Who are the open data entrepreneurs?

reagan-quoteDay by day, we are gaining better maps and tools to navigate the complexities of world around us. The ways that open data is finding its way into the hands of citizens and consumers were described today in a new report from a federal interagency task force on “smart disclosure.”

Smart disclosure, for those unfamiliar, is a term of art for when a private company or government agency provides you with access to your own data in a format that enables you to put the data to use.

When distributed this way, personal data ownership improves market transparency, empowers consumers and drives the nascent open data economy.

According to federal officials, this report from the National Science and Technology Council is the “first comprehensive description of the Federal Government’s efforts to promote the smart disclosure of information that can help consumers make wise decisions in the marketplace.” If you’re interested in the topic, it’s one of the most clearly written government documents I’ve come across lately: give it a read.

As Alex Fitzpatrick pointed out in his post on the ways companies are using government data, however, the report didn’t include the names of specific companies.

Given my research on the open data economy, I think I can fill in a few more of them, looking across sectors. (The administration itself identified Billguard, OPower and iTriage in February, in a post on open government data and jobs.)

In education, check out startups like Better Lesson and SoFi.

In energy, look at WattzOn, PlotWatt, SimpleEnergy and FirstFuel, in addition to OPower.

In consumer finance, evaluate HelloWallet, Brightscope and CalcBench, in addition to Billguard.

In real estate, look to Zillow and Trulia.

In healthcare, consider mHealthCoach, Kyruus or the growing number of health care apps and services on display at next week’s “Health Datapalooza.”

The administration’s top IT officials — chief information officer Steven VanRoekel and chief technology officer Todd Park — say that open data is good for America. If its release supports or leads to the creation of more startups that create products and services that improve people’s lives, that assertion will be born out.

If you recognize other startups from the descriptions in Alex’s post, please drop him a comment or a tweet — and if you use open government data in your startup, nonprofit or enterprise, please let us know in the comments.

Putting personal open data in the hands of consumers targets transparency where it matters

“…a few companies are challenging the norm of corporate data hoarding by actually sharing some information with the customers who generate it — and offering tools to put it to use,” writes Natasha Singer in the New York Times. “It’s a small but provocative trend in the United States, where only a handful of industries, like health care and credit, are required by federal law to provide people with access to their records.”

I’m a little perplexed by this story. It’s like the author goes out of her way to be skeptical of “open data” but then writes a piece that explored how data is being (wait for it) opened up to consumers.

On the one hand, Singer is 100% right: much of the data collected about consumers is not available to them, from shopping to telecom to energy to healthcare, much less data collected in the business of government. For them, an “open data society” is a long way off. On the other hand, I’m perplexed about where this society has been proposed or by whom. There’s a bit of a whiff of straw here.

All that being said, that Singer identified consumer data disclosure as a trend in the New York Times Sunday Business section is notable, given the influence of that perch.

Of course, if you’ve been reading Radar, you knew about smart disclosure and targeted transparency, knew personal data ownership was a trend to watch, and learned more about the acceleration of consumer data releases this February.

If you missed those pieces, I hope they’re useful to you today.

Personal data ownership is an idea that numerous people have been advancing and advocating for years. (I was glad to see Doc Searls cited in the Times). It’s an important principle.

The idea of a “right to data” has also received high-level support (if not legislation and regulation): last year, former Federal Trade Commission chairman Leibowitz said that American citizens should be able to learn see what information is held by them and “have the right to correct inaccurate data,” much as they do with credit reports.

While there’s still a long way to go before a majority of the private sector acknowledges such access as an a privilege, there’s good reason to see a shift that will benefit consumers in the long-run.

Over time, it’s even possible that such open data will benefit society. (Just don’t go overboard on the hoopla about it.)

Will Mayor-Elect Eric Garcetti reboot Los Angeles government for the 21st century?

eric-garcettiYesterday, Los Angeles city councilman Eric Garcetti won the Los Angeles mayor’s race.

Garcetti, at 42, is the youngest LA mayor in half a century and will be the city’s first Jewish mayor. LA’s new mayor is also a former Rhodes scholar, a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild, Naval Reservist and supporter of modernizing technology in city government.

Garcetti’s history on that last count had some observers wondering whether Los Angeles’ next mayor would ‘go geek’. He told “Neon Tommy,” a digital publication from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg program, that “he would make data a priority by creating a new position for it and appointing a ‘true’ chief technology officer.”

As a city councilman, Garcetti called for LA city data to be opened up to its people and authored a motion that will go before the council this spring.

“I look forward this fall to seeing the city opening the doors to data sharing, citizen participation, hackathons, and other ways we can build a truly 21st-century government,” said Garcetti at a campaign event prior to his election, according to Neon Tommy.

