Monday, September 29, 2014

Is government paying enough attention to privacy in its mobile apps?

Australian internet usage has just reached a tipping point, with more Aussies accessing the internet via their smartphones and tablets than via laptops and desktop computers.

This has been reflected in web usage statistics, with several agencies I talk to reporting that they now receive more of their website traffic from mobile devices than from desktop and laptop computers - particularly when excluding their own staff from the statistics.

There have also now been over 500 mobile apps designed, commissioned or reused by Australian government agencies and councils to deliver information, access services and report issues, including 69 apps from Federal agencies80 from Victorian government agencies22 from Queensland government agencies and many from local councils around the country.

There's even a few notable games, such as the ABS's Run That Town and Victoria's MetroTrains Dumb Ways to Die.

As a result there's an increasing need for agencies to pay attention to how they design mobile apps to ensure they meet appropriate accessibility and privacy standards.

The latter part of this, privacy, was the subject of a recent study and guide from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) - Mobile privacy: A better practice guide for mobile app developers.

The guide reported that privacy was a key consideration for citizens, with a 2013 study by the OAIC finding that 62 per cent of Australians opt not to use smartphone apps because of concerns about the way personal information would be used.

The guide also mentioned a similar study in the US by the Pew Research Centre in 2013 that found that 51 per cent of teenage app users had avoided certain apps over privacy concerns, and over a quarter had uninstalled an app because it was collecting personal information they did not wish to share.

Now that's all fine when Australian governments are designing apps properly.

However the OAIC took part in an international 'sweep' on mobile app privacy back in May. As part of this the OAIC examined 53 popular free iOS apps, with a focus on apps produced by or on behalf of Australian businesses AND Australian Government agencies.

The OAIC found that a significant number of these mobile apps did not meet Australian privacy law requirements.

‘Of particular concern was that almost 70% of the apps we looked at failed to provide the user with a privacy policy or terms and conditions that addressed privacy prior to the app being downloaded’, Mr Pilgrim said.

The OAIC also found that almost 25% of the apps examined did not appear to have privacy communications tailored for a small screen.

Only 15% of the Australian-developed apps the OAIC examined provided a clear explanation of how they would collect, use and disclose personal information, with the most ‘privacy friendly’ apps offering brief, easy to understand explanations of what the app would and would not collect and use based on a user granting permission.

I'm sure the OAIC has privately fed back information to agencies on how their apps failed to meet Australian privacy and actions are underway to rectify this.

Other agencies and councils that have developed, are developing or have partnered with commercial mobile apps also need to be aware of the risks they are taking on if they don't adequately meet Australian privacy law.

Under the updated law that came into effect earlier this year, penalties for government agencies and corporations range up to a million dollars - making the omission of a privacy statement or use of user data without clear permission quite an expensive proposition.

Hopefully agencies are aware of the OAIC's report and are ensuring that user privacy is taken into account within their mobile apps.

If not, I hope we see some high profile examples to ensure that other agencies change their behaviour.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Civic hackers, government's hidden allies - an interview with Mark Headd of Accelera

This is the fifth in a series of interviews I'm doing as part of Delib Australia's media partnership with CeBIT in support of GovInnovate. I'll also be livetweeting and blogging the conference on 25-27 November.

For some people helping government use technology to better serve the public is their job, for others it’s their passion.

Mark Headd is firmly in the latter category.

Mark began his career as a government professional with a Masters in Public Administration working in New York’s state government in the late 1990s.

He fell into the technology sphere by accident, becoming interested in the burgeoning internet and how it was impacting society and government.

After stints as a policy advisor to the Delaware State Governor and then the state’s CIO Mark left government to start a new career as a programmer.

He taught himself how to code and worked as a software engineer for ten years.

Then, in around 2008, Mark came across Apps for Democracy, entered and won a prize and was hooked.

The competition reinvigorated his interest in government and how to leverage the skills and passion of people outside it to help.

He went to work for Code for America as Director of Government Relations, assisting governments to craft open data and civic participation policies and advocating for civic innovation.

Then Mark went back inside, working as the Chief Data Officer of the City of Philadelphia, developing and implementing an open data and government transparency plan for the city.

His latest move was earlier this year, to Accela, where he currently works as a Technical Evangelist, working with civic hackers to help governments improve how they operate and govern.

Mark told me that his biggest learning from the civic hacking movement in the United States was that there are lots of people out there who are interested, talented and want to help.

“They want to help because they care about their communities, not necessarily because they love particular governments. The sheer number of people willing and able to help is often surprising to public servants.”

Mark said that technology development and adoption are often difficult in government, “we are increasingly reaching a point where governments will implement technology in different ways.”

He cited the example of Healthcare.com in the US, where after a disastrous launch the President reached out to the private sector to help.

Mark says that governments often find that in the civic hacking community they have a hidden partner they’re not be aware of outside of government.

“However to take advantage of this governments must handle data a little differently, engage a little differently”.

Mark says that “it’s never been easier to make software or work with data, so more people are looking to government for access to these to help.”

In Mark’s experience, accessing this outside help shouldn’t be left to the technology or ICT teams, “these types of units tend to be internally facing, focused on serving the needs of other parts of government. There’s often not a lot of experience in these groups for engaging with external individuals and groups.”

He says that the first thing a government needs to do to get out of its own way was to involve people experiencedin external engagement.

“Engaging with civic hackers is simply engaging with a different cohort of citizens.”

Mark does believe there are some risks that governments need to mitigate when engaging these groups, but they aren’t insurmountable.

“There’s always the risk that a partnership won’t go well. However governments already have lots of risks that they have sound frameworks for managing.”

He said that the risk he most often heard was “how to we ensure we don’t release data that we shouldn’t release”.

To do this, Mark says, ask other governments what they’ve released and their experience of what is most used.”

There’s already agencies releasing data around the world, so the best way to mitigate a data risk is to find out what others have done and use their lessons learnt.”

He said that governments need to think about what data they want to make available and have used.

“Start with data that is already public but is malformed –such as in a PDF report or other format difficult to reuse. Once an agency has experience in these areas and infrastructure built to support it, move on to other data.”

