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Daily Digest: Through the Wormhole, Into the White House

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, January 22 2009

  • A Presumption of Open Government: One of the two executive orders signed by Barack Obama in his first full day in office pledged to shift governing presumptions about secrecy in the executive branch. With the swipe of a pen, Obama hopes to do away with the federal government's knee-jerk compulsion to squirrel away information. "Let me say it as simply as I can," said Obama, "Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency." Of particular interest here is that Obama seems to get the "web 2.0" potential of unshackled information, as our Micah Sifry reports, dictating that federal agencies "use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate." But even the presidential pen isn't all powerful. The Sunlight Foundation's John Wonderlich suggests that some of what Obama outlines "won't be easy," and will require "a careful eye to concerns of privacy, security, and the prerogatives of closed deliberation."* And what's more, Wonderlich says, that the executive orders weren't posted on WhiteHouse.gov for several hours is a reminder that, in practice, real-time transparency isn't easy.

  • Transparency 101, Executive Branch Edition: Also worth noting in Obama's executive order: the yet-to-be-named Chief Technology Officer, aided by OMB and GSA, has been directed to author an "Open Government Directive" within the next 120 days. The document would serve as a handbook for federal agencies as the work to abide by Obama's openness dictates. Let's hope the new CTO wears a nice pair to sneakers to the first day on the job, because he or she will need to hit the ground running.

  • White House, Circa 1999: Let's get back to that lag time on getting the executive orders up on the new White House site. That's not unexpected, given that new White House staffers find themselves time-traveled back about, oh, a decade when they walk through 1600 Pennsylvania's gates. "One member of the White House new-media team came to work on Tuesday, right after the swearing-in ceremony," reports the Washington Post's Anne E. Kornblut, "only to discover that it was impossible to know which programs could be updated, or even which computers could be used for which purposes." We hear that one staffer is still scrambling to find extra punch cards for the IBM mainframe in her office. Wired's Evan Ratliff and Newsweek's Kurt Soller both have reasonably skeptical pieces about whether, as Ratliff puts it, Obama can "really reboot the White House." And for an extra dose of contrarianism, Philadelphia Daily News' Jonathan Takiff says that a tech-savvy president is really nothing new.

  • Are the Expectations for WhiteHouse.gov Too Great?: When it comes to WhiteHouse.gov, don't go coloring Scripting News' Dave Winer and our Mike Turk all that impressed. The site, says Winer, would be a praise-worthy effort -- if this was 2004. Harsh! And probably unfairly so. The White House New Media team is just getting started. As Kornblut's piece makes plain, they're going to have to learn to sludge through how government works before they make much progress. Also in WhiteHouse.gov news: you'll notice that the site has adopted a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License for third-party content. All stuff created by the White House itself, of course, belongs to we-the-people by default.

  • A Super, Super Encrypted Presidential 'Berry: Here's the latest in the on-going "will he or won't he" saga involving Obama's beloved Blackberry. The Atlantic's Mark Ambinder has a post up suggesting that security provisions are being put into place that would make the President's emails super-duper hard to intercept or mimic. Computerworld's Matt Hamblen isn't so sure, writing that that sort of encryption would require that everyone Obama wants to email have the same secret system in place.

  • Down-Ticket RNC Candidates Embrace Tech Recovery Plan: And in non-Obama/White House news -- yes, for real -- it's looking like the appeal of the Rebuild the Party plan promoted by Republican tech activists is starting to trickle down ticket. Wyoming Wyoming National Committeewoman Jan Larimer is promoting her endorsement of the RTP plan in her bid to become RNC co-chair.

In Case You Missed It...

Sarah Granger talks with search optimization experts about the significance of WhiteHouse.gov's very brief robots.txt file.

Chuck DeFeo notes that the inauguration festivities were a huge Internet hit. Was Tuesday, asks Chuck, "the breakthrough moment for live online video usage?"

And Gene Koo writes that Obama's "non-reductive rhetoric" means his inaugural speech can't be boiled-down to sound-bit ready clips. Lucky for him, of course, this thing called the Internet has no problem with 22-minute video addresses.

*Note: Our Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry are senior advisors to the Sunlight Foundation.

Got tips, leads, or story ideas for the Daily Digest? Get in touch. Email tips@personaldemocracy.com or contact @techpresident on Twitter.

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