Why don’t Google and Facebook use ChillingEffects to mitigate censorship like Twitter?

At the request of the government of India, Google India and Facebook have removed content from Blogger and the world’s largest social network after a court order. As Alex Kirkpatrick reported at Mashable, “Indian prosecutors are suing a host of Internet companies on behalf of a Muslim religious leader who has accused them of hosting content that insults Islam.”

If Google and Facebook used Chilling Effects like Twitter, we’d know what content they had censored in India For context, consider Twitter’s stance on censorship and Internet freedom.

While Google’s Transparency Report for India is laudable and impressively visualized, it doesn’t show what content was removed.

As far as I know, Facebook neither posts data of content takedown requests by region nor the content itself. If you know of such data or reports, please let me know in the comments

Samantha Power: Transparency has gone global

Innovations in democratic governance have been and likely always will be a global phenomenon. Samantha Power, senior director and special assistant for multilateral affairs and human rights at the White house, highlighted the ways in which platforms and initiatives for transparency in other countries are growing on the White House blog yesterday.

While “Sunshine Week” may be an American invention, the momentum for greater transparency and accountability in government is a global phenomenon. In countries around the world, governments and civil society groups are taking new and creative steps to ensure that government delivers for citizens and to strengthen democratic accountability.

From Kenya to Brazil to France to Australia, new laws and platforms are giving citizens new means to ask for, demand or simply create greater government transparency. As Power observed, open government is taking root in India, where the passage of India’s Right to Information Act and new digital platforms have the potential to change the dynamic between citizens and the immense bureaucracy.

Power listed a series of global transparency efforts, often empowered by technology, that serve as other useful examples of “innovations in democratic governance” on every continent

  • El Salvador and Liberia recently passed progressive freedom of information laws, joining more than 80 countries with legislation in place, up from only 13 in 1990;
  • A few weeks ago in Paris, six new countries from Europe, Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East met the high standards of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), empowering citizens with unprecedented information about payments made for the extraction of natural resources;
  • Brazil and South Africa are pioneering innovative tools to promote budget transparency and foster citizen engagement in budget decision-making, along with tens of other countries that are making budget proposals and processes open to public input and scrutiny;
  • Civil society groups are developing mechanisms to enable citizens to keep track of what happens in legislatures and parliaments, including impressive web portals such as votainteligente.cl in Chile and mzalendo.com in Kenya; and
  • Experiments in citizen engagement in Tanzania, Indonesia, and the Philippines, are demonstrating that citizen efforts to monitor the disbursement of government funds for education, health, and other basic services, actually decrease the likelihood of corruption and drive better performance in service delivery.

There’s a long road ahead for open government here in the United States. While improving collaboration and transparency through open government will continue to be difficult nuts to crack, it looks like “Uncle Sam” could stand to learn a thing or two from the efforts and successes of other countries on transparency. Addressing FOIA reform and better mobile access to information are two places to start.

For more on how open government can have a global impact, click on over to this exclusive interview with Samantha Power on national security, transparency and open government.

Curry and Co-Creation: A new US-Indian Partnership on Open Government

What will a new US-India partnership on open government mean to the two countries? Shared resources, shared technologies, and maybe, a culture that trends towards a more open, accountable and participatory government.

No one who has watched the progress of open government in the United States would posit that it’s been an easy path. In India, the challenges are, if anything, even greater, given the immensity of the issues posed to the country’s population by poverty or literacy, a legacy of bureaucratic intransigence or outright corruption. There’s a reality behind Ipaidabribe.com Indian website that speaks volumes about that culture.

That said, there are many reasons to be hopeful about this open government partnership, particularly around the growth of mobile technology as a means of reporting issues.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India walk down the Cross Hall
Image Source: White House Flickr Account

As Nancy Scola points out at techPresident, learning Indian-style open government offers many opportunities to adopt the rapidly evolving platforms for mobile citizen participation from India.

For a sense of how such platforms can grow, look no further than Ushahidi, which was originally created to be an election reporting platform in Kenya.

Now we’ve got a joint statement from Obama and Singh, striking in how it frames the United States as a junior partner in the open government partnership. It noticeably credits the progress India has made in using technology to empower democratic engagement while striking a decidely more aspirational tone when it comes to the Obama adminstration’s work in the open government field: “This will build on India’s impressive achievements in this area in recent years and the commitments [link] that the President made to advance an open government agenda at the United Nations General Assembly.”