In Mark’s view releasing data isn’t the end goal, “I believe that governments need to start thinking about their role in the civic technology chain.”

“If you ask a government IT employee they often self-identify as a builder, they build things that people use.”

“Governments need to realise that their role is changing. They will build less and become a platform, a steward, of the data that other people use to build things for the public.”

This sounds like a big shift, but as Mark pointed out, it’s no bigger than what we’ve already seen in the last ten years.

“If you had described to a government official ten years ago that it would be impossible to deliver services to the public or do their job as a public servant without the internet, they would have laughed at you and not believed it.”

“We’re in the same boat today – when you tell a public official that they won’t be building services for the public, instead releasing the data that allows others to build those services, many simply don’t believe it.”

Mark believes political leadership is important to foster open data and what lies beyond it.

“Politicians need to realise that people are going to get the data someway, somehow, so it is better to use it as an engagement tool and to build trust than to try and lock it down.”

He believes media criticism of government activities is going to happen anyway and that the potential for innovation and economic development far outweigh the short-term risk of people criticizing government.

“All around the world we see governments making announcements that they are committing to the open data movement. We also need clear measures to evaluate whether they are meeting their own commitments, something we can count.”

Alongside open data Mark believes that there’s room for discussing government procurement processes, particularly for buying and developing software.

“The Healthcare.gov issue occurred at a time when websites were easier to build than ever before. It was a real eye opener for people that the most powerful government in the world couldn’t do what a group of kids in tight jeans could do.”

“So we’re now having a really interesting discussion about how government could procure and develop software better.”

Mark says that we’re still in the early days for civic hacking and governments need to be prepared for a far more engaged future.

“Look at an event like GovHack, which has grown enormously over the last few years. We know events like this are going to continue to grow and they are going to want more data.”

What governments can do to prepared for that is to think about what data they can release and what can they do to leverage the interest to their own benefit.”

“That’s a huge opportunity for government. Let’s use the months before the next GovHack to figure out what data people want and use it to get some benefit for agencies and the public. How can government participate as a full partner?”

He identified there was a trend towards more specific hack events, on topics such as health and transport.

“This is a really good way for governments to get more focused participation on topics of concern to them.”

“The products and end results coming out of these events are very tangible to public officials, such as a transport app. I’m literally been at events where teams will present a finished product and government officials will say I get it now, I understand.”

He believes that as more of these targeted events are held, we’ll reach a tipping point where people running operational units in agencies understand how products and services can be derived from the data their agencies hold.

Mark said he was looking forward to presenting atGovInnovate to share some of the US’s experience with open data and civic hacking.

“I don’t know if people in Australia are aware of what is happening at state and local levels in the US. That’s where a lot of the really innovative work is happening.”

You’ll be able to hear more from Mark at GovInnovate on 25-27 November in Canberra.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Infographic: Australian government agencies and councils have now sent 2 million tweets and have 3.9 million followers

I've been tracking the active Twitter accounts of Australian government agencies and councils for over four years now.

In February 2013 I reported that the number of tweets by government agencies and councils had reached one million in January of that year, and eleven months laters in November 2013 I reported that the number of tweets had exceeded 1.5 million.

At the time I predicted that it would take a shorter time to reach two million tweets from 1.5 million than the eleven months it took to reach 1.5 million from one million. I then predicted that the two million tweets level would be reached around 2014.

I was half right. It was faster to reach two million tweets - taking only ten months - however by my count it wasn't reached until this month, September 2014.

Given I'm sure I've missed a few active accounts, and I excluded deleted and decommissioned ones, I'm comfortable with a two month margin of error.

Many of the numbers numbers have more than doubled since January 2013. Agencies are tweeting three times as frequently and the total number of followers has increased 2.22 times.

To celebrate the occasion, I've created an infographic of the key numbers (below), as I did at the one million milestone (compare it with the one million tweet infographic, which is here).

You can view my raw figures and analysis in my Google spreadsheet and I'll provide more information and analysis in coming weeks.



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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What penalties are there for agencies and individuals who breach government security and accessibility policies for websites and online channels?

I regularly hear stories from people in government agencies and councils about how their organisation isn't meeting mandated security and accessibility requirements for their websites and broader online presence.

Often this is because there's insufficient time, money or a lack of understanding of the mandated requirements by either the business owners or the vendor doing the work. I still remember an experienced developer at a web development company claiming that in his ten years of working on government websites he'd never understood that accessibility was a legal requirement.

Sometimes I can understand and accept these reasons. 

Ministers set deadlines, as do real world events, this can constrain the full process of testing the security and accessibility of a website. 

Equally some campaigns are spread across different channels, and the budget allocated to online doesn't always allow for the best possible outcomes - or there's some 'bling' requested by senior management that eats the budget of the project very quickly. Again these can make it difficult to find the money to do any necessary testing and adjustment. 

In a few cases I get told that security or accessibility was simply "not important" to senior management, the business owner or the ICT team/vendors doing the work. 

These cases I could never condone, and it did affect my public service career when I stood up to senior people who held this attitude - even when I 'won' the point and was able to ensure websites were delivered to government-mandated minimum requirements.

This last group still worries me - and I've heard several new stories in the last month along the same line.

The fact these people are still around is disheartening, and raises a major question for me:

What penalties exist for agencies or individuals who deliberately go against the government's mandated policies and standards for websites, on topics such as security and accessibility?

I'm not aware of any public servant ever being investigated, sanctioned, retrained, demoted, moved or sacked after making a decision to ignore or water down website requirements.

In fact I can recall a few times where they were promoted and rewarded for their work in delivering outcomes cost-effectively and quickly.

Of course there's potential legal ramifications for ignoring both security and accessibility requirements - however it is generally the agency that takes on this risk, rather than the individual who exposed them to it.

In some cases the individual may not even have been the business owner, or has moved on to a different role, even a different agency.

This type of behaviour is generally picked up and addressed when an individual breaches finance, procurement or HR guidelines.

I'd like to see the same apply for websites - the front door of the modern government.

