Open Government Gets Its Week in the Sunshine
This week is Sunshine Week -a gentle name for celebrating the serious business of uncoveringsecretive government practices. Taking its cue from the famous line byJustice Brandeis that "sunlight is ... the best of disinfectants", thisyear's Sunshine Week reflects on a year of continuing efforts to increasegovernment visibility, and a renewed interest by the press, activists,and netizens in investigating its secrets.
Projects like our own Freedom of Information Act Lltigationfor Accountable Government (FLAG) project have been working hard touse statutory tools like FOIA and the Privacy Act to uncover the misuseof technology by the state. JoshRichman's overview of FLAG's work in several of Sunday's papershighlights the work our Washington office does, from uncovering theedges of the warrantless wiretapping program, to probing the connectionsbetween the NSA and Windows Vista's development.
EFF's work monitoring Washington developments in the world of technologyare helped by many other dedicated sites, like OpenCRS, which distributes thefascinating, but previously restricted, Congressional Research Servicereports, and OpenSecrets,which can illustrate Washington connections that are otherwise obscure(want to know why Bill Frist was so keen on the Audio Flag? Inquirewithin.) Researchers at EPIC,coalition groups like OpenThe Government and the politicians behind H.R.1309,which seeks to update the FOIA laws to react faster to inquiries, helpkeep the tools of exposing government sharp and relevant.
Meanwhile, across the Net, hackers and activists have been working toextract, sift and re-present what information federal and stategovernments do provide in a way that ordinary citizens can use.There's now a wealth of sources to choose from, from the amazing work bythe volunteer-run GovTrack.us, tothe new OpenCongress thatbuilds on GovTrack's database and more, to the many new APIs that canstitch all of this data together.
Each of this tools, like each of our organizations, builds on theothers. This week, the Sunlight Foundation is sponsoring a $2000 prize forthe best Web mash-up of Congressional information, as judged by EFFfriends Esther Dyson, Jimmy Wales, and Craig Newmark. We look forward toseeing how far the sunlight breaks this year.