How fluent is LA’s new mayor on the language of technology and digital governance?

You can judge for yourself in the video embedded below, filmed during July 2012 at the Silicon Beach Fest.

Under this new mayor, will the second-most populous city in the United States take substantive steps to improve civic services and accountability?

While there’s reason to be hopeful, any new initiatives will have to be balanced against the city’s growing budget deficit and calibrated to a highly mobile, multi-lingual population.

As Paresh Dave explored in his feature, other cities are experimenting with open data, mobile applications and citizen engagement to varied effect.

Garcetti’s administration would benefit from taking pages from the technology playbooks of other cities, in particular Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, New York and Portland. Angelenos will need him to learn (quickly) from the mistakes of other cities and expand upon their success.

Tying the issues that Garcetti ran on to the goals the new administration will set priorities for legislation, policy and initiatives.

Given the considerable economic and cultural diversity of the City of Angels, his administration will need to support fundamental democratic principles in any new initiatives, from a participation divide to plain language in multiple languages to disparities in broadband Internet. LA will need a better digital divide strategy, perhaps centered upon libraries, schools and community centers, to ensure that more equitable civic participation in open government efforts around policies, regulations or proposed council orders.

His campaign promises on technology reflect some of those priorities and an appreciation of the challenges. Implementation will, as always, be another matter.

Open government experts raise concerns about “mosaic effect” in open data policy

“…one of the things we’re doing to fuel … more private sector innovation and discovery,” said President Barack Obama is to make the vast amounts of America’s data open and easy to access for the first time in history.”

That aspirational goal is one that countries around the world have taken on as their own over the past four years. Globally, officials are increasingly viewing open data as fundamental to democratic governance and development. That growth has naturally promoted new scrutiny and questions about what open data is and who benefits from its release.

“This comes at a time when there are significant doubts around the world about outcomes and best practices,” said John Wonderlich, policy director for the Sunlight Foundation, in an interview. “The White House’s new policies make clear that we don’t have all the answers, but there are ways forward, towards new data and better processes.”

Last week, Slate published my article exploring why a new executive order to open up federal government data is a big deal.

The article generally presents the new executive order and associated open data policy in a generally positive light, with one significant caveat: its effect upon or relevance to government transparency.

The focus that the President and his advisors have taken on “open data” is squarely upon entrepreneurship, innovation, and scientific discovery, not “transparency,” an issue his administration has faced substantial — and growing — criticism over after a promising start to his first term.

“Creating transparency and accountability through new technology won’t be achieved through a single policy, or just through cultural change or political commitments,” said Wonderlich. “What was so reassuring about this announcement is that the White House is still working on all of those areas. There are certainly some still missing, or some areas where the White House is less accountable, or more secretive (money in politics and national security still come to mind immediately) but this demonstrates that “open data,” if that phrase is to have lasting meaning, will evolve through a complex policy process.”

Steven Aftergood, however, questioned whether making government data open and machine-readable would have an effect on government secrecy, particularly in the intelligence world. Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, has been a long-time observer and critic of the culture and machinery of secrecy in the federal government.

A second caveat, which wasn’t in my Slate article, comes with respect to the inclusion of a warning about the so-called “mosaic effect” in the open data policy.

This effect, which originates in the intelligence world, describes a situation in which multiple pieces of data and information that are meaningless (or at least harmless or unclassified) on their own could be combined and analyzed to discover the identities of people, sensitive locations or other secrets.

That official consideration left journalists and open government advocates worried.

OpenTheGovernment.org praised aspects of the open data policy but expressed concern about potential exemptions from disclosure because of the mosaic effect. Scholars and journalists have long been concerned that the mosaic theory has been used to deny Freedom of Information Act requests.

While architects of Data.gov and former US CIO Vivek Kundra have acknowledged concerns about the mosaic effect in the past, formal articulation in the policy is a new wrinkle.

In answer to my question about this precise concern at a press conference at the FOSE Conference in Washington last week, US CIO Steven VanRoekel said that nothing in the executive order or in the open data policy would allow the federal government to restrict the release of information requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

Federal agencies will “still follow FOIA to the letter,” said VanRoekel. “Nothing about executive orders and policy changes law.”

Whether or not this new policy is used to restrict sensitive information will be seen in the months and years ahead. In the meantime, concern is probably better focused upon the dangerous parallel the Department of Justice is making between espionage and investigative journalism.

New York City moves to apply predictive data analytics to preventing fires

“The total embedding of analytics in New York City has just really passed the tipping point,” related Michael Flowers, in an email last week. Flowers, the Big Apple’s first “chief analytics officer, discussed how predictive data analytics were saving lives and taxpayer dollars with me last year. In the months since, he has continued to apply data science to regulatory data in the public sector. The work of “Mayor Bloomberg’s Geek Squad” finally drew major media notice in March, when the New York Times featured their accomplishments.

