Open data, accountability and AI are boosting citizen’s power in Brazil
The Serenata de Amor Operation Robot depends on structured and updated databases to offer precise and trustable information to the public.
The transparency advocates consider the Information Access Law (LAI in the Portuguese acronym) as a landmark for Brazilians. Inspired by the Mexican approach to the topic the Bill became Law by decree in November 2011 and eventually become effective in May 2012.
In the United States the Freedom of Information Act was sanctioned about 50 years ago. In Sweden a similar law exists since 1766. In Mexico, since 2002. This means that transparency in Brazil is somewhat new, what gives us opportunity and advantages: our transparency was born in the age of the Internet.
Public transparency is an important ally in the fight against corruption and it improves the efficiency of public administration. The active transparency of the Chamber of Deputies pushes them to systematically open their data to the public, and this is the source feeding our robot, Rosie.
The robot analyses public data from the Quota for the Exercise of Parliamentary Activity (CEAP in the Portuguese acronym) to detect suspicious expenses of federal deputies.
If the Chamber of Deputies did not publish data about CEAP expenses the whole project would be unfeasible. That would be also the case if representatives themselves did not have to justify the reimbursements. Have you ever thought about it?
These are preconditions so we can begin to cross-check and identify, for example, that a congressperson has asked for more than R$ 100,000 in reimbursements for expenses in a single company.
Beyond that we are able to bring in other databases and check other hypotheses such as: are there congresspeople hiring a company that was not active according to the Federal Revenue anymore? Or maybe them buying and contracting from companies listed as unsustainable and suspended by the Ministry of Transparency?
In order to do this job our robot Rosie relies on open, structured and up-to-date data.
LAI’s advances are crucial not only for Serenata de Amor Operation.
Nowadays anyone can request information from the public administration in Brazil. Some services acting as opening channels for such requests are: Federal Government E-SIC; São Paulo State Government SIC; e São Paulo City Hall E-SIC.
There are still problems in implementation of LAI. According to a survey of the NGO Article 19 transparency is still learning its baby steps in the judiciary. It is difficult for citizens to call into question judge benefits if we have no data on it.
And unfortunately there are still cities that do not publish their budgets, balances, revenue and expenditure, and cities that do not even have an online transparency or open data portal.
For instance in May 2016 the decree 8777/2016 made it compulsory for federal bodies to put forward an Open Data Plan, a sort of planning for the opening of data.
In this document the Ministry of Planning Budget and Management committed to make available a list of names of people in posts of management in all state owned companies and their subsidiaries..
In order to access data from the public authorities journalists are no longer dependent only on press releases and public relation departments. They can search for data already available in the internet or request it via LAI.
Citizens can create apps from public information on the São Paulo bus route, for example.
And thus people tend to come together to design projects similar to Serenata de Amor Operation, that is to say, projects to foster monitoring of the public sphere and digital democracy.