Michael Robertson Facing Resistance To New Gov't Transparency Project

from the sunlight-is-tough dept

Over the last few years, there have been a number of important efforts to increase transparency, openness and accountability from the government -- often by concerned citizens. For example, there have been things like the Sunlight Foundation, as well as efforts by people like Carl Malamud to digitize and make available all sorts of government information. There have also been some specifically targeted projects, such as the effort by some grad students at Princeton to put together the RECAP project to make court documents more easily accessible for free. And, of course, there have been high profile projects such as Wikileaks, which is often looking for leaked, rather than officially obtained, government information.

It looks like serial entrepreneur Michael Robertson is about to get into the game as well. He's planning to launch the "Naked Government," project in the near future. The idea is to catalog public documents, demand more access to information that should be public... and also to highlight who else has been requesting public information. To kick it off, Robertson and others at Naked Government have been making requests for public information, such as names, titles and salary information of various school districts in Southern California.

While many have complied, some have tried to push back. Robertson told me that organizations have even claimed "we don't have a list of people who work for us and their salaries." Others have argued they don't have the information digitally, and thus don't have to provide it. Some asked for outrageously high compensation to produce the data. In one case -- involving Robertson's home school district, the Del Mar Union School District, which his children attend -- the school has argued that privacy rights prevented them from revealing the data.

This resulted in some back and forth between the school district and Naked Government employees, with the school district at first claiming that anyone who made less than $100,000 did not have to have their salaries disclosed. The district's lawyers were relying on a lawsuit where someone had requested the salaries of any Oakland employees making more than $100,000, which the court said should be revealed. The $100,000 number came from the request -- it was never a condition set by the court. The court gave no indication that there was any different rule for those making less than $100,000. At another point, after promising to provide the information to Robertson, the district sent him a list of titles and salaries... but with the names blacked out. This went on for a few weeks, with Robertson threatening legal action before the district finally complied and handed over all the info.

It should be interesting to see where this project goes, as it's always good to see more public accountability efforts out there on public information and records. Robertson, of course, is somewhat famous for ending up in court. I'm having trouble thinking of any of his startups where he didn't end up in court one way or the other -- though, he often used those legal fights to drum up more attention for what his companies were doing, which can be a decent strategy if (a) you're in the legal right and (b) you can withstand the hellish process of being involved in a lawsuit. We'll be watching this project closely and hoping that it adds to government transparency.
Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: government, michael robertson, transparency
Companies: naked government


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. icon
    Jay (profile), 18 Nov 2010 @ 10:56pm

    Inquiry

    Forgive me if I'm new, but who is Michael Robertson? And why does he always end up in court?

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Advertisment

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Discord

The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...

Loading...
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.