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President Obama signs executive order requiring agencies to publish 'open data'

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President Obama uses an iPad (Credit: Pete Souza/White House Flickr)
President Obama uses an iPad (Credit: Pete Souza/White House Flickr)

President Obama came into office 2009 with a promise to make his administration the most "open" in history in terms of revealing information to the public about the inner-workings of government, a claim that has been challenged vociferously. But to further advance his open government ambitions, the President today issued an executive order requiring all major federal agencies under the executive branch to make their data "easy to find, accessible, and usable," with an important caveat: "wherever possible and legally permissible." The White House also released a new set of open source software tools on Github that federal agencies can use to get more of their data out onto the web in software developer and user-friendly formats, including one script that converts databases into software APIs.

"we’re making even more government data available online."

The ultimate goal is not only to let the public know what government is up to, but to get more government data out to the software developer community so they can use it to build their own commercial apps and services, boosting the economy. “Starting today, we’re making even more government data available online, which will help launch even more new startups," President Obama said in a statement published on the White House website. "And we’re making it easier for people to find the data and use it, so that entrepreneurs can build products and services we haven’t even imagined yet.”

Specifically, the executive order requires federal agencies such as the Defense Department and Labor Department to "use machine readable and open formats" for their data, as well as to post all the data they can without breaking security restrictions on their ".gov" websites where members of the public can access them. It further says that agencies should "prioritize" data that citizens request, and make data available in multiple formats. The White House notes that many agencies have already made strides to do this, and that more overhauls are coming, including a redesigned, "," the aggregator for all federal agency data. It all sounds good, but given that the Obama campaign itself was resistant to making its election tools open source, we'll have to wait and see how much data is deemed fit for public consumption this time around.