Letter in support of a New York City Public Data Directory, written to Councilmember Cabrera

Dear Councilmember Cabrera:

Thank you for recently co-sponsoring Intro. 431, a bill introduced by Councilmember Dan Garodnick requiring that the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) publish a public data directory. Our organizations, a newly formed coalition of prominent civic and civil liberties groups, and the technologist community, greatly appreciate your expression of support for this important proposal.

The public data directory bill has widespread support in the Council with 21 co-sponsors on the bill including every member of the Technology Committee. Given this level of support, we respectfully request that you hold a hearing on the bill in June.

Intro. 431 would shift the existing responsibility to publish a public data directory from the Commission on Public Information and Communication (COPIC), which is effectively defunct, to DOITT.  Currently, under Section 1062 of Chapter 47 of the New York City Charter, COPIC is required to annually publish a public data directory. The directory is required to list the computerized information produced or maintained by city agencies that is required to be publicly accessible. It is also required to list the contents, format and methods of accessing the information, as well as the contact information for officials responsible for receiving inquiries about information at the appropriate agency. The public data directory has only been published twice, in 1993 and 2001. Given that COPIC is dormant, our organizations recommend that the Public Data Directory instead be published by the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DOITT) in an accessible format on the City’s website.

It is thought by some that this proposal is intertwined with the fate of Intro. 129, Council-member Gale Brewer’s bill that would require agencies publish particular sets of data accessed through a singular web portal.  Our belief is that Intro. 431 is a necessary prerequisite to Intro. 129.  Regardless of the data sets ultimately made available under Intro. 129, the process of collecting that data should begin with creating an inventory of all information subject to the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) produced or maintained by an agency, then determining which documents subject to FOIL meet the definitions of “data” and “data set” in Intro. 29.  Irrespective of our feelings on the perceived connection between these bills, as civic and technology-related organizations with a shared interest in open government, we believe these discussions are best had at a hearing on Intro. 431.

Thank you again for your recent support.  We look forward to a hearing on the bill to continue the dialogue.  Should you be interested in speaking with our groups further or setting up a meeting, please contact Alex Camarda, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy, at Citizens Union.

Regards,

Thomas Giovanni, Brennan Center for Justice

Alex Camarda, Citizens Union

Phil Ashlock, Civic Commons

Andrew Hoppin, Civic Commons Advisory Board

Deanna Bitetti, Common Cause/New York

Udi Ofer, NYCLU

Gene Russianoff, NYPIRG

Noel Hidalgo, Open NY Forum

Nick Grossman OpenPlans

John Kaehny, Reinvent Albany

Ruth E. Acker, Women’s City Club of New York