In a guest post on TechPresident, Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler, aYochai Benkler, Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard, faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and author of The Wealth of Networks and The Penguin and the Leviathan.
“We need to be thinking not about what compromises to make around SOPA/PIPA and the OPEN Act, but about what the architecture of freedom in the networked environment requires of copyright law more generally,” writes Benkler. He offers readers recommendations for a way forward for free expression and copyright in the 21st century, not simply more opposition to the proposals contained in Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), which, for the moment, remain indefinitely delayed in Washington.
I found the most powerful lesson from Benkler to be his final one, however, where he highlights the “moral authority of the networked citizenry vs. the power of money.”
“The power we saw in the hands of networked people is a fundamentally more legitimate source of power than corporate money. Democracies are by and for the people. We believe in one-person, one-vote; and while corporate organizations are enormously useful, and can make us more effective in the pursuit of our life plans and dreams, at root it is us, human beings, flesh and blood, who are the foundational constituents of a democracy. That is why Wikipedia played such a critical role: unlike all the other major sites that shut down. Wikipedia is not a company; Wikipedia, for this purpose, functioned as a mini-democracy within a democracy, where people who continuously volunteer for the public good came together to do something new for the public. *Wikipedia represents a moral force that no commercial site can ever hope to replicate.* Some sites, like Reddit, are sufficiently based on users that they can structure their future protest actions as democratic debates, letting users decide. Extending the debate and collective decision-making feature of the Wikipedia decision to other platforms should play an important role in the future, and will also help to solidify the alliance between networked citizenry and the companies that provide the infrastructure of networked discourse. If the technology industry wants to continue its battle with Hollywood as a battle among paid lobbyists, it may do so, likely at its own peril. But if the industry wants to be able to speak with the moral authority of the networked public sphere, it will have to listen to what the networked public is saying and understand the political alliance as a coalition.
“*The greatest hope from the events of the past two weeks is that we are beginning to see a re-emergence of the possibility of a truly engaged citizenry after decades of the rise of lobbying and money.* I suspect that it is too soon to go after legislative changes that target that ambitious goal directly, as Micah discussed yesterday (“After SOPA/PIPA Victory, Tech is Thinking of Tackling Political Reform.”) But if we can use the enthusiasm and focus to make significant inroads in this narrow and specifically actionable item, perhaps we will also begin to hone a more general a new model of democratic participation for a new generation. A model of citizen participation that is as far from the couch potato’s passivity as the Internet is from broadcast.”
Benkler’s peroration eloquently captures the strong sense I felt last Friday that something had changed last week, when I wrote about the Web changing Washington. I wrote then and believe now that what we saw in the beginning of this young year will reinvigorate the notion that participating in the civic process matters.
As I said then, we’re in unexplored territory. We may have just seen the dawn of new era of networked activism and participatory democracy, borne upon the tidal wave of hundreds of millions of citizens connected by mobile technology, social media platform and open data. If so, that era will also include pervasive electronic surveillance, whether you’re online and offline, with commensurate threats to privacy, security, human rights and civil liberties, and the use of these technologies by autocratic government to suppress dissent or track down dissidents. These issues go straight to the heartwood of Rebecca Mackinnon’s compelling, important new book, “Consent of the Networked: The Global Struggle For Internet Freedom.” Finding a way for forward will not be easy but it’s clearly necessary.
In that context of those concerns it’s hard to feel aglow with optimism about what comes next. What we’ve seen so far in 2012, however, has left me feeling more optimistic about what’s happening in the intersection of citizens, open government and the Internet than I’ve had in some time. All that said, I’m heartened to read that Benkler wrote about “hope.” Traditionally, hope has been one of the most powerful forces for positive social change throughout our shared history.
That optimism, however, must be tempered with realism. Jim Harper, Director of Information Policy Studies and webmaster at Washington Watch, shared two other important commentaries on the week in his post considering whether on the networked activism over SOPA and PIPA is a harbinger of things to come or an aberration:
They’re both right—over different time-horizons. The information environment and economics of political organization today are still quite stacked against public participation in our unwieldy federal government. But in time this will change. Congress and Washington, D.C.’s advocacy and lobbying groups now have some idea what the future will feel like.
So far, it feels pretty darn interesting. The future, as cyberpunk noir writer William Gibson has famously said, is already here: it’s just not evenly distributed yet.
