I’m excited about Obama’s memorandum he wrote in his first week of office, on January 21st, 2009. In it, he calls for federal agencies to stop looking for legal ways to say no to requests for data, or in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

He will help usher in a new American government, where “[a]ll agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure.” 

And the agencies shouldn’t be so passive about the distribution of their data. President Barack Obama continues with:

“…agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.”

The United States Government is probably the world’s largest collector and holder of data. It probably stores more data and information than the internet (minus what the government publishes there). I hope I can expect an onslaught of data, but it must be accessible in multiple formats and in ways we can use. Saving spreadsheets is NOT distributing data. That’s protecting it and trying to make it harder to manipulate. It means providing raw access to tables and databases, providing APIs for custom queries, and XML feeds for simple and broad presentation.

Perhaps we’ll need a White House Office of Data to coordinate with agencies about the formats and presentation and distribution methods they choose or will choose.

I’m glad Obama’s transition team took the advice from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on this one – they fight for, among many things, the rights of the internet and information and how access to both should be equalized and open. Read the EFF’s news article about this about-face from George Bush’s archaic information policies.

To Obama: When you create that office, please consult the geniuses at EveryBlock for the Office’s “Public Consumption” division. They know how to package data for quick and informative understanding.