Hidden in Plain Sight


Last week, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and OMB Watch, both Sunlight Foundation grantees, released a report highlighting how many federal agencies’ databases and websites contain flaws making them hard to search with commonly used search engines. The report, "Hiding in Plain Sight: Why Important Government Information Cannot Be Found through Commercial Search Engines," shows how vital government information appears "invisible" to ordinary Americans using the Internet. Congress passed the E-Government Act of 2002 to promote the public’s access to government information and services. Based on this report, there a whole lot of work that still needs to be done.

The report not only points out the flaws in current government databases that make it hard, if not impossible, for ordinary citizens to find the data they are looking for, but it also provides fixes that would encourage greater accessibility of information by making it more searchable.

"Unquestionably, the E-Government Act has changed the way that the public interacts with the government," said Ari Schwartz, CDT’s deputy director, in a press release. "Unfortunately, despite the availability of an easy technological fix, many key governmental information sources remain ‘hidden in plain sight,’ from the very search engines that the public is most likely to use."

As Sean Moulton, OMB Watch’s federal information policy director, said in the release: whether the roadblock between the public and the information is caused by the fact that the agencies haven’t taken adequate steps to fix the problem, or that they are unaware of the problem, "In today’s Internet age, either answer is unacceptable."