Three open government access advocates (Sunlight Foundation developer Eric Mill, GovTrack.us founder Josh Tauberer and New York Times developer Derek Willis) have put the United States Code on Github.
- The United States (Code) is on Github, by Alex Howard, O'Reilly Radar (December 6, 2012).
This fall, a trio of open government developers took it upon themselves to do what custodians of the U.S. Code and laws in the Library of Congress could have done years ago: published data and scrapers for legislation in Congress from THOMAS.gov in the public domain. The data at github.com/unitedstates is published using an "unlicense" and updated nightly.
..."It would be fantastic if the relevant bodies published this data themselves and made these datasets and scrapers unnecessary," said Mill, in an email interview. "It would increase the information's accuracy and timeliness, and probably its breadth. It would certainly save us a lot of work!"
Perhaps even more importantly, the project has released its computer code so that others will be able to scrape Thomas to build their own datasets of legislative data. The computer code also includes a U.S Code parser, which is significant because none of various formats in which the government produces the U.S. Code are suitable for easy reuse.
I also think it is fantastic that these developers understand the difference between putting information on the web in various hard-to-use, hard-to-preserve, and often hard-to-parse formats and actually publishing the data so that it can be easily obtained, used, and re-used. As Mill notes, publishing information makes scraping the web unnecessary, and publishing in open formats makes it much simpler to preserve information.
NextGov asked app reviewers to take a look at two recently-launched government apps designed to help the public navigate complex economic information: The Census Bureau's America's Economy app and the Education Department's StudentAid.gov mobile website.
New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute (OTI) has released a new report that The U.S. Congress lacks "shared expert knowledge capacity" and that has "created a critical weakness in our democratic process." The report says that Congress depends on outdated and in some cases antiquated systems of information referral, sorting, communicating, and convening."
- Congress' Wicked Problem [announcement and summary].
This paper does not put forward a simple recipe to fix these ailments, but argues that the absence of basic knowledge management in our legislature is a critical weakness. Congress struggles to make policy on complex issues while it equally lacks the wherewithal to effectively compete on substance in today’s 24 hour news cycle. This paper points out that Congress is not so much venal and corrupt as it is incapacitated and obsolete. And, in its present state, it cannot serve the needs of American democracy in the 21st Century.
- Congress' Wicked Problem, Seeking Knowledge Inside the Information Tsunami, By Lorelei Kelly, New America Foundation, (December 2012). [PDF, 6 pages]
This paper distinguishes between information and knowledge: Members of Congress and their staff do not lack access to information. Yet information backed by financial interests and high-decibel advocacy is disproportionately represented. Most importantly, they lack the institutional wisdom that can be built via a deliberate system that feeds broadly inclusive information through defined processes of review, context, comparison and evaluation of the implications for the nation as a whole. Concurrently, Congress also needs more expert judgment available to it during the policymaking process, which, for the purposes of this paper, means a focus on development of knowledge.
A government-wide Freedom of Information Act audit by the National Security Archive has found that sixty-two out of ninety-nine government agencies have not updated their FOIA regulations since US Attorney General Eric Holder issued his March 19, 2009 FOIA memorandum.
- Outdated Agency Regs Undermine Freedom of Information, National Security Archive (December 4, 2012)
Majority of Agencies Have Not Updated FOIA Rules to Meet Either Obama's 2009 Order or Congress's 2007 Law.
Second Term Obama Opportunity to Direct Agencies to Adopt Regulations for Open Government.
New National Security Archive Audit Covers 99 Federal Agencies, Previous Knight Open Government Surveys Showed Mixed Results
With our upcoming quarterly link check in mid-December, we're having increased activity at the State Agency Databases Across the Fifty States Project at http://wikis.ala.org/godort/index.php/State_Agency_Databases.
This month is special. Our volunteer guide states that our document specialist volunteers agree to check their links four times a year. Some of us are more active than that, but most of us check links at least quarterly. Unfortunately a few folks haven't had time in 2012 to update their pages at all. So, the weekend of January 5/6 2013, Daniel Cornwall will be reviewing the "history tab" under each page. Any page (hopefully few in number) that has not been updated by its volunteer will be put out for adoption. So, if you've wanted to become part of our project, look at the activity and statistic reports we'll be issuing in January.
Now, for the activity. As always, you can view a blow-by-blow list of changes for the past two weeks by visiting http://tinyurl.com/statedbs14d. Here are the highlights:
MICHIGAN (Michael McDonnell)
The Michigan Registered Casino Interest Searchable Database - This database allows you to search for registrants required by law to file a registration under the Casino Registration Act. Only the Greektown, MGM Grand Detroit and Motor City casinos are included in this database.
TEXAS (Ann Ellis)
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Central Registry Query - The Central Registry provides for searches regarding basic information on facilities, organizations and people that are regulated by the Agency. Types of searches include customer, regulated entities, program IDs, and documents.
UTAH (Susanne Caro)
Businesses Registered in Utah - Includes Business Name & Address, Registered Officers, Principals, Partners, Registered Agents, and Addresses.
CALIFORNIA (Joel Rane)
Special Education at Certified Nonpublic, Nonsectarian Schools and Agencies formerly at http://www3.scoe.net/npsa/index/index.cfm.
Searchable database for special education services provided by nonpublic, nonsectarian schools and agencies that have been certified by CDE.
