Week 5 — Interest Groups and Social Movements: Mobilization

1, Open data, computional shift, hacktivist, digital infrastructure, white hats

2, Open data: Data than can be used and shared freely by anyone

3, A summary of Andrew R. Schrock’s article Civic hacking as data activism and advocacy: A History from publicity to open government data (2016)

Andrew R. Schrock’s article Civic hacking as data activism and advocacy: A History from publicity to open government data (2016) discusses how civic hackers contribute to a society. In general, the scholars and the society, have a very narrow picture of hackers. Schrock wants to challenge this by pointing out that researchers have to be more attentive to the roots and motives of hackers, and recognise the full potential of them. He discusses how civic hackers are in fact in a very unique place to push for change in a society.

So who are civic hackers? When most people hear the word ‘hacker’ they tend to think of hacktivism, which is usually illegal hacking that has political or social goals. Schrock points out that there are two main things that people usually think of when they think of hacking and activism: either ‘hacktivsim’ and the negative connotation that comes with it, or then geographically distributed communities in which people work in the basis of openness and political action.

Civil hacking is not really either of these things. Civil hacking tends to be more positively orientated than the forms of activism listed above. Civil hacking focuses on engaging on civic life, democratic structure and solving different problems through manipulating and improving software and information infrastructure. Some governments have recognised the power and capability of civic hackers and have started to collaborate with them. Schrock points out that the reactions to the collaboration of civic hackers and governments vary a lot. Organisations for information freedom and coding support this, as it has the potential to drastically improve and modify information infrastructure, but some scholars question the civic hackers’ political alignments and non-grassroot origins.

For the past couple of years the US government has supported a National Day of Civic Hacking

Civic hacking is heavily linked to freedom of information and open data. Justice Louis Brandeis famously said in 1913 that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”, and the concept of transparency has spread and changed since then. The CIA and NSA were created after World War II and this was a big turning point in how Americans could obtain information. The discussion and worry around this topic led to the Freedom of Information Act (FIOA) in 1965. One of the biggest affects of the FIOA is the philosophical affect it has had on Americans in how they see obtaining, keeping and sharing information.

The 21st century information technology and Web 2.0 has created new challenges for civic hackers and the FIOA. Luckily, both governments and organizations have started to realised the true potential and use of new technology. Mark Klein founded the Sunlight Foundation in 2006 to improve the access of information about elected officials with the help of the new technology and Web 2.0, and President Obama appointed the first ever chief technology officer in 2009, which marked a new era for the government and technology.

So, what role does civic hacking play in this new era of information? Schrock divides this data activism and advocacy in five sections: requesting, digesting, contributing, modeling and contesting.

Requesting refers to civic hackers being able to suck data out of databases and exposing it.

Digesting refers to experts being able to bring systematic change through technical knowledge. For example Wikileaks is an example of both requesting and digesting.

Contributing refers to civic hackers’ ability to voice communities and citizens’ voices, which can be heard through data.

Modeling refers to hackers ability to create working, or partly working, prototypes to create needed infrastructure, which can be further developed by governments.

Finally, contesting refers to creation of crowd sourced data or not yet existed use of data.

So to conclude, Schrock explains in his article how civic hackers can contribute to the society and help governments to improve the existing information infrastructure. He explains through requesting, digesting, contributing, modeling and contesting how civic hackers can contribute to the society. He highlights the importance of open data and collaboration between governments and civic hackers. Schrock describes civic hackers as utopian realists, which seems like a fitting contradiction to describe them.

4, Question:

Should governments start using civic hackers more, even if their motives/political alignments/backgrounds would be questionable?

What do you associate hacking with?

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