goes open source, first step in government being afraid of the people

By BXTra | goes open source, first step in government being afraid of the people

Whether or not you voted for President Obama, it can’t be said that he hasn’t made intelligent moves in bringing the US government fully into the information age. In fact, his first executive order that he ever signed created a new information portal on the web,, to allow web users access to information made available by the Freedom of Information act. Accessing that before was difficult because of the bureaucratic hoops people had to jump through to get the data they sought. Coming fully online in 2009, allows web users to access a range of information, such as who has visited the White House, and be able to represent that data using visual charts. This toolset makes it much easier for US citizens to hold their government accountable for its actions.

With the success of behind him, Obama was able to forge ahead and be instrumental in forming the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a consortium of 46 countries that have agreed to create tools to enable governments around the globe to foster three things: transparency in government affairs, higher civic engagement, and a better level of accountability to help end corruption. A tall order that’s going to require more than a press conference with verbal commitments. Putting his money where his mouth is, Obama has ordered the source code behind to become open source, allowing any government, organization, or person to download and use.

This is an important first step for people to regain control of their governments. To take a quote from V for Vendetta, “People should not be afraid of their government, government should be afraid of the people.” Information is a powerful weapon in making this happen, and much preferable to armed militias storming capital buildings because they have had enough tyranny in their lives. With foreign aid usually coming in the form of money or soldiers, Obama has displayed to the world a different policy than any of his predecessors. It seems he understands that for real change to come about in the world as demanded in demonstrations like the Occupy movement, throwing money at problems isn’t a solution.

Available now on GitHub, the portal allows users to create charts like the one pictured above. It shows the number of visitors to the White House, where their destination was, and how many people were in the meeting. The search and display possibilities are literally endless, as you can add and subtract variables to manipulate how the data is output. The obvious problem, and one that has been accused of, is that the data output is only as good as the quality of the data sets used to generate those reports. A lot of the information available is related to geospatial, causing critics to clamor for more relevant data. To improve the quality of the information, citizens can’t sit back and be happy with just a platform, they must continue to demand improvement and offer to help themselves. A key piece is the fact that the platform is built on Drupal, an opensource CMS. This allows anyone to develop special plug-ins and apps that will work with the data sets that are stored inside the software. By developing for the software used with their governments, citizens can keep tabs on what is going on.

The opening of the code for this portal should be seen as just the beginning of an information revolution. The struggle to get access has already been won, the fight now lies in making sure that the information that is fed to the public is accurate, complete, and unbiased.

Remember, remember the 20th of September 2011. The first day of the new information revolution.


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