Last week, New York City went further into its data-driven future when it announced plans to reduce deaths from fires by applying new risk-based fire inspection system. Essentially, NYC is applying the same predictive data analytics to assess and prioritize the buildings that firefighters inspect every year.

“Uniformed firefighters currently perform 50,000 full-building fire safety inspections every year and until now, fire officers had very limited information about how to prioritize buildings for inspection in the districts they protect,” said Mayor Bloomberg, in a statement. “Our new system changes that. Drawing on building information from many sources, the Risk Based Inspection System enables fire companies to prioritize the buildings that pose the greatest fire risk—and that means we’ll stop more fires before they can start.”

Instead of cyclical inspections, the new NYC Fire Department system “tracks, scores, prioritizes, and then automatically schedules a building for inspection.”

While this kind of algorithmic regulation may send off warning bells in some observers, the use of such technology to score risk and, crucially, send trained human beings to investigate.

Flowers pointed out other areas where this kind of complementary action matter.

“To me, the Hurricane Sandy Administration Action Plan released [last week] is the most powerful expression of what’s happened here in the last 18 months or so,” he said. “We essentially served as the primary intelligence center for Sandy response and recovery. It speaks to things we are doing internally or externally with regards to data leveraging, synthesis, analysis and sharing to get to the most critical need the fastest. It shows how quickly we’ve rooted the concept into how the city does business.”

New Yorkers should expect more of this approach to governance in the future — and to gain more insight as the city’s developers and media analyze datasets released to the public.

“Up next is to roll out of the platform to the rest of the city, pushing all this data dynamically to the open data portal,” related Flowers, “which itself is being redone to reflect curated data, a development portal, and risk-based resource allocation over the Departments of Buildings, Fire, Finance, Housing and a few others.”

In the video below, recorded at the Strata Conference in NYC last year, Flowers talks more about his work.

Russia withdraws from Open Government Partnership. Too much transparency? [UPDATED]


“Inevitably, there will be questions about what we are each prepared to sign up to,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron in January, in his letter to his fellow G8 leaders. For months later, Russia has made clear it clear what it wasn’t willing to sign onto: the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The most recent update on Russia is that the Kremlin will be pursuing “open government” on its own terms. Russia has withdrawn the letter of intent that it submitted on April 2012 in Brazil, at the first annual meeting of the Open Government Partnership.

Update: On May 23, The Moscow Times reported that Russia had just “postponed” its entry into OGP. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian daily newspaper Kommersant that “we are not talking about winding up plans to join, but corrections in timing and the scale of participation are possible.” Open government advocate  David Eaves interprets this state of affairs to mean A) “transparency matters” and B) that “Russia may still be in OGP. Just not soon. And maybe never.” For now, Russia has withdrawn its letter of intent to join the Open Government Partnership and with that action, its commitments to transparency. OGP itself has  “adjusted” its website to reflect the change, which is to say that the former page for Russia can no longer be found. So what will open government mean in the largest country in the world? Read on.

If the dominant binary of the 21st century is between open and closed, Russia looks more interested in opting towards more controllable, technocratic options that involve discretionary data releases instead of an independent judiciary or freedom of assembly or the press.

One of the challenges of the Open Government Partnership has always been the criteria that a country had to pass to join and then continue to be a member. Russia’s inclusion in OGP instantly raised eyebrows, doubts and fears last April, given rampant corruption in the public sector and Russia’s terrible record on press freedom.

“Russia’s withdrawal from the OGP is an important reminder that open government isn’t easy or politically simple,” said Nathaniel Heller, executive director of Global Integrity. “While we don’t yet fully understand why Russia is leaving OGP, it’s safe to assume that the powers that be in the Kremlin decided that it was untenable to give reformers elsewhere in the Russian government the freedom to advance the open government agenda within the bureaucracy.”

The choices of Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev, who had publicly supported joining the OGP and made open government a principle of his government, may well have been called into question by Russia’s powerful president, Vladimir Putin.

Medvedev had been signaling a move towards adopting more comfortable sorts of “openness” for some time, leading up to and following Russia joining the Open Government Partnership in December 2012. Russia’s prime minister has sought to position himself as a reformer on the world stage, making a pitch at Davis for Russia being “open for business” earlier this year at the Davos economic forum. Adopting substantive open government reforms could well make a difference with respect to foreign investors concerns about corruption and governance.

While the Kremlin shows few signs of loosening its iron grip on national security and defense secrets, Russia faces the same need to modernize to meet the increasing demand of its citizens for online services as every developed nation.

