Today in OpenGov: Lessons learned from a year of opening police data


TOP NEWS: Sunlight’s Alyssa Doom and Damian Ortellado shared what we’ve learned about opening police data in the past year. “In April, the White House Police Data Initiative celebrated its progress by gathering leaders in the field for a two-day event to discuss the challenges and successes of releasing open police data to the public. The initiative began with 21 participating jurisdictions last May. Since then, that number has more than doubled to 53 jurisdictions that have published over 90 datasets in the process. In light of commitments by 32 additional agencies and organizations, Sunlight reaffirmed its dedication to the ideals of the initiative by pledging to add all datasets opened by participating agencies to Hall of Justice, a repository of criminal justice information launched in February. As partners of the initiative since the beginning, Sunlight was excited to participate in these important conversations and help represent the voice of civil society at the event.”

SWAG BAG UPDATE: As you know, Sunlight received 5 “swag bags” from attendees of the Time / People cocktail party this past weekend during “Nerd Prom], estimated at $530 in value. Melissa Yeager recapped the who, what, when, where and why at the blog. Here’s what’s next: We’ve putting two of the bags on eBay (you can bid on Swag Bag 1 and Swag Bag 2) and our friends at Cards Against Humanity will partner with us to host an auction for Swag Bag 3!

SCOTUS ERRED? Carl R. Hall, chief investment officer with Century Bank’s wealth management group in Medford, Massachusetts, argues in a guest post on Sunlight’s blog that the recent Supreme Court ruling in Gobeille v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company is a “blow for open data advocates pushing for more transparency and accountability. ”

In other news, Jeffrey Toobin argues that the Supreme Court appears to be dangerously close to legalizing corruption. [New Yorker]

POTUS IN FLINT: President Obama visited Flint, Michigan today, where the community will be grappling with the consequences of a poisoned water supply for decades to come.  Preventing the next Flint will require local governments to adopt open government reforms, including publishing open environmental data and being accountable to the public and to the press.


  • In some cases, the Obama administration has pushed for administrative punishments against government workers who leak intelligence secrets rather than pursue criminal cases in courts. [The Hill]
  • The public now knows about these administrative penalties because of a public records request made by Steven Aftergood, who provided about the findings at the Federation of American Scientists.

    “This Administration has been historically active in pursuing prosecution of leakers, and the Intelligence Community fully supports this effort,” said ODNI General Counsel Robert S. Litt in testimony from a closed hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2012 that was released last week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. But, he said, “prosecution of unauthorized disclosure cases is often beset with complications, including difficult problems of identifying the leaker, the potential for confirming or revealing even more classified information in a public trial, and graymail by the defense.” Therefore, Mr. Litt said, in 2011 Director of National Intelligence James Clapper ordered intelligence agencies “to pursue administrative investigations and sanctions against identified leakers wherever appropriate. Pursuant to this DNI directive, individual agencies are instructed to identify those leak incidents that are ripe for an administrative disposition….”

  • The editorial boards of the Orlando Sentinel urged the leaders of the White House Police Data Initiative to define clear standards and definitions for tracking the use of force by police departments [Orlando Sentinel]
  • Rep. Blake Farenthold, Rep. Derek Kilmer, and U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz introduced their OPEN Government Data Act. Sunlight supports this legislation. [Morning Consult]
  • SeeClickFix founder Ben Berkowitz wants the federal government to focus on service delivery in its open data initiatives, convening around an Open 311 standard. While there’s some obvious self-interest for Berkowitz’s company in the request and focus, it’s fair to say that federal efforts around Open 311 have not been as robust as they could — or should — have been. Good news: architect – and co-founder of Open311 – Philip Ashlock said that federal agencies met to discuss this idea yesterday. [Medium]

State and Local

  • If you’re running into a brick wall regarding your public records request, take it public, recommends Kelly Hinchcliffe, who interviewed ProPublica reporter Joaquin Sapien about his recent experience in New York. [Poynter]
  • Secrecy continues to shroud the use of cell site simulators — AKA Stingrays — by local law enforcement. [delmarva now]
  • Maine’s Education Task Force violated the state’s open meetings laws by holding its first meeting in private. [Bangor Daily News]


  • The Open Government Partnership Steering Committee voted to make Azerbaijan an inactive member. “The response policy was triggered in March 2015 when concerns were raised by three civil society organizations  – Publish What You Pay, Civicus and Article 19 – about threats faced by civil society in Azerbaijan. After carrying out an exhaustive review process, the OGP Criteria and Standards subcommittee found that the concerns were valid.” [OGP]
  • This is the first time OGP acted to make a member inactive, and the first time it has taken a recorded vote. It’s unlikely to be the last.  [FreedomInfo]
  • Legacy systems are complicating efforts to move to ‘digital by default’ stances. This is an assessment that applies to every natioanl government around the globe. [Europa]
  • Luke Flanagan, a minister of parliament in Ireland, decried a lack of transparency around the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in a video posted to Twitter. Just been contacted by staff from within the Euro Parliament and told I must remove this video. I won’t be. #TTIP — Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan (@lukeming) May 4, 2016

  • Greenpeace Netherlands obtained and published the text of the secret trade negotiations online last week. European Union officials are denying that the draft agreement would lower standards for consumer protections in Europe. France is now threatening to block the deal. [BBC] [Guardian]
  • In a scathing column, Freedom of the Press Foundation Trevor Timm decries the secrecy around trade deals as well, although it’s not all clear how a trade negotiation where the public had “full access to their contents when they’re being negotiated” the process, as he suggests, would work. [Guardian]
  • Economist Jim Henry estimates that $12.1 trillion has been stolen from poor countries by dictators since 1970. [Daily Beast]
  • Here are four ways to make data matter for tracking progress towards the Global Sustainability Goals. [Guardian]
  • Canadians are so excited to fill out the long-form census online that they crashed the government website. While this is a good problem to have in same ways, scaling an online form in 2016 to meet demand isn’t rocket science. We hope Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – who’s more geeky than many politicians – recruits more digital talent into his administration, soon. [Buzzfeed] [CBC]


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