See this post for an overview of TransparencyCamp. What follows here is a report on one session within TransparencyCamp, aka #tcamp09.
Well, to be accurate, the session was called “Architecting Solutions for Archiving and Citing Government Data.”
Lead by Silona Bonewald and David Strauss, the idea here was to present and discuss what exactly is needed to create on-line citations of legislation that are reliable, authoritative and permanent. Think of it this way: we need a way to create hyperlinks directly to individual paragraphs within every piece of legislation which are as accurate as the citations used in legal documents for court proceedings.
Court documents are precise (if they aren’t a judge will toss the lawyer out of court), but are decidedly not convenient. To check the accuracy of a citation, or to read the text being referenced, one has to either go find the book (access can be time-consuming or expensive or both), or search online sources (often PDF files) which can be equally expensive.
The goal is to establish a standard method for creating paragraph-level citations of legislation, marked with date and time (because they sometimes change over time and we need to know what rule was in force at any point in time), that will be a permanent link (so your great-grandchildren can use the same link 30 years from now get the exact same material), and stable.
- Paragraph level citation
- Date and Time stamped
- Permanent & Stable
Silona and David are part of an initiative called “The Citability Project,” or “Citability.org” which seeks to create open source standards to address these problems.
One of the problems with online legislation as it exists today is that “Government websites are ever changing and cannot be cited. Content changes without notice or accountability.” That last word, accountability, is the latch-key to why the goal of Citability.org is so worthy. Transparency in government is as yet an ill-defined term in general, but what isn’t lacking about the term is the basic idea that transparency in government attaches accountability to whomever is responsible for something within government.
Citability.org is working in an open, collaborative way to establish some principals of archiving for legislation, some functional technical solutions for paragraph level citing, some watchdog capabilities by using the Internet Archive, clonable server protocols and independent verification tools like digital signatures to verify sources and to establish full accountability.