Mike Bracken to step down; Civic Hall hiring a writer/researcher for Rethinking Debates project; and more.
Tech and the presidentials: Here’s Donald Trump’s self-referential question to his fellow Republican presidential contenders, as posted in response to Facebook’s call for questions for the candidates appearing in the first GOP debate this Thursday. If you look closely, you’ll see that the article he has printed out on his desk for reading is headlined, “Donald Trump Winning Facebook by a Landslide.”
This headline has more cliches per word than most: “Exclusive: Republicans Launch Game-Changing Data Center That Will Forever Change Politics.” The story, by Mark Fidelman in Forbes.com, isn’t a scoop since people have been reporting on the GOP’s Data Center for years. But it does share some new data about what’s in Data Center, including the number of people in the national voter file that they’ve matched with email addresses (22 million) and the number of “micro targeting data points” they’ve amassed (7.7 billion).
Cryptowars, continued: Longtime British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell, author of much of the best reporting on Britain’s secret surveillance programs going back decades, reflects in The Intercept on how Edward Snowden’s disclosures have not only affirmed his earlier work, but also how the debate over rampant government eavesdropping has finally shifted.
While the German authorities have backed off their threat to investigate two journalists who write for Netzpolitik.org, the country’s leading political and digital rights blog, people there are still angry that they were threatened with a treason charge for publishing reports on domestic surveillance, Melissa Eddy reports for the New York Times.
Government opening: Mike Bracken, the pathbreaking director of digital for the U.K. government’s Cabinet Office, has announced that he’s stepping down after five years in that position.
As Code for America founder Jennifer Pahlka blogs, Bracken’s impact on digital government was transformative. Not only did he lead a massive overhaul of service delivery in the U.K., his work inspired her and other counterparts in the United States and led directly to the launch of the U.S. Digital Service. As Pahlka writes, “Now, a pilgrimage to the GDS that Mike and his team have built has become a rite of passage (and a shot of energy and inspiration) for every serious digital government reformer in city, state, and federal government in the U.S. and around the world. Each of us is hoping to learn from and borrow Mike’s model and capture even a fraction of the team’s success.”
Everything Pahlka says about Bracken’s influence is true (and this great talk by him at PDF 2014 showcases his thinking). I’d like to add one more personal comment, about his courage. When the gifted young coder and democracy activist Aaron Swartz took his life in January 2013, suffering under intense pressure from an over-zealous government prosecutor who thought his copying of academic journal articles was some kind of horrific crime, Bracken posted an eloquent tribute to Swartz (and an equally skilled British hacker, Chris Lightfoot, who was a pioneer of e-democracy at mySociety), titled “Standing on the shoulders of giants,” on Government Digital Service’s official blog. To my knowledge, not a single one of Bracken’s counterparts in the U.S. federal branch who work on open government did anything equivalent to mourn Swartz’s untimely death.
Hidden pleasures: Melody Kramer has pulled together an impressive list of “every hidden journalism-related social media group I could find.”
The Datadrive.com is a crazy, funny satire of Facebook, made by Daniel Kolitz. Its premise: “The year is 2016. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has absconded to parts unknown, making off with the data of Facebook’s millions of users. Texas mattress mogul Buck Calhoun has purchased the gutted social network in a fire sale and has now launched a data drive to replenish its depleted stores of valuable personal information.” Check it out during your lunch break.
Job opening at Civic Hall: We’re looking to hire a researcher/writer for our new Rethinking Debates project. Please help spread the word!
And with that, I’m off for some vacation—my able colleague Jessica McKenzie will be holding down the fort here at First Post while I’m away.