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April 30 2011

Sixteen principles of open government: #tcamp11

// cited from related blog entry:

Sixteen principles of open government

At Transparency Camp 2011, James Tauber of GovTrack laid out sixteen principles of open government. They are:

  1. Information is not meaningfully public if it is not available on the Internet for free.
  2. Primary data is data as collected at the source, with the finest possible level of granularity, not in aggregate or modified forms.
  3. Data are made available as quickly as necessary to preserve the value of the data.
  4. Data are available to the widest range of users for the widest range of purposes.
  5. Data are reasonably structured to allow automated processing.
  6. Data are available to anyone, with no requirement of registration.
  7. Data are available in a format over which no entity has exclusive control.
  8. Dissemination of the data is not limited by intellectual property law such as copyright, patents, or trademarks, contractual terms, or other arbitrary restrictions.
  9. Data should be made available at a stable Internet location indefinitely.
  10. Data published by the government should be in formats and approaches that promote analysis and reuse of that data.
  11. Government bodies publishing data online should always seek to publish using data formats that do not include executable content.
  12. Published content should be digitally signed or include attestation of publication/creation date, authenticity, and integrity.
  13. The public is in the best position to determine what information technologies will be best suited for the applications the public intends to create for itself.
  14. Have a process for ensuring that data you disclose are accurate and reliable, and show that process to users.
  15. To the extent two data sets refer to the same kinds of things, the creators of the data sets should strive to make them interoperable.
  16. Other things being equal, technological choices should be avoided that essentially endorse a single profit-making entity.

More here.

Twitter / Joey Mornin: Sixteen principles of open ... | 2011-04-30

March 31 2011

Sponsored post

March 30 2011

// oanth: Realsatire pur!- vgl. hierzu: Nachdenkseiten 2011-03-30: Hinweise des Tages - bzw. via
Reposted fromsbsm sbsm

March 15 2011

Certainly they realized, that too many recent visits on their site (after the map was embedded by Global Voices) and especially of the contanimation map, would rise questions about the further statistics up to 2011 - there should be provided an adequate interactive map, to show the development of the contanimation chiffres all over the affected regions in Europe from 1986 up to 2011.

March 14 2011


An Open Letter to Hillary Clinton | 2011-03-14

An Open Letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Regarding P.J. Crowley’s Resignation

March 14, 2011

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
US Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Madam Secretary,

We the undersigned are writing to express our severe disappointment at the resignation of P.J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Public Affairs at the State Department.

A number of us were present at the meeting where Mr. Crowley expressed his personal opinions, but all of us are concerned to learn that Mr. Crowley’s statements appear to have led to his resignation.  In the context of an open and honest discussion in an academic institution, we were eager to hear Mr. Crowley’s views and willing to give him our opinions and advice. It is this type of openness to dissenting opinions, frankness of assessments, and honesty of discourse that leads to both the advancement of human knowledge and the healthy function of an open, democratic society.  We are discouraged to find such dialogue prompting the resignation of a public official. If public officials are made to fear expressing their truthful opinions, we have laid the groundwork for ineffective, dishonest, and unresponsive governance.

We hope that you agree with such sentiments and we look forward to seeing renewed support for frank civic dialogue at the State Department.


March 03 2011

Netzneutralität mitdefinieren

Die Enquête-Kommission “Internet und digitale Gesellschaft” des Bundestages hat nach einigem Hin und Her mittlerweile ein Tool online gestellt, das es ermöglichen soll, den Bürger als 18. Sachverständigen an der Arbeit der Enquête zu beteiligen.

Zu einem der zentralen Thema “Netzneutralität” liegen jetzt eine Gliederung und erste Texte vor. Wer sich hier als Bürger beteiligen und die Netzneutralität und den daraus resultierenden politischen Handlungsbedarf mitdefinieren will, sollte sich für die Projektgruppe online anmelden und seine Ideen einbringen.

January 20 2011

Russia: Bloggers Discuss Possible Website of Collaborators of Authorities

Written by Vadim Isakov

Blogger welgar contemplates about how useful it could be  to create a website that would list all collaborators of Russian authorities who try to compromise the action of the opposition.

