Prying Open Government: The Sunlight Foundation’s Fight for Transparency

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“We live in a world of big data,” says Chris Gates, director of the Sunlight Foundation. “And people talk about big data all the time. But until data is actually sorted in a way that makes sense – and truly open, so that people can have access to it – the fact that we’re surrounded by data doesn’t change much.”

Before the digital age, accessing public records on goverment officials was often a tedious and impractical chore, even for skilled investigators. The Sunlight Foundation was started nine years ago to leverage web sotfware and public disclosure requirements to turn vast amounts of raw data into user-friendly, searchable databases. The non-partisan, non-profit organization’s powerful tools like OpenCongress and Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker allow the public to track the flow of political money and map the nexus of influence in Washington like never before.

Gates sat down with Reason TV’s Todd Krainin to discuss how technology keeps goverment transparent. Whether it’s finding a comprehensive list of President Obama’s deleted tweets, or discovering who the Dalai Lama met on his recent trip to Washington, D.C., or even which politicians used hackneyed phrases like “do it for the children”, detailed information about government is only a few clicks away.

Although the Sunlight Foundation makes the most of transparency requirements, Gates reminds us that the government still doesn’t share everything they should. When politicians find creative ways to evade disclosure requirements, it can be difficult to hold them accountable.

Runs 8:43 minutes.

Produced by Meredith Bragg. Interview by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Bragg.