New bill would preserve public access to public data online

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Today, Sunlight joins a diverse coalition of government transparency, data innovation, scientific groups and environment defense advocates in supporting new bipartisan bill in Congress to preserve public access to public data.

The Preserving Data in Government Act speaks to a matter of of heightened public interest in the spring 2017, as open government data has been removed from the Internet during the Trump administration. The bill would require federal agencies to preserve public access to data sets and prevent the removal of those data sets from the Internet without sufficient public notice. You can read the full text of the The Preserving Data in Government Act at Congress.gov or comment on it on Madison.

Why introduce this bill now?

Here’s what the two Congressmen who drafted and sponsored it say:

“Research data that has been collected using taxpayer dollars should be publicly accessible and easily searchable,” said U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), in a statement.

“Small businesses and individuals rely on federally produced information for everything from long-term planning to innovative product development to help grow their companies and create jobs. I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation with Senator Gardner that will help ensure that taxpayer-funded data remains publicly and openly available for innovators to use as they work to solve our country’s toughest challenges.”

“Once data has been published and made available to the public, it should remain available to the public,” said U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), in a statement.

“Whether it’s a technology entrepreneur working on their next innovation or a retailer seeking better weather forecasting to help organize shipments, data is utilized to achieve numerous goals and plays a critical role in improving processes and our daily lives. I’m proud to work with Senator Peters on legislation that ensures government data remains readily accessible in an appropriate manner and that we continue to prioritize government transparency.”

We’re glad to see these Senators championing these ideas and principles. They’re not alone. The Center for Data Innovation at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Natural Resources Defense Council are all standing up for certainty about public access to open government data.

As we told the office of Senator Peters, democracies depend upon citizens being fully informed about not only how their tax dollars are spent but the performance of government programs and the products created by scientific, regulatory and consumer protections agencies.

We were honored to be asked for our feedback on the legislation when they began drafting it this spring and are hopeful that the result will be a useful catalyst for public debate about public access to public assets.

In the 21st century, the Internet provides an unprecedented platform to publish government data on all these areas and more, enhancing transparency and accountability.

In 2017, it’s clear that we can’t take hard-won progress quality, integrity or openness for granted. At a time when public access to public information online has become shadowed in doubt by reduced disclosure and increased secrecy, this legislation provides a vehicle to preserve and defend the knowledge commons that has grown over the past decades online.

Sunlight supports this bill for the same reason we have advocated for the Public Online Information Act, the DATA Act, and the reforms to the Freedom of Information Act we celebrated last summer: they not only improve public’s access to data online, but create useful incentives and worthy principles for career civil servants and political appointees to be good stewards of our country’s knowledge.

The updates to the U.S. Code that they mandate will enable our government to build a better foundation for the digital architecture of access and participation open data represents in this young century.

We hope the United States Congress takes the Preserving Data in Government Act and the OPEN Government Data Act up and passes them into law.

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