For the past few years, my primary advocacy focus has been on increasing government efficiency and transparency through technology. One of the areas of focus for me and other government-reform-through-technology advocates has been "open data", or increased access to government information, in machine readable and structured formats where possible. Other prominent open data advocates include Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist and the Craigslist Foundation, and Tim O'Reilly, a tech publisher who has popularized the notion of "government as a platform" for economic growth and innovation.
Over the past several months, I've been supporting a California initiative that would incorporate a modest "open data standard" into the California Public Records Act.
The bill is backed by the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the SF Tech Dems (a group I co-founded last year), the California Faculty Association, California Teachers Association, Common Cause, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and many other prominent good government and employee groups across California and the United States. The most important provision of the bill, the California Senate 2011-2012 session's SB 1002, by Sen. Leland Yee, would ensure that when available, records would be produced in electronic form searchable by free software. The changes the bill proposes to California law are key to ending practices of posting records in unsearchable formats that are not indexed by search engines and are of low value for resuse and research.
Regretfully, the lobbing group League of California Cities has made gutting or killing this modest and needed reform one of its top priorities. The League, in a muddled screed nearly as long as the simple open data bill, makes false assertions about its language and intent, and attacks the aims of open data advocates: "It appears that the bill sponsors are more focused on imposing a new mandate requiring public agencies to create new data files and formats on request, to facilitate the creation of commercial, information-based products and services at public expense." In fact, open government advocates are very forward about our goals, which include reuse of existing government data as an economic engine. It is befuddling and troubling that the California League of Cities would object to beneficial reuse of public records and adjacent economic growth. (Ironically, the League's effort to kill this important economic growth and government transparency bill is funded by your money and mine in the form of its public funding for Capitol lobbying on behalf of city executives.)
SB 1002 is the product of open and public discussion by open government advocates around the state, nation and world. The League of California Cities has participated only through misleading lobbying and efforts to mute open data advocates.
Adriel Hampton is an entrepreneur, private investigator and journalist. He is a founding employee of NationBuilder, founder of Gov 2.0 Radio, advisory board member of LegiNation Inc., and co-founder of the SF Tech Dems. Before joining NationBuilder, he worked for the San Francisco City Attorney's Office for six years, where he developed the office's social media practice, and as an editor and writer at the San Francisco Examiner, ANG Newspapers and the Lodi News-Sentinel.
I came to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1999 as a junior transfer into Cal Berkeley's Rhetoric program. On Sunday, I'll be driving a U-Haul down I-5 to a new home in Arcadia after months of commuting from Dublin to a downtown LA office. After a dozen years doing journalism and investigations in San Francisco and the East Bay, it's what I've been up to this past year that's leaving the biggest mark on the city I now leave behind.
NationBuilder, a company I joined last May as its third employee, has more customers in San Francisco than any city besides Los Angeles, and I believe the greater Bay Area is the No. 1 market once you count up my friends in Oakland and Berkeley using our community organizing software. So while I'll miss San Francisco and the Bay Area, I'll still be here in a very meaningful way.
Source: SF Dept of Elections, June 5, 2012 unofficial election results
Back in November, I proposed that California adopt an open data standard for official documents. Scores of you signed on to support such legislation, and Sen. Leland Yee, D-SF, shortly thereafter proposed a step in the right direction - SB 1002, which makes machine readability a criteria for open records in the California. On Thursday, the bill passed out of the Senate, 34-0.
This bill nearly went down and it is to the credit of many of you in Adriel Nation that it didn't. Just last week it was basically dead in the Appropriations Committee, before a flurry of calls, emails and faxes to two key senators on the committee helped resurrect the bill.
Here is Leland's statement on the passage of the legislation out of the Senate.
And here is an article on the bill from California Forward.
I want to thank all of you for your efforts promoting this important principle - that records posted online should be in the most accessible possible formats. There is a long way to go, but this is a great step in the right direction for efficient, transparent and technologically adaptive government. Special thanks to Javier Muniz of Granicus, whose support for open government and thoughts on how to advance it helped spur my efforts on this issue, and to David Cruise, whose tireless advocacy helped to get SB 1002 this far.
