Today in OpenGov: Body-slamming democracy

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As we prepare to celebrate unalienable American rights tomorrow in the United States, we see fundamental democratic values under siege around the world, with the closing of civic space and threats too the press from DC to the Philippines. Attacks on the press are attacks on democracy.

Our founding fathers enacted the First Amendment for a reason: free and independent press is critical in a healthy democracy, acting as an immune system against corruption, restricted rights, and tyranny.

We will be taking tomorrow off to celebrate Independence Day, but will return on Wednesday with all the latest open government news.

wrestling with the truth

[President Donald J. Trump’s unpresidented tweet.]

President Trump escalated his ongoing feud with the media over the weekend, “posting a doctored video clip showing him bashing the head of a figure representing CNN.” (Washington Post)

The post was condemned for its potential to incite violence against journalists, with the Reporters Committee on the Freedom of the Press calling it “beneath the office of the presidency,” while explaining “Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy. The press are the people’s window into the halls of power, and most importantly, they are the people’s check on that power. When the president attacks the press, he attacks the people.”

As the Committee to Protect Journalists explained to The Guardian:

“Singling out individual journalists and news outlets creates a chilling effect and fosters an environment where further harassment and even physical attacks are seen to be acceptable. … We are already concerned about physical attacks on reporters and clearly the White House’s charged rhetoric online undermines the media in the US and emboldens autocratic leaders around the world. We already saw that there has been at least one serious attack recently, on Ben Jacobs, a reporter for the Guardian, and this does not create a positive environment for the press online or offline.”

We agree. The White House should protect and defend the essential role of journalism in democracy, not depict a President pummeling the press. Trump’s attacks on the press normalize violence, embolden autocrats and weaponize distrust in democracy.

trumpland

  • How increasing secrecy in Washington could lead to long-sought reforms. “In the past, aggressive secrecy has led to a reformist backlash, triggering leaks, hearings, and ultimately government change. As Americans lost faith in their government in the 1960s and 1970s, they supported new legislation to ensure transparency, including the Freedom of Information Act and the Sunshine Law — and to create ethical rules. How they did so can provide a roadmap to transparency advocates seeking to wrench open the window of reform today.” (Vox)
  • An inside look at the Trump White House’s big tech meeting. Jen Pahlka, the founder and executive director of Code for America, described her experience at the American Technology Council meeting, which brought together executives from a number of big tech companies with those working on modernization inside government. She described leaving with “dramatically mixed emotions. I remain convinced that we should help a government initiative that can do real good, despite my deep concerns about the current administration’s policies…but I wish I’d seen more evidence that the leadership of the tech industry can actually help government do a better job, given that so many of those who seem to be engaging have a lot invested in the status quo.”
  • Justice Department corporate compliance official resigns, citing administration ethics concerns. “A top Justice Department official who serves as a corporate compliance watchdog has left her job, saying she felt she could no longer force companies to comply with the government’s ethics laws when members of the administration she works for have conducted themselves in a manner that she claims would not be not tolerated.” (The Hill)

outrage grows

This past week saw a flurry of action in DC regarding our electoral system and its governance that bears close scrutiny and oversight.  This essay highlights privacy, security and usage concerns about the data call to states issued by Presidential “Commission on Election Integrity” that President Trump ordered — and called a “voter fraud panel” this weekend, in a tweet — made last week. It also highlights action in the U.S. House, where an appropriations bill for the 2018 fiscal year called for defunding and terminating of the Election Assistance Commission within 60 days of enactment. (Route FiftyCongress should be taking steps to increase national confidence in our electoral system, augmenting the capacity of the EAC, not eliminating it, and appropriating funds for the Department of Homeland Security to protect and defend national critical democracy infrastructure.

  • Meanwhile, the Brennan Center published a new report on election security. “Amid ongoing investigations into Russia’s unprecedented cyberattacks around the 2016 election, this report outlines specific actions Congress and local election officials can quickly take to insulate voting technology from continued foreign interference. The authors focus on assessing and securing two of the most vulnerable points in the system: voting machines, which could be hacked to cast doubt on or change vote totals; and voter registration databases, which could be manipulated in an attempt to block voters, cause disruption, and undermine confidence when citizens vote.” (The Brennan Center)

washington watch

  • Citing optics, Booker hits pause on his pharma fundraising. During an interview wit NPR’s Morning Edition the New Jersey Senator explained that he “put a pause on even receiving contributions from pharma companies because it arouses so much criticism and just stopped taking it” in response to a question about criticism for previously accepted donations from the industry.
  • IG report finds State Department struggling to track foreign aid. “The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have failed to adequately track the more than $30 billion they spend annually on foreign aid, according to a government watchdog report released Friday.” (The Hill)
  • Census gets temporary leadership team. “Career officials are taking over leadership of the Census Bureau on a temporary basis, as key tests and procurement decisions loom in the run-up to the 2020 population count.” (Federal Computer Week)
  • Public Citizen finds the government is failing to uphold the most recent ethics law. “This report looks at three key public disclosure requirements the government fails to meet from the 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA), the last major ethics law passed by Congress.” (Public Citizen)