Even if Russia may not be continue its membership in the Open Government Partnership, the Russian government’s version of “openness” may endure, at least with respect to federal, city and state IT systems. Over the winter, a version of “Open Government a la Russe” – in Cyrillic, большоеправительство or “big government” — seemed to accelerating at the national level and catching on in its capital. Maybe that will still happen, and Russion national action plan will go forward.

“While Russia’s approach to open government may be primarily technocratic, there’s a sense in which even the strongest legal requirements are only tools we give to our allies in governments,” said John Wonderlich, policy director at the Sunight Foundation. “FOI officers analyzing records, or judges deciding whether or not to enforce laws are embodying both legal and cultural realities when they determine how open a country will be, just as much as policy makers who determine which policies to pass. While Russia’s initial commitment to OGP was likely a surprising boon for internal champions for reform, its withdrawal will also serve as a demonstration of the difficulty of making a political commitment to openness there.”

What is more clear, however, is that the Kremlin seems much more interested the sort of “open government” that creates economic value, as opposed to sustaining independent auditors, press or civil society that’s required in functional democracies. Plutocracy and kleptrocacy doesn’t typically co-exist well open, democratic governments — or vice versa.

Given that the United States efforts on open government prominently feature the pursuit of similar value in releasing government data, Russia’s focus isn’t novel. In fact, “open data” is part of more than half of the plans of the participating countries in OGP, along with e-government reforms. In May of 2012, a presidential declaration directed governmental bodies to open up government data.

In February, Moscow launched an open data platform, at data.mos.ru, that supplied material for digital atlas of the city. Russia established an “open data council” the same month. Those steps forward could stand to benefit Russian citizens and bring some tangential benefits to transparency and accountability, if Russia and its cities can stomach the release of embarrassing data about spending, budgets or performance.

While some accounts of open government in Russia highlighted the potential of Russia to tap into new opportunities for innovation afforded by connected citizenry that exist around the world, crackdowns on civil society and transparency organizations have sorely tested the Russian government’s credibility on the issue. This trial of anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalny for corruption this spring showed how far Russia has to go.

“Open government isn’t just open data nor is it e-government, two areas in which the Russian Federal had appeared to be willing to engage on the open government agenda,” said Heller. “Many observers doubted how far Russia could take open government in a climate of political repression, civil society crackdowns, and judicial abuse of power.”

Today’s news looks like a victory of conservatives in the Kremlin over government reformers interested in reducing corruption and adopting modern public sector management techniques. “We need to use modern technologies, crowd sourcing,” said Medvedev said in January 2013. “Those technologies change the status and enhance the legitimacy of decisions made in government.”

Changes in technology will undoubtedly influence Russia, as they will every country, albeit within the cultural and economic context of each. This withdrawal from OGP, however, may be a missed opportunity for civil society, at least with respect to losing a lever for reform, reduced corruption and institutions accountable to the people. Leaving the partnership suggests that Russia may be a bit scared of real transparency, or least the sort where the national government willing allows itself to be criticized by civil society and foreign non-governmental organizations.

It’s something of a mixed victory for the Open Government Partnership, too: getting to be a member and stay one means something, after all.

“For the Open Government Partnership, this will be seen as a bit of a blow to their progress, but its success was never predicated on getting every qualifying government to join,” said Wonderlich. “In a sense, Russia’s withdrawal may alleviate the need for OGP to grapple with Russia’s recent, severe treatment of NGOs there. More broadly, Russia’s withdrawal may better define the space in which the OGP mechanism can function well. Building a movement around commitments from heads of state has allowed OGP’s ranks to rapidly grow, but we’re also probably entering a new time for OGP, where the depth and reliability of those commitments will become clearer. Transitions between governments, domestic politics, corruption scandals, hypocritical behavior, uncooperative legislatures, exclusion of domestic NGOs, and internal power struggles may all threaten individual national commitments, and OGP will need to determine how to adapt to each of these challenges. OGP will need to determine whether it wants to be the arbiter of appropriate behavior on each of these dimensions, or whether its role is better left to the commitments and National Action Plans on which it was founded. ”

If OGP is to endure and have a meaningful impact on the world, its imprimatur has to have integrity and some weight of moral justice, based upon internationally shared norms on human rights and civil liberties. As press freedom goes, so to does open government and democracy.

“International boosters of open government may want to remain cautious at embracing open government reformers at the first whiff of ‘openness’ or rhetorical commitment to the agenda,” said Heller. “Within weeks of Russia first making noise around joining OGP, the World Bank and others rushed to assemble a major international conference in the country around open government to boost reformers inside the bureaucracy as they sought to move the country into OGP. While no one should criticize those efforts, they are a sobering reminder that initial rhetorical commitment to open government can only take us so far, and it’s wise to keep the political powder dry for other downstream fights.”