Whether a federal agency or local council, you serve citizens through your online presence, and putting them at security risk, or creating sites that a significant proportion of your audience can't access by not meeting mandated standards and policies is simply not on.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are more likely to use Facebook than the general Australian population

I've witnessed indigenous communications teams in government agencies dismiss the use of social media in indigenous engagement out of a belief that indigenous Australians prefer face-to-face communication and that those in remote communities had significant access issues to the Internet.

While these two views may be true, it's good to see some actual research on the topic by the McNair Ingenuity Research Institute.

As reported by SBS and in BandT, the Institute surveyed four-hundred Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders nationally on their media habits.

The results found that Facebook use by this group was twenty per cent higher than the national population average.

Lead Survey Researcher Matt Balogh said that typically across Australia 42 per cent of the adult population had a Facebook account, whereas 68 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living in metropolitan areas of the capital cities used Facebook.

In regional towns, 61 per cent of Indigenous Australians used Facebook and in remote communities it fell to 44 per cent - still above the national population average.

Due to poor access to desktop computers and broadband, the research found that most remote users relied on mobile devices for Facebook access. As a result, Balogh said to BandT, “Indigenous Australians living in remote areas are having a completely different experience of social networks and the Internet than mainstream Australia”.

So if you're engaging with Indigenous Australian audiences, don't dismiss social media.

The research is ongoing, so expect more insights in coming years.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Designing the sharing state - an interview with Steve Schmid of the Open Technology Foundation

This is the fourth in a series of interviews I'm doing as part of Delib Australia's media partnership with CeBIT in support of GovInnovate. I'll also be livetweeting and blogging the conference on 25-27 November.

View other posts in this series.

With thousands of governments at local, state and national level around the world that need many of the same technological systems to govern effectively, why do governments often believe they must develop new enterprise systems and their related assets (ie guidelines, policies, methods and other shareable ICT assets) from scratch?

This question triggered the creation of one of Australia’s most interesting and innovative organisations, the Open Technology Foundation.

Founded in 2011 with the support of the South Australian government and Carnegie Mellon University Australia, the Open Technology Foundation (or OTF), has the mission to help facilitate technology sharing at all levels of government across Australia and New Zealand.

The OTF’s leader, Stephen Schmid, is passionate about the work his organisation is doing.

“All governments perform the same basic functions but historically we have built our own solutions to meet a need. This tide is changing."

He said, “a very cost effective method of provisioning services is to investigate and potentially reuse what other governments have done when faced with the same challenge – sharing rather than reinventing."

Steve isn’t a newcomer to this vision for government.

After working for Microsoft in Redmond, Worldcom in Colorado Springs and IBM, Steve’s last role in South Australian Government was as Director of the state government’s ICT division, which is responsible for whole-of-government voice and data systems.

“A single data network and voice network servicing all government departments provides significant efficiencies”, Steve says, “Other states could leverage this model as they explore opportunities for converged technologies.”

This work led Steve to the view there was a strong need for a sharing program to support connected governments, and through his role at the OTF he’s working to build a bridge for cooperation between jurisdictions.

The work has already had some significant successes.

“We work cooperatively to facilitate sharing between public administrations across Australia and New Zealand. The OTF is also working on a range of projects with Vietnam and implementing a global knowledge-sharing platform for interoperable technology solutions”

The road has, at times, been bumpy. Steve says that “one federal agency asked us ‘who gave you approval to represent Australia”.

He told me that he doesn’t see the OTF as representing Australia, “we represent our members, jurisdictions who wish to participate in a sharing program with other jurisdictions. We create our own mandate. And everything the OTF does is open to every jurisdiction, with a focus on tangible outcomes.”

Sharing technology resources isn’t simply a nice idea. Steve believes there are significant opportunities to reduce the cost of provisioning public services while improving service delivery, “we’re here for Australian & New Zealand governments to leverage the investments of other jurisdictions and reuse them – in software, materials and other services. We also help share our [AU & NZ] knowledge with other countries, especially in the Asia Pacific region.”

Steve is not the only one who believes these outcomes are worthwhile.

A number of key Australian agencies and governments are represented on the OTF’s governing council. This includes Defense, the Bureau of Meteorology, the New Zealand Government and Australian state governments such as NSW, Queensland and South Australia.

Steve says that there’s also some urgency about the work. Europe is moving ahead with interoperability solutions and technology sharing at a great rate, and the US is moving forward with NIEM, the National Information Exchange Model.

He says that “Australia is still at the starting line, and we can’t afford to be there much longer.”

Steve also discussed four projects the OTF is working on for delivery in the next twelve months.

“Our first project is about modern design for a sustainable government”.

Steve says the aim of this project was to provide a set of principles for developing portable government platforms, including associated guidelines and procurement clauses.

“There was an interoperability approach developed by Australian government back in 2006, but things have progressed since then.”

The OTF aims to deliver an outcome that allows platforms to be portable not only in Australia and New Zealand, but globally.

“European Commission have expressed interest in being involved and we will potentially also have the UN involved, linking into all major regional governments at a global level.”

If the project is successful it will make it far easier for agencies to add standard principles into their procurement clauses. For Australian technology companies this opens a door to global business, providing clarity on how they provide a specific service.

Steve says that they hope to turn the project over to a standards body at a future stage to ensure its sustainability and broader uptake.

The OTF’s second project is related to managing shared guidelines for internal ICT management and for managing vendors. He believes this project will assist both governments and vendors.

“Having vendors spend additional money to meet the separate requirements for each jurisdiction adds significantly to the cost of software to government and the development costs of vendors.”

Steve says that common shared guidelines for many of our technology needs that can be used as a baseline for our public administrations would remove this extra cost.

The project is being led by the NSW government with the initial goal of developing a set of guidelines for cloud that can be shared and reused across jurisdictions.

OTF involves all of its participating jurisdictions in the development process, and hopes to use it as a model for further shared guidelines.

The third project involves investigating whether the European Commission’s eProcurement platform can be reused by Australian governments.

“The EC’s platform was developed to be an end-to-end eProcurement platform for European countries and was released under an open source license. We’re evaluating modules of the platform with Australian state governments to test whether it meets their needs. So far we’ve found it just works, out of the box”

Steve says that the platform, Open e-PRIOR, has been developed to international standards that suite Australian governments and is a good example of how systems developed elsewhere in the world can be reused by local jurisdictions.