Russia: Analyzing Websites of Regional Administrations

Written by Vadim Isakov

A group of volunteers analyzes [RUS] websites of regional administrative offices for openness and availability of information according to 16 criteria developed by the volunteers themselves.

May 21 2010

Gov 2.0 Week in Review

This past week in government 2.0 news was full, as always, particularly for this correspondent as the Gov 2.0 Expo comes to Washington next week. Bernard Kouchner may have written that the "universal spirit of the Enlightenment should run through the new media" but this week, the zeitgeist of the government information revolution online was powered by open data. As always, if you have comments or suggestions, please send them to or reply to @digiphile on Twitter. 2.0

Thumbnail image for data-gov-2-small.jpgThe news that earned the most headlines was of the relaunch of, which has seen substantial growth and improvements since the U.S. federal government published the first data set at the online repository a year ago. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra called "pretty advanced for a 1-year-old" at the White House blog and talked at length on Federal News Radio about the anniversary of the website. The best coverage of the relaunch came from Wired's sneak peak at the redesigned Read NextGov for another good take on the update to the nation's data warehouse. And on the first anniversary of, the Sunlight Fondation officially announced the launch of the National Data Catalog.

Government as a Platform

Over on the West Coast, Debra Bowen, Secretary of State of California, talked with Tim O'Reilly about at the University of Berkeley. Video is embedded below:

Open Data

"The more open a government agency is, the more it seems that the public trusts it," mused Chris Dorobek in his post on public trust and government. If so, the creation of a "right to data" under the "Big Society proposals" from the new United Kingdom government could be significant. For those interested, there's a good overview of European mashups of public data at

Up in Canada, David Eaves explored "open data as an example of the long tail of public policy at work."

Back in the United States, as Luke Fretwell pointed out at GovFresh, relaunched this week as well. Fretwell approved, noting in his review that the new site "includes a cleaner, more elegant user interface and search filtering on all federal government spending." The new version of was developed in Drupal and is partially hosted on NASA’s Nebula cloud computing platform.

And up in space? It turns out that open space data from NASA can improve lives - and save birds. The new evangelist for, Jeanne Holm, explained what an international ontology of open space data is and why it's important.

What's next for open data online? A Senate bill would require agencies to post public records online. It's a companion to legislation (H.R. 4858) introduced in the House by Democratic Rep. Steve Israel of New York earlier this year. One example of open data online is at, where the city is now publishing 911 data in near real-time via the Socrata Open Data API.

If you're interested in exploring open data further, follow the brilliant statistician Hans Rosling, the man behind Speaking at the World Bank today, he posited that "open data will foster innovation," an contention that may be borne out by the applications created around the You can see Riesling's ably expressed in the Ted Talk embedded below, "Let my dataset change your mindset."

Internet freedom, government and democracy

Will the Internet bring more freedom and representative government? How should governments treat the online world and citizens? An important article from Rebecca MacKinnon, "In search of Internet Freedom," went deep into that question this past week. Back in April, Google's D.C. Talks featured "Democracy Online - Can the Internet Bring Change?," a forum in its Washington office that featured Pablo Chavez, Managing Policy Counsel, Google, Larry Diamond, Professor & Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Daniel Calingaert, Deputy Director of Programs, Freedom House, and Omid Memarian, an Iranian blogger. It's embedded below:

This past week, Micah L. Sifry, Andrew Keen, Jimmy Wales and Farhad Manjoo came the National Press Club in D.C. to debate whether the Internet was good for democracy. Video is embedded below. You'll see this correspondent ask an overlong question about open government, Internet freedom and global democracy about 70 minutes in.

There was a notable demonstration of the Internet's ability to connect people outside of government filters when the @DalaiLama used Twitter to communicate with Chinese Web users, as reported by the Associated Foreign Press and the Associated Press.

The week ended with a lively discussion, "Does the Internet Favor Dictators or Dissenters?" The live webcast featured Eric Schmidt, Alec Ross, Tim Wu and James Fallows.

Facebook, privacy and government

Early this week, each user's interests, hobbies, work and education choices became Community pages pages on Facebook. That switch over also included associating locations, like cities, and government agencies, including federal entities, with these pages.