Given the scale of bribery and the impact of corruption on growth, Russians can only hope that more “openness” with teeth comes to their country soon.

As press freedom goes, so too does open government and democracy

I’m on the brink of having a Howard Beale moment.

This morning, Al Thompkins wrote that the Justice Department ‘better have a damned good explanation’ for seizing AP phone records. The nation is still waiting. So is the world.

This week, my Poynter colleagues and I are teaching on three continents. One of my colleagues is teaching in China. Another is in South Africa. I’m in Canada. Everywhere we go, we hear stories of governments trying to restrict journalists. South Africa has a new government secrecy bill; Turkey is trying to restrict reporting from border-town bombing sites; Pakistan ejected an American journalist trying to cover elections; and a Chinese journalist is in jail accused of publishing video that caused “a bad impression abroad.”

Recently, Reporters Without Borders ranked the U.S. 32nd on its list of countries in terms of press freedom. When I saw that the U.S. was ranked below Ghana and barely above El Salvador, I wondered if there must be some mistake. But now I wonder if that survey ranked our press freedom too high.

Thompkins is right. We need to know why notifying the Associated Press in advance of getting the records from Verizon “would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.”

Deputy United States Attorney General James Cole stated that such an intrusion was warranted and were “consistent with department policy.” Walter Pincus agrees.

US Attorney General Eric Holder, who recused himself from the investigation, said that “this was a very serious leak — a very, very serious leak,” “among the top two or three serious leaks that I’ve ever seen,” putting the American people “at risk” and that “trying to determine who was responsible for that required very aggressive action.”

Should that action have included a judge?

In the absence of a federal shield law for journalists, judicial oversight is a bulwark against tyranny.

As New Yorker general counsel Lynn Oberlander on the law behind the Justice Department seizure of AP phone records, the courts do not appear to have been involved:

If subpoenas had been served directly on the A.P. or its individual reporters, they would have had an opportunity to go to court to file a motion to quash the subpoenas. What would have happened in court is anybody’s guess—there is no federal shield law that would protect reporters from having to testify before a criminal grand jury—but the Justice Department avoided the issue altogether by not notifying the A.P. that it even wanted this information. Even beyond the outrageous and overreaching action against the journalists, this is a blatant attempt to avoid the oversight function of the courts.

The nation is seeing that the balance between government secrecy, civil liberties and freedom of the press has become far too weighted in favor of the federal government. Attorney General Holder defended the independence of the leak investigation last year before Congress.

If President Obama wants to retain credibility on the world stage or at home when he talks about open government and the rule of law, his administration will need to take a strong stance, as it did with respect to management flaws at the I.R.S. that allowed conservative groups to be targeted for tax audits.  As Nathaniel Heller pointed out this week, there’s some cognitive dissonance going on:

This administration’s track record on what can be argued are the easier bits of open government is more than laudable. An initial Open Government Directivehas been augmented with the new open data policy, and we’ve witnessed the launch of an international Open Government Partnership, which began as a White House brainchild. But during that very same period we’ve witnessed the administration getting worse on the politically harder bits: freedom of information response times have deteriorated, reporters are being chased down to divulge their sources, and now entire newsrooms are apparently being targeted in broad, scarily police state-style monitoring. What the heck is going on here?

There’s a lot at stake here, to dramatically understate the obvious.

As New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote today, “The ability of the press to report freely on its government is a cornerstone of American democracy. That ability is, by any reasonable assessment, under siege. Reporters get their information from sources. They need to be able to protect those sources and sometimes offer them confidentiality. If they can’t be sure about that – and it looks increasingly like they can’t – the sources will dry up. And so will the information.”

The White House, Congress, Department of Justice and the American people cannot afford to let that happen. Information is the life blood of democracy. A free press is core to its gathering and dissemination, as are whistleblowers who tell the nation when crimes and fraud are being committed behind closed doors. Prosecuting whistleblowers is antithetical to open government.

Our founding fathers understood this dynamic well:

“The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents,” wrote Thomas Jefferson. “There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves, nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.”

We need to know more about why this action was taken by the Department of Justice. We also need to know why there is a disconnect between the rhetoric expressed by the President of the United States, a constitutional law professor, regarding freedom of the press and the zealous actions of the Department of Justice towards leaks.

Josh Gerstein reports that the issue may lie with the White House’s “hands off style” with respect to the DoJ:

”This White House, out of concern to distance itself from what was seen as excess politicization of DOJ by the Bush administration, had not engaged DOJ at all on leak cases,” said Columbia University law professor David Pozen, who spent several months conducting a major review of the federal government’s love-hate relationship with national security leaks. ”

In previous White Houses, even those railed publicly against leaks, officials sent “cautionary signals to the Justice Department … urging restraint and sensitivity to political, policy and constitutional concerns,” Pozen said. But the administration’s distancing policy, said Pozen, meant that prosecutors were “being given more leash than they had previously to do what they do.”

