Today in OpenGov: Mistrust in voting, campaign exits, malware snakepits, premature declarations of secrecy’s death


CATALYZE THIS: A “new wave of open data based apps and tech could help increase voter participation and encourage greater understanding of political systems,” reports Eleanor Ross. “Local governments understand how valuable releasing local data can be – whether we’re learning how well our hospitals are doing, or how crime rates are reducing, all of these elements contribute to greater understanding of how our society works. In turn, we’re then able to make more informed decisions in elections. Open data is improving our knowledge, and with it, our democracy.”

We endorse this message. “Apps for democracy” is a catchy headline, too – and a familiar idea, at Sunlight. [Guardian]

REMINDER: Sunlight is investigating political “dark money” in states this cycle — but we need you to tell us what you’re seeing and reading. [HELP US]



  • A new Pew Research Center national survey delivers grim news for the perceived legitimacy of the next administration. Just 49 percent of registered voters are very confident that their votes will be counted accurately in the election this fall. Only 11 percent of the voters backing Republican presidential nominee Trump are very confident, signalling that a substantial portion of the electorate believes the candidate’s assertions about the election being rigged.  [Washington Post]
  • Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s choice of transition team offers some insight into what her priorities would be as President, argues Matt Yglesias. [Vox]
  • According to a new book by Joe Conason, Clinton told the FBI that former Secretary of State Colin Powell advised her to use private email at the State Department. [New York Times]
  • Powell’s office issued a statement, however, that he had no recollection of such a conversation:

    General Powell has no recollection of the dinner conversation. He did write former Secretary Clinton an email memo describing his use of his personal AOL email account for unclassified messages and how it vastly improved communications within the State Department. At the time there was no equivalent system within the Department. He used a secure State computer on his desk to manage classified information. The General no longer has the email he sent to former Secretary Clinton. It may exist in State or FBI files. For a complete discussion of his use of private emails he refers you to chapter 16, “Brainware” of his recent book, “It Worked For Me — In Life and Leadership,” published in 2012.

  • The Clinton Foundation will stop accepting foreign and corporations if Clinton wins. It’s a measured step, but not far enough. More on this to come. [Politico]
  • A day after the Associated Press reported that a firm run by Paul Manafort secretly lobbied for a Ukrainian political party, the Trump campaign chairman resigned.
  • The Federal Election Commission has had enough of Deez Nuts running for president. [FEC]


  • The National Telecommunications and Information Administration informed the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) that it intends to allow the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority contract to administer the Internet’s domain name system to end on October 1. This would privatize the official registry and transition to a multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance. [NTIA]
  • The federal custom source code policy doesn’t go far enough, argues the Electronic Frontier Foundation. [Federal Computer Week]

    Giving the public access to government source code gives it visibility into government programs. With access to government source code—and permission to use it—the public can learn how government software works or even identify security problems. The 20% rule could have the unfortunate effect of making exactly the wrong code public. Agencies can easily sweep the code in most need of public oversight into the 80%. In fairness, OMB does encourage agencies to release as much code as they can “to further the Federal Government’s commitment to transparency, participation, and collaboration.” But the best way to see those intentions through is to make them the rule.

    Open government policy is at its best when its mandates are broad and its exceptions are narrow. Rather than trust government officials’ judgment about what materials to make public or keep private, policies like OMB’s should set the default to open. Some exceptions are unavoidable, but they should be limited and clearly defined. And when they’re invoked, the public should know what was exempted and why.

  • Speaking of open source, while it’s great to see NASA asking for feedback on its outline of a draft 2016 open government plan and experimenting with using Github for comments, we’d like to see more options for feedback than a pull request. [Open NASA]

State and local

Explore VIolent Crimes Reported To 68 Police Departments. Credit: The Marshall Project Explore Violent Crimes Reported To 68 Police Departments. Credit: The Marshall Project

  • This interactive feature putting crime in context in U.S. cities features some of the most impressive data journalism of the year we’ve seen date:

    To present a fuller picture of crime in America, The Marshall Project collected and analyzed 40 years of FBI data — through 2014 — on the most serious violent crimes in 68 police jurisdictions. We also obtained data directly from 61 local agencies for 2015 — a period for which the FBI has not yet released its numbers. (Our analysis found that violent crime in these jurisdictions rose 4 percent last year. But crime experts caution against making too much of year-over-year statistics.)

    In the process, we were struck by the wide variation from community to community. To paraphrase an aphorism about politics, all crime is local. Each city has its own trends that depend on the characteristics of the city itself, the time frame, and the type of crime. In fact, the trends vary from neighborhood to neighborhood within cities; a recent study posited that 5 percent of city blocks account for 50 percent of the crime. That is why most Americans believe crime is worse, while significantly fewer believe it is worse where they live.

