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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Mapping the Trump administration’s corruption across the executive branch

Trump corruption

One of the things that most scares me about the current administration is the terrible — and possibly long-term — erosive effect it is having on the entire executive branch. One of the best books to document this systemic tragedy is Michael Lewis’ Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy (many libraries have access to it via Overdrive so check your local public library. They’re still working hard even during the pandemic!)

If you can’t get your hands on Lewis’ book, then check out the American Prospect, which has done a massive investigation into the Trump administration’s dodgy practices.

In three years as president, he has transformed the executive branch into a giant favor factory, populated with the agents or willing partners of virtually every special interest. Add up all the routine, daily outrages—the quasi-bribery and quasi-extortion, the private raids on public funds, the handouts to the undeserving, the massive flow of cash, jobs, and freebies back in return—and Trump’s attempt to squeeze a little re-election help out of the fragile government of a desperate Eastern European country does not loom particularly large in the reckoning … The Trump administration has brought its brand of corruption and self-dealing to every agency in the federal government, and it’s hard for anyone to keep on top of it all. We’ve mapped it out for you. Click on any agency building below, and unlock an extensive dossier of the activities happening inside.

via Mapping Corruption.

The Technical is Political

As much as we’d like to think that information policies are free from politics, it just isn’t true. It is not often that the press deals with how politics affects information policy, but it is increasingly easy for the press to deal with the issue when it comes to issues of technology. And so we have an article in this week’s Government Computer News:

Karrie Peterson and I wrote about this in some detail:

  • The Technical is Political by James A. Jacobs and Karrie Peterson, Of Significance… 3(1) 2001, p.25-35. Association of Public Data Users. (Full text PDF file)

In the realm of government information, technical decisions about data format, access software and public distribution methods are inherently political decisions. They affect what kind of data can be accessed, how, by whom, and for how long into the future it will be available. To evaluate and respond appropriately to policy changes by government producers of data, technical issues must also be looked at in the light of social values shared by the data-using community.

How does a newly decked-out data product fare with regard to open access? Privacy of individuals? Documentation that allows the data to be correctly cited, tested for reliability, re-used in the future? Social and political concerns also come into play when the flexibility offered by distributing raw data is balanced against locking the data into a “user-friendly” software, and when products traditionally produced by the federal government are privatized.

As private industry pushes harder for information to become a commodity – something that can be sold for profit – it is important for data users to push back with a strong philosophy of information as a social good, and to evaluate data products and access in light of their value to society, rather than on strictly narrow technical grounds.