Monthly Archives: March 2010

Transparency Camp 2010: Government, Transparency, Open Data and Coffee

Some unconferences are codathons. Others focus on citizen engagement and Congress.

This weekend’s Transparency Camp in Washington, D.C. brought together technologists, journalists, developers, advocates for open data, open government and open data for discussions, case studies, workshops and even, as Micah Sifry put it, some secular colloquy.

Transparency Camp came at a time of immense foment in Washington and the country beyond. A historic healthcare reform had just been signed into law, including an overhaul of student loans. Midterm elections in Congress loom at the end of the year. And the nation’s economy continues towards an uncertain future, perhaps of  jobless recovery, after the Great Recession.

The Sunlight Foundation’s engagement director, Jake Brewer, kicked off the morning by asking how much had changed around government transparency since the last Transparency Camp. Make sure to read David “Oso” Sasaki’s notes from Transparency Camp for a superb narrative of his Saturday. (Sasaki is the Director of Rising Voices, a global citizen media outreach initiative of Global Voices Online.)

There have been no shortage of transparency wins over that time, as the video embedded below attests. Projects like Earmarkwatch.org,  OpenCongress.org or Punch Clock Map all show the potential for the Web to enable government transparency.

In 2010, there are more reasons to believe government transparency and open government will see more rapid advancement. As the co-founder of the Sunlight Foundation, Ellen Miller, pointed out in her introduction, there are more significant legislative efforts underway around transparency. The The Public Online Information Act (POIA), HR 4858, introduced by Rep. Steve Israel, would embraces a new formula for transparency: “public equals online.” And an omnibus ethics bill, HR 4983, would “amend the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, the Rules of the House of Representatives, the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, and the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 to improve access to information in the legislative and executive branches.”

In looking at the role of this unconference in that context, the Director of Sunlight Labs, Clay Johnson, posed three big challenges for Transparency Camp:

  1. An Open Data Playbook. Clay described that as “an instruction manual for people inside government to teach them how to open their data
  2. A list of all jurisdictions and elected officials around the country
  3. A data exchange format for data catalogs, in a model like Google did with GTFS.

The success or failure of Transparency Camp can’t be measured by those metrics alone, however, although whether Johnson’s challenges are met by the community are absolutely part of the story of this weekend.


Identity and Government

Another excellent session at Transparency Camp came from Heather West and Kaliya Hamlin, aka @IdentityWoman. I had considerable context for their talk, given my coverage of OpenID and the Open Identity Exchange (OIX) and trust frameworks, specifically regarding the OIX trust framework as used for citizen-to-government authentication.

A key element of OIX, as Hamlin pointed out, was the standardization of online privacy principles promulgated though IDManagement.gov. Another important part of the identity picture is Microsoft’s release of part of the intellectual property for its U-Prove ID tokens under Open Specifcation, as detailed at credentica.com.

The Open Government Directive, Datasets and Data.gov

When the “three words” from the unconference were synthesized into a “Wordle” for Transparency Camp, four words emerged as the most powerful themes:

Open, government, transparency and, most of all, data.

The Open Government Directive (OGI) was a significant moment in American history, in terms of putting the data of operations into a format and venue where developers could access and parse it: data.gov.

Now that the resource is up, however, there are outstanding concerns about data quality, frequency and, most pertinently, utility. Andrew McLaughlin, the “Deputy Chief Nerd @ the White House” (aka deputy US chief technology officer), suggested that “to get reluctant agencies to embrace data sharing, focus on “high-reward”, not “high-value”, datasets.”

When asked if new guidance was needed, since “high-value datasets” for Data.gov are written into the OGI, McLaughlin responded that “some agencies will use a citizen-utility metric for prioritizing scarce resources. Others will focus on datasets that will are rapidly doable, to help overcome resistance and ease culture change. Both ways of defining “high-value” make sense.” The Venn diagram above illustrates how that might look.

McLaughlin also acknowledged a feature request for data.gov and apps.gov from the Transparency Camp community: more and better metadata, like data quality qualifiers or FISMA compliance status.

At the In Code We Trust: Open Government in New York

My favorite session for the day was a case study of open government featuring the New York Senate. With a nod to Lawrence Lessig, Noel Hidalgo, Sheldon Rampton and Mark Head showed precisely how law could be turned to code. I livestreamed “In Code We Trust” on uStream. After poor transparency ratings, a broad swath of changes to the New York state senate websites was implemented over the past year. New York was the first state senate to adopt Creative Commons for its intellectual property.

