Saturday, 22 August 2009

Link of the Day: Open Government and Browsers

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog

‘Transparency Chic’ by Katherine Mangu-Ward. Wall Street Jounral. 21st August 2009.

Link to Recap extension for Firefox, designed for accessing subscription firewalled US court archives, which has to be paid for, but then stores pages in an open access archive.

If you don’t know what Firefox is, it is a browser which can be downloaded for free and can be use on any computer running Windows, Mac or Linux (usually has Firefox preloaded anyway) operating systems. It is open source, which means anyone can design modifications for it compatible with the source code. I don’t use it much myself (I prefer Safari, the native browser on Mac), but it’s very universal in its applicability, very stable, and is ideal for anyone who likes modifications through a download that takes a few seconds. Go here for more information and download.

Mangu-Ward makes two major points in the article.

Barack Obama has yet to implement promises about open government, which includemaking information about government spending available on line in real time. Mangu-Ward mentions to links to private websites which made this information available more quickly than the government which holds the information. OpenRegs which makes information about government regulations freely available. RecoveryOrg which makes information about economic recovery measures freely available.

Barack Obama, and his predecessors, have only made information about court cases available through the online service PACER, but PACER is only ‘freely’ accessed by subscription packages which are ‘freely’ available to many academics and legal professionals through institutional subscriptions. ‘Freely’ because the cost of institutional subscriptions creates downward pressure on salaries paid by those institutions. Anyone else encounters a cost of 8 cents a page, which mounts up into serious money for anyone doing serious research on the law. As Mangu-Ward points out, Obama’s hero Abe Lincoln, made this kind of information available for free within the technology of that time. As with the issues of regulatory and financial transparency private voluntary issues have made information available for free.

RECAP. The name comes from reversing PACER. The RECAP extension enables users to access PACER, the first time a RECAP user accesses a certain page that user has to pay. However, RECAP automatically creates a a free open access archive, This is completely legal, though very unpopular with the subscription providers.

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