“We’ve found that most governments are willing to share most of their investment in ICT with other governments, beyond their secure systems. The primary barriers to sharing are the cultural ones and appropriate licensing.”

Finally, Steve says the OTF is working on building a platform for managing shared enterprise platforms.

“Our member governments feel there is no place for them currently to place their shared enterprise platforms for reuse by other governments.”

Steve says this isn’t simply a Forge for code sharing, but a robust system that incorporates management and support to provide the quality control and support necessary for large government system.

The development of this ITIL-based platform is being led by the Queensland government, with the support of other OTF members. If successful it could revolutionise how Australian governments share their shareable platforms.

Steve believes these projects are some of the foundation stones for building a technology-sharing environment for Australian and New Zealand governments, and go far beyond earlier government attempts at interoperability.

If successful Steve believes they will help herald in an age of more connected and responsive government, dramatically cutting the cost and need for agencies to develop their own new systems.

It’s a big goal but a worthy one.

“Gaining the required levels of participation to make this sharing cooperation a real success story is challenging, but with the continued support of our member governments and networks, we will all benefit in the long term.”

You’ll be able to hear more from Steve at GovInnovate on 25-27 November in Canberra.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

What happened at the National Library's Digiculture event: Social Media and the Public Sector

On Tuesday 16 September I participated in the panel for the National Library's Digiculture event: Social Media and the Public Sector, along with Facebook's Mia Garlick and the Department of Finance's John Sheridan.

It was well attended and well-discussed on Twitter (under #digiculture), with the biggest laughs of the afternoon coming from the surprising (blooper) revelation that John's army career had lasted 22,000 years.
He certainly looks good for his age.

One attendee, Kenji Walker, used his sketching skills to create a visual record of the panel, which I've embedded below - thanks for this Kenji!

Finally The Mandarin published an article on the event, Social media in public sector: beat the journos, don’t say anything stupid 

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Where is the use of digital by Australian governments headed? An interview with John Wells

This is the third in a series of interviews I'm doing as part of Delib Australia's media partnership with CeBIT in support of GovInnovate. I'll also be livetweeting and blogging the conference on 25-27 November.

View other posts in this series.

As one of the national organisers of Innovation GovCamp Australia, founder of GovCampus and producer of Gov 2.0 Radio, John Wells is one of Australia’s leading advocates for public sector innovation. John is also a co-director of Cofluence, the content partner of Hannover Fairs /CeBIT GovInnovate annual summit.

I spoke with John, who is chairing a stream at GovInnovate, to discover where he thinks Australian government is heading in the digital area.

John said that Australia was experiencing a period of rapid take-up and acceleration in open data. “In the last 12 months alone there’s been a seven-fold increase in the amount of data available in data.gov.au, and events such as GovHack are growing rapidly in size and participation by not only hackers, but also government data custodians.”

Internationally, John says, there are also changes afoot. “Across western countries the role of digital in government is subtly shifting towards a more evolved focus on public sector renewal, beyond the traditional approaches to reform.”

“We’ve seen an evolution from the connectivity of eGovernment to the public conversation of Gov 2.0 and now through to the collaborative and participative opportunities that open government presents.”

He believes the future of politics and public administration will be less about left vs right and more about open vs closed and that government organisations as well as citizens must be prepared to capitalise on these collaborative opportunities.

John said that GovInnovate 2014 will be a good opportunity to tease out this change and the impact it will have on the role of Australia’s public sector.

“Having both Mark Headd from Philadelphia and Dominic Campbell from London at the conference mean that the panel discussions will benefit from both a European and North American perspective.”

“It will give participants an opportunity to contrast national programs across the US with local government initiatives in Britain, discussing topical civic approaches from Code for America through to NESTA’s work in the UK.”

John also believes that there’s an opportunity to build on the public sector’s interest in innovation, building on the enthusiasm to adopt more strategic and sophisticated approaches.

“In a public sector context innovation can suffer from being undervalued or viewed in cliqued terms, such as ‘light bulb moments’. Digital has a large role to play in supporting this evolution, particularly in helping people to step beyond their comfort zones.”

John says that digital touches many aspects of an agency and has become a leading driver of innovation.

“As we learnt at the recent national GovCamp on innovation, digital touches on and impacts leadership, program design, engagement of communities and stakeholders, on collaboration across the silos of the public sector and between the public sector, business and civil society.”

Because of this, John feels it is increasingly important for public servants to step beyond what is safe and familiar, challenging themselves to test existing practice and experiment with new approaches to governance.

“What I hear from public sector leaders is that it is important for all of us to learn how to hear about and engage with topics and learning opportunities that are unfamiliar, that address areas outside their personal work scope and comfort zones, as we live in an era where increasingly solutions are found through interdisciplinary practices.”

He believes that GovInnovate will be an opportunity for participants to challenge themselves in this way. “Coming to the conference with a mindset of valuing diverse experiences will help ensure that participants take away something new that will refresh their perspective of what is possible.”

You’ll be able to hear more from John at GovInnovate on 25-27 November in Canberra.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

A view on the maiden tweets of Australia's federal politicians

A politician's maiden speech in parliament is usually constructed with great thought and care. It serves as a platform on which they plan to stand for the rest of their term, the issues they intend to prosecute and the topics on which they prefer to engage.

However can the same be said of their first tweets?

I've compiled all of the first tweets of our currently sitting federal politicians (the 79% with Twitter accounts) into both a timeline and a word cloud to provide a glimpse into how much thought they put into their first declaration on this highly public platform.

You may judge for yourself whether the first tweets of politicians provides an insight into their character, interests and key concerns - noting that only one current federal politician created their Twitter account before entering politics.

Data: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Ap1exl80wB8OdFFaYk9NYkhPaXB6aU5yTDF0S21ocWc&usp=sharing

Wordle: www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/8140372/First_tweets_from_current_Australian_federal_politicians

Timeline: cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline/latest/embed/index.html?source=0Ap1exl80wB8OdFFaYk9NYkhPaXB6aU5yTDF0S21ocWc&font=Georgia-Helvetica&maptype=toner&lang=en&hash_bookmark=true&width=560&height=840

The most common words from the first tweets of current Australian Federal politicians

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Friday, September 12, 2014

New South Wales's iVote® system - an interview with Ian Brightwell

This is the second in a series of interviews I'm doing as part of Delib Australia's media partnership with CeBIT in support of GovInnovate. I'll also be livetweeting and blogging the conference on 25-27 November.