I’m still thinking through all of the things I learned at the Sunlight Foundation’s annual unconference last weekend. My top level takeaway was the large number of international campers solidified that transparency has gone global. At an operational level, I thought that the Sunlight Foundation used the combination of Internet and mobile technology to organize better than any of the previous unconferences I’ve attended. They raised the bar for interactivity with a new mobile app, integrated displays and livestreaming.
Putting the tools together to bring off a big camp is a lot harder than listing them, but by sharing the tools for transparency that the organizers used, Scott Stadum did the open government community a mitzvah. While that mobile app required development time and expertise, the vast majority of these tools are free on the Web.
Here’s a quick rundown of the tools that were used during Transparency Camp 2011:
From where I sit, a well designed and maintained blog continues to be extremely useful as the hub for organizing, particularly in a Web application ecosystem that supports the kind of diversity in platforms listed above. Sunlight does a great job with that, and in using it as a platform to track news that matter, like open government data.
Thanks again to the organizers, sponsors, hosts and, most of all, the attendees of Transparency Camp, who taught me a lot about open government over the course of two days.
On any given week, there’s usually someone delivering a presentation that explores the intersection of citizens, technology and government. Here are just a few of the better ones I’ve come across in 2011 so far. If you’ve found other gems out there on the Internet, please share the links in the comments. Below, you’ll find ideas from citizens of three different countries, along with a report on government from the Pew Internet Society that was delivered as a presentation.
Vincent Van Quickenborn
“My conclusion today:‘Open Data is becoming a reality. The public sector must lead by example. It must rethink administrative processes that appear to be dinosaurs in the era of social media and cloud computing.’” –Vincent Van Quickenborn, Belgian Minister for “Ondernemen en Vereenvoudigen.” (Loosely translated, that’s “enterprise and simplification.”)
Citizen engagement platforms grew in 2010. There will be more such platforms coming from top, through open government, and from the bottom, as civic developers create, host and use their own communities. The opportunity for citizens to participate in the co-creation of the most high profile open government platforms for citizen consultation, ExpertNet, will close on January 23rd, when the White House’s Request for Information will end.
So what’s interesting here? “It is the idea that the public will be (directly) shaping policy that is intriguing, and is a critical component to bridging the gap, both the economic gap as well as the digital gap, as the average citizen is the real stakeholder, and before now has had no forum for influencing change so directly,” said Megan Eskey, OpenGov Lead at the NASA Ames Research Center.
The White House is looking to build a web community to get its questions answered, sort of their own Quora, and they’re trying to do it the right way. They’re asking those who would participate to help shape how the community itself works. They’re not trying to create a network from scratch, but instead trying to connect to networks that already exist. And they’re not just making a community for the hell of it — they’re trying to build one with purpose.
But they’ve asked for our help, from those of us who build, and know, and love web communities. We’re being asked to share our expertise in what does, and doesn’t work on successful web communities. Our deadline for participating is on Monday. Giving them insights into our hard-earned lessons will only take 15 minutes of your time this weekend, and will keep us from having to wonder, “Why wasn’t I consulted?“
Many lively discussion threads have emerged, including suggestion for moderation, voting, ownership of intellectual property and more, including:
“It’s not so much the idea of a wiki or whatever platform ExpertNet rolls out, but rather the format they are looking at of matching experts with those seeking to solve immense problems,” said Eskey. “Whether it is a wiki or a social site or some other crowdsourcing tool like delib’s dialogue app, that feedback loop is critical, especially if the digital divide is to be bridged via new bills that are introduced into Congress, although at this time the project is envisioned for executive agencies and departments only,” she said. Eskey noted that any ideas for using ExpertNet within the legislative branch should be directed to elected representative(s) in Congress.
For those interested in the future of open government and citizen consultation, there’s no time like the present to weigh in. Tim Bonnemann of Intellitics has also posed six questions for ExpertNet for further consideration.
IBM’s Business of Government Center has released a new report on social media (PDF) records management, focusing on some best practices for harried federal employees faced with rapidly expanding troves of tweets, Facebook status updates, blog posts or wikis. For those keeping track, 22 of 24 agencies now, at the minimum, have a Facebook presence.