As Altimeter analyst Jeremiah Owyang made clear in his report, changes to Facebook Commmunity pages and privacy impact brands -- including government entities. The switch over is poised to cause some confusion for citizens looking for official accounts, and potentially some frustration for institutions that had entered into agreements with Facebook as a media partner. Compare Facebook's Department of Defense Community to the official agency page,

facebook-DoD-search-results.jpgIs this "govjacking," as Adriel Hampton suggested in his post on Facebook and government pages? As the screenshot on the right shows, these Community pages are currently ranked higher in search and are not curated by agencies, though both conditions may change.. The Terms of Service that the federal government agreed to with Facebook contain a clause that their agreement that would supersedes any changes to the general Terms of Service that conflict with it.

Given the use of official seals and the absence of a clear disclaimer on the pages, some citizens may be confused, despite the fact that Wikipedia content makes up much of the page. Facebook does note prominently that "You can also get us started by suggesting the Official Facebook Page," with an associated submission form. The official page did not, however, appear after I input the correct URL.

Resolving confusion about the official nature of a page may be a point of concern for government Web managers and citizens alike over the coming weeks as the rough edges of Community pages are smoothed out. Trust and identity are both bedrock issues for government use of social media, including Facebook pages. Government agencies appear to be considering options: the General Service Administration's @GovNewMedia account tweeted on Tuesday that "We're taking a look; see earlier tweet: For reference, here's the amended Facebook ToS:"

Gov 2.0 Expo Draws Near

This past week, I appeared on Gov20Radio with Gov 2.0 Expo Co-Chair Laurel Ruma, where we talked with host Adriel Hampton about the upcoming conference. You can listen to the episode, "Government as a Platform is Here to Stay" at or stream it below.

During the show, we discussed the panels, speakers and workshops we're looking forward to next week, including many of those cited in Steve Lunceford's 10+ "hidden gems" not to miss at Gov 2.0 Expo. I'm looking forward to learning the winner to Sunlight Laboratories Design for America contest.

New Media Challenges, Competitions and Milestones has a Flickr pool that is aggregating pictures of projects from citizens and public servants alike. For instance, the Oregon Department of Transportation posted a "before and after picture of a paving project (left). reported that the Maryland government may soon require political candidates and government agencies to identity official social media sites.

Nancy-AnnDeParle.jpgFolks who follow Gov 2.0 on Twitter may have noticed problogger Heather Dooce engaged in a real-time question and answer session on healthcare reform with the White House on Twitter Nancy-Ann DeParle answered @dooce from @WhiteHouse, though without context or signing some of the tweets she might have left a few of the 1.75 million followers wondering what was happening. That said, DeParle also answered a question from someone other than @dooce, showing that she was willing to engage in a broader conversation.

Over in the House, the GOP Conference's "New Media Challenge," which began back in mid-April, also came to an end this Friday. While winners have yet to be announced, the competition heightened fueled growth in the use of social media by Republicans in Congress.

Not every member of Congress, however, is comfortable with tweeting yet. So why does the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff tweet? As it turns out, the @TheJointStaff) has a well-developed social media strategy, as Swimfish CTO John F. Moore pointed out: "Engage, Align, Drive, Expand."

The White House delivered another episode of "West Wing Week," embedded below.

Government 2.0 Bits and Bytes

The General Services Agency launched to serve as a "place where agencies can gather information about how cloud computing.

How do you move from a culture of "need to know" to a culture of "need to share?" Have you heard of StateBook, Virtual Presence Posts or Diplopedia? How does the U.S. State Dept use social media *behind its firewall? I wrote about how the State Department uses social software to support eDiplomacy this week.

Dr. David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, posted a summary of where his office stands in building a Nationwide Health Information Network.

Both and relaunched. As the Washington Post reported, now includes a court locator, court services and employment links.

Chicago's new data portal shows Freedom of Information Act requests.

How do app contests get government going? My in-depth interview with Peter Corbett on how app contests are unlocking government innovation went live today. The closing data for Apps for Army, These apps are being developed using the Department of Defense's secure RACE cloud computing platform to emulate mobile hardware. And as Corbett pointed out this week, there's now an "Apps for Democracy" in Norway.

The Sunlight Foundation showed again how an embedded webcast, CoverItLive and data feeds can define coverage of legislative debate at

There's a livestream of the leaking drill head on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico hosted at, appropriately entitled "Oil Spill Cam."

