRAmachine users, while new users creating an account on November 13th, 2022 will be subject to them immediately.

Welcome to the new OPRAmachine blog!

Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team

Welcome to the new OPRAmachine blog!

The OPRAmachine team is pleased to announce that we have moved our blog to a new platform to better serve our user community.

This upgrade will allow us to better communicate with our user community and announce new developments and service-related announcements. We will also feature OPRA-related news and commentary from thought leaders around New Jersey and highlight the work being done by our community as a part of these initiatives.

As we roll out the new platform, existing OPRAmachine users will automatically have their accounts migrated to the new blog, so there is no need to sign up for a new account if you don't already have one.

We are still working on migrating existing content over to the new platform, so we appreciate your patience during this time.