If so, it’s long past time for President Obama to get more hands-on.

UPDATE: Both the president and his attorney general have acknowledged the criticism. In his remarks to the National Defense University on May 23rd, President Obama said that he was “I’m troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable” and told AG Holder to take action on the issue.

The Justice Department’s investigation of national security leaks offers a recent example of the challenges involved in striking the right balance between our security and our open society.  As Commander-in-Chief, I believe we must keep information secret that protects our operations and our people in the field.  To do so, we must enforce consequences for those who break the law and breach their commitment to protect classified information.  But a free press is also essential for our democracy.  That’s who we are.  And I’m troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable.

Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs.  Our focus must be on those who break the law.  And that’s why I’ve called on Congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government overreach.  And I’ve raised these issues with the Attorney General, who shares my concerns.  So he has agreed to review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters, and he’ll convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review.  And I’ve directed the Attorney General to report back to me by July 12th.

According to David Klaidman’s reporting, AG Holder regrets at least some of how the DoJ has proceeded, with respect to prosecuting leaks. (He personally approved a search-warrant application that equated the newsgathering activities of Fox News reporter James Rosen with criminal conduct.)

“While both of these cases were handled within the law and according to Justice Department guidelines,” he told The Daily Beast, “they are reminders of the unique role the news media plays in our democratic system, and signal that both our laws and guidelines need to be updated…This is an opportunity for the department to consider how we strike the right balance between the interests of law enforcement and freedom of the press.”

This morning, a Justice Department official told Mike Allen that the AG will be meeting with members of the media this week:

“Attorney General Eric Holder will hold meetings with several Washington bureau chiefs of national news organizations in the next two days as part of the review of existing Justice Department guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters. This review, which was announced by President Obama last Thursday, is consistent with the Attorney General’s long standing belief that protecting and defending the First Amendment is essential to our democracy. These meetings will begin a series of discussions that will continue to take place over the coming weeks. During these sessions, the Attorney General will engage with a diverse and representative group of news media organizations, including print, wires, radio, television, online media and news and trade associations. Further discussions will include news media executives and general counsels as well as government experts in intelligence and investigative agencies.”

Per Michael Calderone, however, “the actual discussion is expected to be off the record.”

UPDATE 2: The Department of Justice released a report on news media policies (PDF) on July 12th.

“The Department of Justice is firmly committed to ensuring our nation’s security, and protecting the American people, while at the same time safeguarding the freedom of the press,” said United States Attorney General Eric Holder, in a prepared statement. “These revised guidelines will help ensure the proper balance is struck when pursuing investigations into unauthorized disclosures. While these reforms will make a meaningful difference, there are additional protections that only Congress can provide. For that reason, we continue to support the passage of media shield legislation. I look forward to working with leaders from both parties to achieve this goal, and am grateful to all of the journalists, free speech advocates, experts, and Administration leaders who have come together in recent weeks – in good faith, and with mutual respect – to guide and inform the changes we announce today.”

Excerpt from report (emphases are mine):

First, the Department will modify its policy concerning search warrants covered by the PPA involving members of the news media to provide that work product materials and other documents may be sought under the “suspect exception” of the PPA only when the member of the news media is the focus of a criminal investigation for conduct not connected to ordinary newsgathering activities. Under this revised policy, the Department would not seek search warrants under the PPA’s suspect exception if the sole purpose is the investigation of a person other than the member of the news media.

Second, the Department would revise current policy to elevate the current approval requirements and require the approval of the Attorney General for all search warrants and court orders issued pursuant to 18 U.S.C. directed at members of the news media. In addition, as part of the new approval process the Attorney General would consider the factors in 28 CFR. 50.10 — which currently apply to subpoenas to members of the news media or to communication service providers for the telephone toll records of members of the news media, but not to search warrants or 2703(d) orders — including demonstrating that the information sought is essential to a successful investigation, that other reasonable alternative investigative steps to obtain the information have been exhausted, and that the request has been narrowly tailored to obtain only the information necessary for the investigation (including the use of search methods that limit any intrusion into potentially protected materials, as described above). The presumption of notice, and standards applicable to requests for delayed notice, will also apply to search warrants and 2703(d) orders that seek access to records of members of the news media related to newsgathering activities. A thorough evaluation of relevant considerations, including these factors, will be presented to the Deputy Attorney General, and ultimately the Attorney General, for authorization. This policy change will bring the approval protocols for search warrants issued under the PPA and 27D3(d) orders in line with those required for other investigative tools that implicate records of members of the news media.

