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First POST: Off the Books

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, February 25 2015

Off the Books

  • Yesterday's blockbuster story by Spencer Ackerman in the Guardian about the Chicago police's "black site," an "off the books interrogation compound" where people have been beaten, shackled and denied access to lawyers prompted an impassioned response from veteran civic hacker Daniel O'Neil, the head of the Smart Chicago Collaborative. Noting the long history of open crime data in the evolution of the city's larger open data movement, O'Neil writes, "The idea that the Homan Square facility, at the corner of Homan and Fillmore, is a place where police are 'keeping arrestees out of official booking databases' certainly is not a shining star in this history."

  • O'Neil reminds us of the radical critique offered by the late Aaron Swartz of simply relying on government to release data. Swartz wrote "The way a typical US transparency project works is pretty simple. You find a government database, work hard to get or parse a copy, and then put it online with some nice visualizations.The problem is that reality doesn’t live in the databases. Instead, the databases that are made available, even if grudgingly, form a kind of official cover story, a veil of lies over the real workings of government."

  • On the Smart Chicago blog, O'Neil also points out that crime data itself, and the choices developers make in how they use it, is quite political.

  • "The little guys appear to have won," writes The New York Times Jonathan Weisman, summing up the pro-net-neutrality efforts of "a swarm of small players" including Tumblr, Etsy, BoingBoing, Reddit, and Fight for the Future to beat back "the giants of the tech world, Comcast, Verizon and TimeWarner Cable." Oddly, Weisman fails to mention Free Press or Demand Progress, two advocacy groups that have provided critical muscle to the fight, or Public Knowledge, which has been central to its strategizing, or the Center for Media Justice, which has been crucial in broadening its grassroots base. But, hey, it's only the paper "of record."

  • Here's where the top 2016 presidential contenders stand on net neutrality, helpfully compiled by Patrick Howell O'Neill for The Daily Dot.

  • Speaking of the 2016 presidential race, in Time magazine, Ryan Teague Beckwith says that Hillary Clinton's emerging campaign should look at all the Hillary fan products selling on Etsy to help craft its messaging. "Bitches Get Stuff Done" and "Good Things Come to Those Who Wait" are both slogan contenders.

  • Of all the 2016 presidential contenders, Clinton gets the most retweets by far, Hunter Schwarz reports in the Washington Post.

  • Speaking at a women's tech conference in Silicon Valley Tuesday, Clinton said she couldn't condone Edward Snowden's actions but that "the NSA has to act lawfully."

  • Riffing further on NSA Director Michael Rogers' remarks at Monday's cyber-security summit at New America, Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute explains precisely why "backdoor" paths into supposedly secure systems is a terrible idea.

  • Going even deeper, alpha crypto developer Moxie Marlinspike explains why he's no longer a fan of GPG and that it's time to "start fresh with a different design philosophy."

  • This is civic tech: A bunch of civic hackers led by Chris Whong just figured out how to give Baltimore a real-time bus tracking app, for free--saving the city the $600,000 it thought it had to spend to make the tool work.

  • Holly Russon Gilman of New America argues that the way to rebuild the relationship between alienated citizens and the state is by improving how people experience democracy, citing participatory budgeting as a leading example.