That statement is embedded below:

Us-India Open Government Partnership

In his remarks to a joint session of the Indian parliament in New Delhi, President Obama elaborated further on his vision for an Indian-US partnership on open government:

In the United States, my administration has worked to make government more open and transparent and accountable to people. Here in India, you’re harnessing technologies to do the same, as I saw yesterday at an expo in Mumbai. Your landmark Right to Information Act is empowering citizens with the ability to get the services to which they’re entitled — (applause) — and to hold officials accountable. Voters can get information about candidates by text message. And you’re delivering education and health care services to rural communities, as I saw yesterday when I joined an e-panchayat with villagers in Rajasthan.

Now, in a new collaboration on open government, our two countries are going to share our experience, identify what works, and develop the next generation of tools to empower citizens. And in another example of how American and Indian partnership can address global challenges, we’re going to share these innovations with civil society groups and countries around the world. We’re going to show that democracy, more than any other form of government, delivers for the common man —- and woman.

The question, as ever, is what this will practically mean when the glow induced by lofty rhetoric fades and the hard work of open government moves forward. The US-Indian open government dialog might mean more open source collaboration. As Information Week reported, a US-India partnership on open government practically includes $1 million dollars “toward public efforts to share best practices in working toward improved services and democratic accountability.” In the United States, that might not go very far. In the Indian subcontinent, it might be enough to seed funding for a number of mobile platforms to grow.

As Steve Ressler pointed out at Govloop, the mobile aspect of open government mainstream deserves special note. Why? Tom Friedman’s recent New York Times op-ed on the growth of mobile technology in India highlighted the same thing that Scola did: the potential to leapfrog a generation in wireless tech and see the creation of many new businesses:

India today is this unusual combination of a country with millions of people making $2 and $3 a day, but with a growing economy, an increasing amount of cheap connectivity and a rising number of skilled technologists looking to make their fortune by inventing low-cost solutions to every problem you can imagine. In the next decade, I predict, we will see some really disruptive business models coming out of here — to a neighborhood near you. If you thought the rate of change was fast thanks to the garage innovators of Silicon Valley, wait until the garages of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore get fully up to speed. I sure hope we’re ready.

If just a few of those mobile entrepreneurs focus on creating platforms for open government, the civic surplus of hundreds of millions of citizens in India and abroad could be harnessed to co-create government on a scale never witnessed before in history. There are reasons to be be skeptical, naturally, but the opportunity is there.

Linking up WhiteHouse.gov and a new US-India Partnership on Open Government

After an election that saw open government make gains in statehouses across the United States, a new transcontinental partnership offers new opportunities for international collaboration. This afternoon, Samantha Power, special assistant to the President for multilateral affairs and human rights, blogged about a new US-India partnership on open government at WhiteHouse.gov. Her post describes President Obama’s visit to an “Expo on Democracy and Open Government” at St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai and the technologies and organizations he encountered there. According to Power:

“India’s dynamism in the technology sector is well known, as is Gandhi’s legacy in India of civic action and bottom-up change, but today’s expo highlighted something very fresh: Indian civil society’s harnessing of innovation and technology to strengthen India’s democracy — by fighting corruption, holding government officials accountable, and empowering citizens to be the change they seek.”

Power’s post is thorough, descriptive and contextualizes the president’s trip and the growing use of technology to fight corruption and improve accountability in India. It also contains only one link that’s relevant to the organizations that were at said “Expo on Democracy and Open Government.” Ipaidabribe.com was created by Janagraaha to enable “Indians upload videos of their experiences in paying a bribe, in refusing to pay a bribe, and in ‘not having to pay a bribe.'”

The expo itself does not appear to have a website, or at least one that could be discovered after a few minutes of searching online.

The closest thing to an online FAQ is the White House press release on “Indian Innovations in Expo for Democracy and Open Government posted at America.gov, where the participating organizations are listed and described. Neither the WhiteHouse.gov blog post nor the release contains that most elemental of online elements: hyperlinks to the relevant person, place or thing being described. For some readers, used to the limitations of print, that may not be a huge issue. For digital natives or immigrants, the absence of links is a big missed opportunity.

The reason that critique is particularly fresh this afternoon is that one of the archetypal bloggers on the Web, David Winer, made the argument at Scripting News today that WhiteHouse.gov should be a hyperlocal blog. Specifically:

The sitting President can’t run campaign ads as an aspiring President does. But he has the ability to communicate more effectively than anyone else on the planet, if that power is developed. If you send people away to places that involve them. The White House blog should be a daily link list of ideas and perspectives on what’s happening in the world.