If you’re interested in the evolution of social media in government, a lot of what’s in here won’t be new to you. If not, the report provides a useful framework for why using social media presents headaches for federal records keeping and quite a few best practices and suggestions for mitigating them. As the preamble to the report allows, “this report does not solve the many challenges it identifies. However, it serves as a useful guide for federal managers attempting to use social media to engage citizens while meeting the statutory requirement to preserve historical records for future generations.”
If you’re still wondering what social media is at this point in 2010, Dr. Patricia Franks, the author of the report and a professor at San Jose State University in California, considers exactly that, with judicious references to experts. She offers a number of definitions and then provides her own summary: “‘social media’ encompasses a number of emerging technologies that facilitate interaction between individuals and groups both inside and outside an organization. The best return on an agency’s investment of resources in social media is realized when the goal of the social media initiative is clearly identified and clearly related to the agency’s core mission.”
And that last point is particularly interesting, and frames where much of the federal government stands at the end of 2010 well. The observation was preceded by an apt observation sourced by “insiders”: that the Obama administration’s Open Government Directive created a “Wild West” atmosphere around social media. In that content “eager individuals, embracing the freedom to innovate, moved quickly to use social media both within their departments and agencies and with the outside world. Early government enthusiasts of social media endeavored to establish a presence without first identifying a goal. Only recently have those responsible for social media initiatives begun to ask what needs to be accomplished before selecting the appropriate tool for the task.”
Some new media directors and communication staff have been aligning tools with mission for some time. Others have simply set up the accounts and then pushed updates to them. From what this correspondent hears around Washington, that “Wild West” is getting civilized, with this report representing the latest push to absorb social media into the business of government, replete with established policies, procedures and, yes, reporting standards.
“It’s not OK just to check a box and set up a Facebook page anymore,” said Cammie Croft, director of new media a the Department of Energy, last week at a forum on citizen engagement. “You have to have an idea for what you want to accomplish.” That reflects what Booz Allen social media strategist Steve Radick wrote last month, when he observed that the “new media director position is a means to an end.”
Speaking at the same event, Jack Holt, senior strategist for emerging media at the Department of Defense, reflected on how federal social media use has evolved from “no way, no how” to “accepted procedure” to “standard operating procedure.”
“These are not new tools we need to learn how to use,” he said. “It’s a new environment in which we need to live.”
As the year comes to an end, in other words, the federal government is learning how to live in the same new media world its citizens are grappling with comprehending, where “We the People” has newfound resonance. Yet again, we’re all in it together.
Aeschylus wrote nearly 2,500 years ago that in war, “truth is the first casualty.” His words are no doubt known to another wise man, whose strategic “maneuvers within a changing information environment” would not be an utterly foreign concept to the Greeks in the Peloponnesian War. Aeschylus and Thucydides would no doubt wonder at the capacity of the Information Age to spread truth and disinformation alike. In November 2010, it’s clear that legitimate concerns about national security must be balanced with the spirit of open government expressed by the Obama administration.
As this post went live, the Wikileaks website is undergoing a massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, though the organization’s Twitter account is far from silenced. A tweet earlier on Sunday morning noted that “El Pais, Le Monde, Speigel, Guardian & NYT will publish many US embassy cables tonight, even if WikiLeaks goes down.”
In fact, Wikileaks’ newest leak, through the early release of Der Spiegel, had long since leaked onto Twitter by midday. Adrien Chen’s assessment at Gawker? “At least from the German point of view there are no earth-shattering revelations, just a lot of candid talk about world leaders.”
The New York Times offered a similar assessment in its own report on Wikileaks, Cables Shine Light Into Secret Diplomatic Channels: “an unprecedented look at backroom bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats.”
The Lede is liveblogged reaction to Wikileaks at NYTimes.com, including the statement to Fareed Zakaria by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, that “the leak would put the lives of some people at risk.”
The Lede added some context for that statement:
Despite that dire warning, Robert Gates, the defense secretary, told Congress in October that a Pentagon review “to date has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by the disclosure,” of the war logs by WikiLeaks.
The Guardian put today’s release into context, reporting that the embassy cable leaks sparks a global diplomatic crisis. Among other disclosures, the Guardian reported that the cables showed “Arab leaders are privately urging an air strike on Iran and that US officials have been instructed to spy on the UN’s leadership … a major shift in relations between China and North Korea, Pakistan’s growing instability and details of clandestine US efforts to combat al-Qaida in Yemen.” The Guardian’s new interactive of diplomatic cables is one of the best places online to browse the documents.
