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Carl Malamud's digital manifesto

The online activist offers a strong argument for open-sourcing government--and ways for the government to leverage digital technology and the Internet.

We all understand that government could do more to benefit from computer technology, but Carl Malamud can say exactly what it ought to do differently.

In a speech at the Government 2.0 Summit in Washington, D.C., last week, the online activist laid out a strong argument for how government should be using technology to make the legislative process and other government operations more accessible by the public.

Cover of Carl Malamud's By the People
Malamud's pamphlet Carl Malamud

Malamud fit his recommendations into an explanation of how the U.S. government has evolved over the last 250 years. He discussed how the nation's founders "established the principle that government must communicate with the people," and how the Lincoln administration "established the principles of documentation and consultation." Malamud summarizes what he sees as a third wave of information technology in government:

We are now witnessing a third wave of change--an Internet wave--where the underpinnings and machinery of government are used not only by bureaucrats and civil servants, but by the people. This change has the potential to be equally fundamental.

Malamud has been working toward better government for a long time. A 2008 article by CNET's Declan McCullagh ("Tech activist takes on governments over 'copyrighted' laws") gives a good overview of his work.

Malamud's speech, "By the People..." is available at his Web site, Public.resource.org. I think it should be required reading for anyone involved in government information technology, whether as a supplier or consumer. Don't miss the accompanying pamphlet of the same title; it has extensive footnotes for the speech as well as an appendix listing "29 things government could do today."

The list is very specific, very actionable, and very sensible.

Malamud's speech also presented a model for thinking about government: the notion of government as the country's operating system. In effect, he wants to open-source government.

Google tells me the concept of government-as-operating-system goes back at least to 1980 when Andrew Klossner wrote "A parallel between operating system and human government" for the ACM's SIGOPS Operating Systems Review. Ironically, that article lives behind a pay wall, so I haven't read it.

In any event, it's a powerful concept, and worth thinking about.