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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.

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