California created a portal for the state's 10,000 IT workers.

John Udell wondered what could happen if there were permalinks and hashtags for city council agenda items.

The Air Force reclassified 3000 communication officers as "cyberspace officers."

Reno Web Manager Kristy Fifelski shared how is "going gov 2.0" at govfresh.

Laptops continue to plague government health data keepers.Health IT security and privacy are critical to this aspect of key Gov 2.0.

The Dept. of Energy is accepting applications for agency CIO in Second Life.

The FBI CIO unveils his "next-generation" IT strategy.

Chris Berendes wondered how measuring Gov 2.0 would apply to DHS's #opengov tool for the oil spill cleanup.

What's missing from the Gov 2.0 movement? Education, says Manor CIO Dustin Haisler.

The U.S. Census will improve its use of the Web in future population counts.

Love tech policy, regulations and social media? The FTC is looking for a social media specialist.

I interviewed Booz Allen Hamilton principal Grant McGlaughlin about online participation & engagement by federal agencies. The video is embedded below:

And at last, if you made to the end of this week's Gov 2.0 in Review, we'll send you off into the weekend with a smile: the Onion reported that the "Majority Of Government Doesn't Trust Citizens Either."

May 14 2010

May 09 2010

May 07 2010

May 05 2010

Technology for Transparency, Civic Engagement and Accountability in Latin America

By Renata Avila

Corruption, systematic violations of human rights and widespread poverty are closely connected. The cycle of corruption facilitates, perpetuates and institutionalizes human rights violations. Powerful and corrupt political and military groups that have systematically committed acts corruption have since covered-up or erased the evidence. Such scenarios were even more harmful in countries were perpetrators and collaborators from local and international networks escaped unpunished. As a result, today criminal networks are seduced by the same game. Secrecy plays an important role too. By denying citizens access to public information and a say in accountability, impunity continues a culture of silence. It obstructs public debate about crimes that have been committed, and their impact on development and wealth.

Declassified documents released the last decade shed a light on secret impunity agreements between governments and political leaders from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and other countries in the region during the seventies and eighties. From Operation Condor to the dirty wars in Central America, many covert actions affected the future of the region, undermining their rule of law, dividing societies, silencing dissenting voices, and facilitating the creation of corrupt networks and a culture of secrecy and impunity. The region, in fact, is an example of how secrecy and the discretionary use of force can harm an entire society to only benefit of few.

As Joseph Stiglitz once wrote: “Life is never black and white. Just as there is no ‘one size fits all' policy for economic development, there is no such policy for fighting corruption.” That is why different approaches to fighting corruption, improving governance, and incentivizing citizens to become active actors of change can show us different ways to tackle corruption, with the help of our new interconnected environment.

The power of documents: Projects promoting the access to public information in Latin America

Transparency and access to information empower individuals to make more informed decisions. Without access to public information and transparent practices from the private sector, civil society lacks objective input to monitor government effectiveness, spending, and public procurement. While access to information is important for everyone, it is particularly relevant for those working toward transparency and accountability. Without such access corruption flourishes. When a citizen needs to access information that is in the hands of the government, and it refuses to grant access, corrupt alternatives such as buying it or leaking it after contact with clandestine networks can replace clear institutional channels. Access to Information laws are important for a country. However, we must question premature celebration on the passage of Access to Information laws if such a tool is not used by citizens or is not effective in its objectives, as has been alleged in Guatemala. Laws and mechanisms if not used and enforced, are useless.

The ProAccesso Coalition in Venezuela aims to encourage public demand of information in the hands of the government since greater transparency is one of the most effective antidotes against corruption. ProAcceso Foundation in Chile combines its on line portal with offline legal clinics and workshops. There you can find information about access to information rights and the mechanisms to enforce them. There is also information about relevant legal cases at the local and Interamerican system and the organization's contribution to the landmark case Marcel Claude Reyes et al. v. Chile, which is important and relevant for all the Latin American states seeking a right to access public information. In Brazil, there is the Information is a right! movement. More information, More Rights in Colombia follows the regional trend, educating citizens about the important role they play by requesting public information. Mexico Informate! And the Peruvian Working Group Against Corruption coordinated online campaigns and developed tools to make it easier to request public information. Both projects also forged alliances with print media, and are working closely with journalists to provide them with the tools to inform citizens about their rights. Journalism and Access to information also works with journalist to explain how to use legal mechanisms to improve their investigative reporting.

