Saturday, July 25, 2015

Cortana Analytics Suite could provide democratized access to SB 573 datasets

Microsoft Corporation has recently announced the Fall, 2015 availability of its Cortana Analytics Suite, which will combine several Big Data & Analytics tools along with an interface built around the Cortana intelligent digital assistant program.

Now Cortana, which can already tell you about the news, and weather, will be able to answer questions about what’s inside the vast troves of data currently held by state and local agencies in California and which would become publicly-accessible if SB 573, a bill to create a Chief Data Officer of the State of California and a universal open data online portal, becomes law.

SB 573, sponsored and authored by first-term California State Senator Dr. Richard Pan (D-6th), is now pending in the California State Assembly.

According to Peter Diamandis, creator of the XPrize and the author of Abundance, says that there are six D’s involved in technological evolution:  digital, deceptive, disrupt, dematerialize, demonetize, democratize.  He argues that technology is and does all these things.  All things are becoming digital.  Exponential growth is deceptively slow at first.  Technology is disruptive.  Processes tend to be dematerialized, like the way cameras become apps on smartphones.  They also tend to become demonetized, so that the marginal cost of producing another photo or video approaches zero.  The availability of these low-cost products and services tends to have a democratizing effect, as when anyone with access to the Internet and a social media account can perform interactive transactions and have virtual experiences that were previously unavailable or unaffordable and that are, again, digital, deceptive, disruptive, dematerialized, demonetized, and democratized. 

(Just look at what you’re reading now, which I’ve published on Blogger courtesy of Google and promoted on Facebook and Twitter, reaching potentially (but not actually) millions of viewers at zero marginal cost, except the time it took to write this text.)

Giving everyone who wants it access to the overall and most minute aspects of what their government is doing will not be without challenges.  Protecting the privacy of individually-identifiable information against disclosure or other threats should be the highest priority.

What about the clients of the agencies that will subject to the provisions of SB 573?  Will law-enforcement, the Employment Development Department, welfare and health departments and hospitals operated by the University of California be required to release information about those who use their services?   Arranging a fair and open process to determine what data should be published and which should not will be imperative.

The implications and ramifications of SB 573 need to be identified and discussed at length and in detail before the bill becomes law.    

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

In open letter to Maienschein, California associations update their “Opposed Unless Amended” position on SB 272

In a more recent open letter, this one sent on July 8th to Brian Maienschein, chair of the California Assembly Local Government Committee and the Assembly co-author of SB 272, a group of California state associations of local government agencies expressed appreciation for the changes that had been made in the bill in the Assembly Local Government Committee on July 6th, but re-iterated their position of “Oppose Unless Amended” on this bill, which would mandate these agencies and others to disclose online what they consider to be “sensitive” information, withholding their support unless two remaining concerns were addressed:

They say:  

“In summary, we are requesting the following amendments to the July 6th version of SB 272.

“Specifically list vendor in GC 6254.19 to allow information technology experts to decide as to whether it is a security risk.

“Include 911 and emergency services as well as natural gas and electricity to the list of exemptions.”

They conclude:

“For these reasons, our associations continue to have an OPPOSE UNLESS AMENDED position on SB 272.”

Etopia News hopes to speak soon with Assemblymember Maienschein or his spokesperson to ascertain what he thinks about making the changes called for by the group of state associations of local government agencies, as well as discovering his current thinking about how best to move forward with SB 272.

California associations take an “Opposed Unless Amended” position on SB 272

SB 272, a bill to require local government agencies to prominently publish information about their IT infrastructure, is currently pending in the California State Assembly Appropriations Committee.  The Legislature is in recess until August  17, 2015.

In a June 26th open letter about Open Data to California Assemblymember Mark Stone, Chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) and several other associations of local government agencies in the state enumerate their objections to SB 272 and say that unless it is amended to reflect their concerns, they will oppose its passage.

You can read their letter here. 

The authors of the letter contend that “As currently written, SB 272 is essentially providing a blueprint to accessing our systems and compromising the sensitive information within.”

They also feel that “the definition of enterprise systems is over broad and would require that agencies list systems that are for internal purposes.”

They are also unhappy that “The language in SB 272 blurs the line between the listing of data systems and records under the California Public Records Act (CPRA).”

They conclude by saying that, “For these reasons, our associations have an OPPOSE UNLESS AMENDED position on SB 272 and respectfully request your ‘NO’ vote.”

Another party heard from

Another open data bill, SB 573 is also currently pending in the California State Assembly.  Authored by pediatrician/California State Senator Richard Pan, SB 573 would establish the position of Chief Data Officer (CDO) of the State of California and create a universal data portal for accessing the state’s data resources, including from local agencies, under this provision at Section 11795.1(c)(2)(F) in the current version of the bill:

“The Chief Data Officer shall make the statewide open data portal available to any city, county, city and county, district, or other local agency interested in using the statewide open data portal to publish its own data.”

If the goal of SB 272, with all its perceived flaws, is to help pave the way towards a universal data portal that will allow users to conveniently access government data that is also properly protected regarding its data integrity, cyber security and the personal privacy of individuals referenced in the data, then why not just do that via the mechanisms in SB 573 and avoid all the potential pitfalls associated with SB 272?

Monday, July 20, 2015

City of Roseville official supports transparency, has concerns about IT disclosure requirements in SB 272

Mark Wolinski is the Government Relations Administrator, Public Affairs & Communication Department, in the Roseville, California, City Manager’s Office.  He spoke today to Etopia News about SB 272, a bill now pending that would mandate the collection and online publication of what some consider sensitive information about the operations of local “enterprise systems.” 

He emphasized his appreciation of the 10+ amendments already taken for the bill by its author, California State Senator Robert Hertzberg, and said, on behalf of the city, that he was “very supportive of open data, very supportive of transparency,” but that, nevertheless, he had some concerns about what compliance with the provisions of SB 272 bill would mean for the cyber-security of the city’s municipal water and power systems.

Mr. Wolinski is worried that making it necessary for those interested in the intricacies of a locality’s “enterprise systems” to file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in order to get the information required under SB 272 to be prominently displayed on its web site will avoid the risk of making this information publicly available unaccountably to anyone with an Internet connection, by at least creating a “fingerprint” by way of the FOIA request.

The specific data in question are the names of the companies that develop and maintain “enterprise systems” and the programs being used to operate the systems, including current version numbers.  Notwithstanding the argument that “if you’re worried about giving out that information, then you’ve got bigger problems to worry about,” making this identifying information publicly available to anonymous potential malicious hackers may still not be the best approach to maintaining system integrity and security.

For more about opposition to including this sensitive information in the SB 272-mandated public catalog from a spokesperson for the California Municipal Utilities Association, look here.

SB 573 would give California a Chief Data Officer and a path to a transparent state government

SB 573, a bill now pending in the California Assembly Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee, having been approved by the California Senate on a 28-11 vote, would require “the Governor to appoint a Chief Data Officer (CDO), and requires the CDO to establish by January 1, 2017, a centralized Internet web portal (statewide open data portal) where the public can access public data held by state agencies.”

The sponsor of this bill is its author, freshman California State Senator Richard Pan, best known so far for his work on SB 277, the universal vaccination bill.  You can read about SB 573 passing the Senate and about what its proponents believe it could do for California here.

For details about the bill, including expert analysis by committee staff along the way, look here.