View other posts in this series.

If I had to pick someone to be in charge of developing an electronic voting system, I’d want them both to be highly skilled at technical project management and a passionate supporter of democracy.

Ian Brightwell fits both criteria in spades.

“My first voting experience was in 1974 when the Whitlam government was re-elected. Then in 1975, when this government was dismissed, I recall seeing people arguing in the street over politics, which I had not seen before and indeed not seen since.

“After the dismissal in 1975 and before the election, no-one I knew said they would vote liberal, and then we saw a liberal landslide. It was at that point I realised the virtues of our electoral system and value of the secret ballot, allowing people to express their view without undue influence from others.”

As the CIO of the NSW Electoral Commission, Ian Brightwell is responsible not only for all of the commission’s IT infrastructure, but also for Australia’s most exciting online electronic voting initiative, the iVote® system.

The iVote® system is an internet-based voting platform which has been custom-built to support the NSW government’s requirement for remote voting at parliamentary elections. Under current legislation only electors with vision or physical disabilities and remote or voters absent from NSW on election day are entitled to use the system.

In 2011, the first time the iVote® system was used, some 46,684 electors used it while over 200,000 people are expected to use the system in the next state election in 2015.

Ian says that despite the limited number of voters currently entitled to use the iVote® system, it has already demonstrated its value.

In 2011, he says, there was a much larger group of out-of-state voters than they had seen in previous elections, as people didn't have to go to specific locations to vote.

Ian says he can see the iVote® system being expanded to other groups of voters in the future, but at this stage he is comfortable with using the platform for those voters the Commission find difficult to service– where it is hard to get to them manually –it also allows more time for the system to be refined before it is scaled.

One group Ian identified as a potential future target audience were postal voters.

The head of Australia Post has said that first class mail may not be available within 5 – 10 years as a result of Australia Post reducing postal services in line with declining demand. On this basis it is possible that all Australian jurisdictions with postal voting will need a replacement approach for future elections.

He also sees absent voting at local government elections as an area the iVote® system can help. This is particularly a concern because NSW’s Local Government legislation doesn’t permit absent voting at a council elections (this problem will be exacerbated if the proposal by Sydney City Council to require businesses to vote is enacted). For NSW local government elections there’s around 300,000 more non voters fined than at state elections because absent voters are not able to vote.

Another area of interest has been for plebiscites and ‘mini-polls’. Ian demonstrated the system at Parliament House in Sydney, primarily to minor party representatives. They were excited about the potential for using a system like iVote® to include more direct democracy in our system through polling voters on what they thought on different topics.

Ian isn’t sure this is necessarily a good idea, “I’m not sure voters are always well placed to make decisions on complex individual topics, due to the depth of material to absorb and the range of options, but it is an interesting proposition which needs further exploration.”

He believes that “voters are far better at picking the people they want to represent them for parliamentary decision-making.”

Ian does however believe that the iVote® system could be valuable for referendums, which he says there’s a current reluctance to run due to the cost, “the marginal cost of electronic voting, once the system is established, is much lower than that of paper voting.”

One area that Ian doesn’t see the iVote® system moving into any time soon, is replacing the local voting booth.

He believes paper voting is a key method for retaining confidence and trust in the electoral system – particularly given the concerns that have been raised overseas with electronic voting systems in physical locations.

Ian also said that, “for the most part with our current arrangement, replacing attendance paper voting with electronic attendance voting would be quite costly, and there would have to be clear set of benefits to offset that cost.”

Ian believes there isn’t a strong push for Australia to move to electronic attendance voting as there’s sufficient trust in the existing electoral system.

However, he says “with manual systems voters have to trust electoral authorities to do their job and although there is some ability for voters to see this in polling places there can be no evidence votes are finally counted as cast because the final count happens weeks later in remote offices and electors cannot observer this process.

However, with an electronic system you can provide the elector with a little more transparency, though they will have to understand the more complex electronic process to fully appreciate the verification information they have been provided – it’s a different kind of trust.”

Speaking of trust, the iVote® system has been designed with modern security to ensure that the system is as secure and unshakable as possible. Ian says they have updated the security and will conduct penetration testing to mitigate the risk of hacking at the 2015 election.

Also, he says, as the system is in place only during election periods, there’s a very limited window for a hacker to break through security and alter the results.

While no electronic system is perfect, he’s confident that his team has done everything possible to ensure that NSW voters using the iVote® system can trust that their vote will be recorded and counted accurately.

Ian says that the international experience has been that electronic voting isn’t a universal preference if offered to all electors anyway, “a few countries have offered electronic voting to all citizens, and have found that it peaks out at 20-30% of voters, with others preferring physical polling places or other forms of voting.”

“In Australia voting is a community and social activity and taking away a polling place from a small community can create enormous controversy and concern in the community.”

Ian thinks that we should not take away from physical voting or the opportunity for civic social contact, but definitely should offer a diversity of ways to vote, with electronic voting part of the mix.

In particular Ian said that there are issues with areas, with large and growing populations, where in older areas the available polling places can get overrun and newer areas there are no available venues for polling places. He says there is a need to manage the pressure on the attendance voting system which is already feeling over loaded.

While the iVote® system may not be used now to replace physical voting, this still leaves a large number of voters it can service. Ian says that these days 20-30% of votes are not attendance votes (in district votes in a polling places or pre-poll).

an also says that, from the data we have on voting patterns by voting channel, all voting channels generally have a similar electoral outcome. That is electoral commissions see similar voting trends across attendance, postal, absent voting channels. Electronic voting in NSW in 2011 was no exception, it gave a similar electoral outcome to other channels, so in the future this pattern should hold for other jurisdictions that choose to use electronic voting. This is a useful way of determining if major electoral fraud has occurred in just one voting channel.

While the iVote® system has been designed for NSW state voting, Ian’s team kept in mind that it could be used for local government voting in the future. He says that NSW has far less turnout for local elections, “we send out up to 300,000 more penalty notices for local government voting than for state voting.”

