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First POST: The Politics of Open

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, February 5 2013

Door-knocking for dollars? Dems consider data sale

  • TargetSmart Communications CEO Drew Brighton, an approved vendor for access to voter data compiled by state Democratic parties, told ProPublica's Lois Beckett: "Over the next six months, we are going to go ahead and make the rounds with some corporate prospects."

    In other words: what people told Democratic volunteers in the context of an election might be used by in the service of for-profit companies, Beckett reports.

More noise than signal in "public WiFi" deal

  • The Hill's Brendan Sasso follows up on a Washington Post story from yesterday saying that feds were considering a deal that might create public WiFi networks across the country:

    The FCC plan described in the Post story is not new. Last September, the Commission voted to move forward with a plan to encourage TV stations to sell-off their spectrum—the frequencies that carry all wireless signals. Congress authorized the plan as part of a payroll tax cut extension one year ago.

    The rights to most of that TV spectrum will be auctioned to cellphone service providers, which have struggled to accumulate enough airwaves to meet their customers' growing appetite for streaming videos and downloading apps.

Hype alarm, cont'd

  • Slate is over the moon for Silent Circle, mobile phone-based encryption software that began as a chat client and will, their Ryan Gallagher reports, now allow users to transmit encrypted files as well.

Questioning "open government"

  • Nathaniel Tkacz, an academic, writes that "open government" really "looks, at best, like a new twist in the continuing march of market principles into government."

    In his essay for Aeon magazine, Tkacz makes the point that while "open government" is often framed in apolitical terms, it has expressly political origins: The concept of "open source" is derived from the more political free software movement, which might also sometimes be called the user rights movement. And collaborative commons like Wikipedia take on the politics of their participants — in Wikipedia's case, a very small group of largely male contributors. The "Talk" page on any reasonably important article reveals that there is quite a lot of politics involved in creating and maintaining a Wikipedia page.

    Mr. Open Government Tim O'Reilly, founder of O'Reilly Media, responds in the comments: "One thing that distresses me about this discussion is the notion that somehow, if open government doesn't solve every problem, or creates new problems as it solves others, it is a failed movement. The world doesn't go forward in a straight line!"

    And Tkacz offers a rebuttal: He isn't declaring "open government" to be a failed concept. He's pointing out that technology, software, and software development are all political — with political repercussions that need to be understood rather than denied:

    The point I am making is that these projects from which open government draws inspiration have their own political dimensions that we are still trying to get our head around. Importing these models also means importing some of their political and organisational dimensions. We are kidding ourselves if we think that these platforms are some kind of ideal marketplaces, and even if they were, that this would somehow solve the problems of government.

Around the web

  • Are radical Internet freedom activists creating heat for more respectable fellow travelers?

  • The Sunlight Foundation, where techPresident's Micah Sifry and Andrew Rasiej are senior advisers, recaps the results of a recent hackathon. Among the projects: A team that converted data analysis into sound and a tool to look for suspicious activity in county-level spending.

  • The House will hold hearings on Internet governance today. (No link)

  • Open government advocates in Germany are critical of the government's data releases.

  • Data nerds rejoice: the Open Knowledge Foundation has just posted a list of projects that make it easier to do data visualization or build access-to-information tools, as well as examples of tech-enabled transparency.

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

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wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

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The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

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tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.

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Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.

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monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.

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