Bill to Require Public Information Be Made Available Online

News of the Sunlight Foundation’s latest achievement slipped through the frayed edges of my spotty blogging at the end of last week. Thankfully, the story is continuing to generate interest, like at Slashdot.

In the age of the Internet, government is transparent only when public information is available online. The Public Online Information Act (POIA) is legislation, introduced by Rep. Steve Israel, that embraces a new formula for transparency: public equals online. No longer will antiquated government disclosure practices bury public information in out-of-the-way offices and in outmoded formats.

Sunlight helped craft this bill, which was introduced to the House by Representative Steve Israel last week. Like the president’s Open Government Directive, the bill goes beyond just stipulating public access and easy to utilize formats form data, establishing an advisory committee to help craft further policy for open publication government-wide.

The way the summary goes on to explain the bill, it sounds very comparable to the attitude the US government has traditionally held with regards to a database right. That is, in some countries, intellectual monopoly rights have been extended to cover databases of fact, often but not always produced with public funds. Legislators and courts in the US have almost to a one refused to grant such a right here, following very similar reasoning to what Sunlight puts forward. Specifically that open access to raw material in the form of data expands existing markets while creating new ones.

Evidence suggests this is sound reasoning–read up on Westlaw’s history trying to get such protections and the state of innovation and competition in the wake of their failure to do so. Hopefully supporters of this bill can parley it into further support for open publication of public funded, government data.

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