Tapping back into the "raw power" theme, I just read the New York Times article on Carl Malamud mentioned here by Jim Jacobs. I found the article curious for the simple reason that it equates "free" access to massive amounts of court records with power, and a good form of power, or what he calls the "operating system for democracy." Though this kind of rhetoric sparks the necessary energy to get people to leave their couches and join the open government brigade at the barricade, I think it also paints a too simplistic picture of the complex arrangement of constitutional and legal traditions that favor a highly evolved civic engagement.
Missing from the newspaper article's description of what happened to the PACER pilot project and its sudden suspension is the more messy aspects of democracy that try to balance privacy with open access, free access with the necessary infrastructure (that requires money and personnel to function) to sustain long-term availability of "raw data." This balancing act depends on a series of relationships between the courts, users, the GPO and its depository libraries. Simply downloading millions of pages, as one person did in California is not a relationship, it is simply a power surge that may or may not be made useful by people on the information grid.
However, as the article points out, Malamud does demand some level of privacy protection in these court documents, he puts that responsibility squarely back on the shoulders of the courts by pointing out that is the court's duty, and heavy lifting, to make sure this private information is not made publicly available.
What I would expect to see, if indeed Malamud is interested in becoming a future Public Printer is less focus on the power aspects of the information grid, and more focus on the redistribution stations necessary to make government information understandable, accessible, and sustainable over long periods of time. Libraries have done this for several millennium, and they will continue to do so with the different technologies now being deployed. It isn't a race to see who can make the most government information available. It should be a long engaged relationship between those in power and those the power serves to assure that the knowledge, information and necessary data are understood and usable by the citizen. Power without breakers or distribution centers only overwhelms, it does not inform.
An article in the New York Times adds a little more to the story of the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) saga. The article also says of Carl Malamud: "Mr. Malamud said his years of activism had led him to set a long-shot goal: serving in the Obama administration, perhaps even as head of the Government Printing Office."
- An Effort to Upgrade a Court Archive System to Free and Easy,
By JOHN SCHWARTZ, New York Times, February 13, 2009.
Those courts, with the help of the Government Printing Office, had opened a free trial of Pacer at 17 libraries around the country. Mr. Malamud urged fellow activists to go to those libraries, download as many court documents as they could, and send them to him for republication on the Web, where Google could get to them.
Aaron Swartz, a 22-year-old Stanford dropout and entrepreneur who read Mr. Malamud's appeal, managed to download an estimated 20 percent of the entire database: 19,856,160 pages of text.
Then on Sept. 29, all of the free servers stopped serving. The government, it turns out, was not pleased.
A notice went out from the Government Printing Office that the free Pacer pilot program was suspended, "pending an evaluation." A couple of weeks later, a Government Printing Office official, Richard G. Davis, told librarians that "the security of the Pacer service was compromised. The F.B.I. is conducting an investigation."
...At the administrative office of the courts, a spokeswoman, Karen Redmond, said she could not comment on the fate of the free trial of Pacer, or whether there had been a criminal investigation into the mass download.
The free program "is not terminated," Ms. Redmond said. "We'll just have to see what happens after the evaluation."
Thanks to Carl Malamud for the heads-up about this new article by Fred Kaplan at Slate entitled "PowerPoint to the People: The urgent need to fix federal archiving policies." Basically, according to Kaplan, the National Archives (NARA) are a mess. "Electronic records ... are generally not disposed of in accordance with federal regulations," and NARA is "still unable to accept M$ Word docs and PowerPoint slides." This endemic problem has been known for a long time. Kaplan links to a 2003 NARA study titled "Records Maintenance and Disposition in Headquarters Air Force Offices," (report written in January 2005) that had been FOIA'd -- oddly all of the recommendations were blacked out?! This shows that government agencies are not following protocols for digital records management and the agencies charged with preservation are not doing enough to either build solid preservation systems or work with agencies to help them get into the 21st century. Is this really the "end of history?"