Ian also says that other states and territories are watching his team’s work closely, “we’ve had lots of interest from other states, federally and overseas, and expect interest to translate to some action after the next election.”

Looking into the future, Ian said that he didn’t see huge change in voting approaches in the next five to ten years, but expects an ongoing shift from postal to electronic and increasing levels of absent voting driving electronic voting.

He also sees increasing levels of early voting being the first avenue for attendance electronic voting being used “it is already immensely popular and we see 50-100% increase in early voting election on election - but parties hate it as they have to get their party volunteers there for 2-3 weeks prior to election day and it is hard for them to manage their election message. The public love it as it frees them up on election day. The reality is the public will win this one in the long run.”

Australia already has a very high voter participation rate, so while in the US electronic voting may be seen as a way to raise voting participation, Ian says that’s not a consideration in Australia, “as we have such a high participation rate we have has bipartisan support for electronic voting.”

You’ll be able to hear more from Ian at GovInnovate on 25-27 November in Canberra.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Digital Disruption - an interview with Marie Johnson

This is the first in a series of interviews I'm doing as part of Delib Australia's media partnership with CeBIT in support of GovInnovate. I'll also be livetweeting and blogging the conference on 25-27 November.

View other posts in this series.

Marie Johnson, Managing Director of
the Centre for Digital Business
A few weeks ago I sat down with MarieJohnson to discuss her presentation at GovInnovate and the thinking behind it.

Marie is currently the Managing Director and Chief Digital Officer of the Centre for Digital Business, and as a passionate technologist and innovator has had career that has spanned Executive rolls in the corporate and public sectors.

She now advises senior public servants and corporate executives on the new capabilities required by business, government and society to meet the challenges and opportunities of the digital age.

Marie says that digital has been truly disruptive to society and is one of the most serious challenges to government administration in a century.

She believes there’s two forms of disruption, unpredictable and predictable.

The unpredictable kind includes real breakthroughs in technology and new and unique emerging business models that no foresight could have predicted.

The predictable kind result from a series of incremental changes over a relatively long time – a ‘long tail’ of disruption based on the evolution of known technologies and business models.

While unpredictable disruption is exactly that – unpredictable and therefore difficult to plan for, the predictable kind gives organisations with the appropriate horizon scanning approaches an opportunity to prepare.

In her view government hasn’t been paying enough attention to predictable forms of disruption, “some innovations have been brewing for awhile and should not be disruptive to government where it has been monitoring and horizon scanning.”

Marie worries that government hasn’t taken all the steps necessary to adequately prepare for known trends,

“Let’s have a look at, say, the government online strategy in 2000. It looked at moving everything online while maintaining face-to-face and hard copy channels.

The strategy in 2013 said exactly the same thing – placing all high volume transactions online, but keeping hard copy transactions as well.

There’s been no progression in strategy over that time, and implementation over the period has focused on channel switching, moving services and forms online with little business transformation.”

Marie says this could be because digital hasn’t been disruptive enough – governments in Australia have been able to stave off transformational change by creating workarounds to existing systems and processes.

However the longer transformational change is delayed, the more expensive it becomes and the more likelihood there is of ageing system failing and creating far greater disruption for governments and society.

This risk grows as governments fragment their service delivery channels, attempting to maintain existing approaches while also seeking to exploit emerging channels to citizens.

She believes there’s a real opportunity at the moment for governments to be transformational in their thinking, not just linear, making interactions with government more intuitive and seamless.

For instance, Marie says, “agencies should be required to declare what they are going to put online, and what they will be taking away.”

Marie used the example of car registration stickers. Now that police have number plate scanners and integrated registration databases, there’s little need for drivers to display a sticker on their windscreen providing details of their car registration.

She says that most drivers’ license authorities in Australia have now abandoned registration stickers, removing a lot of the process and policy that supported the issue, printing and management of the sticker process.

“Another example is in the work I did with Immigration. We took away the need to have a paper visa label in passports to enter Australia.”

Marie says that Australia didn’t require paper visas, but was issuing about two million of them a year due to a range of reasons including a preference by some travellers who wanted to have a paper visa as a tourism souvenir and proof of their visit.

This process involved substantial expense – the design and printing of visas, their storage and distribution, staff time in sticking them in passports and the overhead of having people come to Australian embassies Immigration posts to get them.

She says that after a review process to understand the extent of the cost of paper visas and the corresponding impact in focusing on electronic ones, the decision was made to set a price signal for paper visas.

Marie says that “the government passed legislation requiring a payment to get a paper label – the electronic visa is still required. Now the issuance of paper visas is almost negligible – saving printing, storage space, staff time, processing and more.”

Marie believes there’s many areas in government that could benefit from transformational rather than linear adoption of technology – changing the way systems and processes work, rather than simply replicating them digitally.

She also believes that the notion of citizen-centricity needs more consideration, “there is no citizen-centricity in government as every agency has a different viewpoint and interaction with citizens.”

Instead, she says, we need to have a discussion about what services we can replace or take away, and how we inform citizens about doing so.

“This isn’t about cutting essential services, but removing unnecessary complexity that feeds on itself.”

She sees this issue in how government defines and manages ‘ICT’ projects,

“Look at audits and capability reports over the last 15 years on government “ICT projects” – how they have failed to deliver, have been very expensive and, on occasion, led to policy failure.

We’re still having the same findings today – how can that be? Why hasn’t government improved and learnt from the past?”

In reality, she says, these are not ICT projects, they are focused on policy and service delivery and have simply been defined as ICT as they involve the use of technology to automate and integrate policy and service delivery.

“So when the Audit office looks at them and there’s a capability review, it looks at them primarily from an IT perspective and can overlook the real reasons for project failure or who should be updating and changing their approach.”

Marie says that agency ICT teams in government are under enormous stress, struggling under an increasing load of business as usual work, maintaining existing systems, with limited capital budgets for replacing legacy systems.

She says that many ICT teams are reaching the point where they have little or no capability to able to maintain existing systems, implement new business projects and innovate, “I think this is one of the challenges for the APS.”