NEW MOBILE APPS
Michigan Campaign Finance Search - The Michigan CFS (Campaign Finance Search) for the Apple is provided by the Office of the Michigan Secretary of State to deliver mobile, real-time access to the latest Michigan state campaign finance information, viewed as aggregated totals. The application provides mobile access to electronically filed campaign finance information for all state offices, state political committees and quick access to direct cash contributor information, on the go. It allows you to enter name-based exact or close match searches that provide a listing of candidates and/or committees that meet the search criteria. The App is available at the iTunes App Store. An android version of this app is available at the [https://play.google.com/store/devices?hl=en Google Play Store]
HOW VOLATILE CAN A PAGE BE?
While our project is not currently keeping statistics on how often database URLs change, I'm sometimes surprised by the amount of change between page updates. A case in point is California, maintained by Joel Rane. Between August 16th and November 21st, five database URLs changed. In addition another database was dropped by its agency and descriptions or supplementary information for five databases changed as well.
If you are interested in researching the volatility of state agency databases, our state history pages may be helpful to you. Contact Daniel Cornwall for more details.
Rory Litwin has a nice comment today over at Library Juice. He says he hates the slogan "Librarian: The Original Search Engine" because it confuses what librarians do with what search engines do. He suggests a better analogy would be: "Librarians are to search engines as astronomers are to telescopes."
People who don't know much about astronomy can get some use from a telescope, but we understand that with an astronomer's knowledge it can become much more powerful as a tool for discovery. We would not say, "Astronomers: The original telescope," and we wouldn't think for a second that that a slogan like that would be flattering to astronomers or supportive of the astronomy profession.
But he goes further. Read the whole (short) post:
- You would not say, "Astronomers: The Original Telescope", by Rory Litwin, Library Juice, (November 30, 2012).
...a good slogan for the library profession should also encompass the other roles that librarians play in their institutions, as selectors, organizers, and preservers of information resources who have their communities in mind, and as the creators and maintainers of the systems and intellectual infrastructures that facilitate the connections between them.
Does your Kindle track what books you search for? Does your Nook monitor what you're reading after you purchase an e-book? The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been digging into the license agreements and technical capabilities of e-book readers to find the answers to these and similar questions since 2009. Their newest report is now available:
- Who's Tracking Your Reading Habits? An E-Book Buyer's Guide to Privacy, 2012 Edition
As we've done since 2009, again we've taken some of the most popular e-book platforms and combed through their privacy policies for answers to common privacy questions that users deserve to know. In many cases, these answers were frustratingly vague and long-winded. In nearly all cases, reading e-books means giving up more privacy than browsing through a physical bookstore or library, or reading a paper book in your own home. Here, we've examined the policies of Google Books, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo, Sony, Overdrive, Indiebound, Internet Archive, and Adobe Content Server
Chris Rusbridge, retired Director of the UK Digital Curation Centre (DCC), sent an open letter to Tony Hey of Microsoft asking that they publish the specifications for older file formats. He has received a reply:
- Response to the Open Letter on obsolete Microsoft file formats, Chris Rusbridge, Unsustainable Ideas, (Nov 26, 2012).
- We do not currently have specifications for these older file formats.
- It is likely that those employees who had significant knowledge of these formats are no longer with Microsoft.
But the good new is that Microsoft is willing to work on the problem! The response from Microsoft continues:
- We can look into creating new licensing options including virtual machine images of older operating systems and old Office software images licensed for the sole purpose of rendering and/or converting legacy files.
- One approach we could consider is for Microsoft to participate in a “crowd source” project working with archivists to create a public spec of these old file formats.
Of course, this is a closing-the-barn-door-after-the-horse-is-gone solution, but such kludgy solutions are necessary when born-digital information is produced in proprietary formats rather than open formats -- and when libraries accept these formats rather than insists on preservable digital objects.
"PACER Federal Court Record Fees Exceed System Costs". Shane Shifflett and Jennifer Gollan, California Watch.
While the report notes that Senator Lieberman and AALL have been trying to persuade the Administrative Office of the US Courts, it should also be noted that other library associations have been in on this fight for quite a while including the Depository Library Council to the US Public Printer and ALA's Government Documents Round Table (GODORT).
Along with official calls for free access to US court documents, there's also been a grassroots effort to wrest control of these public domain documents in the form of RECAP (that's PACER backwards ;-)), a firefox plugin built by the fine folks at the Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP) at Princeton University. The plugin automatically donates purchased PACER documents into a public repository hosted by the Internet Archive. Perhaps this report along with official calls from politicians and librarians will be enough to finally get the Administrative Office of the US Courts to fix PACER and offer free access to US Court documents as it should be!
The federal government has collected millions from the online Public Access to Court Electronic Records system, or PACER – nearly five times what it cost to run the system.
Between fiscal years 2006 and 2010, the government collected an average of $77 million a year from PACER fees, according to the most recent federal figures available...
In recent years, U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and the American Association of Law Libraries, which represents 5,000 law librarians nationwide, have tried without success to persuade the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and members of Congress to provide free access to PACER records.
Earlier this year, the Center for Investigative Reporting, parent organization of The Bay Citizen, applied for a limited exemption from PACER fees to research potential judicial conflicts in California. Such fee waivers are typically given to academics and nonprofits “to avoid unreasonable burdens and to promote public access to information.” CIR is a nonprofit organization.
[HT to Gary Price at InfoDocket for alerting us to this report!]
"Privacy International asked lawyers, activists, researchers and hackers at Defcon 2012 about some of the debates that thrive at the intersection between law, technology and privacy. We also wanted to know why privacy matters to them, and what they thought the future of privacy looked like. This video is a result of those conversations."
Featuring Cory Doctorow, Kade Crockford, Jameel Jaffer, Dan Kaminsky, Chris Soghoian, Marcia Hoffman, Moxie Marlinspike, Phil Zimmerman, Hanni Fakhoury and Eli O.