["retweeted" from Carl malamud!]
There is a great article about Carl Malamud and PACER over at Wired Magazine:
Malamud says he's looking forward to the day he doesn't have to game the system. "If I had $10 million, I'd make a copy of all the documents and be done."
I hear ya, Carl. I hear ya.
Carl Malamud is at it again, this time shaking things up with the Obama transition team over at change.gov. He's submitted a letter to the "Department of Transparency" with 5 proposals for making government information more accessible to the public, thereby making government processes and workings more transparent. His proposals can be boiled down to: 1) make GPO "products" like the Congressional Record, Federal Register, US Code, etc immediately available online in bulk and with historical coverage; 2) create a .gov cloud; 3) wire for video all US Government hearing rooms; 4) train people in the art of both traditional and digital publishing and 5) get rural America access to broadband aka "internetification."
That takes care of the creation of and access to digital government information -- the bulk of the issues with which FGI is concerned. There's just one piece missing in Malamud's ingenious plan: preservation. The Library of the USA needs to include actual libraries in the process.
I'm not faulting the plan, because I really think it's far-reaching and radically elegant in its simplicity -- not to mention that malamud's M.O. has always been about access, "open sourcing America's operating system." And since the Obama transition team is increasingly talking about a "21st century New Deal" that includes a call for a huge job training program combined with an agenda of ethical and transparent government, this is a plan with real legs.
For the plan to work though, libraries and librarians will need to step up to the challenge. We'll need to work closely with GPO and each other and collaborate on the building of digital infrastructures.
Stay tuned. This is getting interesting!
The Honorable Office of the President-Elect
Attn: Department of Transparency
Washington, D.C. 20270
Pre the procedures and policies propounded by the Office of the President-Elect, Public.Resource.Org is pleased to provide for publication and posting the following policy papers and proposals which we have previously shared with your staff:
REBOOTING .GOV. How the Government Printing Office can spearhead a revolution in governmental affairs.
FEDFLIX. Government videos are an essential national resource for vocational and safety training and can also help form a public domain stock footage library, a common resource for the YouTube and remix era.
THE LIBRARY OF THE U.S.A. A book series and public works job program to create an archival series of curated documents drawn from our cultural institutions, with full-quality masters of the books and research materials made available for other publishers to draw on. The program would employ the GPO master printers and would recruit writers, archivists, artists, and other creative workers through a national call for participation.
THE UNITED STATES PUBLISHING ACADEMY. GPO should expand current training programs such as the Institute for Federal Printing and combine them with current workforce development efforts to create a national academy similar to the National Mine Academy and the National Fire Academy, training its own workforce, the government, and the local schools in the art, craft, and science of publishing.
THE RURAL INTERNETIFICATION ADMINISTRATION. Repurposing the Amateur Radio League, modifying spectrum policy, and injecting capital into rural coops can bring high-speed broadband to 98% of rural Americans just as the Rural Electrification Administration did in the last century.
All submissions are in the public domain and you may feel free to remix or mashup the ideas as you so wish.
President & CEO
[Thanks for the tweet John Wonderlich!]
[Update: HA! StanfordLawLibrarians cross-posted a similar story almost at the same exact moment on FGI and over at LegalResearchPlus. So I deleted their post and include this link to their story as well!]
Carl Malamud is itching for a copyfight, and when he wins(!), the American public will be better informed due to better access to state, county and federal regulations, building codes, plumbing standards, criminal laws etc.
Code city is now open and the readme file is a graphic novel (view it as a Flickr slideshow here!) explaining the travesty of state and local codes being copyrighted rather than in the public domain and freely available online. Code city included full-text scans of 43 state codes -- including the entire California Title 24 Safety Codes! -- and several city codes (Little Rock, Denver, Phoenix, Wilmington, Honolulu, St Louis, Las Vegas).