For instance, Power could have linked to the press briefing at USAID.gov where she, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, USAID Administrator Raj Shah and Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra talk about yesterday’s agricultural exposition, including her comments on this open government partnership. For example:

one of the things that we’ve been doing is really learning as a government just how rich the innovations are in a lot of emerging democracies, and indeed, in a lot of new democracies and transitional democracies. No one country has a monopoly on innovation in this space. And it’s indeed quite inspiring to see how even with very few resources you can see how creative nongovernmental actors are, or indeed champions within government who are stepping forward and taking advantage of new technologies and so forth to try to enhance partnership or transparency.

So having said that, I still think India has a huge number of comparative advantages. I mean, for starters it has one of the most noble traditions in human history of bottom-up change and bottom-up activism. I mean, the whole history of modern India is rooted in what you might call the original “Yes, we can” with Mr. Gandhi and the movement that he created and the billions of people that he inspired around the world, one of whom, as the President said today, was Martin Luther King, without whom, arguably, we wouldn’t be where we are in my own country.

So this tradition of bottom-up change, of citizen demand the quality of demand that one encounters out in the most rural areas and some of the most impoverished areas here, even among people who haven’t yet acquired literacy in their communities.

For an administration that’s embraced the idea and practice of Gov 2.0 in many notable ways, failing to link in even a Web 1.0 way is surprising. And to be fair, this post was an exception. The White House blog has frequently made good use of links, video and images, as shown by this week’s WhiteHouse.gov weekly wrapup.

For the sake of the broader open government community who may be interested, here’s the list of participants in that Expo from the press release, this time with links to the relevant organizations or news coverage, where such websites are not available:

An Illustrative List of Exhibitors and Roundtable Participants:

· Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathana (Workers and Peasants Strength Union – MKSS) is an organization that fights against government corruption and creates channels for citizens to oversee their local governments. Its leader, Aruna Roy, is best known as a prominent leader of the Right to Information movement in India which led to Parliament’s passage of the Right to Information Act in 2005, which has empowered millions of ordinary Indians.

· Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) is a New Delhi based citizen’s group with a mandate to promote accountability and transparency in government functioning. SNS’s key activities have been to promote the use of the Right to Information Act (RTI) by training citizens, particularly women in slum areas, to use the RTI and on the functioning of the government in areas such as rations, civic works, education and social welfare schemes. More recently, SNS has used the RTI to collect information on the performance of elected representatives and develop report cards.

· Janaagraha is a Bangalore-based NGO that works with citizens and government to change the quality of life in India’s cities and towns, focusing on urban infrastructure and citizen engagement with public institutions, including volunteerism. They also recently launched an exciting initiative called IPAIDABRIBE.com, a web platform for where people who have been asked for or ever had to pay a bribe are encouraged to share their experiences (after only 2 months, it gets 30,000 hits per day).

· The Hunger Project (THP) is a global organization committed to ending hunger. In India, it is committed to ignite and sustain the leadership spirit of women elected to local village councils (panchayats). THP works in 13 states of India, including Maharashtra (where Mumbai is located). By partnering with more than 90 civil society organizations, THP has worked with and supported the leadership of more than 60,000 elected women representatives.

· ASER uses simple tools to empower people nationwide to test their children’s math and reading abilities, and then hold local government accountable to outcomes. With this data, ASER creates the Annual Status of Education Report, which surveys literacy in 570 districts and 700,000 children of India with citizen participation. Each year 25,000 volunteers donate 4 days of their time to gather the data for this report.

· PRS Legislative Research (PRS) works with Members of Parliament (MPs) across party lines to provide research support on legislative and policy issues. Its aim is to complement the base of knowledge and expertise that already exists in government, citizens groups, businesses, and other research institutions. PRS also enables citizens to track the progress of legislative and policy reforms through an on-line portal.

· The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) works on building fair and transparent electoral and political processes in India. ADR has organized Citizen Election Watch for all major elections and discloses candidate background information in a timely manner, including through SMS technology, to the media and the public, helping them to make informed voting choices.

The takeaway for government – or any organization, for that matter – is that blogs and the Web offer new opportunities to share information, create more surface area to expose ideas to citizens and create conversations. If official accounts of new partnerships or events consist of plaintext press releases, lack a website or a post on the most prominent government blog in the world fails to include images, video or relevant links, that opportunity is being neglected.