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Quote of the Day: The Frankenstein's Lab that Is the Internet

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, July 5 2012

"We think of [the Internet] as something like an abandoned mad scientist’s laboratory, in which various experiments in cognitive processing have been left to fizz and overflow together. Some of these experiments are turning into monsters, others unviable chimeras, others yet interesting hybrids." — Henry Farrell, parsing "The Politics of Open Data" on Crooked Timber. Read More

Hamburg’s New Transparency Law – Lessons for Activists

BY David Eaves | Friday, June 29 2012

David Eaves: "Two weeks ago, the State Government of Hamburg passed a new law that required all government information not impacted by privacy issues to be posted online. The law is part of a next generation of access to information laws — like the one passed in Brazil — that requires government information to be disclosed and made available online in a machine readable format. As Christian Humborg, one of the key activists behind the law, said: “An Adobe PDF document is no longer sufficient.” I asked him what activists around the world could learn from victory for Hamburg's transparency advocates. What follows is a summary of our conversation." Read More

WeGov

Brazil's Open-Government Shock Treatment

BY Greg Michener | Wednesday, June 27 2012

Officials in Brazil's government have had a transparency shock treatment in the past year. Photo: Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz

Countries arrive at more transparency and greater freedom of information either through long training or sudden shock treatment.

The U.S. experience, with decades of incremental law and legal precedent, is synonymous with the archetypical training regime. Brazil, on the other hand, is undergoing the epitome of shock treatment. In one month, May 2012, Brazil formally launched an ambitious freedom of information law that outlines a "right to information" – replete with provisions for the release of information in open, computer-readable formats – and, at around the same time, a new open-data portal. For added shock, the Brazilian government inaugurated a second new fundamental right, the "right to historical truth." This right is embodied by the newly established Truth Commission, whose aim it is to reconcile abuses from the military dictatorship that controlled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. Brazil also currently occupies the co-chair of the Open Government Partnership. In short, Brazil is in the midst of a massive transparency offensive and there are positive signs that it is moving in the right direction.

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In California, Progress On a Bill to Open Government Records

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Thursday, May 24 2012

Legislation that would require all California government agencies to make public records available in an "open" format moved forward on Thursday after activists rallied to persuade the state's Senate Appropriations Committee that the requirement would not burden those agencies with millions of dollars in new obligations. The legislation calls for government agencies to save documents in a searchable format. The legislation defines "open data" as a document that can be located and downloaded by open source software, public internet applications like Google Docs, or both. The legislation also says that agencies have to make relevant databases available to the public with the "relationships and mappings" intact, and that they have to be functionally operable. Read More

WeGov

Culture Hacking: How One Project is Changing Transparency in Chile

BY David Eaves | Wednesday, May 16 2012

A few weeks after the launch of Inspector de Intereses — a Chilean website that allows citizens to map money trails in politics — the team at La Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente, the organization behind the site, had an interesting visitor. At the doorstep stood a member of parliament, carrying a stack of papers which outlined his interest in various corporations. He had received the team’s letter inviting him — and his colleagues — to update his records, and here he was, ready to do so, in person no less.

That eager senator wasn’t alone: about 20 percent of Chilean parliamentarians took the opportunity to update their records. In a country where conflicts of interest are not regularly discussed or acknowledged, this was an interesting shift, a change in culture and in process that was part of a Ciudadano Inteligente's strategy to make more transparent the link between money and power in Chile.

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Things From This Weekend More Interesting Than #WHCD

BY Nick Judd | Monday, April 30 2012

At around this time every year, the barometric pressure for celebrity, power and wealth reaches record lows in Washington, D.C. Anyone who relies on hot air for their livelihood is caught up in the weather system of D.C. society and sucked into this stormy maw, which touched down this weekend at the Washington Hilton. Here's what some of the rest of us got up to this weekend while the hoi polloi were laughing along with the president. Read More

Sunlight Says House Appropriations Committee Not Making the Grade in Online Transparency

BY Miranda Neubauer | Tuesday, April 17 2012

Despite a House of Representatives rule adopted in January 2011 requiring that video of hearings be made available online, a full quarter of House hearings are not making it online, according to a new analysis by the Sunlight Foundation.* That's thanks in large part to the House Appropriations Committee, whose hearings account for 70 percent of those not available online, per Sunlight. Read More

Coming Soon: Safety.Data.Gov, a Portal for All Federal Safety Data

BY Miranda Neubauer | Monday, April 16 2012

The federal Department of Transportation will take the lead on a new, federal-government-wide portal to safety data, it announced in a recent update to its Open Government Plan, which was first published in 2010. Read More

NASA's Open-Source Open Government Future

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, April 10 2012

NASA chose its website as flagship for a revamp of its open government plan rolled out yesterday, and — as if to show the agency meant business — did so with a brand-new, brightly colored buzzword-catcher of a website.

There are two things worth noting here. First, NASA — which, seeing as it has its own cloud computing environment, is on the leading edge of government IT already — is making the case that accessibility through web design and functionality will be important for open government. Second, the agency promises a full-scale reorientation in how it chooses technology. NASA's new goals include a transition to an open-source content management system and change its procurement process to value open-source over proprietary solutions. This in a federal government that wasn't clear on how to treat open-source software in procurement until 2009.

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UK's MySociety Releases How-To Guides, Source Code for Open Government Activists

BY Miranda Neubauer | Monday, March 26 2012

MySociety.org, the group behind several civic and democratic websites in the United Kingdom, this year is stepping up its effort to help people in other countries build websites based on its model with a project called DIY mySociety.

While in the past, the group has spread the word, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, through the CEE.mysociety.org project, and Tony Bowden, international agitator for mySociety, speaking at conferences and meetings, it is now aiming to reach a larger audience online by sharing the code of its sites, publishing how-to guides and engaging with the community through social networks and mailing lists. There are already projects based on mySociety's WhatDoTheyKnow model in Kosovo, Germany, Brazil and the European Union.

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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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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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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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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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