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.