Knight awards $3.2m to eight open government projects (2013)

Knight Foundation

The Knight News Challenge on Open Gov has awarded more than $3.2m funding to eight projects working to make public information more accessible and useful.

They are:

Civic Insight: Providing up-to-date information on vacant properties so that communities can find ways to make tangible improvements to local spaces;

OpenCounter: Making it easier for residents to register and create new businesses by building open source software that governments can use to simplify the process;

Open Gov for the Rest of Us: Providing residents in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago with the tools to access and demand better data around issues important to them, like housing and education; Launching a public policy simulator that helps people visualize the impact that public policies like health care reform and school budget changes might have on local economies and communities;

Oyez Project: Making state and appellate court documents freely available and useful to journalists, scholars and the public, by providing straightforward summaries of decisions, free audio recordings and more; Making government contract bidding more transparent by simplifying the way smaller companies bid on government work;

GitMachinesSupporting government innovation by creating tools and servers that meet government regulations, so that developers can easily build and adopt new technology;

Plan in a Box: Making it easier to discover information about local planning projects, by creating a tool that governments and contractors can use to easily create websites with updates that also allow public input into the process.

Knight has more detailed information about each of the projects here. The next Knight News Challenge, the second of two this year, will be announced soon.

NSA and FBI tap into social, email and phone accounts }

The Washington Post on what PRISM is

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post.

The program, code-named PRISM, has not been made public until now. It may be the first of its kind. The NSA prides itself on stealing secrets and breaking codes, and it is accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers. But there has never been a Google or Facebook before, and it is unlikely that there are richer troves of valuable intelligence than the ones in Silicon Valley.

 A slide presentation used to brief analysts at the National Security Agency about PRISM


Prism Collection Details-Slide


The Guardian on the NSA collecting Verizon customer phone records

The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecomsproviders, under a top secret court order issued in April.

The order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson, compels Verizon to produce to the NSA electronic copies of “all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications between the United States and abroad” or “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls”.

The order directs Verizon to “continue production on an ongoing daily basis thereafter for the duration of this order”. It specifies that the records to be produced include “session identifying information”, such as “originating and terminating number”, the duration of each call, telephone calling card numbers, trunk identifiers, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number, and “comprehensive communication routing information”.

The information is classed as “metadata”, or transactional information, rather than communications, and so does not require individual warrants to access.

Facebook and Google insist they did not know of Prism surveillance program

In a blogpost titled ‘What the…?’ Google co-founder Larry Page and chief legal officer David Drummond said the “level of secrecy” around US surveillance procedures was undermining “freedoms we all cherish.”

“First, we have not joined any program that would give the US government – or any other government – direct access to our servers. Indeed, the US government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called Prism until yesterday,” they wrote.

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, described the press reports about Prism as “outrageous”. He insisted that the Facebook was not part of any program to give the US government direct access to its servers. “We hadn’t even heard of Prism before yesterday,” he said.


The NY Times on Obama saying surveillance programs are legal and limited

President Obama on Friday offered a robust defense of the government surveillance programs revealed this week, and sought to reassure the public that his administration has not become a Big Brother with eyes and ears throughout the world of online communications.

“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” Mr. Obama said, delivering a 14-minute answer to two questions about the surveillance programs at an event that was initially supposed to be devoted to the health care law. “That’s not what this program is about.”


Obama tells intelligence chiefs to draw up cyber target list – full document text

Eighteen-page presidential memo reveals how Barack Obama has ordered intelligence officials to draw up a list of potential overseas targets for US cyber attacks. (Memo is embedded).


The Atlantic cites the UN: Most Countries Are Increasingly Spying on Their Citizens

report released this week by the UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom of opinion and expression found that as communications systems have advanced, nations all over the world are increasingly logging and monitoring communications data, many even without just cause… In the worst cases, countries are actually listening in on their own citizens, remotely hacking into their computers and turning on Web cameras, or logging in and intercepting Skype calls.

