Defending Transparency

Quinn Norton had an excellent post today serving two purposes. First she undertakes a quiet defense of transparency for its own sake. There has been a lot of criticism of so-called naked transparency, the most constructive part of which is making sure there is a role for action as well as mere data. I think there is something to Quinn’s thinking here, that the act of uncovering information is not as passive as many assume. She also points out how different folks are going to receive and use that data differently–where some may be complacent, others have urgent, external pressures to act but need data, even raw, unfiltered data to do so to any effective degree.

My least favorite argument about transparency is that it breeds complacency. This is an argument from a position of tremendous privilege that comes from forgetting why we fight corruption in the first place. It is always the case that corruption costs; right now it is taking a terrible price on a real and growing segment of the population which the corrupt entity is meant to serve. You can only forget the proximate hurt if you’re someone in a position to forget it, someone with money, health insurance, the right travel options. Someone with good schools, and probably, it’s easiest to forget the day to day cost of corruption in America as someone with white skin. Without transparency threatened populations have to take up common myths about why they are in the situation they are in. In short, they blame themselves. Not only are they the victims of corruption, but when it’s not discussed, they’re the victims of believing they’ve brought the situation on themselves. If you want a complacent population, ruining their lives and then getting them to believe they did it themselves is a pretty good way to start.

The second purpose of her post is to remind us that Wikileaks isn’t an acceptable substitute for transparency. The site serves a critical role when the protections for whistle blowers, in the form of shield laws, are uncertain when stories break and evolving largely online crossing the jurisdictions within which these laws currently operate. It doesn’t absolve us of the need to demand information disclosure from our government in the first place.

This is very much like the ministers in the Canadian government, on being criticized for failing to live up to transparency about the ACTA negotiations referring critics to Michael Geist’s web site. An activist gathering and curating leaks is not equivalent to a government acting in a transparent way in the first place, not by a long shot.

Go read the whole post. It isn’t very long and both points are well worth bearing in mind when considering the space of open government, transparency and the role of third party actors like Wikileaks and Professor Geist.

Wikileaks: No Substitute for Transparency, Quinn Said

feeds | grep links > eFuse Won’t Brick Droid X’s, Electrodeposition of Circuit Traces, Study on Copyright Bypassing Contracts, and More

  • Motorola clarifies that eFuse won’t brick a phone
    As Slashdot points out, it goes into a recovery mode from which the original firmware can be installed and the phone completely recovered. I wonder if that also confirms that the Droid X could be hacked as have other eFuse equipped phones, even if doing so is more of a hassle than it should be. At least this reduces the risk of trying considerably, even if it is far from ideal.
  • Electrodeposition for circuit tracing
    Slashdot links to this IBTimes article that requires a little bit of parsing. What the researchers are working on are not the features on a CPU die, the first clue being they mention scales at 100nm which is much larger than what is found on a die. They are talking about the traces that connect processor elements and components on a circuit board. This won’t do much for power and heat issues on CPUs but across an entire electronic device, could have considerable potential.
  • Academics must review contracts’ effects on user rights
    I don’t know what this will do in practice, but what The Register describes seems like a good idea. One of the worst abuses of IP law has been the privatization of law through the anti-circumvention measures in the DMCA and the DEA and the increasing push of EULAs. What is being advanced here sounds like a comprehensive, empirical study of the potential harms caused by this particular situation. It’s unlikely to recommend wholly reversing things but just suggesting restoring the limits on copyright that have been diminished would be worthwhile.
  • VLC tackling Bluray playback
    Some good news reported by the H up until the end, that the VLC folks won’t have a valid license for the DRM systems used on commercial Bluray discs, AACS and BD+. So in and of itself, VLC will be able to play back the Bluray formats themselves but won’t be able to do so for the vast majority of commercial discs.
  • Wine 1.2 released
  • UK-wide tween hackathon with open government data
  • When the pay-what-you-want model benefits companies, charities and individuals Workshop in DC

Cory posting on Boing Boing about Carl Malamud’s workshop this week in DC reminded me I should help let folks know. is Carl’s project to gather academics, activists and politicians in order to convince the powers that be that the text of our nation’s laws should be made available online for free.

We’re setting off some pretty fireworks next week in Washington, D.C. and I wanted to invite people to come watch. Since January, Public.Resource.Org has been organizing Law.Gov workshops all around the country with the help of a stellar cast of co-convenors. Over 500 people have participated in these workshops. The idea of Law.Gov is that government needs to do a much better job of making primary legal materials available. Code is law, law is code, and we think America’s operating system ought to be open source.

Next week is the conclusion of the Law.Gov workshops and we’re going out with a bang. On Tuesday, John Podesta will be hosting us at the Center for American Progress and the whole thing will be streamed live on the net. There is a really stellar cast of participants including a half-dozen senior administration officials and some well-known net names like Vint Cerf and Tim O’Reilly. Then, on Thursday and Friday, Larry Lessig and John Palfry are hosting us at Harvard for a 2-day wrapup.

I volunteer on another of Carl’s projects, the International Amateur Scanning League and have spoken with him repeatedly about He’s a compelling man and intensely motivated. If I could have attended the event, I would just to met him again and to hear just him speak, let alone all of the other notable folks that will be there.