Is the “radical transparency” that Wikileaks both advocates for – and effectively forces – by posting classified government information “open government?” The war logs from Afghanistan are likely the biggest military intelligence leak ever. At this point in 2010, it’s clear that Wikileaks represents a watershed in the difficult challenge to information control that the Internet represents for every government.
On the other hand, Wikileaks is making the diplomatic and military record of the U.S. government more open to its citizens and world, albeit using a methodology on its own site that does not appear to allow for the redaction of information that could be damaging to the national security interests of the United States or its allies. “For me Wikileaks is open govt,” tweeted Dominic Campbell. “True [open government] is not determined and controlled by govts, but redistributes power to the people to decide.”
The Times believes that the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match… The Times has taken care to exclude, in its articles and in supplementary material, in print and online, information that would endanger confidential informants or compromise national security. The Times’s redactions were shared with other news organizations and communicated to WikiLeaks, in the hope that they would similarly edit the documents they planned to post online.
…the more important reason to publish these articles is that the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money. They shed light on the motivations — and, in some cases, duplicity — of allies on the receiving end of American courtship and foreign aid. They illuminate the diplomacy surrounding two current wars and several countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where American military involvement is growing. As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name.
It seems that the Times and Guardian decided to make redactions from the diplomatic cables before publication. It’s not clear how that will compare to what will be posted on Wikileaks.org alongside the War Logs and Afghan Diaries.
Open government, radical transparency and the Internet
More transparency from the military, Congress and the White House regarding the progress of wars is important, desirable and perhaps inevitable. Accountability to civilian leadership and the electorate is a bedrock principle in a representative democracy, not least because of the vast amounts of spending that has been outlaid since 9/11 in the shadow government that Dana Priest reported out in Top Secret America in the Washington Post.
Wikileaks and the Internet together add the concept of asymmetric journalism to the modern media lexicon. File asymmetric journalism next to the more traditional accountability journalism that Priest practices or the database journalism of the new media crew online at the Sunlight Foundation and similar organizations are pioneering.
As Tim O’Reilly tweeted, “wikileaks *challenges* [open government government 2.0] philosophy. Challenges are good if we rise to them.” No question about the former point. Governments that invest in the capacity to maneuver in new media environment might well fare better in the information warfare the 21st century battlefield includes.
Open government is a mindset, but goes beyond new media literacy or harnessing new technologies. The fundamental elements of open government, as least as proposed by the architects of that policy in Washington now, do not include releasing diplomatic cables regarding espionage or private assessments of of world leaders. Those priorities or guidelines will not always be followed by the governed, as Wikileaks amply demonstrates.
There’s also a critical reality: in a time of war, some information can and will have to remain classified for years if those fighting them are to have any realistic chances of winning. Asymmetries of information between combatants are, after all, essential to winning maneuvers on the battlefields of the 21st century. Governments appear to be playing catchup given the changed media environment, supercharged by the power of the Internet, broadband and smartphones. This year, we’ve seen a tipping point in the relationship of government, media and techology.
Comparing the Wikileaks War Logs to the Pentagon Papers is inevitable — and not exactly valid, as ProPublica reported. It would be difficult for the military to win battles, much less wars, without control over situational awareness, operational information or effective counterintelligence.
Given the importance of the ENIGMA machine or intercepts of Japanese intel in WWII, or damage caused by subsequent counterintelligence leaks from the FBI and elsewhere, working to limit intelligence leaks that damage ongoing ops will continue to be vitally important to the military for as long as we have one. Rethinking the definitions for secrecy by default will also require hard work. As the disclosures from the most recent release continue to reverberate around the globe, the only certainty is that thousands of State Department and Defense Department workers are going to have an extra headache this winter.
The new app integrates access to a useful government dataset for citizens: a product recall database. The same access is available through a Product Recall app online, for Android or on mobile devices at Recalls.gov. That also means that citizens don’t have to have a smartphone to access public data, a issue for accessibility and the digital divide. For those inclined, the app also provides mobile search for local, state and federal websites, including predictive search.