Anonymous releases private NSA documents regarding spying

Anonymous has obtained some documents that “they” do not want you to see, and much to “their” chagrin, we have found them, and are giving them to you.
These documents prove that the NSA is spying on you, and not just Americans.  They are spying on the citizens of over 35 different countries.
These documents contain information on the companies involved in GiG, and Prism.
Whats GiG you might ask? well…


Daniel Sinker remembers learning of irregularities in his phone line

I don’t remember much about those conversations now, but I still remember the distinct click the phone made when we switched from talking about the Iraq story to discussing her misadventures at the local laundromat earlier that evening.

That click became a regular occurrence on our office line—popping up as you’d move towards or away from more politically charged topics—and was followed not long after by intractable problems with our office phone line. Occasionally you’d pick up the phone and, instead of a dial tone, you’d get the digital static of a modem; other times you’d pick up and there’d be a few moments of silence followed by a click and a dial tone.


Motherboard offers a Guide to Avoiding the NSA

First, it’s time to take an inventory of anything you own or are borrowing that can be traced. Phones, credit cards, cars, e-mail addresses, bank accounts, social media profiles, wi-fi coffee machines, residences, P.O. boxes, and so on—any piece of property where there is more than a handwritten cash receipt proving more than purchase price should either be ditched or reengineered to steer clear of the NSA’s radars.

Where to watch NZ election coverage online + examples of coverage (2011)

Updated Nov 26, 2011

A few links on some of the ways media (and a few other organisations) covered the build-up and election night of the general election and referendum in New Zealand (Saturday Nov 26 2011) – #votenz.

The (preliminary) election result

Party Party
National Party 957,769 47.99 41 19 60
Labour Party 541,499 27.13 22 12 34
Green Party 211,931 10.62 0 13 13
New Zealand First Party 135,865 6.81 0 8 8
Māori Party 26,887 1.35 3 0 3
ACT New Zealand 21,446 1.07 1 0 1
Mana 19,898 1.00 1 0 1
United Future 12,159 0.61 1 0 1
Conservative Party 55,070 2.76 0 0 0
Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party 9,516 0.48 0 0 0
Democrats for Social Credit 1,432 0.07 0 0 0
Libertarianz 1,405 0.07 0 0 0
Alliance 1,069 0.05 0 0 0
69 52 121

The (preliminary) referendum result

Part A – Should New Zealand keep the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system?
Response Number of Votes Percentage of Total Votes
KEEP 155,966 53.74%
CHANGE 123,708 42.62%
Informal Votes 10,559 3.64%
Total Votes 290,233 100.00%
Part B – If New Zealand were to change to another voting system which voting system would you choose?
Response Number of Votes Percentage of Total Votes
FPP 92,416 31.89%
PV 23,749 8.19%
STV 32,564 11.24%
SM 42,120 14.53%
Informal Votes 98,967 34.15%
Total Votes 289,816 100.00%

Today’s main papers/news sites:

NZ Herald/Herald on Sunday | Stuff | Radio NZDominion Post | TV3 | TVNZ | Maori TV | Listener | Scoop | | Waikato Times | Southland Times | Taranaki Daily News | Otago Daily Times | Sunday Star-Times | Sunday News

Overseas coverage – the day after

Daily Telegraph UK |BBC | Al Jazeera English | The Sunday Telegraph (Australia) | Sydney Morning Herald | Straits Times | China Daily

Livestreamed election night coverage online

  • Maori Television livestream from 7pm. Other coverage here.
  • TV3 livestream from 7pm.  (Streaming available worldwide.) Other coverage here.
  • TV1:  TVNZ  from 7pm. (Streaming available worldwide.) Other coverage here.
  • Radio NZ National from 7pm – Kathryn Ryan and Simon Mercep. Listen online. Other coverage here.
  • RadioLive from 7pm – Mitch Harris, Andrew Patterson, David Slack and Finlay MacDonald. Listen online. Other coverage here.
  • NewsTalk ZB from 7pm – Mike Hosking, Barry Soper and Sean Plunket. Listen online. Other coverage here.

Live TV and radio election night coverage

Freeview listings here.