Photo Credit: Sheldon Rampton by Noel Hidalgo.]

The New York state senate is integrating open government with social media (see @NYSenate), live video, YouTube and code, at Github.com/NYSenateCIO. I saw Mark Heead, a developer, looked up a bill using the New York Senate API with an application on his smartphone. That API is behind a law browser for New York state legislation. The In Code We Trust Transparency Camp session is archived at uStream.

Health Information Technology

One of the basic principles of an unconference is the “law of two feet.” If you don’t like a session, you move. You own your own experience. Given that livestreamed parts of Transperency Camp, I also “voted with my feed,” moving my window to the Internet along with my body. After a session on the relationship of open government descended into somewhat unproductive discussion about open policy, I moved over to the healthcare information technology (HIT) session, which I recorded in part. Given the billions of dollars that will be flowing into healthcare IT over the next few years, as provisions of the Recovery Act are implemented, this was an important discussion.

Brian Behlendorf, a notable open source technologist, led the session. There’s now an Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT to direct action, available on the Web at HealthIT.gov or on Twitter at @ONC_HealthIT. As Andrew McLaughlin noted, Brian Ahier maintains a great blog on health IT, including details on how the healthcare reform bill affects HIT.

Local Government and the Digital Divide

Another excellent session featured discussions about how transparency is coming to people closer to home.

Literally.

OpenMuni.org provides some perspective on that effort. The Ideascale model of crowdsourced recommendations for better efficiency and governance has been applied to local government, at least in beta, at Localocracy. The first pilot has been put into action at Amherst, Massachusetts.

The local government session at Transparency Camp was also fortunate to have the D.C. CTO, Bryan Sivek, and staff from @octolabs present.

Sivek defined his role as integral to both enabling better services online, like the city resource request center at 311.dc.gov, finding efficiencies for government through IT, and in bringing more citizens the benefit of connectivity. He illuminated a yawning gap in Internet use, observing that “DC has a huge issue with the digital divide. In Wards 5, 7 and 8, 36% of the people are connected.”

One of the stories of the digital divide in D.C. is told at InternetForEveryone.com. The importance of offering technological resources to those without access at home was evidenced by recent research showing that nearly one third of the United States population uses public library computers for Internet access.

Bryan Sivek is  now looking for feedback on how to use technology better in the District, elements of which are evidenced at track.dc.gov.

Odds, Ends, Resources and Takeaways

I was reminded of a great travel resource, FlyOnTime.us, and learned about a new one for Washington, ParkItDC.com.

I wish the former existed for Amtrak.

I learned about data and visualizations of local campaign spending at FollowTheMoney.org and government transparency at OpenSecrets.org.

Most of all, I was reminded by how many brilliant, passionate and engaged people are working to improve government transparency and efficiency through technology, collaboration and advocacy.

The Flickr pool features many of the faces.

I look forward to learning more from others about what happened on day two of Transparency Camp.

Update: The Sunlight Foundation posted a video of Transparency Camp attendees on April 1.

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Transparency Camp 2010: 3 Words from the D.C. unconference

You can access and embed this Wordle for 3 Words from Transparency Camp 2010 at Wordle.net.

Learn more about Transparency Camp at TransparencyCamp.org. There is a Transparency Camp livestream.

Here’s a second Wordle for Transparency Camp 2010 that removes the transparency duplicate, since Wordle.net dupes words when they’re capitalized.

Finally, there’s a final Wordle for Transparency Camp 2010, with all capitals removed. Fittingly, I had to clean my data to get a good visualization that accurately represented the data I reported upon.

Here’s a fourth Wordle, with a more vibrant take:

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CDT, EFF, CEA, PK, Others Criticize ACTA Copyright Treaty Draft Language

On March 22, a collection of tech advocates, non-profits and associations opposed to the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) wrote a letter (embedded below) to Ron Kirk, head of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, criticizing the reported draft language of the ACTA.

