Today in OpenGov: Welcome to the age of (open) data breach journalism?
The Sunlight Foundation submitted comments on the U.S. government’s draft open source software policy today. Here’s the short version of what we posted on Github: We believe that making more of the software built by or for the federal government open source will improve how the federal government works and save agencies money.
Github product manager Ben Balter has already made his feelings clear in multiple comments: the White House has missed an opportunity here. We hope that if you feel strongly about this issue, one way or another, that you take the time to weigh in before the comment period closes at midnight tonight.
On to the news!
- Former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson agrees with John Oliver that hard money fundraising is “destroying our democracy.” [Independent Journal Opinion]
- Federal regulators launched a new website on Friday focused on tracking improvements at labs that work with scary pathogens like anthrax. Sounds like a good idea. [USA TODAY]
- 60 Minutes aired a segment on Sunday about “28 Pages,” the length of a redacted portion of the 838 page report the congressional inquiry on 9/11 produced that former U.S. Senator Bob Graham (and others) have been fighting to get declassified. The pages reportedly detail support from Saudi officials and agents for the 9/11 hijackers in the U.S. 60 Minutes also produced a segment on how to report on a secret document.
- Former Sunlight editorial director Bill Allison looked at what has happened at the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) in recent years under David Brock. His analysis found that CREW has filed fewer federal lawsuits and has “mothballed a number of projects related to government transparency, congressional corruption, and so-called Astroturf lobbying campaign. CREW has focused on the influence of money in politics, but according to Allison’s analysis, not on both sides of the aisle: “So far in this election cycle, CREW has filed about 14 complaints with the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission over alleged tax or campaign finance violations. Just one of those has been against a Democrat.” [Bloomberg]
- The Federal Aviation Authority has launched an “external data access initiative” and is asking for feedback on this kinds of data you’d like from them.
- Newly released documents from the U.S. Agency for International Development show that the agency was expecting a slow response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request regarding “Cuban Twitter,” according to a new report from Jack Gillum. [AP]
- Speaking of FOIA and email, Josh Gerstein reviewed dozens of federal investigations into the mishandling of classified records and concluded that it’s highly unlikely that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be indicted for her decision to use a private email server for public business. [Politico]
- Nadya Popovich started a “data notebook” on Medium. Looks interesting, although I wish she’d reboot the Guardian’s Data blog or create a US version instead. [Medium]
- Former Sunlighter and current Demand Progresser Daniel Schuman took exception to The Monkey Cage’s post on legislative effectiveness, arguing that there’s no good way to quantitatively measure legislative effectiveness. This runs contrary to the claims Quorum Analytics makes, with respect to its product.
- Govtrack founder Josh Tauberer wrote about business models in civic technology, digging into tough questions about what gets funded and is sustainable, and why. Let’s keep that conversation going.
- Former Sunlight Labs director Tom Lee didn’t like this story on ethical screenscraping and explained why. Both pieces are worth reading.
- Sunlight revamped Email Congress, if you’d like to get in touch with your representatives in government.
STATE and local
- Lawmakers in Georgia quietly approved a bill that would make it more difficult for the public to determine if state legislators were profiting from government business. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
- Federal investigators at the Government Accountability Office found significant weaknesses in the health insurance websites of California, Kentucky and Vermont. [AP]
- Nancy Lublin talked about how open crisis data can help save lives. [TED Radio Hour]
- U.S. Open Data Institute director (and Sunlight advisor) Waldo Jaquith talked with Philadephia chief data officer Tim Wisniewski about JKAN, a new lightweight open data catalog. [USODI]
- Kaela Sanborn-Hum took a thoughtful look at New York City’s evolving approach to open data. She posed a question with broader relevance: “One essential question for open data is whether it is being used beyond the Ben Wellingtons and Noel Hidalgos of the world. In other words, are community activists and those without advanced data science training using the city data?” [Gotham Gazette]
- Orlando, Florida launched an open data website. [WESH]
- While the Panama Papers aren’t getting much attention in the United States, the largest corporate data leak in history is big news globally. In the U.S., where only McClatchy and Fusion were partners in the global collaboration organized by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a fair bit of the coverage has focused on the technology used or exploring what it all means.
- Over in the United Kingdom, prime minister David Cameron said on Monday that he plans to tighten laws to prevent tax evasion.
- On that count, one of the best perspectives I’ve read yet on the topic comes from Jim Rutenberg, the media columnist at the New York Times (which was notably not in the years-long partnership), who says the Panama Papers signals a shift in mainstream journalism.
- One of the worst comes from columnist Michael Wolff, whose ignorance of ICIJ and description of data journalism with “data theft” fuels conspiracy theories, not public understanding. Wolff found it curious that “although this is a prime demonstration of the new data journalism, there is little available data.” Wikileaks’ advocacy for full disclosure aside, this is less curious than responsible: ICIJ director Gerard Ryle told Rutenberg that the “consortium had been extra careful not to make all of its data public, especially the personal information of nonpublic figures, playing a gatekeeper role.”Yes, this really is about ethics in “data breach journalism.”
- Some data is out there, if you look: The Sunday Times compiled a database of 37,000 companies in the Panama Papers using the OpenCorporates API.
- George Mason professor Tyler Cowen looked at what the leak (or hack?) could tell us about how the values of privacy and transparency relate to the powerful.
- Despite the turmoil in the Middle East, investigative journalism endures there. [CJR]
- On that count, this is the story of how more than 600,000 government documents that document war crimes and human rights violations have been smuggled out of Syria and compiled into a damning legal brief. [New Yorker]
- The public transportation agency of Florida suspended real-time access to its data, citing demand. [Rude Baguette]
- The Doorstop Awards are tomorrow in Washington, DC.
- Registration for TransparencyCamp EU on June 1 is open.
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