Just yesterday, President Obama signed an executive order that requires government agencies to publish their data in “open, machine readable formats”:
the default state of new and modernized Government information resources shall be open and machine readable.
I have a hard time imagining better uses of the President’s dictator-like power than this.
Personally, I don’t believe the President (or any individual for that matter) should have the ability to make Laws without first submitting them to a review process and subsequently a vote. Executive Orders are problematic because they bypass Congress, it is a flaw in an otherwise reasonably balanced system:
However, the consequences of this particular executive order are in our favor, so this is a good thing, despite the fact that it came about because of a bad mechanism. Forcing the Bureaus to open up their data for public consumption enables individuals and groups outside the government to do things with that data that most of the bureaucrats could never have imagined.
All of this is great, provided the data are accurate, it is entirely possible that data could be ‘fudged’, ‘massaged’ or just plain made up. So in addition to the newly hackable government data, there should be a more active skepticism about the accuracy of that data. For example, if the Department of Homeland Security is reporting that there are cyber attacks coming from China, that data should be cross-checked with that of ISPs to ensure that there is a legitimate threat before any laws are passed or executive orders signed.
I think this is a good thing that came about for the wrong reasons, but the consequences are more important than the intentions, because the consequences really happen, intentions are just in the mind.