Get started now with a free NationBuilder trial account.
When I ran for office in 2009, one of the most significant hurdles I faced was getting voter data for my campaign. It took forever, and when I did get it, the data was in a database format that might as well have been in ancient Greek.
This morning, as part of the nationwide SOPA/PIPA protests, I called my Congressman Jerry McNerney, a Democrat for whom Pro Publica had no public statements on record regarding the bills. One of his constituent services representatives confirmed my address and took my statement of opposition - SOPA would hurt Internet businesses and the free exchange of ideas. I asked for a public statement against SOPA from the Congressman. Four hours later I got this letter by email, which has also been reported in the local press:
"Thank you for contacting me to share your opposition to H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA),and other similar proposals. I appreciate learning your views, and I value your input.
"I oppose H.R. 3261 as the bill stands as well as similar legislation introduced in the Senate. The intent of the bill is to help law enforcement agencies pursue websites that violate intellectual property laws and sell counterfeit goods, which is a serious and costly problem. However, H.R. 3261 is too broadly written, and I am deeply concerned that the bill infringes on individuals' civil liberties and innovation by small companies. Freedom of speech and the open exchange of information on the internet are directly impeded by this legislation.
"Our economic power has always been based on innovation and the free flow of ideas. The thinkers and creators in our country have always showed remarkable ingenuity, and stopping the stream of information on the internet would put the United States at an international disadvantage. We must remain committed to American advancement that comes from the freedoms we hold most dear. I will oppose legislation that undermines our nation's freedoms and finest traditions."
Call, meet, get to know your reps. It matters.
Here's what Liberal Art has to say about NationBuilder vs. Salsa+Drupal: "NationBuilder's tool suite is competitive with competing platforms, but its tools are fully integrated into the CMS. This means less setup and easier management of your messaging and action campaigns. What's more, social sharing functions are baked into every page, tool, and action taken by your supporters."
NationBuilder is a nonpartisan community organizing system with wide adoption in the U.S., UK and Canada.Â It brings together social media, customizable websites with content and community action pages, and email and text blasting.
NationBuilder is an alternative for Blue State Digital for campaigns and non-profits that want to run their own actions and emails without need for costly integrations and consulting contracts.
"The Cost of Freedom" - Another Powerful Democracy Project Brought to You by Folks from the Internet
What do folks do at civic hackathons? Most of us are trying to make democracy better by giving of the skills we have. Faye Anderson just brought me this great example from a Random Hacks of Kindness event earlier this month (be sure to check out the call to action and then get in touch with Faye if you can help):
"The Cost of Freedom Project is a citizen-led initiative that is developing a location-based web app to provide voters with information on how to apply for a voter ID. A prototype for the Cost of Freedom App was developed at the Random Hacks of Kindness hackathon at Drexel University.
In 2008, only two states required voters to show a government-issued photo ID in order to vote. Since then, six states have changed their voting laws to require a photo ID. Civil rights groups are challenging photo ID laws at the Justice Department and in the courts. But with the election less than 11 months away, voters need help right now.
There are millions of voters without an official photo ID who cannot wait until October to tune into the election. They must act now to ensure they have the documents they have to produce to establish their identity.
The Cost of Freedom Project needs help gathering data for the eight states that require an official photo ID – Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. (By February, Michigan and Pennsylvania may be added to the list.)
The data includes where a voter in, say, Memphis who was born in Memphis, would go to obtain a copy of his or her birth certificate and how to get there using public transportation.
We are a mobile society so a voter now living in Memphis may have been born in New Jersey, where it could take as long as ten weeks to get a certified copy of a birth certificate. So we will need data on how to obtain a birth certificate for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
We need web designers. We need bloggers to help spread the message: No photo, no vote. In short, we need every citizen to get informed about photo ID requirements and inform their friends, family and neighbors.
The data gathered by the Cost of Freedom Project will help tell the underreported story of the high cost of a free voter ID."