Making Government Information Open and Machine Readable

05.09.13 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

An executive order issued by President Obama today directs that “the default state of new and modernized Government information resources shall be open and machine readable.”

“As one vital benefit of open government, making information resources easy to find, accessible, and usable can fuel entrepreneurship, innovation, and scientific discovery that improves Americans’ lives and contributes significantly to job creation,” states Executive Order 13642 on Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information.

The new order was welcomed by the Sunlight Foundation, a proponent of open access to government data, particularly because it establishes a requirement to produce an inventory of “datasets that can be made publicly available but have not yet been released.” That will facilitate enforcement and advancement of the open data agenda, Sunlight said.

While one wants to believe in the efficacy of the order and to affirm the good faith intentions behind it, it is necessary to recognize how remote it is from current practice, particularly in the contentious realm of national security information.

The CIA, for example, has stubbornly refused to release the contents of its CREST database of declassified documents, even though the documents contained there are entirely declassified.  The CREST database is not open, it’s not machine-readable, and you can’t have a copy.

Meanwhile, the Obama White House itself has refused to publish even its unclassified Presidential Policy Directives (with a few exceptions), forcing requesters to litigate for access, or to surrender.