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NY Bill Would Require Online State Records 76

Posted by kdawson
from the fresh-air-and-sunlight dept.
NewYorkCountryLawyer writes "Micah Kellner, the New York State assemblyman who last year submitted a bill to provide a tax credit to open source developers, has now proposed the 'Open New York Act,' a law that would make it mandatory for state agencies to put almost all of their public records on the Internet. According to Kellner's office, the law would 'revolutionize the relationship between New Yorkers and their state government, requiring all state agencies to make their records available through a central website — where the data can be used by activists, entrepreneurs, and others to create a host of applications useful in everyday life.' The Open Government Foundation, Citizens Union, and New York Public Interest Research Group all support the bill."
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NY Bill Would Require Online State Records

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  • Boggle the mind. I guess it didn't occur to the people involved that just as many bad things can be done with this data as good things? I can see the headlines now. Don't like African Americans? I'll load up the "Negro avoider" app on my computer. And never have my commute disrupted again by the sight of people I don't like. Or what about the "victim finder" app for child molesters? Just take the data on family occupancies and compare to local crime statistics and police coverage and voila! Thanks Victim Fi

    • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Saturday April 17, 2010 @07:13PM (#31884476)

      You can already get much of that data pretty easily from the federal government [census.gov], e.g. your hypothetical racial map for Chicago [wikimedia.org].

      I do think there are probably bad things one can do with demographic data as opposed to good ones, but I'm not sure you can do much by simply hiding the data. De-facto racial segregation in housing exists long after the eradication of de-jure segregation, and even if you hid the data, people who live in a city are going to notice that neighborhoods have different demographics, and if they were going to avoid neighborhoods with races they don't like, they can (and do) already do it without the app.

    • All of that data had been available to large corporations [lexisnexis.com] who track that sort of thing.

      All of that data is already publicly available - you just have to drive down to the individual offices.

      Will it cause problems? I don't know.

      Will it make government more transparent? I think so.

      There could also be applications that track less spending on certain neighborhoods. Maybe track gross injustices. Maybe even corruption. "Hey look, why is all that state money going in to that neighborhood way above and beyond tha

      • by Score Whore (32328) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @07:42PM (#31884586)

        All of that data is already publicly available - you just have to drive down to the individual offices.

        Which is a fine situation to be in. The vast majority of people won't have any use for this data being online. So why spend millions of dollars to benefit a very small percentage of the population. I would hope that they could find something better to do with the tax dollars they collect. Hell, if they've got extra cash burning a hole in their pocket, perhaps they could just take less from us next year?

        • The vast majority of people won't have any use for this data being online.

          Not so. Just because most people don't have a direct need for the material, and wouldn't know what to do with it if they had it, doesn't mean that society doesn't need it. Society does need it. It's just like securities prospectuses; most small investors don't read them, but the fact that the prospectuses are out there and publicly accessible is extremely important to every investor: (1) it helps to keep people honest, and (2) the pros who can read and understand them spread the information to the rest of us.

          • Not so. ... Society does need it.

            Who said we don't need the information? My point is that we don't need to spend the money to put it online.

            • by zippthorne (748122) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @09:05PM (#31884830) Journal

              Indeed. For instance, the plans for the bypass scheduled to go through your property (for which, demolition begins tomorrow) are stored in a disused lavatory in the basement of the library, behind a sign with the text, "beware of the leopard." If that's not public enough for anybody, I don't know what is.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          So why spend millions of dollars to benefit a very small percentage of the population.

          Almost everything the government does benefits a very small percentage of the population, at any one time. But you add all those small percentages up, and you get nearly everybody.

        • How about they just publish a list for each department, stating the number of tax dollars they collect (spend). Then a brief summary of the public benefit provided by those dollars and the address where you can go to see all the gory public record details.

          I agree the privacy issues of public records is something to be considered before dumping it on the Internet, but there should be no reason for not publishing high-level meta data about public spending... except the spenders might not want thousands of
        • by Ihmhi (1206036)

          That's a dangerous line of thought... "You don't need to see this."

          I think aside from direct personal information, demographic data like this is absolutely fine. It's just like any number of other concepts in this world - there are many ways in which it can be used in a harmful manner, but there are also just as many ways that it can be used in a beneficial manner. Just like free speech IMO.

        • by guruevi (827432)

          Technically, if you throw all of that data online, there is no need to keep the brick-and-mortar buildings open decreasing cost substantially to the already bankrupt state.

      • All of that data had been available to large corporations who track that sort of thing.
        All of that data is already publicly available - you just have to drive down to the individual offices.

        Will it cause problems? I don't know.

        Will it make government more transparent? I think so.

        Well said. This is all publicly available stuff that would be available under the Freedom of Information Law. It just means that getting the stuff will be less dependent on (a) having money to spend and (b) having money for lawyers. I.e., it makes the process more democratic.

