What's New In Civic Tech: Tech Workers Say No to a Muslim Registry, U.S. Senate Passes OPEN Government Data Act

Plus, San Francisco releases a Startup in Residence playbook and Long Beach, Calif., welcomes a new innovation director.

by / December 15, 2016

What's New in Civic Tech is a look at highlights and happenings in the world of civic tech.

Tech workers vow not to help build a Muslim registry

It’s far from clear what President-elect Donald Trump means when he talks about building a database of Muslims. He hasn’t spoken much about details, and talk from the people surrounding him has sometimes contradicted the sentiment altogether.

But technology workers — including some who work at companies and groups that work closely with government — aren’t waiting for a clearer answer. This week they started signing an online vow not to build any database for the government based on religion.

The list of organizations represented included GitHub, Oracle, Palantir Technologies, Microsoft, Mapzen, Cisco, Salesforce and Google. Also on the list was Eric Jackson, an information technology worker for the city of Asheville, N.C.

The website hosting the proposal, neveragain.tech, compared the idea of building a registry of Muslims to the efforts to identify and track Jews during the Holocaust, as well as the rounding up of Japanese citizens in camps during World War II and other historical atrocities.

“We are choosing to stand in solidarity with Muslim Americans, immigrants, and all people whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by the incoming administration’s proposed data collection policies,” text at the top of the site reads. “We refuse to build a database of people based on their Constitutionally-protected religious beliefs. We refuse to facilitate mass deportations of people the government believes to be undesirable.”

As of Dec. 15, the site had more than 1,200 names listed.

U.S. Senate Passes OPEN Government Data Act

The U.S. Senate passed legislation on Dec. 10 to require that federal agencies publish their data in machine-readable formats and make it available free of cost to the public.

Sen. Brian Schatz’s OPEN Government Data Act also requires federal agencies to inventory their data and publish those inventories on data.gov, a growing repository of government open data. Even more data will be available from federal agencies in the form of detailed expenditure reports come May — the deadline for agencies to comply with the DATA Act.

The Sunlight Foundation, long a proponent of the OPEN bill, said the move is a signal of support for transparency in a time of uncertainty about how open government in the U.S. will be going forward.

“Data created using the funds of the people should be available to the people in open formats online, without cost or restriction,” a foundation newsletter reads. “We hope that the U.S. House will quickly move to re-introduce the bill in the 115th Congress and work across the aisle to enact it within the first week of public business.”

San Francisco Releases Startup in Residence Playbook

San Francisco officials have published a “playbook” to guide other cities in emulating its Startup in Residence program.

The STIR program, launched in 2014, involves San Francisco inviting startups to work closely with municipal departments to develop problem-solving technology and services. Since the program began, San Francisco has expanded it to the California cities of San Leandro, Oakland and West Sacramento.

The playbook offers four stages to setting up a STIR program in a city: sourcing and scoping challenges, soliciting and selecting startups, completing the residency, and finally delivery of the product and celebration.

The STIR website has a form for interested parties to sign up to help launch programs in new partner cities.

Long Beach Names New Innovation Team Director

Long Beach, Calif., has named a 10-year veteran of its municipal government to lead its Innovation Team (i-team).

Tracy Colunga, Long Beach’s neighborhood relations officer, will take over leadership of the Bloomberg Philanthropies-funded i-team. She officially starts in the role on Jan. 3.

Colunga is replacing John Keisler, who was the first i-team director. His tenure focused on economic development projects, which he is taking with him as he transitions to lead the city’s Department of Economic and Property Development.

Colunga has worked on many different programs, including gang intervention efforts, the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, a violence prevention plan and a language access policy for Long Beach, according to a city statement. She holds a master’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles and a bachelor’s degree from St. Mary’s College, both for social work.

“Ms. Colunga is a trusted community leader who will lead our efforts to research and develop solutions to help move our city forward,” said City Manager Patrick West. “She will be a great resource and partner to the community and to our city departments."

With the reassignment of Keisler, the city has been working to develop a second focus are for the i-team to pursue as it heads into its last year of funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies. Ryan Murray, the mayor’s innovation deputy, said the city isn’t prepared yet to reveal what the new focus will be.

Ben Miller Staff Writer

Ben Miller is the business beat staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.