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.

Will Knowledge and People Converge?

In today’s HuffPo, Paul Lippe (Legal OnRamp founder) interviews David Curle (legal information market analyst) in “Will Knowledge & People Converge?”

The interview moves through key trends and recent history in the legal information and publishing sector (including the latest improvements offered by the ‘big guys’ at Westlaw and Lexis).

Then the discussion shifts to the impact of Google Scholar‘s free case law on the legal information market:

“It’s revolutionary in the sense that the general public now has easy access to the law of the land, something that was surprisingly hard to obtain before.”

Curle mentions the FastCase iPhone app that allows free searching of its database.   The days of charging for ‘just access’ to primary legal materials are coming to a close.    And, welcome to the generation of data.gov and law.gov:

“Law.gov has the ambition of making all primary US legal material available in standardized, machine-readable formats that can be incorporated into new kinds of information products.”

. . . .

“open access to legal sources will spur the creation of new markets for legal information among consumers, and even more so among non-lawyer professionals who need to understand a narrow field of that they work with all the time. Expect to see new products and services built on top of the free legal information that will make the law more accessible to those new markets.”

And, speaking of new products building on free content.  Curle moves on to discuss SpindleLaw.

“They are building, in a kind of collaborative, Wiki-like way, a database of the legal rules that lawyers find in court decisions and in legislation. Their idea is that it’s pretty inefficient to get to those rules by searching and reading long court opinions. They are extracting and organizing the rules with links to the legal sources. They have a long way to go to prove that the concept works, but I like the way they are trying to turn the research process on its head.”

These are very interesting times.

Data.gov

Democratizing Data

“Today, I’m pleased to announce that the Federal CIO Council is launching Data.gov. Created as part of the President’s commitment to open government and democratizing information, Data.gov will open up the workings of government by making economic, healthcare, environmental, and other government information available on a single website, allowing the public to access raw data and transform it in innovative ways. Such data are currently fragmented across multiple sites and formats–making them hard to use and even harder to access in the first place. Data.gov will change this, by creating a one-stop shop for free access to data generated across all federal agencies. The Data.gov catalog will allow the American people to find, use, and repackage data held and generated by the government, which we hope will result in citizen feedback and new ideas.”

http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/Democratizing-Data/

 

Announcing Apps for America 2: The Data.gov Challenge

“We’ve been planning this for awhile. Ever since we heard about Data.gov we have been planning a contest, and if you’re reading this blog post, that means Data.gov has finally launched. I’m pleased to wave the green flag on Apps for America 2: The Data.gov Challenge. This is a development and visualization challenge to see who can come up with the best application and visualization for data from Data.gov.”

http://blog.sunlightfoundation.com/2009/05/21/announcing-apps-for-america-2-the-datagov-challenge/

 
Keeping an Eye on Data.gov

“One thing that’s curiously missing from Data.gov is an RSS feed for new data feeds. Sort of shockingly, and glaringly left out. We were disappointed, and didn’t want to wait. Scraping here is such an easy thing to do that we decided to just build our own. Sunlight Labs’ James Turk did it, and it’s handy. Here’s the feed and here’s the source that makes the feed. This should be useful to anyone who wants to see what new stuff is coming out of Data.gov.”

http://sunlightlabs.com/blog/2009/05/22/keeping-eye-datagov/

 

Source:

The Intersect Alert is the excellent newsletter of the Government Relations Committee, San Francisco Bay Region Chapter, Special Libraries Association

http://units.sla.org/chapter/csfo/csfo.html

Data.gov and GovFresh.com

Remixing government data

“Last year, before he took on the role of federal chief information officer, Vivek Kundra came up with a new twist on the idea of government by the people: Let the people build some public-facing online government applications. . . Of course, repackaging government data for education and profit is nothing new. Dozens of businesses generate income by deciphering the notices that fly across the Federal Register and Federal Business Opportunities Web sites every day. But a recent confluence of technical and political factors portends a much wider use of government data. With Web 2.0 technology, anyone with some coding skills can make their own use of well-formed government data. And with the Obama administration calling for greater government transparency, Kundra wants to replicate D.C.’s success on a national level via the soon-to-be-launched Data.gov site.”

http://gcn.com/Articles/2009/05/04/Data-democratized.aspx

 

New Consolidated Government Information Stream

Launched May 3rd, GovFresh “is a live feed of official news from U.S. Government Twitter, YouTube, RSS, Facebook, Flickr accounts and more, all in one place.”

http://govfresh.com/

As an instructor of Advanced Legal Research I find the updates from the Law Revision Counsel to be particularly useful.  For example:

US Code: House has passed H.R. 1107, to enact Title 41 (Public Contracts) as positive law. For details of the bill, see http://bit.ly/xKKi5

 

Source: The Intersect Alert, a newsletter of the Government Relations Committee, San Francisco Bay Region Chapter, Special Libraries Association.

http://units.sla.org/chapter/csfo/csfo.html

Read the Bill & More

Lots of fresh air today: 

-Noon-time twitter ‘rally’ for the Yes We Scan campaign (#yeswescan) for Carl Malamud

-Just in from the Sunlight Foundation:

In our Read the Billcampaign we are advocating that all bills be placed online for 72 hours prior to consideration. Specifically, the Read the Billcampaign asks that bills be accessible, in text format, online and posted to a commonly visited web site, GPO or THOMAS.

And, midnight tonight (ET):

“Wired is officially launching “Data.gov Is Coming — Let’s Help Build It,”a wiki designed to find and identify important and valuable data sets held by the federal government, and to make them available and usable. ” [snippet from the  Sunlight Foundation]