  • City technology staff hope that new California chief information officer Amy Tong will collaborate with local government through the state on open data and civic technology. [StateScoop]
  • Here’s a great example of how data science can be used for accountability, and a fascinating inversion of predictive policing: researchers at the University of Chicago are using data to predict police misconduct.[Chicago Tribune]

    “The thing we’re finding is that using it (big data) to predict officer adverse incidents is just one use,” said Rayid Ghani, director of the Center for Data Science & Public Policy and previously chief data scientist for President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign. “Inside police departments, they are doing a lot of other things — performance management, other safety things, training. This is easily extensible to all those things.”

    Jens Ludwig, director of the Crime Lab, added: “Ultimately the goal here is that you want to train and retain the very highest-quality police force that you can.”

  • You can help people affected by the historic floods in Louisiana by helping to report open or closed businesses in the area with this Web application. If you’re not there, you can call to find out if a business is open. [LA BEOC]


Map of the state of freedom across Africa Liberty’s Slow March. Credit: The Economist

  • While time and demographic trends are not on the sides of dictators, threats to democratic rule across Africa are growing. [The Economist]
  • TED Fellow Yale Fox explained to TED “how open government data creates smarter societies,” including a shoutout to Sunlight’s work. One niggle: the idea that government data should be available for public use, however, goes back much further than the article suggests, to the Enlightenment and the founding of the United States, from the U.S. Census to the Age of Sail. [TED]

  • Jean-Noe Landry called on the Canadian public to get more involved in the country’s open government action plan.  [OpenNorth]

    Civil society has a responsibility to step up, organize itself, and to scale out the open government conversation beyond a core group of tech savvy organizations – Canadians need to take ownership of this plan and this opportunity. So far, we’ve fallen a little short of this task. While it was great seeing 70 proposals being submitted during the ideation phase of the action plan, we need to be broadening the community of stakeholders involved by connecting with communities of practice and issue-driven organizations across Canada for whom increased transparency, access to information, and accountability matter.

    This isn’t just the federal government’s plan – this is Canada’s plan and your plan too.

    It’s time to get involved (link is external). Stay informed and engaged on issues that matter to you by joining the Canadian Open Government Civil Society Network if you haven’t already. Just send an email to (link sends e-mail) and join the discussion about open governance in Canada.”

  • It appears that the Cyberspace Administration of China has banned clickbait. More seriously, China’s government is tightening its control over online news sites and social media platforms, with increased monitoring. [SCMP]
  • Kalev Leetaru wonders if, in our age of massive leaks, data breaches, open source data analysis, social media and hacks, “government secrecy is dead.” His conclusion:

    “In a world in which the United States spends more than 11 billion dollars a year to protect classified information, it certainly raises the question of whether the government is fighting a losing battle. At the very least it means that the status quo of attempting to protect anything and everything is lost. Much as corporate cybersecurity has evolved to acknowledge that attackers will get inside the wall and thus building a bigger wall isn’t the answer, government must acknowledge that in our digital era keeping secrets is a losing battle and instead of protecting everything, we must focus efforts on the most sensitive secrets and acknowledge that the rest will likely filter out to the public regardless of how much effort we spend to protect them. This is our digital future, one in which secrecy and privacy are rapidly fading into the dustbin of history.” [Forbes]

  • While his point is well taken, it’s hard for us not to immediately think of Monty Python. And with that, we hope you all have a great weekend. See you on Monday – and please keep those links coming.


  • The “Civil Society Stakeholder Session” originally planned for this spring has been rescheduled for Aug. 23 in D.C., at the National Archives. [RSVP]
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Sunlight and the Data Foundation are teaming for the Great California Database Hunt on August 27. [RSVP]
  • Public Citizen is hosting a forum focusing on the ongoing presidential transition teams at the National Press Club in D.C. on Sept. 7. [RSVP]
  • The annual Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) Summit will be in New York City, Sept. 15–16. [RSVP]
  • Etalab and Civic Hall are co-organizing an Open Government Partnership Toolbox sprint in New York City on Sept. 21. [RSVP]
  • Collections as Data, at the National Archives in D.C. on Sept. 27. [RSVP]
  • There will be an Open Data Research Symposium in Madrid on Oct. 5. [RSVP]
  • The International Open Data Conference will be in Madrid from Oct. 6–7. [RSVP]
  • Transparency Camp will be in Cleveland, Ohio from Oct. 14-15. [RSVP]
  • The Code for America Summit is in Oakland, Calif. on Nov. 1–3. [RSVP]
  • There will be a workshop on Data and Algorithmic Transparency at Columbia University on Nov. 19. Proposals due Sept. 9. [RSVP]

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