The lack of transparency around ACTA copyright treaty negotiations has received increased scrutiny from both the media and anti-censorship advocates as provisions have leaked online. Earlier this month, the European Parliament passed a resolution by a 663-13 vote calling for the European Commission, the European Union’s regulatory arm, to release a public draft of the ACTA agreement. President Obama signaled his support for the ACTA copyright treaty at a conference in DC on March 12th. New Zealand is now pushing for greater ACTA transparency as well.

This letter states that “details of the text of the proposed ACTA, and comments and proposals of national participants have apparently but unofficially been made public”. See, for example, this EU document,  a working document from the EU Secretariat, document[PDF], and document.

This letter states that “this negotiation is not primarily about counterfeiting or piracy; nor is at all about trade law. The public rationale that the treaty would not impinge on domestic law has been placed in doubt — particularly when one considers whose domestic law would be endangered.”

On this count, the letter states that the “text reveals detailed substantive attention to … The extent to which principles of inducement, newly introduced by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Grokster case, are to be accepted as supporting a separate basis for copyright liability or are a gloss on existing principles of contributory and vicarious infringement. This is not yet clear even in the United States.”

Some of this ground was covered by Supreme Court’s in June 26, 2005, MGM v. Grokster.a More detail on that case may be found in  “Supreme Court Rules in MGM v. Grokster” in TechLawJournal.  a

The letter regarding ACTA transparency also states that the “text reveals detailed substantive attention to … How technological measure anti-circumvention provisions are to be interpreted and applied, whether they will apply to access to works, whether they are to be limited to circumventions for infringing purposes, and whether account will be taken of the variations in national law, practice, and context, such as U.S. adherence to fair use and the imposition of levies under other national law.”

The signers of this letter include:

Canadian law professor Michael Geist’s ACTA coverage has been instrumental to providing details to the global community of the treaty. As he wrote yesterday:

The leak of the full consolidated ACTA text will provide anyone interested in the treaty with plenty to work with for the next few weeks.  While several chapters have already been leaked and discussed (see posts on the Internet and Civil Enforcement chapters, the definitional chapter, the institutional arrangements chapter, and international coooperation chapter), the consolidated chapter provides a clear indication of how the negotiations have altered earlier proposals (see this post for links to the early leaks) as well as the first look at several other ACTA elements.

Nate Anderson over at Ars Technica also wrote an update on the current status of the ACTA copyright treaty earlier this week. As Mike Masnick blogged at TechDirt, “EU Negotiators Insist That ACTA Will Move Forward And There’s Nothing To Worry About.” Further, as Masnick points out, ACTA is set to cover intellectual property, not just copyrights or trademarks, referring to a post at KEI which features leaked draft document of ACTA.

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Tech Term of the Week: Location-based service (LBS) bacn

Over the past year, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated by the prevalence of notifications about mayorships and badges on Foursquare or finds on Gowalla.

During the SXSW festival, it grew monumentally worse.

As location-based services (LBS) like Foursquare and Gowalla have picked up users over the past year, many of them have chosen to share their activity on Twitter.

I have a term for that sort of notification, pushed towards followers: “LBS bacn.

I define LBS bacn as default notifications from location-based services that are autoposted to social networks.

In my view,  LBS bacn adds bits and bytes of “datafat” to otherwise useful lifestreams. For those who aren’t familiar with this porktacular digital slang, Wikipedia defines bacn as:

email which has been subscribed to and is therefore not unsolicited, but is often unread by the recipient for a long period of time, if at all. Bacn has been described as ‘email you want but not right now.’”

According to WhatIs.com’s definition for bacn,

“The term was coined in August 2007 at Podcamp Pittsburgh, a social media “unconference” attended by bloggers and podcasters. The term “bacn” was chosen because of its similarity to spam. Both are popular pork products and both can fill up your inbox pretty quickly. The term “ham,” by way of contrast, is sometimes used to refer to email that a user wants to both receive and read right away.”

Some of Foursquare, Gowalla, BrightKite or other location-based service post can be useful or entertaining. After all, a location is a relevant response to Twitter’s original question: “What are you doing?” After all, it’s not so far off as an answer to the new question, “What’s happening?” either.