She also says that the whole issue around the client/citizen experience has only recently started to be looked at.

“In the recent egovernment strategy, there is no mention of the client experience. Instead it speaks of heavy and light IT users and is very much a production view rather than looking at what that means for the delivery of policy and citizen experience.”

Marie says her question to agencies is, “can that egovernment strategy support the new welfare reforms from the government? My view is that it probably can’t.”

Marie believes government needs to focus more on becoming a platform, as increasing social complexity and advancing technology blurs and removes the lines between traditional portfolios.

“Where we have the connected car, RFID chipped livestock generating data and highly pervasive connected services – what does this mean for government services and government policy?”

“Rather than having each agency doing their thing independently and in a self-sufficient manner, like factories in the early industrial age, government needs to become more of a utility and a platform - actively sharing skills across policy and service delivery areas, rather than persisting as ‘stove-piped’ bureaucracies.”

Marie sees one of the biggest current areas of disruption as being in finance, with emerging mobile peer-to-peer payment models, crypto-currencies and crowd-lending already beginning to disrupt traditional banking and transaction models.

“We have a lot to learn with what is happening in growing markets such as Kenya, where innovative models of payment delivery are changing how financial systems and currencies operate.”

She says that in Kenya, a country with little in the way of infrastructure, phone-based peer-to-peer payments through a network of payment providers, called M-PESA, has become a leading characteristic of their economy.

Marie believes Australian bureaucrats need to look at how nations beyond the anglosphere are addressing modern challenges. She says there’s many areas in our government where public policy innovation could occur through learning from what’s happening in other countries.

In particular Marie says governments need to broaden the scope and range of inputs on policy development.

She discussed a case study from the UK’s Great Ormond Street Childrens’ Hospital (GOSH), which during the 1990s was trying to understand the very high mortality rates for surgery in congenital heart disease.

Doctors identified one high risk area being the patient’s transfer from the operating room to the ICU.

They identified this complex task as being analogous to that of a pit stop in Formula One, and doctors from GOSH visited a pit crew in action in Italy to gain insights into how hospital procedures could be improved.

In a pit stop a lollipop man waves in the car and oversees all the work done to get it back on the track. All the mechanics and technicians have clearly defined roles to perform concurrently, designed so as not to interfere with each other.

The doctors videotaped the handover process in GOSH and sent it to be reviewed by the Formula One team. Out of this analysis came a new handover procedure.

The anesthetist was given the same role as the lollipop man, to step back and look at the big picture, making safety checks.

These changes led to significant reduced errors and reduced mortality rates.

Marie says this type of cross-industry learning is vital for government – looking beyond traditional sources of advice and support, “Agencies can’t keep doing the same things and consulting the same people. We need to confront digital disruption.”

Finally Marie said that government should offer a user experience that is on par with the very best in any other domain.

She believes the reason this doesn’t happen is that there is a massive capability gap in government in what she calls ‘capability architecture’.

Marie says that different parts of government, agencies and groups in agencies do their own jobs well, however there is no one specifically trained, mandated and responsible for ensuring those jobs all align and fit into the larger architecture of a policy or service.

Instead, she says, they end up being connected together by manual workarounds, third parties and individuals accessing the services.

“In other words government is creating wonderfully designed parts, but not flawless systems.”

She sees a place for what she calls a ‘Transformation Commission’, responsible for future scanning and aiding agencies to adopt transformational techniques.

In conclusion Marie believes that that fossilised ICT systems that are not fit for purpose for the future are becoming a critical concern for agencies.

However if government can adopt a transformational approach to policy and service delivery, improve internal and external collaboration, improve its trend detection and reaction, and connect all these disparate threads together, Marie sees a much brighter future ahead.

You’ll be able to hear more from Marie at GovInnovate on 25-27 November.

More of Marie’s thinking is available through her blog posts, including:

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Thursday, September 04, 2014

My views on copyright infringement (submitted to the MEAA)

Earlier today ZDNet reported on the Media and Arts Alliance's submission on copyright infringement, where the MEAA (as the peak body for journalists, actors, dancers, photographers and people working across the media) took a position that appeared to support internet filtering.

I have been a member of the MEAA for a number of years - it ensures me some level of protection should I break news in my blog, or in articles I write for other publications, should I report on stories involving whistleblowers.

As soon as I became aware of the MEAA's submission, and had read it in full, I tweeted that I was cancelling my membership , as the views did not reflect my values and views on the topic.

This afternoon the MEAA retracted its submission and committed to a broader member consultation, stating that it opposed an internet filter and censorship.

I've taken back my cancellation, and thought I would share the submission I've made to them regarding my views on copyright infringement.

Why is this being publishing in my eGovAU blog? There's two reasons.

Firstly copyright is a Gov 2.0 topic. Technology has allowed a significant proportion of the material that humans formerly created and distributed physically to be created and distributed digitally, creating enormous legal challenges in the copyright area that governments need to consider.

Government agencies must daily walk a delicate path themselves on how they access, reuse and publish citizen, corporate and their own copyright content - from consultation submissions and user comments on their facebook pages, to images in Pinterest, Instagram and Flickr and videos on YouTube.

Changing the default setting of copyright in government was a key step in enabling open data and remains an area of contention at many levels where agencies and councils are fearful of how material they create may be reused.

On top of this issues around copyright are beginning to step into the physical realm. With 3D printers it becomes possible for many objects to be replicated quickly and cheaply. This challenges the manufacturing sector and arts where registered designs or copyrights are used to protect the unique shape of a bottle, chair, tap, handle, cup or fork. It challenges resellers of parts for cars, toilets and other complex household objects, where it becomes easier to print the needed part than access it through a supplier.

Government needs to ensure it is ready for these challenges - who has the right to make copies of digital or physical assets, to distribute and sell them.


Secondly, copyright issues are one of the areas in which digital and physical norms collide. It's a key battlefield for society in shaping our cultural and legal norms into the future, with everyone having a stake by way of the content we purchase and consume.

It is important for those who wish to influence the future to be actively involved in this debate.


