Increasing Public Access to Government Data and Laws

Our friend and hero Carl Malamud is quoted in a “special report on managing information” from the February 25, 2010 issue of The Economist.

We’ll be making the article, “The open society: Governments are letting in the light,” required reading for our advanced legal research class.

The article discusses efforts and impediments, at both the local and national level, to making government information freely available.

Locally the article quotes San Francisco CIO Chris Vein on how “providing more information can make government more efficient.”  An example is a site called San Francisco Crimespotting “that layers historical crime figures on top of map information.”  The article notes that “[o]ther cities, including New York, Chicago and Washington, DC, are racing ahead as well.”

The article goes on to say that “[o]ther parts of the world are also beginning to move to greater openness.  A European Commission directive in 2005 called for making public-sector information more accessible.”

The article also discusses some of the impediments, such as Crown copyright where “in Britain and the Commonwealth countries most government data is state property” and there are use constraints, and PACER’s paywall.

The direction is for more openness and for “new forms of collaboration between the public and private sectors.”  And as the article concludes:

John Stuart Mill in 1861 called for “the widest participation in the details of judicial and administrative business . . . above all by the utmost possible publicity.” These days, that includes the greatest possible disclosure of data by electronic means.

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