The goal of the project is to get as many city, county and state safety and building codes and regulations out on the open Web in a standardized digital format (YAY open standards!!) so that others can use the documents to design Web sites with more modern search and presentation features, "social Web sites where, for instance, plumbers could provide useful annotations to building codes -- perhaps blending Wikipedia with Facebook for a more useful law site." If/when he's successful, citizens (not to mention libraries!) will no longer be forced to shell out hundreds of dollars (CA code is $1,556 for a digital copy, or $2,315 for a printed version!). And that's a very good thing!!
California's building codes, plumbing standards and criminal laws can be found online.
But if you want to download and save those laws to your computer, forget it.
The state claims copyright to those laws. It dictates how you can access and distribute them -- and therefore how much you'll have to pay for print or digital copies.
It forbids people from storing or distributing its laws without consent.
That doesn't sit well with Carl Malamud, a Sebastopol resident with an impressive track record of pushing for digital access to public information. He wants California -- and every other federal, state and local agency -- to drop their copyright claims on law, contending it will pave the way for innovators to create new ways of searching and presenting laws.
"When it comes to the law, the courts have always said there can be no copyright because people are obligated to know what it says," Malamud said. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse in court."
Malamud is spoiling for a major legal fight.
He has begun publishing copies of federal, state and county codes online -- in direct violation of claimed copyright.
I am SOOO bummed that I can't be in Chicago tomorrow and Tuesday, but I hope there are some Chicago area librarians who can make it to the first "non-conference" of the Independent Government Observers Taskforce (IGOTF). Carl Malamud and his posse has pulled together a group of Govt observistas to...
- Encourage technical coordination
- Encourage training and outreach efforts
- Raise visibility of efforts by citizens to increase transparency of government
- Determine the need for and arrive a plan for the creation of support services, such as scanning of archives or hosting of content.
Doesn't that just sound like something in which libraries should be involved?!?!? To top it off, I just saw the agenda for the Municipal govt group (on google groups) and the first item is:
Cataloging and standardization*
How to make available data easier to find and work with (clearinghouses, indexes, formats, etc.)
So please, Please, PLEASE get yourself over to the Gleacher Conference Center at the University of Chicago tomorrow and Tuesday (Aug 4-5). If anyone DOES go, please drop updates in the comments or send notes to admin AT freegovinfo DOT info and we'll post to FGI!
As a documents librarian, it's always been a particular frustration to me that I could give access to the CA Codes to all who asked *except* for Title 24, the CA Building Standards Codes which are under copyright by and must be purchased from various organizations -- for @ $890!
As noted here before, Oregon has been going through a challenge to its copyrighted statutes. The battle appears to be over now and the the statutes are free! mmmm... we love free government information!
On June 19th the Legislative Counsel held a hearing with activist Carl Malamud from Public.Resource.org and others to discuss the issue.... In the end the Legislative Counsel voted to not assert copyright over the Oregon Revised Statutes.
This is a great victory for openness and democracy.
A few weeks ago, we posted a story about GAO selling exclusive access to GAO legislative histories to Thomson West (see "GAO *did* sell exclusive access to legislative history to Thomson West" and GAO subject for all GAO stories). This was a rich historical chunk of GAO information (20,597 legislative histories of most public laws from 1915-1995!!) and it was set to be locked up with T/W claiming exclusive rights and licensing access.
Well, not so fast. Carl Malamud, tireless hero of the public domain, got wind of the deal, and got the GAO to release 10 DVDs of legislative histories, containing 619,481 PDF files -- the pilot project scans they conducted. He has proposed a joint venture with the Internet Archive to scan the same materials with the same terms as Thomson West, give GAO one full copy of all their data AND put up the data online (presumably the Internet Archive) clearly marked as public domain material available for reuse without restriction. And what's more, Carl says, "If they say yes, we intend to ask Congress to earmark funds to pay the Internet Archive to scan this invaluable resource." !!
You can follow the paper trail on Carl's Federal Legislative History site. Below is the letter of unsolicited joint venture sent to GAO. Way to go Carl!!