      • I think it probably is a good idea, except certain records will have to be exempt in the interests of privacy. But as has been pointed out, large corporations already have access to that data.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Brett Buck (811747)

      Don't like African Americans? I'll load up the "Negro avoider" app on my computer. And never have my commute disrupted again by the sight of people I don't like.

                I think that falls into "stupidity is its own reward" category.

              Brett

    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Saturday April 17, 2010 @07:51PM (#31884620) Homepage Journal

      Or what about the "victim finder" app for child molesters? Just take the data on family occupancies and compare to local crime statistics and police coverage and voila! Thanks Victim Finder!

      This may be the most absurd "think of the chiiildren" argument I've ever heard ... and that's saying something.

      First of all, the vast majority of molestation victims are attacked by family members, who don't exactly need demographic information to find their targets. Second, even in the very rare case of stranger-abduction attacks, do you really think they're going after children at home? Take a walk outside -- there's a good chance there's an elementary school within a few blocks of where you live.

      As for your hypothetical "Negro avoider" bigot ... well, let him do what he wants. There are already lots of people who won't drive through "that part of town" where "those people live." As long as they're not burning crosses on people's lawns, who gives a damn?

      • First of all, the vast majority of molestation victims are attacked by family members, who don't exactly need demographic information to find their targets. Second, even in the very rare case of stranger-abduction attacks, do you really think they're going after children at home? Take a walk outside -- there's a good chance there's an elementary school within a few blocks of where you live.

        Well yeah, of course that's the way it is now -- but when we all get the iVictimFinder app for our iPhones, just you wait, it's going to revolutionize the pedophile market!

    • by gandhi_2 (1108023)

      True, some 3rd part company should be benefiting from selling you data for the "iNegroAvoider" and "iVictimFinder".

    • by Vellmont (569020)

      Uhh.. Do you really think people don't already know the basic demographics of the city they live in already? These aren't secrets, so examples are more than a little stupid. As far as your weird "child molester" app goes, somehow I don't think anyone will actually write that application. Even if somebody did, I find it more than a little hard to believe that the thing stopping child molesters is the lack of visualization software to commit their crimes.

      Is that really the best you can come up with? Both

    • Man. Can you really always only see the bad in everything?
      I bet you can just as well list outlandish over-the-top horrors about everything that ever changed in the history of the universe, but that didn’t happen.

      Everything has upsides and downsides.
      Do you really want to never ever change anything, where you can find a downside? Because then you will really never ever change anything; period.

      A government agency is still employed by us, the people. We’re their actual big boss. So they are obliged

  • well, why not? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @06:59PM (#31884404)

    We fund so-called 'sustainable energy' projects and other such things that aren't economically viable without government funding. Why not software too? And the return on investment is a lot better than a pile of wind mills, and no zoning laws or environmental impact studies to worry about.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      We fund so-called 'sustainable energy' projects and other such things that aren't economically viable without government funding.

      You do realize that the oil industry [reuters.com] has quite a few tax subsidies [rff.org] also, don't you? They've been getting them for years.

      And the proposed plan is to grant public access to the data. Have you ever gone down to a government office and tried to get information on anything? A government clerk does the search. Sometimes, when they say they don't find anything, you just have to wonder how hard did they look. Especially some of those old crones that have been there for decades and short of going on a shooting spr

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Have you ever gone down to a government office and tried to get information on anything? A government clerk does the search.

        Yes, actually. Unless it's a pending court case, I don't have to speak to anyone. But the docket listings for each week are routinely published online, so if you want to be completely thorough, there you go. In my state (Minnesota) every public record since 1973 is searchable by going to the courthouse in Minneapolis and using one of two computer terminals that are free to the public. Before that, records are stored on microfische(sp?) and date back to the mid-1800s. there is a small fee to pull the relevan

      • Re:well, why not? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @10:20PM (#31885076)

        You do realize that the oil industry [reuters.com] has quite a few tax subsidies [rff.org] also, don't you? They've been getting them for years.

        Sorry, but $2-36 billion in subsidies for the entire oil industry (from both links, the first I'm pretty sure is extremely inflated given the fact that even Greenpeace gives $35 billion as their highest estimate) doesn't seem that significant, considering Exxon alone paid $30 billion in taxes in 2007. Also, the oil industry pays a 4-5% higher tax rate than the rest of the market, so a 1-2% break doesn't seem all that bad, considering they already pay more than everybody else.

        Add to that state and local taxes and you're looking at half of all revenues from the oil industry going to either a state or federal government.

        If you bring the taxes more in line with the rest of the market and drop the subsidies, the oil industry is definitely economically viable. Do the same with nuclear, solar, or wind and the same is not true.

