An Immodest Proposal – Digitizing the Government

What heat and light that once circulated the We The People petition service has dissipated, but a recent petition there deserves greater attention.  Called YesWeScan, the effort is supported by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and, one of many organizations doing yeomans’ work in encouraging greater government transparency and public access to information.

The We The People petition is quite short, and to the point.

“The administration should create a group that will answer–within 1 year–the question “what would it take to scan .gov?” What are our federal holdings, what would it take to digitize them, how much would it cost, what are the economic and non-economic benefits?”

The effort is not actually new.  If you dig about on the YesWeScan site, you can see that there have been previous efforts to scan major federal holdings.  This would be much greater.  Strictly speaking, scanning .gov is not really what they’re looking to do here.  While I doubt there’s a comprehensive index of everything on .gov (they’re only now working on a review of .gov), this digitization would focus on everything the government has that isn’t digitized.  Which is likely larger than you imagine.

Unfortunately, the petition requires over 24 thousand additional signatures (as of this posting) by January 20 in order to get an official response.  Regardless of that outcome, the six questions posed by the project should be answered.

  1. What are the holdings of our national institutions? How many images, documents, videos, and other objects are there?
  2. How long would it take to digitize these materials?
  3. How much would it cost given current technology? Is there directed research or are there economies of scale that would bring those costs down?
  4. What is the strategy for digital preservation of these materials? How will we avoid digital obsolescence?
  5. What is the strategy for identifying restrictions on use of the material? How does one identify and safeguard materials that have copyright restrictions, contain personally identifiable information, or contain classified materials?
  6. What are the economic and non-economic benefits of such an effort?
  • What are the cost savings to government?
  • What are the economic benefits? Would this effort enable industries that build on top of scientific and technical information, spur innovation in the legal marketplace, or enable our creative industries to create more effectively?
  • What are the non-economic benefits? Will such an effort lead to better STEM and other educational efforts? Will it promote a more informed citizenry and better access to justice?

One thought on “An Immodest Proposal – Digitizing the Government

  1. Pingback: Update Corner: Scans and Critical Elements « Pasco Phronesis

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