The new USA.gov app is beautifully designed, lightweight and didn’t crash on me after ten minutes of searching and browsing. The integration of a “tap to call” feature with the iPhone on the home screen also preserves a handy “Gov 1.0” feature as well: 1 800 FED INFO.
As the app description in iTunes notes, the app makes public data like birth, marriage and death records freely available to all citizens (provided that they have an iOS device with an Internet connection). Search.USA.gov provides similar access on both mobile and desktop users, for folks who prefer a Web browser to an app. Information about schools, passport and visas, tax codes, government jobs and Social Security benefits is also available.
The addition of the USA.gov to iTunes ends a quiet but important lag in getting a free government app onto the world’s largest mobile application platform. When Apps.USA.gov launched, Apple apps were conspicuously absent. Months later, the legal difficulties between the feds and Cupertino appear to resolved.
As a result, parents can search the FDA database to see which toys have been recalled. While it’s true that analysts can (and no doubt will) point to the USA.gov app as the latest example of “shiny app syndrome,” making a better interface for open data is a win for everyone.
Last month, I interviewed Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior about technology, gov 2.0 and open government. In the excerpt below, we talked about on the use of telepresence in government – over telepresence – and the opportunities around teleworking.
We also talked about the role of technology in natural disasters. An excerpt from that conversation is embedded below:
CrisisCommons and floods in Pakistan
What Warrior and I didn’t discuss then, with respect to the floods in Pakistan, is the CrisisCommons Marathon Weekend that begins today. It’s an international effort that spans the globe, from Canada to London to Bangkok to Sydney, leveraging the distributed efforts of concerned citizens and technology to provide aid in the massive disaster. For more information – and to help – consult the links below:
We’ll be working in a number of countries and timezones with staggered over three days. CrisisCamps in Canada and CrisisCamp Virtual will start on the evening of Friday, September 3, 2010. This is the same start time for CrisisCamp Sydney where the time will be Saturday, September 4, 2010 : 08:00 AEST. As we collaborate work across North America, we will run overnight and link to the CrisisCamp London team. The Canadian and Uk teams finish on Saturday, September 4, 2010 while the Sydney team will continue throughout Sunday, September 5, 2010.
In the interview below, Bev Godwin and Brandon Kessler explain what Challenge.gov is and what it might do. Kessler is the founder of ChallengePost, the platform that Challenge.gov is built upon.
I interviewed Godwin and Kessler in August, when senior government officials and private sector enjoyed a preview of Challenge.gov at the Newseum at the second annual Fedscoop forum on reducing the cost of government. The following excerpts from their panels offer more insight into how challenges work, how they’ve been used in the private sector and what results citizens might anticipate as this approach to open government moves forward.
What is a Challenge?
Kessler defines a challenge.
The Value of Challenges to the Government
Bev Godwin discusses the importance and value of challenges to the government.
Results from Challenges
Brandon Kessler discusses the results he has seen from challenges.
Different Classifications of Challenges
Michael Donovan, Chief Technologist, Strategic Capabilities, HP, explains how he would classify different types of challenges.
Dean Halstead, collaboration architect at Microsoft, discusses how he would classify different types of challenges.
ROI from Challenges at NASA
Dr. Jeffrey Davis, director of space life sciences at NASA, talks about the return on investment shown by some of the challenges he has run or been involved with.
What Makes a Good Challenge?
Dr. Jeffrey Davis explores the characteristics of a good challenge.
Challenges in the Private Sector
Dean Halstead explains how Microsoft leverages challenges.
Michael Donovan explains how HP leverages challenges.
Will Crowdsourcing and Challenges Enable More Open Government?
Challenge.gov “is the next form of citizen engagement, beyond participation to co-creation,” said Godwin at the Newseum. Many questions remain about how the effort will be received. Will citizens show up? Will challenges see participation from industry leaders and the innovators in the private sector? Will intellectual property rights be clearly and fairly addressed up front and afterwards, in a sustainable way? Will Congress pass legislation enshrining this approach to open government?
The answers to most of those questions, in other words, will often not be driven by legal or technological challenges. Instead, the results will have to be used to drive acquisition, civic empowerment or even more data-driven policy. Opening the doors of government to innovation will not be easy. Whether these efforts can spur the evolution of a more efficient, innovative government in the 21st Century may be the most difficult challenge to win of all.