Data is Law

Mark Headd at Civic Innovations: The Future is Open: “In his famous essay on the importance of the technological underpinnings of the Internet, Lawrence Lessig described the potential threat if the architecture of cyberspace was built on values that diverged from those we believe are important to the proper functioning of our democracy. The central point of this seminal work seems to grow in importance each day as technology and the Internet become more deeply embedded into our daily lives.
But increasingly, another kind of architecture is becoming central to the way we live and interact with each other – and to the way in which we are governed and how we interact with those that govern us. This architecture is used by governments at the federal, state and local level to share data with the public.
This data – everything from weather data, economic data, education data, crime data, environmental data – is becoming increasingly important for how we view the world around us and our perception of how we are governed. It is quite easy for us to catalog the wide range of personal decisions – some rote, everyday decisions like what to wear based on the weather forecast, and some much more substantial like where to live or where to send our children to school – that are influenced by data collected, maintained or curated by government.
It seems to me that Lessig’s observations from a decade and a half ago about the way in which the underlying architecture of the Internet may affect our democracy can now be applied to data. Ours is the age of data – it pervades every aspect of our lives and influences how we raise our children, how we spend our time and money and who we elect to public office.
But even more fundamental to our democracy, how well our government leaders are performing the job we empower them to do depends on data. How effective is policing in reducing the number of violent crimes? How effective are environmental regulations in reducing dangerous emissions? How well are programs performing to lift people out of poverty and place them in gainful employment? How well are schools educating our children?
These are all questions that we answer – in whole or in part – by looking at data. Data that governments themselves are largely responsible for compiling and publishing….
Having access to open data is no longer an option for participating effectively in our modern democracy, it’s a requirement. Data – to borrow Lessig’s argument – has become law.”