Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

In Philly, Making it Harder for Landlords to Hide

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, May 5 2011

Technically Philly describes a hackathon project to find all properties owned by a given landlord by cross-referencing scraped data and city databases:

So, say, a small-time property developer wanted neighborhood approval for a zoning variance at a newly purchased property. Until Kerkstra inspired a pack of hackers, there was no easy, online way for concerned neighbors to find out other properties that property developer owned.

The resulting project, OPA Data Liberator, already caught the attention of Philadelphia's Office of Property Assessment, which is now talking about releasing more data in open, downloadable format. Partially for liability purposes, and in many cases to remain anonymous, landlords put a maze of limited-liability corporations and lawyers between themselves and their properties — which would require a little more algorithmic digging to match real estate to people.

Why is this important? Well, after the building boom of the early 2000s crashed, for example, several developers left multiple half-finished properties scattered around New York City and I would imagine Philadelphia too — and in each neighborhood, local leaders were scratching their heads about who to hold accountable. If property ownership in cities was more transparent, those conversations could have been about building community support to finish projects or zoning variances to make the properties viable for other purposes; instead, they were often about who to send the bill for graffiti removal or cleaning up hazardous conditions. Projects like this pry the lid off the often secretive world of big-city land ownership, for good or ill.

I was involved in a hack day project similar to this in New York this past January.

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.

GO

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.

GO

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.

GO

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.

GO

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.

GO

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.

GO

More