Annotated locations are even interesting, in most cases. One of the best check-ins of that sort pushed to Twitter came from Amy Senger, who tweeted:

“Skilling v the U.S. (@ Supreme Court of the United States) http://4sq.com/6HSdgV

But LBS bacn, at least to me on Twitter, is not. As ever, with Twitter everyone’s approach will be different. And if LBS bacn gets too much from a given source, it’s much easier to stop reading it then to give up bacon in the real world: you can just unfollow the bacnator. I don’t hate the idea of a location-based services, or the people that use them,  although location-based services do raise online privacy concerns. Everyone will can — and will — use Twitter differently, so don’t please take this as me telling anyone what to do.

I’m just as tired of reading LBS bacn as I am of notifications from Facebook or updates that I have new friends on Friendster. No, Seriously.

/rant

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Google shuts down Google.cn, adds censorship dashboard | #GoogleCn

Last night, Google shut down its China search engine, Google.cn. Visitors to Google.cn are now redirected to Google’s Chinese-language service based in Hong Kong, Google.com.hk.

Google has now set up a censorship dashboard for Google services in China that shows which services are blocked.

As Ron Deibert of CitizenLab tweeted, “It’s no ONI report, nor Herdict, but interesting anyway.”

In a statement posted to Google’s official blog, David Drummond explained the new approach to China. Google had previously announced on January 12 that it would no longer stand by a 2006 deal with the Chinese government after it was the target of hacker attacks that it attributed to China.

“CDT applauds Google for following through on its commitment to protect human rights and for its continued effort to enable China’s people with unfiltered access to robust sources of information from all over the world,” said Leslie Harris, President and CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technolog.

“Whether the Chinese people will be able to take advantage of Google search now rests squarely with the Chinese government. If China allows access to unfiltered search, it will be a substantial win for global Internet freedom and for the Chinese people. If China blocks access, it will finally make clear to the Chinese people who is pulling the levers of censorship in the country.”

“It is certainly a historic moment,” said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet project at the University of California, Berkeley, quoted in “Google Shuts China Site in Dispute Over Censorship,” in the New York Times. “The Internet was seen as a catalyst for China being more integrated into the world. The fact that Google cannot exist in China, clearly indicates that China’s path as a rising power is going in a direction different from what the world expected and what many Chinese were hoping for.”

As the Ryan Singel reports in his post on Epicenter blog at Wired, “Google Uncensors Chinese Search Engine,” “now a search on June 4, the day of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, returns 226 million results. Formerly that search, and thousands of other terms like it, had limited results and a notification to users that search results had been hidden due to the rules of China’s Communist government.”

Now, Chinese Internet users are braced to lose Google, as Kathryn Hille reports in the Financial Times.  Bobbie Johnson is liveblogging further developments and statements regarding the shutdown of Google’s search engine in China at the Guardian.

Rebecca McKinnon is also tweeting news and reactions from China. MacKinnon’s interview with Google’s David Drummond on Google and China is a must-read.

UPDATE: Danny Sullivan has also weighed in: “Google Stops Censoring In China, Hopes Using New Domain Meets Legal Requirements.”

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The past and future of .com: Bill Clinton on the first Internet Presidency [#25years]

How much has the online world changed in the past quarter of a century? In the years since Synbolics.com was registered, hundreds of millions of websites have followed that first domain name. According to the VeriSign Domain Name Industry Report, at the end of 2009 there were 192 million domain name registrations across all of the Top Level Domain Names (TLDs).

Of those, .com continues to have the highest base. “The world we live in today is the most interdependent in history,” said former President Bill Clinton, speaking within the Reagan building in Washington D.C. last week at the Policy Impact Forum. “The real question is what can we do through the present state of the Internet to improve the path we’re on.”

Clinton was introduced by VeriSign president Mark McLaughlin as the “first Internet President,” a reasonable contention given the explosive growth of the online world during his terms in office. As McLaughlin pointed out, under Mr. Clinton Internet governance passed to ICANN and the first White House website. (For those interested, you can still hear Socks meow.) McLaughlin and others blogged about 25 years of .com on Facebook.

Clinton made his comments on the day that the FCC’s National Broadband Plan was released, putting the question of how connectivity, innovation and speech should be stimulated (or regulated) into clear relief. Clinton suggested that access framework proposed by the FCC might be needed.

“In America, we opted for a degulation approach in the Internet and cellphone business,” he said, “but a lot of our competitorsnow have better cell phone coverage than we do because they had some regulation to guarantee a framework of universal access.”

