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FDLP Allergic to Curl

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Waldo Jaquith discovered that the FDLP (Federal Depository Library Program) appears to have an allergic reaction to people downloading their data with basic command line tools.

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Keeping Authentication Simple

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The point of publishing bulk data is so it can be reused as widely as possible. This is particularly true for government data, which belongs to the public.

Government agencies can sometimes also be concerned with ensuring the authenticity of their legal information - especially when the data might be seen as an official source. It breaks down into two major concerns: integrity (ensuring the text is accurate), and origin (proving it's official). A lot of people are used to the "wax seal" model of authenticity - the experience of opening a PDF and seeing that the document is signed and official. This model quickly breaks down for distributing bulk data.

The goals of ease of reuse and authentication are frequently presented as being in tension, but that tension is just as frequently overstated. There are straightforward approaches to guaranteeing authenticity of bulk data that do not encumber reuse.

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Law Via the Internet

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This week saw Cornell's Law Via the Internet, a gathering dedicated to free access to government information, with a special emphasis on legal and regulatory data. It was highly energizing to see all the terrific projects represented there, and to meet the people behind them. If you're not aware, Cornell's Legal Information Institute is the preeminent place to read the law of the land (the US Code) on the Internet. They have been doing this for 20 years, since 1992—when the Internet was a much newer place, and when publishing the laws online was an act of radical democracy. We think of "having laws online somewhere" as self-evident and obvious now, but it wasn't always so. Because of their foresight, law.cornell.edu is known by just about every law student and legal professional in the country, often moreso than the official resources.

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Scout, in Open Beta

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We're opening a new tool to the public today for beta testing, called Scout.

Scout is an alert system for the things you care about in state and national government. It covers Congress, regulations across the whole executive branch, and legislation in all 50 states.

You can set up notifications for new things that match keyword searches. Or, if you find a particular bill you want to keep up with, we can notify you whenever anything interesting happens to it -- or is about to.

Just to emphasize, this is a beta - it functions well and looks good, but we're really hoping to hear from the community on how we can make it stronger. You can give us feedback by using the Feedback link at the top of the site, or by writing directly to scout@sunlightfoundation.com.

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Data for Better Bill Searching

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I've put up a dataset on Github that maps popular search terms to bills in Congress. It's a simple, 5-column CSV designed to help people create better search engines that take in user input to search for bills. The idea is that this will be useful to, and get contributions from, the community of people out there working with legislation and building tools around them.

It's humble - I started it out with a mere 7 rows, assigning the keywords "Obamacare", "SOPA", "PIPA", and "PPACA" to the appropriate bills. There are certainly more good candidates than that, so please contribute via pull request, or if you don't know how to do that, open an issue and talk about it with words.

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