Today in OpenGov: An illustrated guide to transparency


In today's roundup of open government news we highlight the sketch artists that have long helped shed light on otherwise closed government proceedings, celebrate the return of the Congress App for Android, keep up with the latest backlash against the President's "voter fraud" commission, cheer on open data advances in several cities, check out open data portals in Latin America, and more. 

a sketch of transparency

A sketch of the White House press briefing led by Press Secretary Sean Spicer. (Source: CNN)

On Monday, Sunlight fellow Faraz Ahmed traced the long history of illustration as a tool to shed light on official proceedings when few other options are available. Traditionally utilized in courts where "sensitive legal proceedings…create the need to protect privacy of both defendants and prosecutors, or secrecy around national security and criminal investigations," illustrations are increasingly relevant in other contexts where video and audio recording are being restricted.

For example, "on June 24, 2017, the communications team of the White House banned the use of cameras in the press briefing. CNN reacted to this by sending courtroom artist Bill Hennessy to attend the press briefing" where he produced a sketch, laying out a scene that would have otherwise been completely obscure to the public. 

"If bans on journalists recording in White House briefing rooms, Members of Congress livestreaming, or cameras in the court endure, the public can rely on the centuries-old practice of illustrations to provide some transparency in government."


washington watch

Screenshots from the Congress App for Android
  • Wish the Freedom of Information Act a happy birthday! Yesterday, the landmark transparency law, signed on July 4th 1966, turned 51
  • Oil companies lobby hard against new Russia sanctions. "Oil giants ExxonMobil and Chevron are lobbying against a new bipartisan bill that would toughen sanctions on Russia and prevent the White House from weakening them." (The Hill)
  • The Congress App for Android is back! Former Sunlighter Eric Mill is working to maintain the tool, first developed at Sunlight. The Congress API which this app uses for its data, will shut down soon. But, Mill and others will migrate the app to ProPublica's Congress API. You can follow ProPublica's blog for updates. We're incredibly proud of the work Eric did while he was at Sunlight Labs, his public service since, and his interest and dedication in taking on development of this open source code, which remains one of the most popular apps we ever shipped.
  • Free-press groups look to home as anti-press rhetoric rises in the U.S. "For more than a year many of these organizations — including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press — have issued statements raising the alarm over Trump’s rhetoric and his administration’s attempts to restrict media access. Now, after Trump on Sunday tweeted out a fake-wrestling video that showed him pummeling a person clothed in the CNN logo, these organizations are starting to do what they never thought they’d need to: document violent threats and actions against the media in the United States." (POLITICO)

election integrity

Kansas Secretary of State and Vice Chair of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Election Integrity Kris Kobach. Image Credit: Andrew Rosenthal
  • 44 states withholding at least some information from Trump's "voter fraud" commission. "Forty-four states have refused to provide certain types of voter information to the Trump administration's election integrity commission, according to a CNN inquiry to all 50 states." (CNN)
  • Maryland deputy Secretary of State resigns from commission. "Borunda reportedly told Gov. Larry Hogan (R) that he has resigned from the Trump administration's Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, the governor's spokesman Doug Mayer told the paper." The reasons for Borunda's resignation remain unclear. (The Hill)
  • EPIC sues to stop commission from collecting voter information. "A privacy advocacy group sued to block President Donald Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity from collecting voter information across the U.S…The Electronic Privacy Information Center, in a complaint filed Monday at a U.S. court in Washington, said the commission failed to first conduct a mandatory privacy impact assessment, without which its actions are unlawful and unconstitutional." (Bloomberg)

states and cities

Sunlight’s Alyssa Doom and Naperville’s Russell Rogers.
  • Naperville, Illinois launches new open data portal. We offer our congratulations to the city, which has embraced an inclusive approach to engagement and participatory development of their open data policy. We hope more cities learn about this approach and try it out for themselves. 
  • Private transportation services need to share their data with local governments to ensure smart planning decisions. "But as private services like Lyft Shuttle develop and scale, city officials are forced to base policy decisions on data derived from public sources, and that information is becoming less representative of residents’ total trips." (CityLab)
  • Charlottesville, Virginia is preparing to launch an open data portal. "Tech-oriented and data-savvy folks soon will have the chance to dive deep into a new Charlottesville portal that will disclose public information about policing, property, traffic, parks, demographics and the environment." (The Daily Progress)

around the world

  • The EU's missing anti-corruption report. "Campaigners want to know why Brussels bureaucrats are refusing to release a report on fighting corruption. EU chiefs had promised to report every two years on how well countries in the bloc were battling graft. But, after its first report in 2014, there has been nothing." (EuroNews)
  • Social media sites blocked in Venezuela. "On the evening of June 28, Internet users from various cities in Venezuela reported that multiple websites and social media platforms — including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Periscope — were inaccessible." (Global Voices)
  • Watchdog finds that London hospitals illegally shared data with Google's artificial intelligence arm. "According to the ICO, the hospital group violated the U.K.’s Data Protection Act when it turned over the health information of 1.6 million patients to DeepMind, which is owned by Google's parent company, Alphabet." (The Hill)
  • Digging into Latin American open data portals. "Many Latin American countries publish open data—government data made freely available online in machine-readable formats and without license restrictions. However, there is a tremendous amount of variation in the quantity and type of datasets governments publish on national open data portals—central online repositories for open data that make it easier for users to find data. Despite the wide variation among the countries, the most popular datasets tend to be those that either provide transparency into government operations or offer information that citizens can use directly." (Center for Data Innovation)

save the dates

  • 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.


Tired of your boss/friend/intern/uncle forwarding you this email every morning? You can sign up here and have it delivered direct to your inbox! Please send questions, comments, tips, and concerns to We would love your feedback!