states and cities

The San Diego Union-Tribune’s crime map.
  • DC commits to publishing crash data every 24 hours. As part of a Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities, the city “will publish its traffic crash data every 24 hours in an open and geocoded format…” (Government Technology) In a statement on the District Department of Transportation Website DC Chief Technology Officer Archana Vemulapalli said ““The greatest value from the District’s investment in data can only be realized when the data is freely shared…This type of real-time data has the potential to truly save lives and make our city stronger, safer and smarter.” We are happy to see this renewed commitment to opening data.
  • A San Diego paper is using open data to keep its readers informed about local crime. “Every Thursday, the Union-Tribune prints a map of San Diego County in the local section that pinpoints with color-coded dots the location of reported cases of arson, crimes against children, elder abuse, murder and rape. It also lists 12 other categories of crimes in a graphic.” (Government Technology)
  • After more than a decade, NYPD will comply with state Freedom of Information Law. “The NYPD has entered into a stipulation and judicial order that commits the department to complying with requirements of New York’s Freedom of Information Law that it has systematically flouted for more than a decade.” (Village Voice via NFOIC)

around the world

  • Sunlight joins coalition calling on democracies to respect encryption. “Today, 83 organizations and individuals from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States sent a letter to their respective governments insisting that government officials defend strong encryption.” Sunlight’s Alex Howard weighed in: “Transparency and accountability around a nation’s policy regarding the use of encryption is a bedrock importance in a democracy, particularly given the potential of backdoors to put billions of online users at greater risk for intrusion, compromise of personal data, and breaches of massive consumer or electoral databases.” (Access Now)
  • Study finds regressive court interpretations of Indian Right to Information law. “For example, across the board we found a hesitation in imposing legally mandatory penalties for clear and established violations of the RTI Act. This was rampant among the information commissioners, but not totally absent among the higher judiciary. We also found huge delays among information commissions, often without good reasons.” (FreedomInfo)
  • French opposition leader under investigation. “French National Front leader Marine Le Pen faces a formal investigation into claims that her party used European Parliament money to pay staff in France.” Le Pen denies the allegations and plans to appeal the decision to launch a formal investigation. (POLITICO)

save the dates

  • July 5th, 10am EST: ICT-mediated Citizen Engagement: Voice or Chatter? Webinar. “In this webinar, IT for Change will present the results of eight empirical case studies of citizen engagement through ICTs they undertook. This research, funded by Making All Voices Count, explored in each case how new forms of participation were shaped by IT, how IT affected power relations between government and citizens, and how the interactions between different actors continuously shape governance. More information here: http://bit.ly/2rb4TJ3
  • July 19th, 5:30 PM EST. Book Discussion: When Your Job Wants You To Lie in Washington, DC. “Join us for a discussion that will help us deal with the kinds of situations we all encounter. Presented by the American Society for Public Administration, National Capital Area Chapter (ASPA NCAC). Refreshments start 5:30, and the discussion starts 6:00. Space is limited, so you must RSVP in advance.” Learn more and RSVP here.
  • July 27th, 10 am: Chief FOIA Officers Council Meeting in Washington, DC. “OGIS and the Department of Information Policy (OIP) at the Department of Justice are happy to announce that the next meeting of the Chief FOIA Officers Council will be held on Thursday, July 27th from 10 am to noon. You can register to join the audience in the William G. McGowan Theater beginning on July 26. You can also plan on watching the livestream via the National Archives’ YouTube Channel.”
  • September 11th and 12th: TicTec@Taipei in Taipei. “TICTeC@Taipei is the first ever conference about the influence of civic tech to be held in Asia. We’ve invited members of academia, business, politics, NGOs, education to participate, and discuss their research. We hope through this event, we can build a global network of civic tech enthusiasts.” The event is being held during #CivicTechFest 2017. Learn more, submit a session proposal, and register to attend here.
  • September 13th: Civic and Gov Tech Showcase in San Jose, California. “Innovate Your State, in partnership with Microsoft and the City of San Jose, is bringing the 3nd Annual Civic & Gov Tech Showcase to the Capitol of Silicon Valley. The Civic & Gov Tech Showcase is an opportunity to connect with civic minded entrepreneurs, potential investors, and government leaders to showcase the great work that is being done to improve government and governance. The goal of the event is to encourage collaboration and the support of new technologies to improve government and public participation.” Learn more and get your tickets here.
  • September 14th – 16th: Digital Humanities and Data Journalism Symposium, in Miami, Florida. “Digital humanists and data journalists face common challenges, opportunities, and goals, such as how to communicate effectively with the public. They use similar software tools, programming languages, and techniques, and they can learn from each other. Join us for lectures and tutorials about shared data types, visualization methods, and data communication — including text visualization, network diagrams, maps, databases and data wrangling. In addition to the scheduled content, there will be opportunities for casual conversation and networking.” Learn more and register here.

 

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