The complete report and set of revised policies are online on Document Cloud, via New York Times reporter Charlie Savage, or at Justice.gov. For more analysis, read his report for the New York Times regarding AG Holder tightening the rules for obtaining reporters’ data. Now, the onus to protect freedom of the press in the United States is now upon Congress, including recognizing the public interest of preserving acts of journalism through enactment of a federal shield law. How Congress or the DoJ defines journalists will have real consequences, in terms of how their electronic communications are acquired or monitored. Marcy Wheeler reads this policy as the DoJ moving closer to instituting a physical press. Journalism professor Dan Gillmor reads that to mean that licensing journalists will be proposed in the United States.

Historical parallels aside…

…the question of “who is a journalist?” is of vital public interest, as Jeff Jarvis explored in The Guardian today. A 2010 report from the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) concluded that licensing journalists threatens independent media and press freedoms. The First Amendment Center similarly argues that licensing journalists is a bad idea. Congress and the Department of Justice would be well advised to steer clear of registering the media, which has historically been used around the world by governments to delegitimize reporting and speech officials do not wish published, from reporting on corruption to waste, fraud or embarrassing actions.

At a time when technology has democratized reporting in unprecedented ways, enabling individuals to commits acts of journalism around the world, perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that freedom of the press now applies to everyone.


UPDATE: On January 14, 2015, U.S. Attorney General Holder issued a memorandum (PDF) laying out new guidelines for how the Department of Justice will obtain information or records from the media.

“These revised guidelines strike an appropriate balance between law enforcement’s need to protect the American people, and the news media’s role in ensuring the free flow of information,” Holder said, in a statement. “This updated policy is in part the result of the good-faith dialogue the department has engaged in with news industry representatives over the last several months. These discussions have been very constructive and I am grateful to the members of the media who have worked with us throughout this process.”

These guidelines broaden protections for the media, as Josh Gerstein reported for Politico, with caveats:

…the revised guidelines make clear that Justice Department personnel must get high-level approval—usually from the attorney general personally—before going to court to enforce subpoenas other federal agencies sometimes issue to reporters or their phone or internet providers. Such disputes have arisen or loomed with various agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, whose officials subpoenaed travel bloggers in 2009 and took part in the search of a Washington Times writer’s home in 2013.

Details of the new policy made public late Wednesday showed it also satisifed a particular request media advocates had made: that department lawyers be required to get a second round of high-level approvals before moving to enforce a subpoena that was authorized at some earlier time. DOJ attorneys will have to check in with the Criminal Division in Washington before making such a move, the revised guidelines say.

The revised rules continue to give prosecutors more leeway in pursuing journalists whom the U.S. Government believes are part of a foreign country’s intelligence services or tied to some other foreign power.

Fung outlines principles for democratic transparency and open government

Archon Fung has published a new paper” [PDF] on open government, information and democracy. The abstract includes a useful breakdown of the components of democratic transparency:

In Infotopia, citizens enjoy a wide range of information about the organizations
upon which they rely for the satisfaction of their vital interests. The provision of
that information is governed by principles of democratic transparency. Democratic
transparency both extends and critiques current enthusiasms about transparency. It
urges us to conceptualize information politically, as a resource to turn the behavior of
large organizations in socially beneficial ways. Transparency efforts have targets, and we
should think of those targets as large organizations: public and civic, but especially private
and corporate. Democratic transparency consists of four principles. First, information
about the operations and actions of large organizations that affect citizens’ interests
should be rich, deep, and readily available to the public. Second, the amount of available
information should be proportionate to the extent to which those organizations
jeopardize citizens’ interests. Third, information should be organized and provided in
ways that are accessible to individuals and groups that use that information. Finally, the
social, political, and economic structures of society should be organized in ways that
allow individuals and groups to take action based on Infotopia’s public disclosures.

Fung’s paper focuses on focus upon “information about the activities of
large organizations—especially corporations and governments—rather than individuals” and “the important, defensive, face of the informational problem: information that people need to protect themselves against the actions of large organizations and to navigate the terrain created by such organizations,” as opposed to the myriad positive uses of open government data.

That time President Obama said “open data”

On Wednesday, President Obama issued an historic executive order making open data the new default for releasing information in the federal government.

President Barack Obama watches as Todd Park, Assistant to the President and Chief Technology Officer, shows him information on a tablet during a meeting in the Oval Office, April 15, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The president announced the order on a trip to Austin, Texas, where he delivered the following remarks on open data at Applied Materials Inc.:

And one of the things we’re doing to fuel more inventiveness like this, to fuel more private sector innovation and discovery, is to make the vast amounts of America’s data open and easy to access for the first time in history.  So talented entrepreneurs are doing some pretty amazing things with data that’s already being collected by government.

