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Transparency, Social Media and Gun Safety

4 ways technology can help make guns safer, 5 up-and-coming social media sites and more.

Edited by Tod Newcombe

What should governments consider before releasing data sets for public consumption? It’s a question a growing number of local governments are asking and one that the Center for Technology in Government, an Albany-based research and education organization, is investigating.

”The idea that it’s a good idea to know what your government is doing is fundamental to democracy, so we think opening government is a phenomenon that needs to be expanded, advanced and encouraged, and has the potential to make our democracy stronger and make our governments more effective,” said CTG Senior Fellow Tony Cresswell.

The Dynamics of Opening Government Data, released last month, looks at what it actually means to release government data sets to the public. According to the CTG, governments would be wise to thoughtfully consider which data sets they release. “Picking data resources that have a value proposition both internal to government and externally in the community seem to be the ones with the biggest payoff,” Cresswell explained.

Secondly the release of the data can’t be the end game. Rather, it’s just the beginning. Opening up new data streams for public use will hopefully spur creativity and ideas for new uses. Governments should spend some time thinking about how the data might be used ahead of time, so that it can adjust resources accordingly.

In New York City, the initial release of restaurant inspection data online in 2007 brought negative reactions from restaurant owners. Following an unfavorable inspection, they were anxious to have their establishments re-evaluated in order to improve their score. Responding to the outcry, the city eventually hired more inspectors to facilitate faster re-inspections, and get the corresponding updated evaluation information posted online. 

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On the technology side, city officials underestimated the public interest in the restaurant inspection data, and IT infrastructure described as “primitive” buckled as a result of all the additional traffic.

The recent upsurge in the national gun control conversation provides a perfect example of the trickier side of open data. The New York Journal recently published an interactive map of registered gun owners in Westchester and Rockland counties. While the data was legally obtained using public information requests, there was a significant outcry over the information being made public. Many felt that the safety of law-abiding gun owners, including law enforcement officers, was put at risk. Likewise, community members felt that publishing the data put homeowners without guns at risk as well.

Five up-and-coming social media sites and applications that government should pay attention to in 2013 and beyond:

• Nextdoor is a private social network designed to let neighbors connect and restore a sense of community to neighborhoods. Co-founder Sarah Leary said 28 percent of Americans don’t know any of their neighbors by name. To fill that communications gap, Nextdoor provides an online place for community interaction about useful information. It aims to be an online hub for spreading the word about a break-in, organizing a garage sale or getting recommendations about local businesses. Government representatives, like city managers and police officers, can use Nextdoor to connect with users and post information for them. However, they can’t see the rest of the conversation, including profile pages or the member directory.

• makes it easy to connect people who have similar interests. According to the site, it’s “the place to find incredible content about whatever you’re into and other people who are just as passionate about it as you are.” Launched in October 2011, lets people share opinions, questions, interests, hobbies, etc. Unlike most social networks, is organized around subjects instead of people and does not have the typical status updates. Instead, it has “chimes.”

• #Waywire (the name includes a hashtag) is a video news-sharing service co-created by Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker. The site is designed to democratize the news. The #waywire database contains raw footage from 60 content partners, including Reuters, so users can edit together their own reports on breaking news. This new social platform is moving forward with the mindset that video is the future of communicating, and it’s been described as a more socially conscious YouTube.

• Antezen is designing apps to bring like-minded professionals and businesspeople together. One app determines who a user likes to work with as well as who those people like to work with. It mines the data available about professionals on LinkedIn and arrives at a score, called a mutual affinity factor, indicating how much the user and people they don’t yet know might enjoy doing business together. Once enough data is collected, it can also suggest jobs for users based on who it predicts they would enjoy working with. Another Antezen app, a skills matching engine, allows for more advanced searches pertaining to job descriptions. The combination of the mutual affinity factor and skills matching engine could help provide a complete hiring solution.

• Ning is a platform that allows people and organizations to create custom social networks. It was designed to let users weave social conversations into content and inspire action. Though it’s not new (Ning was founded in 2004), its use is on the rise, particularly for nonprofit organizations looking to spread the word about their respective causes. Ning integrates with other social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. For governments or agencies that have a large workforce, Ning could be a way to update internal forums and increase collaboration among employees. While serving as Virginia’s secretary of technology, Aneesh Chopra used Ning to create a social network to connect health-care providers in the state and provide a way for them to share best practices.

What role does technology play in the policy debate over gun control? Here are four key ways it may help make gun use safer.

1. Biometrics Already in broad use to provide a measure of security in accessing restricted areas, smartphones and cars, features like grip pattern detection store information on a gun owner, keeping anyone other than that person from firing the weapon. According to a report in the Huffington Post, this technology can store data on more than one person when the weapon is shared, such as cases of law enforcement or the military.

2. Safe Zones Irish company TriggerSmart has patented a childproof gun that can be remotely disabled in restricted zones like schools and airports. Recently mentioned in the New York Times, the weapons use RFID technology to disable guns entering designated areas.

3. Location Awareness Existing GPS technology could allow guns to know their own location and whether another gun is in close proximity. In an opinion piece for CNN, Jeremy Shane, who served in the Justice Department under President George H. W. Bush, explained that leveraging this kind of software could keep a shooter from unleashing multiple shots into crowded public spaces or discharging a weapon when no other guns are nearby.

4. Target Recognition Another potential technology employs vision and optical sensing technology now being used for military and medical purposes, according to Shane. Sensing technology could then prevent the gun from being fired if a child is at the other end of the barrel.

Information for this newsletter was compiled from news reports published by

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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