Civic Awesome: Open Data in the News for the Week of July 27, 2015

Zippy apps and festive hackathons take a backseat this week, as the serious work of privacy mitigation and transparency in legislation get a leg up, and the people express their right to neighborhood crime data. Plus: NASA brings the world together through daily photos.

Privacy Strategies That Work

Attention-getting open data efforts like hackathons, transit apps, and crime data portals sometimes overshadow their earnest, mundane open data cousin: privacy challenges. But as Sean Vitka, writing for the Sunlight Foundation explains, privacy concerns “are actually opportunities to improve both data and privacy.” Vitka details mitigation techniques for an array of dull yet profoundly serious issues, from publishing constituents’ emails to elected officials to the IRS’ opening of Form 990 data. Vitka shows how to zero in any situation’s unique privacy challenges by starting with three basic questions around benefit, consequence, and mitigation options.

Can Ottawa Afford Neighborhood Crime Data?

In, Joe Lofaro reports on how residents in Ottawa, Canada, want open, neighborhood-level crime data, while Daniel Steeves, the police department’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) sees a too-high price tag attached. Steeves believes adding the data to the city’s open data efforts “will require both a major IT upgrade and ‘millions of dollars,’” explains Lofaro. Community leader Jan Grabowiecki asserts the benefits of Ottawans having access to data like that in “the city of Chicago’s robust open data portal on crime.” Grabowiecki also believes “The bottom line is it leads to a clear practice to evaluate crime in the community, which in turn helps you devise some strategies in crime prevention.”

Dragging Laws Online

The Data Transparency Coalition wants to get U.S. laws in machine-readable, online, free format — now. Advantages would include “automatically linking new laws to the old laws they change, connecting federal laws to state and local laws, and possibly even rooting out mistakes in old legislation,” explains Zach Noble in He notes the philosophical obstacles, such as “do we force lawmakers to write what computers can read, or do we teach computers to read more like lawmakers,” pointing out that even the issue of whether to indent legal paragraphs rests deep in lawmaking culture. But Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition, says open data legislation is definitely happening, and “faster than you think.”

NASA’s “Blue Marble” Photos: Ready to Launch!

The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) has reached its permanent position, more than a million miles away from Earth. Starting in September, the satellite’s on-board Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) will snap daily photos of Earth, which NASA will post online within 12 to 36 hours. “Think about that,” says Zacharay Sorenson, of the Sunlight Foundation. “NASA is able to take a photograph of the entire planet from a million miles away, beam it wirelessly back to Earth and then post it on a website.” Sorensen continues, “when governments share information openly, they can help inform the public, but NASA’s EPIC images show us that they can sometimes even delight.”