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GOP Launches Assault on Transparency and the First Amendment

June 6, 2012

Crenshaw's approach to government transperencyGorsh, it looks like someone is none too happy with the idea that the public has a right to government data.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw (FL4) and the House subcommittee he chairs decided this week that the American public can’t be trusted with more thorough records about what Congress is doing…

In a committee report on the legislative branch appropriations bill H.R. 5882, the subcommittee responded to requests from GovTrack, the Sunlight Foundation, Washington Watch, and other watchdog groups about particular technological measures Congress can take to improve legislative transparency

The committee’s response:

The Committee has heard requests for the increased dissemination of congressional information via bulk data download from non-governmental groups supporting openness and transparency in the legislative process. While sharing these goals, the Committee is also concerned that Congress maintains the ability to ensure that its legislative data files remain intact  . . . once they are removed from the Government’s domain to private sites.

. . . [How would we pay for] Congress to confirm or invalidate third party analyses of legislative data based on bulk downloads in XML? (GovTrack – emphasis mine)

Do you see what they did there? Crenshaw and his colleagues are attempting to deny this improved public access to legislative data by arguing that it wouldn’t be a good use of tax payer dollars because (this is the best part) it would cost a ton to police and prove that third party analysis of the data is wrong. In other words, the public can’t be trusted with the data or its proper interpretation.

Wow.

Just let that sink in, okay? No matter which side of the aisle you’re on, that kind of statement is a smack in the face of both the American public and the United States Constitution. Here we see the people’s representatives arguing not only that the people can’t be trusted, not only claiming that government should be able to police private speech, but using responsible stewardship of tax payer dollars as an excuse.

In other words, the report expresses concern that citizens will mash-up and make use of legislative information in ways that Congress cannot control. Indeed, that is the point, and it is already common practice. When citizens have access to raw legislative information, they built sites like GovTrackOpen CongressWashington Watch, and Scout. After all, the information belongs to the American people.  (Sunlight Foundation – emphasis mine)

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