Freedom of Information laws must be tied to issues that people care about in order to be effective. The Mexican initiatives, Rural Agricultural Subsidies and the Environmental Frontier Project in Tijuana are examples of efforts to pressure local governments to be more transparent about their spending in particular sectors. The Local Integrity initiative in Ecuador, Peru and Argentina provides a comprehensive database and peer reviewed research. CIMTRA (”citizens for transparent municipalities”) is a group of 20 NGOs working together to promote a culture of accountability among local governments.

Access to information, transparency and security issues are not incompatible, as demonstrated by Just the Facts, which provides data, analysis and links to better understand the role and motivations of U.S. assistance to the region, including military and economic aid, military and police training, arms sales, and troop deployments. It is an example on transparency in security issues.

Projects that use technology to open debate around political processes

According to the Inter American Democratic Charter, transparency in government activities, morals, responsible public administration on the part of governments, respect for social rights, and freedom of expression and of the press are essential components of democracy. It is not only credible and independent elections that matter.

Systemic corruption of political processes is far more dangerous and complex than fraudulent elections. It covers public policies, public management and procurement systems, political and administrative structures. Only a consistent effort to watch each actor and understand the weak points of each stage in such processes, and then combine different data to offer a clear picture on how the influence of lobbyist groups, criminal networks, and entrenched interests negatively affect democracy. Various projects by the Poder Ciudadano Foundation (”Citizen Power Foundation”) are helping citizens from Argentina understand the interests behind their politics and beyond elections. They also created a tool to monitor media and its role in politics. Since 90% of political campaign expenses are spent on media, it is crucial for political process to understand the relationships between media and politicians in a given country. The investigation, Mapping the Media in the Americas, provides such information and helps citizens understand the media's role in a democracy.

Civic monitoring of political processes is key to preserve them from institutional corruption. Without such engagement it is almost impossible to fix a failed system. Elección Visible in Colombia and Guatemala Visible are putting the spotlight on the selection process of six key public office nominees and appointments. The objective is to keep corruption out of all political processes, including political appointments. There are several efforts to preserve the integrity, transparency and legitimacy of the day of elections Cuidemos el Voto provides tools to monitor and map misconduct in federal and municipal elections in Mexico. Vote Bien take a similar approach in Colombia. In Chile, Vota Inteligente created an important tool to better inform voters during the last presidential elections, and they are keeping an eye on the performance of the elected president by following up on his campaign compromises.

The activities of Congress and its members is yet another important component of the democratic process to keep an eye on. Various efforts like 500/500 and Legislativo a tu alcance in Mexico, Democratic Reflection in Peru, Congreso Visible in Colombia, and Congresso Aberto in Brasil are helping citizens understand the importance of taking an active role in monitoring those who approve laws and the dynamics behind their decisions. The project Parlio, which monitors the Basque Parliament in Spain, might be an interesting model to follow because it takes the activity inside Congress to another level by providing information on why every topic discussed at parliament.

Emerging forms of civic participation and the evolving role of interconnected citizens

Movements are taking action simultaneously on several fronts, combining global and local issues in Latin America, influencing local politics, such as #internetnecesario did in Mexico or global politics, such as the Open Acta movement to demand transparency in the negotiation of international, bindind treaties. Other examples include “I am not a criminal” in Peru, and a sister project in Chile. Environmental activists are integrating their efforts online more and more to promote transparency and accountability related to extractive industries, such as mining.

Citizens are also organizing efforts to map criminal activities in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and, in the case of Mexico, specific maps to report drug dealing.

What should be done?