In the present, “I’m worried about unequal access,” Clinton said. “We devoted 870 million a year to education technology. We developed the E-Rate so that information could be more publicly shared.”

“In general, our entrepreneurial approach is the best one,” said Clinton, but “there are limits to it and sometimes we need a framework to make sure the markets can continue to grow by having more universal access. So I’m hoping the FCC proposals will do that.”

Clinton talked about how the Internet has been indispensable to the work of his foundation. He also focused on the importance of information technology to his administration.

In 1996, then-President Clinton issued Executive Order 13011 on federal information technology, which ordered the heads of all federal agencies to “refocus information technology management to support directly their strategic missions,” create agency CIOs and “cooperate in the use of information technology to improve the productivity of Federal programs.”

When the decision  came to support as a medium, said Clinton, “the Internet was either going to be to the private reserve of a few or to the positive good of all. All the decisions that came were a result of seeing in its infancy the staggering potential we see today.” Clinton also gave credit to Al Gore, who “took unmerciful abuse about a claim he never made.”

Clinton chose to highlight a proposal from President Obama and the Secretary of State for a global health initiative that will leverage information technology. “There has to be a limit to ability to wealthy countries helping poor countries by treating discrete health problems,” he said. “Sooner or later, they have to have [functioning] health systems.  In the end, you have to give people the ability to support themselves.”

When considering potential answers to that immense challenge, does the Internet have anything to do with solutions? One area where the Internet has proven its utility is enabling distributed fundraising. Clinton himself said that over half of donations made to victims of the Indonesian tsunami were made online.

In 2010, Clinton said that MassiveGood.com, could a micropayment fundraising model where every time a consumer buys a plane ticket, reserves a hotel room or rents a car, they can choose to donate a small amount to AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria or childrens’ healthcare. “None of this would be conceivable without the Internet,” said Clinton.

“We’re going to have instantaneous posting of all donations and expenditures,” he said. “That’s what we did after the tsunami, with stunning effects in reducing corruption and increasing transparency.”

Clinton took some time to talk about both healthcare, the issue of the day, and climate change, perhaps the issue of the decade. “There are four countries which signed the Kyoto protocoal,” said Clinton: Denmark, Sweden, Germany and the UK. Clinton asserted that was because of the way that they consume and produce energy. ” A wealthy country has to have a new source of jobs every 5-8 years, he said. “The only way can be distributed is through the adequate use of IT. In the years ahead, we ought to do whatever we can increase access, compress time, improve connectivity.” ABC News’ Julie Percha reported more on Clinton’s talk at the Tech Forum, focusing on his remarks on healthcare.

Clinton also issued a challenge to those in the audience that work in technology: “What is the role of IT in dealing with the capacity problems of the poor and the rigidity problems of the wealthy?

What is necessary to ensure open global access? “First of all, you can’t if nations disagree,” he said. “If they decide to control access, they have some ability to do it. Look at the role tech played at bringing to light what happened in the Iranian election.” Clinton suggested too that the audience consider the impact of cell phones in poor countries. “For every 10% increase of cellphone usage in poor countries, they gain .6% to GDP,” said Clinton, citing a recent mobile research report.

In looking back at the importance of the Internet, Clinton said that “the potential for impact has gone far beyond what I expected. On balance, it’s an instrument of freedom, not repression.”

The former President offered some insight into his use of technology during a question and answer with McLaughlin after his keynote. When asked what his three favorite websites were, Clinton chose political ones: Politico, the Huffington Post and FireDogLake. Clinton affirmed the substantive contributions that websites can make, although “don’t have to do what newspapers have to do every day,” as “some only have to have three serious articles a week.” Clinton said that he’s “worried about the ability to maintain any newspaper” in the years ahead.

Clinton also fessed up to his favorite device: an iPhone, “because I can get everything on it.” He said he tried to stay away from the BlackBerry “because I’m still obsessive,” sharing in the process that former President George H. W. Bush was “constantly doing email.”

Kara Swisher from All Things Digital was also on hand at the 25 Years of .Com Tech Impact Forum, where she moderated a panel on the future of Web technology. She recorded a video of the Q&A after the keynote that can be viewed at Boomtown, in “Bill Clinton talks about his Internet legacy.”

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First day of spring: sun, protests and free speech in action in DC

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