Other coverage on election night

Updates after 7pm on NZ Herald Stuff Dominion Post |Listener Live Scoop Radio NZ | TV3 TVNZ Maori TV | |  TalkBack ZB | RadioLive | (Whitireia journalism students)

The Electoral Commission updated election results here as they came in, and referendum results here.The official results will be available on the same sites by December 10, 2011.

A number of news sites embedded these tables in their own coverage.

By region:

Southland: ran live updates out of Invercargill and surrounds.

Wellington: focused its live updates on Wellington and surrounding electorates with some national overview too. Whitireia journalism students had live updates on

Manawatu: ran live updates on Palmerston North electorate as well as national overview.

Taranaki: ran live updates from electorates in its region.

Waikato: had live updates about Waikato and surrounding electorates.

Auckland:  AucklandNow wasn’t running much and nzherald had more of a national focus on the night.

The Press ran national coverage (via Stuff) and I couldn’t see anything happening on Nelson Mail, Marlborough Express or the Timaru Herald.

APN appeared to run a single live update with a national focus across all its regional sites on the night, which include The Aucklander, Northern Advocate, Daily Post, Bay of Plenty Times, Hawkes Bay Today, Stratford Press, Wanganui Chronicle, Wairarapa Times-Age, Star Canterbury, Oamaru Mail.

Twitter, Twitterfall, Google+

We seem to have settled on #votenz as a hashtag. Here’s #votenz on Google+ and here’s a #votenz search on Twitter.

Twitterfall might be good to have running – add a search for #votenz in the lefthand column. It might take a little while to load.

(The Electoral Commission asked people not to post comments on blogs, news sites and social media during the day which could influence voters, but it remains to be seen how people responded to that request).

Visualising the results as they came in

Scoop ran an interactive map created by @keith_ng which was updated as results came in. It also ran on


NZ Herald had a visualisation of the make-up of the 49th House in Parliament, updated for the 50th as results came in.

Stuff and also had a results map being updated through the night.

Radio NZ was updating results in a bar chart and table. had been visualizing predictions on the make-up of parliament, outcome of the MMP referendum and other questions. They ran the Stuff election map tonight.

Kudos to Whitireia Journalism School

As far as I could see Whitireia was the only journalism students running live udpates on election night – on doodle for #votenz day 2011

Keeping track in the run-up to the election

Toby Manhire and Philip Pinner did a grand job collating  live coverage of the election over at the Listener – daily wraps of what’s in the papers, and a live update format for the day’s events, links to political blogs, radio interviews, TV and other coverage. They were also tweeting @ListenerLive. Excellent example of why linking out is a smart policy – these guys created such a useful starting point for following a topic (in this case, the election) that I found myself going back again and again. (Scoop does a nice job of linking out too.)

Listener Live was blogging live on election night too.


Most of the larger news sites had an Election 2011 or similar tab in their main nav and/or a fat pointer near the top of their homepage to point to election coverage. (If so, they appear in this list; if not, they don’t):

NZ Herald | Stuff | Radio NZDominion Post | TV3 | TVNZ | Maori TV | Listener | Scoop | | Waikato Times | Southland Times | Taranaki Daily News | Otago Daily Times |

Listening in

Radio NZ National compiled audio interviews broadcast during the campaign season:

Policy summaries

Most news sites had some kind of summary of policies. Here are a few.

  • Radio NZ had policy summaries here.
  • posted some bite-sized summaries of main policy points here.
  • 3 News had policy bullet points here.
  • had collated policy summaries taken from party websites here.

The parties

The party lists

Again, quite a few sites had the party lists posted. and are as good as any to check out.

Electorate maps

NZ Herald had a very good interactive map that lets you drill down into electorates to find candidates, previous results, polling places, demographics and more.

You could also use a pull-down menu to see candidates for each party. Would have been nice to click on images to see information on each candidate though, rather than clicking through to electorate information. This screengrab is the result for the Maori Party:

Maori TV also had an electorate map, for the Maori electorates, and while not as comprehensive as the Herald’s it’s still useful, links out to official electorate information, and there’s video of the Maori electorate debates televised over the past few weeks.