Space at the DC workshop is so limited the event is invite only. It will be streamed live in case you are curious. It will run from 10AM to 4PM tomorrow, the 15th. The list of speakers is amazing and the full schedule is available at the web site. It definitely looks worth making the time to catch what speakers you can on the live stream throughout the day. Hopefully there will be archived video after the event too.

feeds | grep links > Linux Does Scale, Open Government Directive in the UK, Quit Facebook Day Fizzled, and Kids Thumbprinted for Library Checkouts

  • Linux does scale
    In case there was any doubt in anyone’s mind, Glyn Moody shares the latest from a site tracking OS distribution in the high performance computing market. The latest growth, to 91%, thoroughly debunks the notion for two reasons. First is simply the incredible push from an already high fraction of the market to an even higher one. Second is that this hard climb coincided with a renewed pouring of resources into this market by Microsoft which barely registers at 1%.
  • New UK government follows US’s open government direction
    Simon Phipps has news of the memo that came out over the weekend. He also catches out the first problem with the initiative, that the data formats aren’t clearly specified which could lead to a lot of open but still largely useless data.
  • Quit Facebook day flopped
    As The Register explains, not even one percent of Facebook’s users signed up. The group cites the difficulty in overcoming the network effect rather than acceptance of the current state of the privacy controls. I am still on the service for that reason, though for me the number of connections so small but vital.
  • Program uses school kids thumb prints to check out library books
    My youngest son would totally forget a library card but all the same, this program described by Slashdot sits very uneasily with me. Although the school official quoted defending the system said it was entirely voluntary, there are no details in that extended quote of how students may opt out. I have to agree with the criticisms that this sets a dangerous precedent and behavioral norm.

Pew Study on Use of Government Web Sites

Matthew Lasar at Ars Technica teases out some interesting threads from a newly released Pew Internet and American Life Survey. I didn’t see anything that surprised me in his breakdown, finding in general that use of government furnished online services is up across the board. He also points out a broad corollary between those who make more use of such services and a greater level of trust in the government.

One of the not surprising revelations is that there remains a considerable digital divide.

[T]he composite online government site addict was either male or female (52/48 percent), white non-Hispanic (74 percent), aged 30-49 (42 percent), and college educated (52 percent). This person was very likely to have home broadband (91 percent) and/or wireless Internet (78 percent), go online for political news (90 percent) and participate on social networking sites (65 percent).

There is cause for hope. In the two new classes of users revealed among the respondents, there is a better representation across divides for government social media use.

African Americans and Hispanics were by far the most enthusiastic about government interactive and social networking site features. Sixty-three percent of African-Americans, 44 percent of Hispanics, and 32 percent of whites agreed with the statement that government sponsored online digital tools “help people be more informed about what the government is doing.”

I am not sure what, if anything, that says about access to the net in context with access to other media useful for interacting with government. You have to bear in mind that phone calls and letters still carry more weight when dealing with our elected representatives than even email, let alone social networks and messaging.

I have one additional concern, a significant one, in seeing such a positive trend towards both greater use and participation through the net. The more everyone comes to depend on online offerings for public resources, the greater the risk of IP terrorist tactics like three strikes disconnect policies of wreaking more damage.

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.

C-SPAN Full Archives Now Online

Adam Thierer at The Technology Liberation Front shares the news. He goes on to remind us that C-SPAN is the result of a public-private partnership and in this instance undertook and completed the digitization at no further expense to the taxpayer. I would also offer up as an even more relevant proponent of this model, pushing for broader access to knowledge, one deal at a time.

(In the interest of disclosure, I am a volunteer member of the International Amateur Scan League which supports the FedFlix project.)

TCLP 2010-02-21 News

This is news cast 206, an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

In the intro, a reminder that CopyNight is Monday and that Nina Paley is speaking at American on Wednesday, the 24th.

This week’s security alerts are the first denial of service attack and botnets attacking each other.

In this week’s news PA school district caught spying on students via laptop web cams (which may be part of a larger trend) resulting in a letter from the school officials who feel they did no wrong though now the FBI and DA are looking into the incidents, an essay on when transparency is useful which is similar to Lessig’s thoughts on the subject, and the 32nd anniversary of the BBS which is clearly a prescursor to the modern internet.

Following up this week leak of details on last ACTA negotation round and the Jacobsen case is finally settled.


Grab the detailed show notes with time offsets and additional links either as PDF or OPML. You can also grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Following Up for the Week Ending 2/14/2010

TCLP 2010-01-24 News

This is news cast 204, an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

This week’s security alert are an odd interaction between AT&T’s mobile network and Facebook with some clarification and a seventeen year old Windows flaw.

In this week’s news CBS keeps some public domain videos locked away in its vault though the status of the video seems clear but the situation may have been exaggerated, another proposal to re-write HTTP, consequences of Google’s map, reduce patent, and US secretary of state’s speech on censorship and the Chinese response.

Following up this week OGD deadline came for which the first data sets were released and you can track progress to the next deadline and warrant-less wiretapping case is dismissed though EFF says it will appeal.


Grab the detailed show notes with time offsets and additional links either as PDF or OPML. You can also grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.