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What’s New in Civic Tech: DataSF Updates Long-Term Plans, Reviews Annual Achievements

Plus, Congress seeks to establish basic IoT security standards, and Boston introduces Snapchat filters to show off city landmarks.

DataSF, San Francisco’s open data initiative, has posted its annual update for its goals and workplan, vowing to increase efforts in data use among other more nuanced objectives.

In a blog post on its website, DataSF detailed hopes for the upcoming year four of the program while also reviewing the accomplishments it made in year three. Goals for the coming year included making timely data easily available, establishing efficient and effective data governance, and increasing the use of data in decision-making.

While the history of DataSF dates back to 2009, the current incarnation of the program was launched in mid-August 2014, with the goal at the time being to offer visitors a more usable, minimalistic design and interface that allowed them easier access to the data sets within. A number of strategic goals were set along a three-year timeframe then, a time frame that ends this year.

In the words of DataSF’s blog post, “last year was a big year for DataSF.” Accomplishments in year three were robust, ranging from the creation of a new publishing portal to an open data release toolkit to fun data-themed posts like Data We Are Thankful For, which went up right around Thanksgiving.

There were many other achievements as well, all of which are detailed on the blog post. Visitors can also read this year’s plan and the year in review, as well as all of DataSF’s previous strategic plans.


New Bill in Congress Seeks to Establish Basic IoT Security Standards

U.S. senators have introduced a bill that aims to improve the cybersecurity of any Internet-connected devices.

Dubbed the Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2017, the bill would require that all devices purchased by the federal government meet certain minimum cybersecurity standards. Under the terms of the bill, vendors who supply the federal government with these IoT devices would have to ensure they are patchable, and free of hard-coded passwords that can’t be changed and any known security vulnerabilities, among other things. It also promotes precautions among government-adjacent entities, encouraging federal contractors to adopt coordinated vulnerability disclosure policies.

The proposed legislation comes in the wake of a massive cyberattacks last year that crippled the Internet by exploiting the Web connections of everyday items such as security cameras, digital video records and baby monitors.

This bipartisan legislation was introduced by the co-chairs of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus — Sen. Mark Warner, D, Va., and Sen. Cory Gardner, R, Colo. — as well as Sen. Ron Wyden, D, Ore., and Sen. Steve Daines, R, Mont. The bill was drafted in consultation with cybersecurity experts from the Atlantic Council and the Berklett Cybersecurity Project of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

The Internet of Things is a growing network of connected devices and sensors, expected to include more than 20 billion devices by 2020. Cyberexperts have long pointed to vulnerabilities in the way some such items are manufactured with factory-set, hard-coded passwords, and without the capacity to be patched or changed. Such lax security creates an entry point that can make entire networks vulnerable to cyberattack. 

Boston Introduces New Snapchat Filters to Show Off Neighborhoods, Landmarks

In a move likely to engage a younger sort of government technology user, Boston has launched a series of new Snapchat filters that residents can use to show off their neighborhoods, as well as prominent local landmarks.

There are 12 new filters in a wave that was released this month, following the release of three similar filters that debuted in June. The filters, which are designed to showcase Boston, feature artwork from the Department of Innovation and Technology’s design team. Some of the filter designs — such as the ones for Government Center and Roslindale — have been molded after iconic architecture in their respective areas. Meanwhile, the inspiration for some of the other filters — such as the ones for Dorchester and Hyde Park — came from homes that caught the designers’ eyes as they explored the city’s neighborhoods.

More information about Boston’s new filters is available here, and the full list of location-based filters includes Government Center, Hyde Park, East Boston, Back bay, Roslindale, Beacon Hill, Charlestown, Roxbury, Mission Hill, Dorchester, Bay Village, Brighton, West End, Allston and Jamaica Plain.

SnapChat, for the uninitiated, is a newer social media app that allows users to post videos, pictures and other updates in real-time, making them fleetingly available on their feeds. It’s known for colorful filters that modify the look of those updates. It’s not uncommon for Snapchat to feature timely filters in tune with pop culture and just general Internet nonsense, with themes and little touches ranging from odd dancing hotdogs to Game of Thrones.

For such a seemingly innocuous social media app, Snapchat has regularly found itself entwined with government technology since its inception in 2011. Some experts have wondered if Snapchat can help engage a government audience, while others have posited that Snapchat is a valuable social media tool for emergency management. The Colorado Department of Transportation has even used Snapchat to help with a seat-belt safety campaign.


San José, Calif. Smartphone App Provides Easy Access to Common Service Requests

San José, Calif., has launched My San Jose, a smartphone app and Web tool that makes it easy for residents to report five common neighborhood issues: potholes, graffiti, abandoned vehicles, streetlight outages and illegal dumping.

The way this app works is simple: Residents just access from anywhere at any time, tag a location of a problem on a map, and then choose whether to attach a phone. The information goes to straight to relevant city departments, where it awaits a review and response. Residents, if so inclined, can track the progress of their complaints from there.

San José Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a press release that having app-based service request tools will help with a pair of city initiatives: San José’s Smart City Vision and #BeautifySJ. Officials also said that the plan is to add additional service requests and other functionalities in future updates for the app. Before that happens, though, users can tap a general request option and submit notes to the city’s general customer service center.

This smartphone service request app is part of a larger resident-facing automation trend that is sweeping through city, county and state governments this year. Chatbots, in particular, have taken root everywhere from Los Angeles to Arkansas to Mississippi and North Charleston, N.C., with the scope of services and the levels of interactivity varying by jurisdiction.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.