Change.Gov meets Public.Resource.Org

Carl Malamud offers President-Elect Obama “5 Suggestions for Change” on http://public.resource.org/change.gov/.

You can visit the site to read the full suggestions (with PDFs), but here is the quick list:

  1. Rebooting .Gov.
  2. FedFlix.
  3. The Library of the U.S.A.
  4. The United States Publishing Academy.
  5. The Rural Internetification Administration.

Yes, we can….

Google’s Copyright War and Open Access

In Thursday’s Guardian, Seth Finkelstein writes about “Google’s copyright war will have open access advocates up in arms.”  

Mr. Finkelstein’s article summarizes the dispute, quotes a number of folks but the final paragraph really caught my attention:

Amid all the reactions, an overall lesson should be how little can be determined by legalism, and how much remains unsettled as new technology causes shifts in markets and power.  There’s some value in enemy-of-my-enemy opposition, where the interests of an advertising near-monopoly are a counterweight to a content cartel. But battles between behemoth businesses should not be mistaken for friendship to libraries, authors or public interest.

Readings on Open Access as a Public Good

Hat tip to Law Librarian Blog for today again bringing to the fore and recommending two interesting items on Open Access as a Public Good:

John Willinsky, The Access Principle: The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship (MIT Press, 2005)

Richard A. Danner, Applying the Access Principle in Law: The Responsibilities of the Legal Scholar, 35 International Journal of Legal Information 355 (Winter 2007)

(See also earlier posts on this blog on May 9, May 8, and April 25.)

JURIS Released

The good folks at public.resource.org have just released a new collection on their site: Justice.gov. This collection, once known as FLITE and then later as JURIS, is a digital collection of federal case law. The story behind this is quite fascinating, too.

From the Public.Resource.org site:

“Back when disco was king, the USAF decided that those new-fangled computers might be just the thing for the JAG Corps, so they set a bunch of flyboys down in front of keypunch machines and made a database of U.S. law called FLITE. After several turf-grabbing campaigns and a massive meeting of BOGSATT, the system was taken over by the Department of Justice and re-dubbed JURIS.”

“But, the lawyers in Justice were jealous of their pin-stripe buddies in private practice, so they got themselves high-priced West and Lexis-Nexis accounts so that they could be professional. Then, they deleted the JURIS database from government computers so there would be no going back. Today, the U.S. government does not possess a digital copy of the cases and codes that make up the law of the land.”

“One copy of JURIS survives, acquired by the Linguistic Data Consortium (LDC) of the University of Pennsylvania and available under a carefully restricted license agreement to those who pay the sum of $800 and agree not to redistribute the data. The LDC is a group of linguistic researchers and they acquire corpora of linguistic interest to analyze. By prohibiting redistribution and binding their members to such constraints, they are able to acquire commercial databases to analyze.”

Public.Resource.Org has purchased a copy of the JURIS database and we have requested that the Linguistic Data Consortium free this public domain data so that it may be examined by all. The database consists of 1,665 files totaling 3.1 gbytes. The 522 mega-words in the corpus yields approximately 2,091,628 pages of text.”

UPDATE: Friday, 13 June 2008. We have made the JURIS database available so that you may judge for yourself the importance of these files. You may browse the directory or download the 900 Mbyte tarball. There is a compelling public policy issue in the fact that the Department of Justice deleted 2 million pages of case law after establishing their for-pay contract with a commercial concern. Why did the government delete such a valuable asset that was created at taxpayer expense? Why would a copy not be kept just in case? Why does the government not have a digital copy of their own work product? These are questions of national concern and the public has a right to examine the evidence.”

Improving Public Access to Documents Act – Hearing

Statement Of Patrice McDermott, Director of OpenTheGovernment.org

Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment, Committee on Homeland Security

H.R. 6193, The “Improving Public Access to Documents Act,”
Hearing: Wednesday, June 11, 2008

[excerpt from the prepared testimony]

“We have experienced a trend in our country away from trust in the public to a “need-to know”
mind set. A few, primarily federal, departments and entities have either, in a few
cases, been designated or have arrogated to themselves the power to say who has a need-to-
know and only governments and a few private sector entities have been deemed
worthy. The public and the press have been almost entirely excluded. At one point, the
Department of Homeland Security even attempted to make Congressional staff sign nondisclosure agreements in order to prove they could be trusted into the inner circle of those
legitimate few.

Again, there is absolutely some finite amount of information that, for a certain amount of
time, needs to be shared only in a limited fashion. The problem for the public is that we
have “translucence, not transparency, i.e., transparency within the network, but opacity to
those outside.”*  The “need-to-share”” cannot be limited to agencies within governments
and defense and homeland security contractors; it also must include, to the greatest extent
possible, sharing relevant information with the public. The White House Memorandum
and this legislation both recognize this by requiring “portion marking,” so that
information in a document that is eligible for disclosure can be made public.”

*Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, “Translucence Not Transparency: Reviewing Alasdair Roberts, Blacked Out: Government Secrecy In The Information Age.” I/S: A Journal Of Law And Policy For The Information Society, Vol. 2, Issue 1 (2006).

Taking Back the Fruits of Our Labor: Leading the Way to Open Access in Helsinki

In late May of this year, the University of Helsinki signed the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities, agreeing to support open access to University research.  Beginning January 1, 2010, researchers at the University are required to deposit copies of their articles in an open repository at the University.  The repositories were created and continue to be maintained by the University libraries using Dspace open source repository software.

The Government on the Web: TMI?

Is the federal government giving us too much information on their websites?  Not quite, but Ed Felten, David Robinson, Harlan Yu and Bill Zeller argue in their new paper, “Government Data and the Invisible Hand,” that the government’s focus on creating and maintaining websites with pre-packaged reports and ready-to-digest data analysis is misguided.  The authors advocate, instead, strengthening the infrastructure behind the sites, with a focus on allowing public access to underlying data from federal agencies.

(Thanks to Ed Felten and his post on Freedom to Tinker)

Open Access in Peril for EU Documents?

Shrinking access to EU documents?  This is from a press release on the European Ombudsman site:

“The European Ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, has called on the European Parliament (EP) to defend the European Union’s commitment to transparency and the citizens’ right of access to EU documents. This follows the European Commission’s recent proposals to revise the law on public access to documents. In his contribution to today’s public hearing in the EP’s LIBE Committee (Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs), the Ombudsman said:

“The Commission’s proposals would mean access to fewer, not more, documents. This raises fundamental issues of principle about the EU’s commitment to openness and transparency.”

Read the entire contribution given by the Ombudsman 

The EU proposals sharply limit the definition of what is a “document”  —  “The Commission’s proposed definition of a document would mean that, in many cases, citizens could only apply for access to a document if it appeared in a register.”

Read the full text of the EU proposal to revise Regulation 1049/2001: Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents” [4/30/2008]

Hat tip to the lawlibrarians blog for tracking this!

A Strategy for Openness

[Cross posted on Freegovinfo]

The New York State Office for Technology and the New York State Archives, has just issued a report that “examines how the state can provide choice, interoperability and vendor neutrality in electronic document creation while ensuring electronic records are preserved and remain accessible.”

“The report [“A Strategy for Openness: Enhancing E-Records Access in New York State”] recommends establishing a statewide, cross-government Electronics Records Committee to address, in a formal, long-term and collaborative manner, all aspects of electronic record creation, management and preservation. The committee would facilitate state agency adoption, place the vendor community on notice of the state’s strategic direction and long-term commitment for technology openness, and ensure this commitment is institutionalized throughout the state enterprise and survives government leadership transitions. Another recommendation suggests the committee develops and publishes a final open records policy, and begins issuing a series of standards and guidelines for implementing the policy.”

Read this doc on Scribd: New York E-Records Study

Hat tip to the terrific BeSpacific blog

Recycle your PACER documents

(I also posted this on the Free Government Information blog):

Here at Stanford, the campus recently enjoyed the excitement that is Recyclemania. (Stanford actually won the Gorilla Prize!)

In the spirit of Recyclemania, I want to share an amazing project for recycling PACER documents. The site, brought to you by Carl Malamud and the good people at Public Resource, gives everyone a chance to liberate PACER case downloads.

How do you do it? Here are the simple instructions from the site:

“Just upload all your PACER Documents to our recycling bin. Click on the recycle bin and you’ll be presented with a dialogue to choose files to upload. Then, just hit the “Start Upload” button and you’ll hear the sounds of progress as your documents get reinjected into the public domain.

We’ll take the documents, look at them, and then put them onto bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/pacer for future distribution. This is a manual process and you won’t see your documents show up right away. But, over time, we hope to accumulate a significant database of PACER Documents. “

Interested in helping, but you don’t have the time to recycle documents onto the site? Well, lucky for you, the site also allows you contribute with Digital Offsets. The digital offsets are a tax-deductible donation to Public.Resource.Org which will then be utilized to purchase PACER Documents for the site.

Are you lucky enough to live near one of the 16 libraries with FREE access to PACER? Perhaps, you want to sign up to join the Thumb Drive Corps, who will go to these locations with a jump drive and download as many PACER documents as possible for the Pacer recycling site.

So, what is good for the bottle, is good for the docket….

-Erika