So over at the Capital Factory, I met with folks behind the start-up called StormPulse, which uses government data on weather to help businesses anticipate disruptions in service.  And then you’ve got a Virginia company called OPower that’s used government data on trends in energy use to save its customers $200 million on their energy bills.  There’s an app called iTriage, founded by a pair of ER doctors that uses data from the Department of Health and Human Services to help users understand medical symptoms and find local doctors and health care providers.

And today I’m announcing that we’re making even more government data available, and we’re making it easier for people to find and to use.  And that’s going to help launch more start-ups.  It’s going to help launch more businesses.  Some of them undoubtedly will be using this data powered by chips that essentially started right here at Applied Materials.

It’s going to help more entrepreneurs come up with products and services that we haven’t even imagined yet.

This kind of innovation and ingenuity has the potential to transform the way we do almost everything.  One-third of jobs in Austin are now supported by the tech sector.  And we should do all we can to encourage this kind of innovation economy all across America, in ways that produce new jobs and new opportunities for the middle class.

Roundup: who said what about the White House executive order on open data?

This morning, President Obama issued an historic executive order making open data the new default for releasing information in the federal government. The president announced the order on a trip to Austin, Texas, where he visited Manor New Tech High School, visited the Capital Factory incubator, where he saw a demonstration of StormPulse, a risk management startup that uses open data, and delivered remarks on open data at Applied Materials Inc.

Here’s what the tech media had to say about today’s news. (Got half an hour? Listen to the press briefing from today  at FierceGovernmentT or download this MP3 of the call that provides the source material for much of the following.)

Sean Gallagher and Nick Clark Judd both penned the most thoughtful, informed and well-reported pieces covering the news. Both are especially strong on covering what the order and associated initiatives actually mean.

At ArsTechnica, Gallagher highlights the challenges that implementing the policy will face: “Obama orders agencies to make data open, machine-readable by default.”

At techPresident, Judd parses out what’s new (Github!) and what actually relates to transparency in “Developers Are Already Submitting Patches to Obama’s New Open Data Policy.”

The Github angle was irresistable  to Wired reporter Bob McMillan (and pretty much anyone else interested in open source) who noted that “Now You Can Fork U.S. Government Policy … On GitHub.”

We’ll see if “the revolution will be forked,” as Githubber (and former White House staffer) Ben Balter put it.

The executive order was significant enough news to escape the tech orbit: The business and general press was also on the story, framing it in terms of jobs.

The Daily Caller earned the dubious distinction of writing the worst headline of the bunch, “Obama is going to tell people how the White House is organized.” (Not exactly.)

Out in the blogosphere and on Twitter, there’s a somewhat different flavor of reaction and commentary from reporters tasked to cover the news.

The Data.gov team is actively looking for feedback, as Data.gov evangelist Jeanne Holm made clear on Google+

Those of us at the Data.gov team are seeking your great ideas and constructive criticism as we move forward to the next phase of Data.gov. We want to scale up the quality and quantity of data, be more helpful to American businesses and entrepreneurs looking to use government data and research, more clearly support learning in classrooms, get government data in front of researchers and journalists, and bring the power of open data to American citizens.

It’s all about getting you to the data you need as quickly as possible in a variety of machine-readable formats with better search, more APIs, easier ways to share data, more data resources federated.  You can see an early view of our new CKAN-powered catalog http://geo.gov.ckan.org/dataset .

You’ve told us via forums, list serves, hack-a-thons, blogs, social media, and meetups around the country and the world that we need to have more and better capabilities for developers and innovators.  We are listening.Find out more details about the technical implementations underwayhttps://www.data.gov/blog/under-hood-open-data-engine and let us know what you think at Data.gov https://www.data.gov/developers/page/forum-topic/11?tid=28622 or via Twitter @usdatagov!

At the Sunlight Foundation, John Wonderlich says that the “open data executive order shows the way forward.”

Simon Rogers explored how the open data executive order compares to similar efforts in the United Kingdom.

Open government data advocate and Govpulse.us founder Josh Tauberer weighed in, regarding licensing: “New Open Data Memorandum almost defines open data, misses mark with open licenses.”

OpenTheGovernment.org praised aspects of the open data policy but expressed concern about exemptions, definitions for information systems and references to the mosaic effect.

Steven Aftergood questioned whether making government data open and machine-readable would have an effect on government secrecy, particularly in the intelligence world.

Jim Harper focused on a similar dynamic, praising President Obama’s new open data policy but questioning its relationship to government transparency.

Noel Dickover said the the new open data policy is terrific, but… notes that “creating and maintaining an enterprise data inventory is a massive undertaking.”

Clay Johnson also wondered about related costs  and found the part of the policy focused on grant and contract knowledge especially interesting.

Coming tomorrow: my interview with US CIO Steven VanRoekel and further analysis on why this matters.