Public data

We, the people, pay for the data that our government collects. That data can now be easily accessed due to the internet. Whereas researchers who study e-government/e-governance have been concerned with how to make the host of data (especially Big Data) that has been collected meaningful for the public, now we are sitting at our computers and seeing easy access to that very information disappearing at the federal level.

The change of any administration will bring changes to the executive office’s web presence, but the extent to which the current administration is attempting to control the flow of and access to information that does not align with its policy positions is something that I find disturbing. First was the immediate removal of any data regarding climate change from the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, and most recently the removal of animal welfare reports from the US Department of Agriculture’s website. [As an aside, everyone knows you don’t mess with animal lovers.]

These data are needed for individuals and organizations to know what is happening – from animal abuses to crime and environmental data. Some use these data for research, others for reports, and still others in their role as watchdogs. Regardless of why one wants access to the data, they should have unfettered and easy access to it. Some argue that people still have access to the data, but a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request must be made. This is problematic because it:

  • increases the time needed to request information,
  • increases the agency’s time and costs in replying to these requestions,
  • the type of data available is not known.

Happily, due to the opaqueness that has shrouded the federal government, there are leaks.  Moreover, these leaks are no longer the dark parking garage secret meetings that occurred during the Watergate scandal. Today people are leveraging Twitter with Alt-accounts. AltEPA; Alt Dept of State, and my personal favorite Rogue POTUS Staff, to name just a few. Almost every agency has its own. While it has not been verified that there are actual employees behind these accounts, the potential of this platform being used for leaks holds.  Employees want people to know what data they are collecting and why it is important for people. While the administration is trying to maintain control of information, that process is much harder given the ease through which it can be shared with others. Moreover, as people share what is happening, it keeps people engaged with what is happening, and some of those who are engaged will become active in the call for the return of easy access to our data.

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