Open government coders collaborate to liberate legislative data from Congress.
When Congress launched Congress.gov in beta, they didn’t open the data. This fall, a trio of open government developers took it upon themselves to do what custodians of the U.S. Code and laws in the Library of Congress could have done years ago: published data and scrapers for legislation in Congress from THOMAS.gov in the public domain. The data at github.com/unitedstates is published using an “unlicense” and updated nightly. Credit for releasing this data to the public goes to Sunlight Foundation developer Eric Mill, GovTrack.us founder Josh Tauberer and New York Times developer Derek Willis.
“It would be fantastic if the relevant bodies published this data themselves and made these datasets and scrapers unnecessary,” said Mill, in an email interview. “It would increase the information’s accuracy and timeliness, and probably its breadth. It would certainly save us a lot of work! Until that time, I hope that our approach to this data, based on the joint experience of developers who have each worked with it for years, can model to government what developers who aim to serve the public are actually looking for online.”
If the People’s House is going to become a platform for the people, it will need to release its data to the people. If Congressional leaders want THOMAS.gov to be a platform for members of Congress, legislative staff, civic developers and media, the Library of Congress will need to release structured legislative data. THOMAS is also not updated in real-time, which means that there will continue to be a lag between a bill’s introduction and the nation’s ability to read the bill before a vote. Read more…
The Library of Congress launched a new website for a more mobile public to access legislative information
The Library of Congress is now more responsive — at least when it comes to web design. Today, the nation’s repository for its laws launched a new beta website at Congress.gov and announced that it would eventually replace Thomas.gov, the 17-year-old website that represented one of the first significant forays online for Congress. The new website will educate the public looking for information on their mobile devices about the lawmaking process, but it falls short of the full promise of embracing the power of the Internet. (More on that later).
Tapping into a growing trend in government new media, the new Congress.gov features responsive design, adapting to desktop, tablet or smartphone screens. It’s also search-centric, with Boolean search and, in an acknowledgement that most of its visitors show up looking for information, puts a search field front and center in the interface. The site includes member profiles for U.S. Senators and Representatives, with associated legislative work. In a nod to a mainstay of social media and media websites, the new Congress.gov also has a “most viewed bills” list that lets visitors see at a glance what laws or proposals are gathering interest online. (You can download a fact sheet on all the changes as a PDF).
On the one hand, the new Congress.gov is a dramatic update to a site that desperately needed one, particularly in a historic moment where citizens are increasingly connecting to the Internet (and one another) through their mobile devices.
On the other hand, the new Congress.gov beta has yet to realize the potential of Congress publishing bulk open legislative data. There is no application programming interface (API) for open government developers to build upon. In many ways, the new Congress.gov replicates what was already available to the public at sites like Govtrack.us and OpenCongress.org. Read more…
The tech entrepreneur turned legislator on open government, data, regulatory reform and his new foundation.
An interview with Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) on open government, personal data ownership, a digital Bill of Rights, Internet freedom, regulation, and more.
Why propose principles for Internet freedom and a "Digital Bill of Rights" when existing ones will do?
How the Bill of Rights is being upheld in a digital context is, to say the least, an interesting living story to follow.
The passage of a resolution that human rights must also be protected on the Internet in the United Nations Human Rights Council was a historic affirmation of the principle that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.”
This affirmation may play well in the headlines, but it does raise some practical questions. For instance, would this high-level resolution by the U.N. Human Rights Council inhibit member countries if they violate their citizens’ right to freedom of expression online, if such countries are already violating human rights offline? Or would the U.N. Security Council ever vote for sanctions over Internet censorship of political or religious content that might be online speech in one country and deemed blasphemous or even illegal in another?
Violators could include Iran, Russia, Cuba, Syria — but also Pakistan, China, India or the United States or United Kingdom, should a livestreamer’s smartphone be taken away during a march or cell service shut down during a protest, as it was at a BART in San Francisco.
In this context — and related to their concerns about similar bills to the Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act — Rep. Darrell Issa and Sen. Ron Wyden proposed a “Digital Bill of Rights” at the 2012 Personal Democracy Forum in New York City this summer.
In a phone interview last month, I asked Rep. Issa about the ideas behind the proposal principles and freedom of expression online.
Cybersecurity bills must balance protection with online privacy and civil liberties.
The passage of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives has raised grave concerns about is potential effect on digital privacy and civil liberties.
Collective action halted SOPA and PIPA. Now we're in unexplored territory.
Collective action channeled through the Internet halted the progress of SOPA and PIPA this week. The promise of these communication tools has come of age, and they'll be sorely needed to face the challenges of the 21st century.
Attorney Dana Newman discusses a proposed update to the '80s-era Video Privacy Protection Act.
The '80s-era Video Privacy Protection Act had the unintended consequence of inhibiting consensual sharing of video viewing habits. Attorney Dana Newman weighs in on updated legislation.
SOPA and PROTECT IP would harm innovation.
In a time when the American economy needs to catalyze innovation to compete in a global marketplace, members of the United States Congress have advanced legislation that could cripple the Internet industry, damage cybersecurity and harm freedom of expression online.
Potential security and privacy issues balance gov. innovation and cost savings.
Testimony from government officials and a consumer watchdog before Congress highlighted how social media is affecting government, including the changing nature of official records in the digital age.