Today in OpenGov: Mr. Periscope goes to Washington


PROGRESS: Building on a decade of reforms to legislative data disclosure, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan committed to making more of the law transparent online. Congressional administrative staff are now moving forward with making enrolled bills, public laws and statutes at large machine-readable. They’ve committed to do so retroactively as well, going back to previous sessions of Congress. With time and sufficient resources, digitization might even go back to the 18th century someday! That means more of the legislation and deliberative processes around its creation will be more easily searched, analyzed and visualized. Making the law machine-readable means that different versions of bills can be compared. Opening legislation enables the public to use third-party tools to see how and where the language from model legislation was adopted, or staff to see which parts of the U.S. Code a bill would change. If Congress implements this well, it will improve not only how laws are made, but the public’s understanding and awareness of how government works.

WATERSHED: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and the Republican leadership were criticized yesterday for shutting down the video feed to C-SPAN during a sit-in by House Democrats over a vote on proposed gun control legislation. As Sunlight’s Melissa Yeager noted on the blog, while the move was neither unprecedented nor C-SPAN’s decision, it was a troubling decision for transparency. Selective transparency is not open government.

What was unprecedented was what happened next: Members of Congress used smartphones to livestream their protest on the House floor using Twitter, Periscope and Facebook Live, enabling the public to see and hear what was happening — and then C-SPAN picked up those feeds. If you’ve been online today or picked up a newspaper, you’ve no doubt heard about this, as dozens of media outlets reported how social media companies were suddenly connecting the public to what was happening in Congress.

While aspects of the past 24 hours may have felt chaotic or looked undignified to some observers — and the sit-in was ultimately ineffective, in terms of forcing a vote on any legislative measures before Congress adjourned for the July Fourth holiday — this is what the present of government transparency looks like. [READ MORE]


Outside spending in 2016 Democratic primary
  • Sunlight’s Josh Stewart followed the money behind the nearly $500 million spent in the 2016 Democratic primary. [Sunlight Foundation]
  • The Senate narrowly rejected a controversial online surveillance bill. [The Intercept]
  • Government Executive considered whether reports from the Congressional Research Service should be kept secret. The answer is definitely NO. [GovExec]
  • Margaret Sullivan wrote about a panel on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) at the 2016 Conference in The Washington Post. In the column, she notes the recent passage of FOIA reform and expresses hope that it’s a big deal. We hope so: The reform that Congress ultimately passed is neither as strong nor as flawed as it could have been. When the president signs it, as the White House said be would, the new law will strengthen the role of the federal FOIA ombudsman and codify the “presumption of openness” into law that the Obama administration supported in writing but far too frequently failed to implement in action. Reforming FOIA now was crucial to ensure that the initiatives that Obama administration has advanced over the years become the default disclosure policy of the country, not to be erased by the stroke of the next president’s pen. The bill has now been submitted to the president, who may well decide to sign it on Independence Day. [Washington Post]
  • Speaking of FOIA, ProPublica is helping journalists do accountability reporting on the Red Cross. [Nieman Lab]
  • And speaking of FOIA, recently released documents show that the State Department did give former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton an official email address,, contradicting what officials have said, and that it went unusued after a former aide noted that it would be “subject to [Freedom of Information Act] searches.” [Washington Examiner]
  • In other campaign news, Clinton tapping a donor for a national security board has raised some eyebrows around Washington and beyond. As Sunlight’s John Wonderlich observed, it’s hard to believe that financial ties didn’t play a role in the appointment. [Vox]
  • Maybe foreign political money shouldn’t be in U.S. elections? [Boston Globe]
  • The Beeck Center announced that it would be publishing a roadmap for the next administration. [Georgetown]
  • Now that presidential candidate Marco Rubio has stated he will run for re-election to his U.S. Senate seat, Sunlight’s Ben Berliner took at look the money being spent in Florida. [Sunlight]
  • Anthony Foxx, the secretary of the Department of Transportation, announced that Columbus, Ohio, is the winner of the Smart City Challenge. [Gizmodo]

State and Local

  • Victory! California has dropped its proposal to copyright government works. [EFF]
  • FiveThirtyEight journalist Dhurmil Mehta talked with the Harvard Ash Center, concluding by saying that “making data available and accessible to journalists and citizens is vitally important to the health of democracy.” We couldn’t agree more. [Harvard Ash]
  • Mother Jones published an in-depth report on how a private prison system in America is operated. [Mother Jones]
  • Mississippi lawmakers have introduced the most “model policy” bills from ALEC in the United States since 2010, according to a “Data Science for Social Good” project from the University of Chicago. [Jackson Free Press]
  • Transparency advocates in New York are opposing reworking the state’s Freedom of Information Laws. [IBTimes]
  • The LA Daily News editorial board is not impressed with the California legislature’s proposed open government reforms. [Daily News]
  • In the latest breach, 154 million voter records were leaked online. Long past time for state attorneys general and legislatures to look seriously at voter data and privacy. [DailyDot]


  • While the outcome of the public referendum on the United Kingdom staying in the European Union still isn’t clear, one thing is: U.S. financial institutions are spending millions against a “Brexit.” [Sunlight]
  • A German court ruled that digitizing paintings in the public domain creates a new copyright. [ArsTechnica]
  • In a new report, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said Mexico only publishing open data is not sufficient for improving governance. “Building user communities around open data is one of the main challenges for the Mexican government, but it is essential for achieving real economic, social and governance benefits and for fully exploiting the value of open data for specific policy sectors.” [Public Finance International]
  • David Eaves reviewed the good and not-so-good aspects of Canada’s new national plan for open government. Weigh in here. []
  • Speaking of open government, Tanzania is still working on it. The good news: the country has introduced an access to information law in Parliament. The bad news: Tanzanians are being sentenced to prison for criticizing the president on social media. [Quartz]
  • Ethan Zuckerman wrote a must-read post on how to build sociotechnological systems that aren’t awful. “The temptation of technology is that it promises fast and neat solutions to social problems, but usually fails to deliver,” he wrote. “The problem with Morozov’s critique is that technological solutions, combined with other paths to change, can sometimes turn intractable problems into solvable ones. The key is to understand technology’s role as a lever of change in conjunction with complementary levers.” [Medium]
  • Sweden has created an unusual project in honor of the 250th anniversary of its freedom of information law: if you call +46 771 793 336, you’ll be connected to a random Swede. [The Swedish Number]

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