Readers’ reporter

Stuff ran a Readers’ Reporter series during the election build-up, inviting readers to submit questions about the issues of most concern to them. Then the Readers’ Reporter asked the question of the main parties.

How the parties have voted has a visualisation of how closely parties have voted on issues in the 49th parliament and how often they agreed on bills.


The referendum

In addition to the general election, there was a referendum to determine which voting system New Zealanders would prefer to use in future elections.

Most news sites carried explainers on the referendum and the voting systems on offer. Most referenced Election NZ’s, which is as good a place as any to go for the details. had a tool designed to help people decide which voting system best matches their beliefs.

So did Public Address.

NZ Herald had a quiz testing readers’ knowledge of the various voting systems.

Way back then 

NZ on Screen has some great video in its NZ Politics section of politicians in action down the years, including the 1984 leaders debate, Norman Kirk talking to David Frost in 1973, and the 2002 Spin Doctors election special.

Te Ara, the encyclopedia of New Zealand, lets you explore the history of political parties, Maori representation and explains parliament and the voting systems.




In praise of open New Zealand

This is an old post but I’m leaving it here for the hell of it. Failed links have been updated (where possible) or removed.

I’m heartened by some ‘open’ developments in New Zealand.

Firstly, kudos to Nat Torkington and Glen Barnes for setting up, a website that promises to catalogue any government data that’s publicly available for download and further use. This is cool. It can become a useful port of call for anyone looking for data to use on a specific project.

There’s quite a lot of publicly available information emanating from the public sector, which is great. I love the images the National Library has made available under a Creative Commons licence on Flickr and I’ve been a regular user this year of Papers Past, which contains countless digitised pages from early New Zealand newspapers.

In recent weeks I’ve been trawling the LINZ website, Companies Office, and many more as I work on a Wintec project to put our National Diploma of Journalism online and make it available as a part-time course of study (a big job, as it turns out, but rewarding to work on and we are on track to open the doors next February).

But public information can be hard to find unless you’ve got a lot of time on your hands or happen to be familiar with all the ministries and their various responsibilities and websites. When you do find it, it’s sometimes ‘eyes only’ –  you can visit the website and read the stuff or maybe download it as a pdf, but there appears to be no practical way to download it in a format that allows you to re-use it or its constituent parts.

The Open Data Catalogue aims to be a centralised list of available data which links to the website that holds it and tells you whether it costs to download, how it can be downloaded (csv, xls, geo, api or other) and what licence applies. Brilliant.

Secondly, kudos to the people inside government who toil away making this data open and available. It can’t be easy making the case for it in the first place given that people have a tendency to want to keep data locked down.

That said, as Jason Ryan notes in a recent NSPC blog post, although there are more than 40 datasets on the Open Data site from central and local government agencies:

The point to bear in mind as you scroll down this list, though, is that these sets represent a fraction of the data the Crown holds. This catalogue could easily extend to hundreds of pages…

So, while we celebrate the initiative of the Ministry for the Environment releasing data under a Creative Commons license, for example, it might be worth pausing and considering how we can accelerate this process.

Later he says:

The critical issue in opening up government data [is]: culture change.

It’s not about the technology. It’s not about data quality. Or privacy. Or commercial sensitivity, or any of that stuff. That should all be dealt to as part of the everyday functioning of any administration. It is about accepting that we, the government, collect and manage this information on behalf of citizens and that it is our fundamental responsibility to make it available to them in a way that supports the creation of public and economic value.

This isn’t an add-on, or a ‘nice to do.’ It’s an integral part of our operating environment now.

I agree completely.

Jason also pointed to an Open Govt Data Bar Camp being planned, possibly next month in Wellington. A Bar Camp is an unconference – a conference where the agenda is set by participants themselves and where ideas can often be put into action on the spot – and represents a good opportunity for people in a position to help open up data to do so collegially.

The ability to get information first-hand, or at least nearer to it, holds considerable appeal for me. I increasingly find myself looking for the source of news stories so I can make up my own mind of their value. By sources I mean the report, speech, press conference, statistics etc that the story was based on or sparked by. I’m fairly sure I’m not alone in this.

So all power to the people who are making that possible. Long may it continue, and thanks.