What’s New in Civic Tech: Cybersecurity Expert Calls for Creation of ‘Cyber Peace Corps’

Plus, PayNearMe helps NYC residents pay parking tickets with cash, OpenDataSoft and Amazon partner on free data portal for 500 mid-sized cities, Newark, N.J., works with private partners to launch a gigabit wireless Internet connection, and Sunnyvale, Calif., taps archiving platform to bolster digital transparency.

by / October 26, 2017
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Citing an inability at all levels of governments across the world to defend against cyberattacks, a cybersecurity expert is calling for the U.S. Congress to expand the mandates of the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps to include a cyber peace corps, a new global service group to address an evolving threat.

Scott Shackelford, the cybersecurity program chair at Indiana University, called for the creation of the group in a post online, citing the increasingly diverse public entities that hackers have begun to target, including North Dakota’s state government, the postal service in the Ukraine, and a hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia. Shackelford suggested that lawmakers could address the shared-global problem by amending the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act to include the new group with a cybersecurity imperative.

“The U.S. has an opportunity to serve itself and the world by revitalizing the ideals of global service popularized in another era of its history,” Shackelford wrote. “Congress should expand the mandates of the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps to create a Cyber Peace Corps.”

Shackelford, who is also the director of the Ostrom Workshop Program on Cybersecurity and Internet Governance, also wrote that the creation of such a group would help engender greater interest in cybersecurity work, potentially easing a projected shortage of cybersecurity professionals.

“There are untold thousands of people on college campuses, working for small businesses and in leading tech firms who are worried about the world’s lack of cybersecurity, but who feel powerless to change things,” Shackelford wrote. “If given an opportunity, their work would help create the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. And it could offer new opportunities to bridge partisan divides at home, and geopolitical fault lines abroad.”

PayNearMe Helps NYC Residents Pay Parking Tickets with Cash

New York City residents and visitors can now pay parking tickets with cash at more than 100 7-Eleven locations throughout the city thanks to a new partnership between the company PayNearMe and the city's Department of Finance.

The locations of the participating 7-Elevens are spread throughout all five boroughs. Folks with traffic violations go to www.nyc.gov/dofpaynearme, follow the directions, get a payment code, and then take it to a 7-Eleven cashier along with cash for the amount they owe plus a fee of $2.99.

The Department of Finance reports that in 2016 it handled more than 230,000 cash transactions, a substantial amount of revenue through the city. There was also significant hassle involved for the payees who had to make a trip to city offices to pay the money and for the civil servants who had to process the cash transactions. The new 7-Eleven system aims to be more convenient for the populous and more efficient for the city. Many 7-Elevens are also open 24 hours a day, creating flexibility.

“PayNearMe looks forward to working with the City of New York to offer new cash payment alternatives,” said Mike Kaplan, PayNearMe’s senior vice president of merchant processing, in a press release. “With a significant number of payment locations, people can pay their fines anytime, day or night. It also removes the strain from city offices and automates the payment process so that payments post on time and money can be put back to work.”

OpenDataSoft and Amazon Launch Free Data Portal for 500 Mid-Sized Cities

OpenDataSoft has launched Open Data America, a broad initiative that provides open data portals for more than 500 mid-sized cities throughout the United States.

Open Data America is a collaboration between OpenDataSoft and Amazon Web Services. In a press release, OpenDataSoft described it as a way to coordinate with cities and “help their administrators, elected officials and citizens better understand open data.” The effort encompasses a diverse group of participating cities that includes disparate jurisdictions like Salinas, Calif.; Ames, Iowa; and Portland, Maine.

To create the data portals, OpenDataSoft used available data sets from each city, centralizing them on a platform where they can be easily merged, analyzed and turned into visualizations. The idea is to make the information available in a way that makes it more helpful for citizens, elected officials, IT developers, journalists and companies.

While the open data portals may lack some of the fancier visualizations and capabilities being created and tested by innovation teams in places like Boston and Louisville, Ky., they’re a great fit for suburban and rural cities, boasting an easy-to-use and comprehensive interface. Subscriptions to the Open Data America portals are available through the Amazon Web Services Marketplace.

“We have seen firsthand how much a city can accomplish for its community using open data. We are excited to bring these opportunities to such a large set of American cities, towns and counties,” said OpenDataSoft co-founder and chief operating officer Franck Carassus in the statement.

Newark, N.J., Private Partners Launch 10 Gigabit Wireless Internet through Newark Fiber Program

To mark the start of a citywide celebration of startups, entrepreneurs and innovators, Newark, N.J., unveiled the city’s first 10 gigabit fixed wireless Internet connection on Oct. 25, made possible through the municipal Newark Fiber program.

2 Gateway, a building in downtown Newark, is the first in the city to get a commercially available connection at that speed. This is the second time the building has been tapped as a pioneer for fast Internet in the city, following last year when it became the charter member of Newark Fiber.

The new connection will be delivered through a millimeter wave radio link, giving commercial tenants of the building the ability to purchase more affordable access to wireless connections that offer speeds as fast as 10 gigabits per second.

Newark Fiber launched last year as part of a public-private partnership between fiber carriers, Internet service providers, nonprofit organizations and the city. In a press release, city officials said that comparable 10 gigabit fiber-optic connections are rarely available to commercial tenants located outside major corporate headquarters. While working to offer faster connectivity in the service of economic development is not a unique concept by any stretch, this Newark effort stands out for the heavy involvement of the city.

The news about the wireless connection in the 2 Gateway building was announced as part of Newark Tech Week, a five-day series of events in the city that includes networking, conferences and roundtable discussions about tech innovation and the city.

Sunnyvale, Calif., Taps Archiving Platform to Bolster Digital Transparency

Sunnyvale, Calif., will soon be able to keep records of text messaging, email and social media in one centralized and secure place.

To do so, the Bay Area city will partner with Smarsh, a company based in Portland, Ore., that works with government in the information archiving space. Sunnyvale will be using Smarsh's product, The Archiving Platform, which is designed to help governmental agencies at all levels keep records of new media and other communications.

While it's always tricky to pinpoint who is the first to do something in gov tech, Sunnyvale is certainly in the vanguard of municipal governments to tap a specialized platform to archive such communications. This move comes as transparency groups and other government accountability advocates have expressed concerns about records of things like text messages and Tweets, which can be deleted and lost with a click, fostering an impermanence that does not apply to old channels like paper letters. In a press release, Smarsh writes that its archiving platform is designed to help cities like Sunnyvale meet new compliance challenges surrounding electronic correspondence.

“Where some state and local governments are living in a paper-centric world, or avoiding the realities of their electronic recordkeeping requirements, the City of Sunnyvale's leadership and commitment to transparency and accountability stands out,” said Stephen Marsh, Smarsh CEO, in a press release.

Zack Quaintance Staff Writer

Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.