Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Site Connects to State Governments

The recent launch of will make keeping track of local government easier for researchers at Brooklyn Law School. The project allows users to search local, city and state level government. The initial launch has data from five state legislatures: California, Louisiana, Maryland, Texas and Wisconsin. The site hosts official announcements, news coverage, blog posts, social media alerts and more information about local government. It also makes it easy for citizens to organize around issues being debated by state legislatures and contact their elected officials directly.

The website states in its Background and Mission page that the site “comes from the team that brought you, a leading web tool for government transparency in the federal U.S. Congress.” More data and additional states and cities will be added as they become available. Interestingly, the webpage cites the New York State Senate as complying with open government principles. “Writing in early 2011, the situation with official websites for U.S. state legislatures is nearly exactly as it was with THOMAS in 2004. Unfortunately, almost no U.S. state government makes its data available in ways that are compliant with the Principles of Open Government Data, or even close. Out of the 49 bicameral state legislatures in the U.S. and one unicameral body (that of Nebraska), only one single chamber -- one entity out of 99, namely the New York State Senate -- makes its legislative data available in ways that sufficiently comply with the community-generated Eight Principles of Open Government Data.”

The site came out of a 2007 working group held in Sebastopol, California, which developed the 8 Principles of Open Government Data. These principles are the starting point for evaluating openness in government records.
1. Data Must Be Complete - All public data are made available. Data are electronically stored information or recordings, including but not limited to documents, databases, transcripts, and audio/visual recordings. Public data are data that are not subject to valid privacy, security or privilege limitations, as governed by other statutes.
2. Data Must Be Primary – Data are published as collected at the source, with the finest possible level of granularity, not in aggregate or modified forms.
3. Data Must Be Timely – Data are made available as quickly as necessary to preserve the value of the data.
4. Data Must Be Accessible – Data are available to the widest range of users for the widest range of purposes. 5. Data Must Be Machine processable – Data are reasonably structured to allow automated processing of it.
6. Access Must Be Non-Discriminatory – Data are available to anyone, with no requirement of registration.
7. Data Formats Must Be Non-Proprietary – Data are available in a format over which no entity has exclusive control.
8. Data Must Be License-free – Data are not subject to any copyright, patent, trademark or trade secret regulation. Reasonable privacy, security and privilege restrictions may be allowed as governed by other statutes. Finally, compliance must be reviewable. A contact person must be designated to respond to people trying to use the data. A contact person must be designated to respond to complaints about violations of the principles. An administrative or judicial court must have the jurisdiction to review whether the agency has applied these principles appropriately.

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