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[liberationtech] PRISM & Open Data

michael gurstein gurstein at
Tue Jun 25 21:14:13 PDT 2013

I think that there is another link as well... Much of the Open Data
initiative/discussion is about data transparency... making government
operations more transparent (and thus enhancing the presumed accountability
of government operations/activities to citizens).  

In some sense privacy is also about accountability, that is who has access
to information about the citizen and what are the structures of
accountability controlling that access and in turn what is the
accountability of those structures to citizens and through this aggregate
process, acountability to individuals as owners of their own information.
This process of enforcing privacy, in democracies, is thus equally about
making government operations ultimately accountable to citizens. 

In a democracy accountability is indivisible--it is not really possible to
have accountabiity in one area and to not have it in another area since the
drive (and temptation) to blur the boundaries, to hide the intrusions, to
obscure the subversions is too great and thus lack of accountability in one
area means lack of accountability in all areas.


-----Original Message-----
From: liberationtech-bounces at
[mailto:liberationtech-bounces at] On Behalf Of Yosem
Sent: Friday, June 21, 2013 2:29 PM
To: Liberation Technologies
Cc: Ted Strauss
Subject: [liberationtech] PRISM & Open Data

From: Ted Strauss <ted.strauss at>

Here is the connection I see between Obama issuing an Open Data directive
and the exposure of PRISM.

Open data is commonly used by politicians as a way to sell themselves as
promoters of transparency, accountability, and technical sophistication in
government. If their policies end up failing to live up to their promises,
then it does harm to pursuit of openness, because it turns into one more
corruptible buzz word that can be used for political ends. Tracy's
commentary to the CBC is an example of this line of critique.

The Obama open data directive touts the US commitment to open principles,
incuding respect for individual privacy. In the memorandum, the word privacy
is used 22 times, as here (p.9):
"Strengthen measures to ensure that privacy and confidentiality are fully
protected and that data are properly secured"

The revelations about PRISM seriously undermine the administration's
credibility with respect to valuing individual privacy, since they are
intercepting private communcations of people and using them in untold ways.
This contradicts the aims set out in the open data directive, and in turn
undermines those principles.

If a tabacco company set up a hospital to treat lung cancer, would you go to
that hospital? Would you trust the research they did?

I have posted my original message to, in case this topic is not right
for this list.

Ted Strauss
Co-founder of

I'm organizing Open Data Exchange in Montreal, April 6, 2013

On Fri, Jun 21, 2013 at 11:52 AM, Glen Newton <glen.newton at> wrote:
> >it is revealed that he believes the spirit of open data should be 
> >applied to the private communications of civilians
> I do not see any connection between Prism and the spirit of Open Data.
> -Glen Newton
> On Fri, Jun 21, 2013 at 11:23 AM, Ted Strauss <ted.strauss at>
> > When Obama said last week "no one is listening to your calls" he was 
> > parsing his message. He has emphasized that the NSA doesn't listen 
> > in on domestic US calls without a warrant from FISA. But no one has 
> > denied that the NSA is being allowed to indiscriminately spy on 
> > foreign electronic communictions. All the responses by US officials 
> > have treated targeting of foreigners as fair game. That includes 
> > every Canadian with a facebook, skype, or gmail account. (The latest 
> > leaks reported by the Guardian provide new troubling details and 
> > cast doubt on Obama's defence.)
> >
> > With an open admission of mass espionage targeting hundreds of 
> > millions of people worldwide, I think it's the duty of our elected 
> > officials to tell the US government at the very least that Canada 
> > does not consent. Indeed, the admission could violate treaties and 
> > agreements held between our governments. For example, the WTO treaty
TRIPS on intellectual property.
> >
> > Shouldn't this case be made to our MPs and MLAs?
> > Shouldn't we identify what are the legal implications of this 
> > admission for the various agreements between Canada and the US?
> >
> > Why is this on-topic for this list?
> > One month after Obama issued an open data directive, it is revealed 
> > that he believes the spirit of open data should be applied to the 
> > private communications of civilians. Incidents like this give fodder 
> > to those who would argue against open government. In one month, the 
> > slippery slope became a precipice. That is why open data supporters 
> > should lead the way in drawing the lines of right and wrong on opening
> >
> > Ted
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