  1. Multilateral anti corruption efforts and global standards: A global effort to foster transparency and accountability must design a system to hold wrongdoers accountable and investors aware of the consequences their investments on others' lives. New technologies allow citizens in any country to compare the behavior and monitor the statements by companies in different countries. Most of the countries with funders that are financing efforts to contribute to transparency, accountability and good governance, are not doing enough to regulate foreign corrupt practices in the region by the companies and nationals of their own countries. That is why it is important to encourage donors to respect a global, uniform standard against corruption. Legal instruments such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act should lead to a rise in anti-corruption prosecutions. As an example the World Bank has listed ineligible firms to be awarded a World Bank-financed contract for a period of time because they were found to have violated the fraud and corruption provisions of the Procurement Guidelines.
  2. Transparency for Technology Commons: Following the model of Open Educational Resources, donors and NGOs should create guidelines to incentivize shared practices, encourage the sharing of information and databases, software and models to inspire citizens across the continent to start their own efforts. Tools need to be localized and adapted for particular, local needs. Donors should incentivize the use of free software, open formats and open content to allow others build upon the tools, contents and data that have already been gathered in other contexts and places. Shared practices and information will lead to greater transparency of projects, more efficient expenditure and better understanding of the regional context. They may even allow researchers to detect patterns and follow corruption across national boundaries and areas of interests.
  3. Protecting the rights of those investigating and denouncing corruption: Journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, and witnesses of serious corruption acts are under constant threat in Latin America. It is important to consider that the 1999 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders includes anti-corruption activists within the list of individuals that the UN must protect. With the increased use of the Internet and new technologies to spread information about corruption, digital surveillance and control of the Internet will likely increase too, and projects should be prepare to face new challenges. Violence against those promoting transparency and accountability is also a threat.
  4. Congruency: Donors should encourage projects aiming to map those wrongdoers, to combat secrecy in investments involving development projects and funding for development and encouraging prosecution and cross country investigations of companies, no matter how necessary for local economies they are.
  5. Accountability and visibility: Only by bringing the corrupt to court can one reestablish the rule of law, restore trust in the political institutions, and rebuild a common sense about ethical values among the citizens. Only by equality before the law can the perception of corrupted networks as untouchable be challenged. And we can use the power of ideas and the possibilities on the Internet to spread a powerful integrity message. The Internet has become a game-changing tool in the growth of anti-corruption awareness and accessibility to information, especially via social networking tools. It is important to support accountability efforts and tools to make such efforts visible. Latin America has prosecuted many former presidents and high rank officials, but only the Fujimori Trial provides such open information on the trial for citizens. Tracking Impunity also offers an interesting example of what can be done in the region with corrupt networks and legal procedures related to access to information and accountability.
  6. E-Learning of complex topics: Sophisticated economic crimes and complex white collar crimes require high levels of expertise in order to detect, investigate and prosecute. Paradoxically, such countries are often those most affected by corruption. Technology offers a unique opportunity to share knowledge, practices, and to train people. Many of the people I spoke to lack the tools to analyze such phenomenons, gather the evidence and build a strategy to prosecute the corrupt.
  7. Divides: Internet access remains unaffordable for many countries in the region, while others are still struggling with illiteracy rates. Elders and many workers lack the expertise to connect or the time to search for a website. It is important to consider a combination of online and offline tools - and multilingual materials - to reach those who are offline and invite them to take an active role in these projects. For example, a project using technology can connect with offline participants by printing and translating reports to broadcast via community radios. Or a local newspaper might use an article or data provided by an elections monitor. A couple of months ago I was at a conference taking place in a five stars hotel in Guatemala City: the speakers were discussing corruption and corrupted networks. Instead of a book they distributed digital copies of the work. Most of the attendees were members of NGOs living in urban areas, they owned a computer, and are literate in their mother language, Spanish. It is important to remember that the most corrupt practices in the region are taking place out of sight of the public eye, offline. How relevant is technology for transparency and civic engagement if such tools are out of reach of the people who is affected the most by corruption? How effective is civic engagement is most are excluded by default? How legitimate is an effort to promote accountability and transparency where donors are largely unaccountable for bad decisions made inside their institutions, which go against its mandate. Are cool technology projects just a placebo, an illusion to create the perception that we are actually game-changers creating a global culture of anti-corruption?
  8. Integral approach against corruption without exceptions: The ability of criminal networks to protect themselves from prosecution produces a continuous loss of trust in the justice system, and institutions in general. Without accountability there is no possible way to restore the credibility of political and legal institutions. Without transparency and access to information, accountability might be hard to achieve. The region needs an active network of citizens to fight against corruption in all its forms, including embezzlement, trading in influence, abuse of position, illicit enrichment, and obstruction of justice. It is necessary to involve broad coalitions of actors in making law, influencing foreign affairs, and making international law effective.

