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Government The Internet

Washington's IT Guy 65

Posted by kdawson
from the seal-of-approval dept.
Timothy found a profile of Carl Malamud up at The American Prospect, characterizing it thus: "Carl Malamud — underrated work shedding sunshine on the sort of things that 'sunshine laws' may make legally accessible, but that often are not practically accessible. The man should be up there on the list with Wikipedia, Wikileaks, the big Free Software projects, and the Creative Commons."
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Washington's IT Guy

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  • What (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Peach Rings (1782482) on Monday June 14, 2010 @09:01PM (#32573920) Homepage

    What a bewildering summary. I await with great anticipation the comments that slashdot is able to generate without reading the article.

  • Re:What (Score:5, Insightful)

    by garcia (6573) on Monday June 14, 2010 @10:02PM (#32574276)

    What a bewildering summary.

    It's only bewildering if you don't understand how public administrators work. Being that I deal with these people, on a much lower level than the Fed as I am extremely interested in hyperlocal politics and news, on a daily basis I have to say that, "shedding sunshine on the sort of things that 'sunshine laws' may make legally accessible, but that often are not practically accessible," puts it perfectly.

    I regularly have to make repeated requests for information that should be publicly accessible. Unfortunately for the general public the politicos do not want this information to be made available, even if it has to be, so they put up every last roadblock they can invent to keep people like me from releasing it to the public.

    Let's take for example local transit boarding data for 2007 to 2009. I wanted the number of people who ride the buses in our local transit co-op broken down at the lowest level. A simple task one would assume right? It was clear, based on their reporting, that they had the data at some sort of granular level as they can easily roll it up to yymon, quarter, etc. I also watched as bus drivers hand recorded the number of boardings and wrote them on sheets, by departure time, every single day for more than 2.5 years.

    Well when I requested this information here was the exchange which occurred over 7 months:

    1. We don't have that data.

    2. We don't have that data in an easily accessible format (which would be in violation of Minnesota Statute).

    3. We have the data but it would take a very long time to procure. Hundreds of man hours (again in violation of Statute). It will cost at least $250. Pay first, we'll provide it later.

    4. We have the data and it will take considerably less time than we first thought. $50 for the data. Pay first.

    5. Here's the data you paid $50 to receive. If you want more explanation you need to pay more (in violation of Statute).

    ---

    Now, I turned around and did exactly what they didn't want. I released it to the public and thus to the other state agencies who were originally told this data didn't exist in the way they wanted it. You can see the archive here [lazylightning.org] (don't download the 7MB CSV unless you are really interested in the raw data as I host my site myself and I don't need my cable modem smoking all day long).

    So why did they go through so much trouble, wasted man hours of their staff (including their counsel) just to keep this data out of my hands? Because they want to be the ones in control, even though they are mandated by law to provide it to the public, and they certainly want to make compliance with sunshine laws as difficult as possible to keep people from doing this time and time again.

    So, unless you deal with that particular instance day in and day out for years, like I do on any variety of topics from any variety of local government entities, then you wouldn't have the faintest idea what that blurb meant. But to me it made perfect sense. I just hope that bringing this data to light and placing it out there for the public to interpret themselves isn't limited to skewed infographics and a couple of PDFs on Deep Water Horizon documents.

  • Re:What (Score:5, Insightful)

    by corbettw (214229) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `wttebroc'> on Monday June 14, 2010 @10:27PM (#32574438) Journal

    It's only bewildering if you don't understand how public administrators work.

    So only for 99% of the populace then?

  • Re:I have a story (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dave562 (969951) on Monday June 14, 2010 @10:35PM (#32574478) Journal

    If I had never met people from the internet IRL I would have missed the first half dozen Defcons.

  • by macshit (157376) <miles@ g n u.org> on Monday June 14, 2010 @10:43PM (#32574530) Homepage

    I got a $200 fine for walking ACROSS a railroad track behind my house, there were no trains within sight I should add. I didn't have to climb or open anything to walk across the tracks to the main road, there are no signs either. These cocksuckers have the nerve to run trains by my house at all hours, horns and all, and expect me not to cut across the tracks to save 30 minutes of my trip to work.

    Note that a large part of the reason they impose such fines and over-use train horns is because of the insane over-litigatiousness of American society.

    People do really stupid things, and get themselves (and in many cases their friends/family) squashed/crushed/roasted by trains. Then their surviving family turns around and sues the railroad. "How could my honey-buns have known there might might trains on the railroad track! He was sleeping! The train clearly should have sounded its horn just in case there was somebody sleeping on the track!" And wins. So the railroad adopts whatever practices it can to defend itself against such societal stupidity, and yeah unfortunately there's a negative impact on that small portion of society which isn't stupid.

    Of course then the people that just recently bought a new house near the railroad tracks (which have been there for 150 years) turns around and sues the railroad because it's sounding horns too often...

  • Re:What (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lando (9348) <lando2+slash@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @01:14AM (#32575082) Homepage Journal

    You might want to create a torrent of the data and stick it on a public tracker somewhere so that others could help you with the hosting costs. Maybe just post the torrent link in addition to the file.

    Just a suggestion.

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