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First POST: Remembering Aaron Swartz

BY Miranda Neubauer | Monday, January 14 2013

Remembering Aaron Swartz

That's no moon, that's a petition response

  • The White House gave a tongue-in-cheek response to a petition demanding that the U.S. government construct a Death Star, moon-sized weapon of planetary destruction from Star Wars.

    In the answer titled "This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For," Paul Shawcross, chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget, declares that "the Administration does not support blowing up planets." The plan would add to the deficit, he explained, adding: "Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?"

    The White House also responded to a petition seeking Obama's impeachment, those seeking secession for various states, and those seeking deportation for those demanding secession.

    Macon Phillips from the White House Office of Digital Strategy highlighted a Redditor's comment in response to the Death Star answer: "This is the first time in my 65 years I felt a connection to the @WhiteHouse."

    Asked whether the White House would also respond to an Open Access petition, he replied, "respond to petitions that cross the threshold, we will."

Public records, online data, and privacy

  • As the debate rolls on over a map published by a newspaper that names gun owners in Westchester County, your First POST editor suggests that our current definition of "public record" is obsolete:

    While "public equals online" is uncomplicated where "public record" is concerned, the inverse is also true. Online equals public. That can be more complex. Online does not mean "public" as in "public record," as in it's-in-a-cabinet-somewhere, fill-out-this-form-and-the-city-clerk-will-get-back-to-you-next-year-maybe public. Online public means "I can find it on Google" public. When it comes to budget data, what Congress is doing or who's pumping money into elections, that's an automatic improvement. But when the Journal-News posted online a map with the names and addresses of all gun owners in Westchester County, N.Y., public-record public became, suddenly and without warning, online public. This was a concern because the records were not about public officials, but private citizens. If people like that even exist anymore.

  • David Carr writes about the wisdom of publishing public data in the wake of the Journal News case. A Republican state senator in New York blamed the newspaper's map for a break-in.

The Internet in civic life

  • Exclusively for Personal Democracy Plus subscribers: Over the last two years, some of the most serious-minded people focused on how to use the Internet to get more people involved in the care of their cities have been working on Change By Us, an online platform where visitors can propose ideas like a community garden or a neighborhood cleanup, find volunteers, and solicit support from foundations or the city.

    The platform's creators have struggled to bring people to the site, and have made promises to change the system in order to receive continued support. Plus subscribers get a detailed look at the problems facing the project.

Around the web


  • The University of Edinburgh along with thirteen partners from other European countries is launching a €8.5 million project called the Citizen Observatory Web to allow members of the public to collect environmental data for research, decision making and policy formation using crowdsourcing technology.

  • Eleven work and pensions civil servants in Britain have been fired for using social media, and 106 in that department have been fired for that offense since 2009.

  • A report recommends that the British military urgently draw up cybersecurity plans.

  • Reuters recently reported on Britain's plans to ramp-up its rollout of telehealth options for patients at home.

  • The Wall Street Journal looked at how North Korea covered Eric Schmidt's visit.

  • The Guardian recently reported on how "poor but sexy Berlin has tapped talent to be Europe's startup capital."

  • Almost 60 federal bureaucrats in Canada were caught plagiarizing information from the Internet on their promotion applications.

  • CNN recently reported on how the Internet Society of Bangalore is helping to educate local artisans on how to use Internet tools.

First POST is normally available only to Personal Democracy Plus subscribers. But as has been pointed out, it doesn't make much sense to limit access to today's post when the subject of today's headline and lead item is the freedom-of-information activist Aaron Swartz, who died Friday. — Nick Judd, managing editor