The Latin American projects I reviewed on the Technology for Transparency Network show actions by ordinary people, many of them working on their own time and dime, organized into various and ever-changing groups and networks. They reveal how technology is a tool to ensure rights of those affected by corruption, obscurity and impunity. And in the future, such networks of ordinary citizens, using any tool available, again and again, until it is not necessary anymore, will demand justice, transparency and accountability. To make change depends on citizens; technology is just a tool whose impact will only increase if practices and skills are shared across the region, taking advantage of the possibilities and potential of networks, and including the voices of those offline, the ones who are most affected by corruption and invisible to the public eye.

April 07 2010

Stop Fishing and Start Feasting: How Citable Public Documents Will Change Your Life

Putting government documents and data online is a great step towards making our government process more transparent to the people it serves, but in many ways simply making the material available is like serving someone dinner by giving them a pond full of fish. The pond is huge and the poor dinner guest doesn't have any tools. Worse, they're only looking for one particular bass, and every time someone sends them to where they last saw the fish it's long gone.

The recent healthcare bill was more than 1,000 pages long. The budget can often be half again that big. Commenting on these types of documents as they are currently implemented is extremely challenging. Pointing a finger at that big pond and telling someone that you swear you saw a fish isn't very effective. It's even worse when someone swears they saw a fish that isn't really there and it is effective because no one is willing to refute them. No one has time to wade around themselves and so they take it on faith. The recent "killing grandma" scare is an excellent example.

Citations, first, are a way of pointing at the fish. A simple paragraph level of granularity for references should be enough. This promotes ease of implementation and use and provides a tight enough zoom to bring someone right to the material being discussed.

The next problem is that fish move. If you're trying to point out a moving fish, and show it to someone later, you need to have a photograph with a timestamp. That line in the budget about forcing our children to manufacture chemical weapons might have moved to page three the next day, or a wily senator may have changed the wording and put it under a different heading. Proper citability requires an archived snapshot of the online material that maintains the integrity of any reference links.

Lastly, for someone to believe you about this fish, you need to have a way of pointing out where you saw it at the specified time. They'll want to know it was the same pond.

Making it possible to create timestamped permalinks at a paragraph level of granularity would be a huge leap forward in increasing government transparency through its online documents. The same principles apply when producing citable government data. When decided to display visual representations of the data coming in about recovery money around the nation, it quickly became clear that some amount of data was erroneous. When the errors were reported and the data was later modified, there wasn't any way to go back and compare the two versions to see what changes had taken place. A blogger, reporter, statistician or scientist should be able to run a query against any specific collection of government data, as it was published, for a given version or moment in time.


The nonprofit, nonpartisan League of Technical Voters has proposed a simple, easy to build and implement citability solution. Open source software development is underway and a wide range of government institutions are already on board. If you would like to help with this effort, consider being part of our upcoming codeathon or create your own codeathon.

December 30 2009

A National Scan Center: A Public Works Project

In the course of doing research for some recent testimony before Congress on the National Archives and Records Administration, I was struck by several facts about how our first National Archivist, Robert D.W. Connor, met some seemingly insurmountable challenges when he took office in the mid-1930s.

The biggest challenge was the deluge of paperwork, a situation not very different from what our national institutions face today. Instead of simply moaning the impossibility of swallowing all the records Connor would need to establish the National Archives, he thought nonlinear. The result was the invention of several key technologies: the airbrush to clean paper, the laminator to protect it, and of course, the microphotograph (now known as microfilm or microfiche), a technology so successful it reduced incoming paper needs by 95%.

The other challenge that Connor faced with the National Archives, a situation again not very different from what our national institutions face today, was a paucity of skilled labor. Lucky for Connor through, the National Archives was born in the middle of the last great depression. Connor went to Harry Hopkins, and together they went to President Roosevelt, and the result was a Works Progress Administration program that ran until 1942 to survey federal archives. The work program put 3,171 people to work in 1,057 communities and created two important reference aids still in use today, the Historical Records Survey and the Inventory of Federal Archives.

