Big Brother, we're watching YOU

At the fantastic and soon-to-be-essential techPresident, there’s a post on a new technological openness from Congressional Republicans.  Although their site at GOP.gov carries pretty run-of-the-mill content, it actually has an extremely substantial API.  For non-technophiles, the API is the Application Programming Interface, and gives all the information that programmers would need to interact with the site, and – crucially – to pull data from it.  Nancy Scola notes that people have been wondering what the Obama Administration has in store for the whitehouse.gov site, and suggests that a robust API may be more important than ensuring that there are enough photos of the Obama’s for us to gawk at ( abug-bear from a few days ago).

And that raises the idea that for all the attention we’ve been paying whitehouse.gov, maybe thinking about the White House site as a destination is just wrong-headed. The focus should instead, perhaps, be on pushing clean data — and the engagement it can fuel — out from the White House , in the hopes of creating “government everywhere.”

Its Big Brother in reverse.  A robust API removes another barrier to scrutinizing the government and legislators, something that will become ever more important as President Obama begins to spend the $800 billion or so in his ‘”fiscal stimulus” package, and the Senators and Representatives start to vote on any number of issues.  There will be no escape!

I do think that the very fact of more information in the public domain will increase the trust people have in politicians, precisely because there is less room for obfuscation and drastically reduced room for corruption and misconduct.  As I’ve noted previously, a Governmental cover-up is always worse, and much more annoying, than a Governmental cock-up.  We saw an example of this earlier in the week, where President Obama made a swift mea culpa when it turned our that two cabinet nominees had not been vetted properly, and not paid their taxes.  An early admission neutralises the story.

It also goes some way to restoring the trust that has been lost through the cock-up.  Why? Because it avoids the possibility that Government spokespeople will have to engage in the sort of verbal and logical gymnastics, the mongering of letter-but-not-the-spirit technicalities, that characterised the Bush administration… and which still plagues New Labour.

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