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New US Digital Service Looks to Avoid IT Catastrophes

BY Alex Howard | Wednesday, August 13 2014

USDS' Mikey Dickerson at the 2009 MySQL Conference (Photo by Jorge Bernal)

At a time when the public's trust in institutions is at historic lows, the federal government's use of technology has an unusual place in the national discourse. After the first Internet president's administration was responsible for the high-profile failure of Healthcare.gov, the issue seemed ripe to drive significant reform on Capitol Hill. Even if some 10 million adults gained health insurance through the Affordable Care Act after "Obama's trauma team" made successful fixes to Healthcare.gov, negative public perception has lingered, and for good reason. Under the radar, other projects have continued to sputter, like a $300 million dollar Social Security government IT boondoggle that still has not delivered a working system for submitting disability claims. The crash of the FCC's dated website under the weight of 1.1 million comments this summer didn't help, either. At the same time, the confidence of the technology community has been damaged by revelations of dragnet surveillance and surreptitious backdoors planted in software. Now, the executive branch has launched two new initiatives aimed squarely at these issues, 18F and the just-announced US Digital Service, Alex Howard reports. Read More

First POST: Unequal Relationships

BY Micah L. Sifry | Friday, July 11 2014

A rush to legislate new data collection law in the UK is drawing pushback; how the cellphone unlocking movement is a great example of "internet activism"; why journalists should fear Facebook; and much, much more. Read More

First POST: Today's Big Disaster

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, February 13 2014

Comcast's bid to buy Time Warner Cable could be a huge disaster for consumers and Internet users in America; the connections between online resistance, state surveillance, and data-driven political targeting; more roundups of The Day We Fight Back; and much, much more. Read More

Sublime to Absurd: The HealthCare.gov Debate, From Procurement Reform to Cats and Jon Stewart

BY Miranda Neubauer | Wednesday, October 23 2013

Many commentators in the past few days have criticized the media coverage of Healthcare.gov's launch problems, highlighting what they see as a lack of technical understanding. Meanwhile, the issue has sparked a complex, passionate discussion among some experts on Twitter debating the root of the problems, comparisons with the Obama campaign's Narwhal system, the difference between campaign and government technology, the inherent flaws in the procurement process and how to improve government technology. Three of the key figures in the ongoing Twitter debate, storified below, over the past few days were Clay Johnson, technologist, founder of Blue State Digital and a 2012 Presidential Innovation Fellow, writer and consultant Clay Shirky, and Harper Reed, CTO of Obama's 2012 election campaign. While among them and others the discussion has been a wonky, almost philosophical conversation about the role of technology and government, rooted in their experiences, Rep. Darrell Issa Wednesday opted for a more sensational approach when he decided to cite Johnson's Oct. 7 blog post calling the contractors "sloppy" to create "8 Cats Who Called 1-800-ObamaCare but Still Couldn’t Get Healthcare." Read More

First POST: Drip, Drip

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, September 11 2013

Exclusively for Personal Democracy Plus subscribers: The NSA releases new documents showing it violates its own privacy rules on a daily basis; cryptoparties are springing up again in Germany; gun control supporters are recalled in Colorado; and much, much more. Read More

New Report on NSA's Privacy Violations Fuels Movement for Surveillance Reform

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Friday, August 16 2013

Photo: Jeff Schuler/Flickr

A startling new report published late Thursday evening that reveals for the first time thousands of instances where the National Security Agency overstepped its legal authority by illegally collecting the phone and e-mail communications of U.S. citizens is likely to put privacy and surveillance issues on the front-burner next month when members of Congress return to Washington D.C. from the August recess. Read More

This Week, Congress To Critique Obama On Tech in Government

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Monday, July 8 2013

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Director Office of Management and Budget (middle) is in charge of Obama's new management agenda

President Obama on Monday touted his administration's use of technology and data analysis for a more efficient government ahead of a mid-week House hearing that is likely to be critical of his administration's performance. Read More

DATA Act, Promising to Increase Federal Spending Accountability, Rises Again

BY Miranda Neubauer | Friday, May 17 2013

Rep. Eric Cantor & Rep. Darrell Issa at Data Demonstration Day (Flickr/Majority Leader)

Rep. Darrell Issa (R.-Calif) plans to reintroduce the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, or DATA Act, which aims to open up and standardize the federal government's spending data. The House passed an earlier version of the bill in April of 2012, but it had not moved forward in the Senate. The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which Issa chairs, has now posted a discussion draft of a new version of the legislation. The committee will begin marking up the legislation this coming Wednesday, according to Daniel Schuman, policy counsel at the Sunlight Foundation. Read More

Benghazi Becomes #Benghazi as Oversight Committee Streams Hearing Online

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, May 8 2013

The House Oversight Committee is streaming its Wednesday proceedings live as committee members hear testimony from State Department personnel concerning the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi attacks. The hearing is being broadcast live over YouTube and, as of this writing, has more than 2,800 simultaneous viewers. Read More

Redditors Suspicious Of Congressman Issa's No New Internet Regs Proposal

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Thursday, November 29 2012

Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)'s Legislative Director Laurent Crenshaw and Issa at a PDF cocktail party this June

Several Redditors reacted skeptically Wednesday to California House Republican Darrell Issa's town-hall visit to the online forum advocating a new bill that would put a two-year moratorium on new Internet regulations. Read More

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NY Study Shows How Freedom of Information Can Inform Open Data

On New York State's open data portal, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has around 40 data resources of varying sizes, such as maps of lakes and ponds and rivers, bird conservation areas and hiking trails. But those datasets do not include several data resources that are most sought after by many New York businesses, a new study from advocacy group Reinvent Albany has found. Welcome to a little-discussed corner of so-called "open government"--while agencies often pay lip service to the cause, the data they actually release is sometimes nowhere close to what is most wanted. GO

Responding to Ferguson, Activists Organize #NMOS14 Vigils Across America In Just 4 Days

This evening peaceful crowds will gather at more than 90 locations around the country to honor the victims of police brutality, most recently the unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on Saturday. A moment of silence will begin at 20 minutes past 7 p.m. (EST). The vigils are being organized almost entirely online by the writer and activist Feminista Jones (@FeministaJones), with help from others from around the country who have volunteered to coordinate a vigil in their communities. Organizing such a large event in only a few days is a challenge, but in addition to ironing out basic logistics, the National Moment of Silence (#NMOS14) organizers have had to deal with co-optation, misrepresentation, and Google Docs and Facebook pages that are, apparently, buckling under traffic.

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NDI Launches Open Source DemTools for International Development

Yesterday the National Democratic Institute launched a suite of web-based applications created for their partner organizations, mostly pro-democracy groups and political parties around the world. These “DemTools,” which are ready-to-use but can also be customized, will give organizations in developing countries some of the capabilities that political activists and parties in the United States have had for years. Moreover, since the National Democratic Institute (NDI) is making the promise to host partner organization's applications in the cloud essentially forever, they hope these applications will help usher in a period of more sustainable tech.

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