Just before I testified, I read in the New York Times that the President of France had just announced a stimulus package of $50 billion. President Sarkozy pledge 2% of that stimulus package, a full $1.1 billion, towards scanning and digitizing a national archive. I didn't use the term Freedom Scans in my testimony, but the fact that the French were far ahead of the U.S. in putting paperwork into cyberspace seemed a political opportunity.

In the U.S., we face a similar deluge of paperwork that we faced in the 1930s. A huge backlog of paper, microfiche, audio, video, and other materials is located throughout the federal government. Little money has gone from Congress for digitization, and bureaucracies have resorted to a series of questionable private-public partnerships as a way of digitizing their materials. For example, the Government Accountability Office shipped 60 million pages of our Federal Legislative Histories (the record of each law from the initial bill through the hearings and conference reports) off to Thomson West, but didn't even get digital copies back. Another example is the recent failed effort by the Government Printing Office to digitize 60 million pages of the Federal Depository Library Program, an effort they tried to get through as a "zero dollar cost to the government" effort with the private sector.

There are no free lunches and there are no "no cost to the government" deals. The costs involve the government effort to supervise the contract, prepare the materials, and ship them, and in both the GAO and GPO cases, the government wasn't getting much back for its effort. What the government and the people usually get is a lien on the public domain, preventing the public from accessing these vital materials. Similar efforts are sprinkled throughout the government. I testified to Congress that I had learned that the National Archives was contemplating a scan of congressional hearings with LexisNexis under similar circumstances, and many may be aware of the questionable deal the Archives cut with Amazon where my favorite online superstore got de facto exclusive rights to 1,899 wonderful pieces of video.

We can learn much from the French leadership on this issue. After my testimony, I went and visited senior officials at the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian. They all said that while they had tried to get more congressional interest in digitization, and had tried to go after stimulus money, so far nobody had much success. I asked if they had gone hand-in-hand with their sister institutions to ask for this money, and it was pretty clear that they had not. Each institution went in one at a time pleading their own special case to congressional staffers and to officials at the Office of Management and Budget.

There was one more thing I learned about our first National Archivist, which was that he had backing where he needed it and the political skills to use that backing. One of the big challenges Archivist Connor faced was getting the agencies to cooperate with him in giving the National Archives their records. His solution was leadership: President Roosevelt agreed to host a meeting of a newly-formed National Archives Council in the Cabinet Room. That, needless to say, got the department secretaries and agency chiefs to show up, and they elected the Secretary of State as head of the Council. The Council only met a few times, but that was all it took, and the result were new federal policies about how agencies should dispose of their records.

There are several agencies in the government that face huge digitization and scanning backlogs, including the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the Government Printing Office, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the National Technical Information Service. In addition, there are agencies such as the Government Accountability Office and the Defense Visual Information Directorate that have valuable archives.

Chairman Wm. Lacy Clay of the the Information Policy, Census and National Archives Subcommittee asked many very informed questions of the panelists, and one that came my way was about costs for digitization. Today, the widely accepted cost for scanning a piece of paper and running it through OCR is about 10 cents per page. These are the numbers that you hear from places like the Internet Archive and Google Book Search, and that's what I told the Chairman. But, I also told the Chairman that it was my belief that if the government starting scanning at volume, those costs could go down by half. I also testified about the vastly reduced costs of digitizing video, a task I perform under a joint venture with the National Technical Information Service using less than $10,000 in hardware.

If the government invested a mere $100 million of our stimulus package (we've already spent over $72.6 billion), that means 2 billion pages of paper or microfiche would get scanned. For $500 million, we're talking a huge chunk of our national backlog being digitized, a task that would result in an enduring digitial public work for our modern era, something that would prove immense use to future generations, and would also save the government tremendous amounts of money in storage costs and other facilities expenses.

What would it take to get the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the Government Printing Office, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the National Technical Information Service all singing off the same page and working together? There is a tremendous opportunity for White House leadership here, bringing the parties together and creating a compelling case on why we should launch and fund a 5-year $500 million effort to create a National Scan Center. Both the CIO and the CTO in the Executive Office of the President have talked about the tremendous "moral authority and convening power" of the White House, and I believe that this issue is of sufficient importance that it would be worthwhile to pursue.

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