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Today in OpenGov: The Declassification Engine is in gear

Monday, June 6, 2016 15:46
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(Before It's News)

By The Sunlight Foundation

HISTORY AS DATA: You might recall reading about the “Declassification Engine” in Wired back in 2013. Well, a new Freedom of Information Act archive went live over the weekend. Actor Sam Waterston explains the project in the video below.

THIS ISN’T RUSSIA, MR. TRUMP: After doubling down on overtly racial criticism of a federal judge that sparked constitutional concerns about the separation of powers, presidential candidate Donald Trump is urging surrogates to intensify attacks on the judge and journalists asking questions about the case. The role of journalists is to hold candidates for public office accountable for their words or actions. Any billionaire urging attacks upon journalists or a federal judge undermines the rule of law and is unacceptable, much less one standing for the highest public office in the USA. [Bloomberg]

DATA JOURNALISM: David Colarusso analyzed 2.2 million Virginia District Court cases and found bias in that big data that enabled him to share insight into how income and race affected outcomes in a court of law. The scientific approach he pursued in this act of journalism is laudable, sharing data, methodology and code — and it led to effective peer review, with an alert reader finding an error that was subsequently corrected.

HIGH OPEN RATE: I’m enjoying reading the Engine Room’s Responsible Data newsletter, which rounds up interesting stories about (you guessed it) ethics and data, like its new project with Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition looking at “data implications and considerations around open data usage in the agriculture sector.” What’s in your inbox?


  • A coalition of privacy and civil liberties groups — including the Sunlight Foundation — is challenging the FBI’s proposal to exclude a database from the Privacy Act. Read more about why the FBI shouldn’t restrict the public’s right to know, and weigh in. [NextGov]
  • It’s been 30 years since CSPAN debuted, bringing a different kind of transparency to Congress. Plenty of work still remains to make video better. “In terms of individual committees in Congress, it’s hit or miss in terms of how well they use video – especially streaming video online now,” said Sean Moulton of the Project on Government Oversight. “It hasn’t been without some hiccups, one of the things we hear back from Congress are concerns over access for people with disabilities and ADA compliance. Technologically, it’s about getting the right tools in place that will address those issues, but for the most part it has been a real help to understand the discussion and decision-making that goes on in Congress.” [GovTech]
  • The House is holding a hearing on oversight of 18F and the U.S. Digital Service this Friday. []
  • Gizmodo asked the FCC for all of the FOIA requests it has denied since 2014. [Gizmodo]
  • Did the Pentagon Papers matter? Make sure to read Dana Priest’s convincing case in the affirmative. ”Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government,” wrote Justice Hugo Black. [CJR]
  • New documents obtained by Jason Leopold under FOIA show Edward Snowden tried to tell the NSA about his surveillance concerns. [VICE]
  • Snowden wrote an op-ed in The New York Times this weekend, hailing legislative reforms sparked by his leaks, warning of continued privacy threats, and sounding a hopeful note about what’s to come. “At the turning of the millennium, few imagined that citizens of developed democracies would soon be required to defend the concept of an open society against their own leaders. Yet the balance of power is beginning to shift.” [NYT]

State and Local

  • The executive director of Ohio’s Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, which serves as a watchdog over the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, was forced to resign on May 25 in a late-night legislative session. Now, the future of the committee itself is in question. [Columbus Dispatch]
  • The secrecy behind the drafting of Oklahoma’s budget is drawing some much-needed sunlight. “I wouldn’t say (Oklahoma’s budget process) is normal,” Emily Shaw told Trevor Brown. “And it’s an issue because if people can’t learn about the important decisions that are being made, they can’t weigh in on what kind of programs they think their state should prioritize.” [Oklahoma Watch]
  • Shaw also talked to the Beaver County Times about the importance of Pennsylvania learning from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia as the state approaches opening data online. “Creating a data culture, and not just a data website, can involve changing how employees work on a daily basis. ‘There has to be internal organizers because the data is going to have to move in ways that it hasn’t before,’ Shaw said.” [BC Times]
  • Lobbying disclosures in Oregon remain far too murky. “People should be able to find out who has come to influence their laws,” Shaw told the Tribune. “That’s not to say there needs to be any particular restriction on lobbying in a particular situation. But for good public awareness of what’s happening in these processes, we need good information about what lobbyists are doing, and when.” [Portland Tribune]
  • Change Politics is getting its first big test in the California presidential primary. [Wired UK]
  • Cities, states and national governments need intermediaries to make open data matter by cleaning, analyzing, contextualizing and publicizing the insights in it. [NextCity]
  • Sunlight friends and advisors Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry joined the Free Law Founders. [OpenGov Foundation]
  • Govtrack founder and Sunlight ally Josh Tauberer wrote about why we hack this weekend, reflecting on the National Day of Civic Hacking:
    “As with any time-consuming activity like civic hacking, one might consider the opportunity cost. Is my time better spent at a hackathon, performing a more traditional sort of community service, or joining a social justice movement? Or should I work more, so that I can make a donation to people with the greatest ability to effect social change? These are very personal questions. The availability of other civic activities besides civic tech hacking doesn’t diminish the value of civic hacking. The important thing is just that we’re honest about our goals and that our goals are just.” [Medium]


  • Last week’s TransparencyCamp EU looked at the different ways technology can enhance transparency and accountability in Europe. We’ll have more to share about what we learned there soon. [Transparency Camp EU]
  • Embedded in a look at how digitization is fighting corruption in India are some fascinating statistics: 66 percent of users of a manual system reported paying a bribe, while only 3 percent of a digitized system did. ”77.5% of Karnatakans felt ‘people had to pay bribes to register their documents,’ vs 8% in Maharashtra, with software.” [Slate]
  • Caveat: ”States with the highest levels of petty corruption are the least likely to [digitize] service delivery.” [University of Pennsylvania]
  • The United Kingdom has a real-time performance page for its voter registration application. []
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer was convicted of election law violations and banned from running for public office for eight years. [The Intercept]
  • Former Sunlighter Lindsey Ferris wrote in to share new work at the Cadasta Foundation, which focuses on improving how “land and resource rights are documented, managed and stored”:

    Our initial resources include a comprehensive Overview of Property Rights Data and a Risk Assessment Framework. These two guides are intended to explain what land ownership data is, where it can be found, as well as outline the process that OKI and Cadasta conducted to determine what of this data should be open. All current and forthcoming resources, as well as additional background on this project can be found on Cadasta’s Open Data page.

  • Speaking of land, here’s a look at “geopolitical hedging as a service” – when tech companies make maps that represent the realities governments prefer – by my former O’Reilly colleague Jon Bruner.  []


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The Sunlight Foundation is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency, and provides new tools and resources for media and citizens, alike.


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