        Anyway, back on topic, I'm all for putting public records online. Public records should be public, and since we have the technology to make public records easily accessible, we should do so.

        If making a particular type of public record easily accessible causes significant harm, then we should be debating whether or not such records should be public in the first place, not whether or not they should be easily accessible.

        • by dangitman (862676)

          Sorry, but $2-36 billion in subsidies for the entire oil industry (from both links, the first I'm pretty sure is extremely inflated given the fact that even Greenpeace gives $35 billion as their highest estimate) doesn't seem that significant,

          So, billions of dollars in subsidies to a big industry don't count as subsidies, because the industry is so big? That's some wonderful reasoning/apologia you've got going there.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

          Sorry, but $2-36 billion in subsidies for the entire oil industry (from both links, the first I'm pretty sure is extremely inflated given the fact that even Greenpeace gives $35 billion as their highest estimate) doesn't seem that significant, considering Exxon alone paid $30 billion in taxes in 2007.

          I don't know about that, but in 2009, Exxon paid $0 in US income taxes, and Chevron only paid $200M. [forbes.com]

        • Subsidies & govt intervention of the nascent oil industry were essential to the oil idustry as it exists today. For example you do know that BP was a creation of the Royal Navy.

        • Fossil fuel costs for defense and pollution easily rack up into hundreds of billions of dollars per year. As suggested in the book Brittle Power in 1982, renewable energy has been cheaper for decades than fossil fuels (or nuclear) when you include *all* the externalities.
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brittle_Power [wikipedia.org]

          We just pay for fossil fuel use through our taxes and national debt for the military, and through health costs from mercury pollution and other forms of pollution that l

  • Some more background (Score:3, Interesting)

    by oldhack (1037484) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @07:02PM (#31884422)
    Who's this crazy loon? I wanna send some campaign donation.
  • ...until they have to pay for it.
  • NY doesn't have a lot of money right now. Every group that gets money from the state is botching and moaning that they are not getting enough. So let's spread the thinner to pay for a new project won't help.

    There is the argument if you give people these jobs you will help the echonomy. However if this were to go across it would probably in Albany NY (you know the state capital that is about 200 miles from the city) where honestly has fared the recession rather well so these extra jobs won't have such a pro

    • If you post all information online, then you, the pissy taxpayer, can go look and see exactly why there is no money. The project will cost almost no money. Its taking data the government already has and uses, and you can get with a Freedom of Information act, and probably doing it cheaper and easier then dealing with those.

      Instead of going to your tea parties bitching about why the government spends all your money, you can go with a list, and bitch about line item X, Y, and Z, and actually have a producti

  • I only worry if records are not absolutely open to all with ease of computerised search. Things go wrong when some people or some businesses are allowed to hide some information while other peoples' lives are an open book.

  • The Albany Handshake (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Harper's had an article on the NY Legislature in this month's issue which can shed some light on this. It turns out that New York has one of the worst and most corrupt legislatures in the nation. The leadership controls everything and ordinary members are free to introduce popular legislation knowing full well it has no chance of passing. New York introduces more legislation than any other state and passes them in the single digits percentage-wise.

    http://www.harpers.org/archive/2010/05/0082944

  • Well ... (Score:3, Funny)

    by PPH (736903) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @08:14PM (#31884684)
    ... a detailed accounting of Spitzer's expenditures would have been interesting reading.
  • "Bill Nye Would Require Online State Records"

  • When open records laws were first conceived, it mostly applied to such records as people would have legal concerns about - birth/death, who owns a piece of property, etc.

    Here's the thing.

    All those records were primarily local, and were kept as paper - there were no computers. So if you wanted a record, you had to go to the place it was kept, wait in a line, and pay a document fee so a government clerk could go make you an Official Copy of whatever record you wanted. The fee covered the cost of the clerk's

    • But today, with computers and intarwebs and such things, these records are free and pretty broadly available. So someone who, say, wants to letter bomb the residents and owners of every apartment in a tri-county area, can do it with virtually no effort or expense.

      Not sure this is a very good argument. What's to stop someone from doing the same thing using a local phone book?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by daemonenwind (178848)

        Prevalence of cell phone ownership.
        Understanding of property ownership.
        Unlisted numbers.
        Non-automated nature of phone records.
        Limited name information in phone records. (A B Smith? Really?)

        Getting government, online records faces none of these data quality issues.

  • if this makes any part of the government more efficient i'm against it. there is little if anything the government does for me that i particularly enjoy or need. with that said. the less efficient they are, the less they can do to/for me and the more personal liberty i can enjoy. i fear what new and innovative ways this quicker manipulation of personal data the government will find to use against me.

"If that makes any sense to you, you have a big problem." -- C. Durance, Computer Science 234

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