Here's my response to the MEAA:
In looking at copyright infringement online, there's three issues that need to be tackled: 
  1. Appropriate access to content
  2. Appropriate pricing of content
  3. Circumvention of legal access to content 
Taking them one at a time... 
1) Appropriate access to content
It is in the interests of both copyright holders and the community for copyright content to be readily available on a timely basis to the community through appropriate access channels. 
In today's connected world, the time value of content has changed significantly. When content is made available for the first time, anywhere in the world, it immediately becomes the topic of discussion and analysis by the audiences able to access it. 
Where content is held back from certain audiences, such as when television episodes are screened first in Australia days, weeks or years after they are first screened in the US or UK, the time value of this content is greatly diminished, with the Australian audience having ready access to online commentary and reviews which can inadvertently spoil the significant reveals in the content. 
This reduces the value of the material to Australian distributors and audiences, many of whom will choose not to watch content for which they already know the outcome. 
Then, over time, some content's value will increase again as people seek to own it for viewing whenever they please. In this case, where physical stockists choose not to stock this content audiences will seek to find it via other channels, such as overseas stockists online or via websites such as the Pirate Bay. 
Content that is available more rapidly after first screening, and is easily purchasable at any stage from first screening via online or physical stockists, will be more widely consumed, benefiting both the copyright holder and the community. 
Therefore any action on copyright infringement needs to reduce the access gap, ensuring that content is available as soon as possible following first screening, both for immediate consumption and ownership purposes. 
A good example of how this has been done well was with the first episode of the new series of Doctor Who, where the ABC added the content to iView as it was being screened in the UK, and it was then made available through cinemas throughout the day of release. 
This significantly increased the return to the copyright holder, while satisfying the needs of the Australian community who did not have to suffer the frustration of accidentally discovering the plot online while waiting weeks, months, or even years, for the content to become available to them. 
A good example of where this has been done badly has been for the last series of Game of Thrones, where the content could only be accessed legally through Foxtel, at a time that Foxtel deemed appropriate. This was only available in packages which meant that people would have to pay a significant amount of money to simply access a single program, making it uncommercial for households and causing significant community frustration. The series was not even rapidly available for download after screening due to a deal to lock down access. 
As a result the copyright holder missed out on significant potential revenue for the program in Australia and the community became more normalised on bypassing media channels to seek illicit means of accessing content, with more learning how to use torrent and online viewing sites (such as Channel131)


2) Appropriate pricing of content
The second significant factor in copyright infringement is the price barrier to content consumption. Australians pay excessive amounts for many forms of digital content, ranging from audio-visual material through to software. 
The 'Australian premium' paid on content (for example, averaging 33% on iTunes and 25% for movies) is now visible to Australians due to the internet exposing the relative prices of content paid around the world. 
Australian content distributors have resisted these claims, claiming that copyright holders control the price, further aggravating the Australian community, who can see services such as Hulu and Netflicks are able to offer content faster and cheaper than local distributors. 
This has led many Australians to use easy tools to bypass geographic zoning by IP address to access Hulu and Netflicks, or establish US and UK accounts on iTunes and similar services to access content that is more highly priced in Australia.
While it is understandable that Australian distributors seek to maximise their profits, this is a short-term strategy that encourages Australians to seek alternative ways to access content. 
This is not only concerning for the ongoing existence of local distributors, but also impacts the tax base, where content is purchased from overseas or accessed illicitly. 
Any program for reducing copyright infringement must seriously tackle the issue of content pricing in Australia, ensuring that Australians pay a fair price for digital content where there is no additional transport or content distribution costs. 
Without this effort, any form of penalty-based infringement approach will fail and more than fail - driving more and more Australians to establish international accounts in order to access content cost-effectively (without infringement) and thereby undermining local content distributors in the mid-long term.

3) Circumvention of legal access to content
The notion that instituting a penalty-based approach to copyright infringement will solve the issue of piracy is flawed while the issues of access and price are unresolved. 
Australian copyright holders and distributors need to stop attempting to use legal and political means to stave off the collapse of their industry, and adapt their business models to the new realities - content is abundant, digital content is easily distributable and people will pay a fair price for content where it is available on the channels they want, when they want. 
Establishing technical barriers to accessing content is flawed as individuals can use tools such as TOR to bypass identification approaches and access content from overseas services. 
Only a minority of Australians use Torrent-based tools for downloading content (and predominantly these are not reliant on sites like the Pirate Bay to access and download content). 
Many Australians also use services such as Channel 131 and watchseries.lt which allow viewing of content on demand without downloading while featuring advertising from Australian companies. 
While blocking the IP addresses for these sites is physically possible, it runs the risk of blocking hundreds of thousands of other sites using the same IP addresses. Also the process for these sites to change IP takes seconds, rendering any IP-blocking approach ineffective. 
When looking at the issuance of notices by ISPs and the retention of data for detection of copyright infringement, this would purely be undertaken at the behest of the organisations who claim to be suffering loss, copyright holders and distributors. 
As such expecting ISPs to pay the charges and costs associated with this effort is inappropriate and represents a blatant attempt by the copyright lobby to transfer its costs to another industry while pocketing any profit increases it receives as a result. 
That's predatory behaviour and is totally inappropriate, similar to holding Australia Post responsible for the cost of opening every package and issuing notices where it found DVDs illicitly parallel imported. 
Even worse is the notion of restricting internet access to households where infringement is detected. This approach could severely penalise people unconnected with infringement, particularly in share houses, in family situations and where wifi hijacking is taking place, not to mention the likelihood that every free public wifi network would disappear in short order. 
Several countries have already added internet access as a human right and while this hasn't yet happened in Australia, there are many ways in which losing access to the internet, or reducing internet access speeds, severely disadvantages individuals and households - in areas from education to health care, employment and even prevents legal and paid access to content that copyright holders make available online. 
If the copyright industry wishes to chase individuals for copyright infringement they are welcome to do so. If their concern is that they'll look bad, well tough. There is no legal or moral justification for copyright holders to make ISPs the bad guys in order to preserve their own images. 
Overall, copyright infringement is not the black and white situation that copyright holders in Australia seek to make it appear. Their claims of loss have been proven to be vastly overstated (http://www.tomsguide.com/us/Piracy-China-USITC-RIAA-MPAA,news-7120.html) and their refusal to provide timely and fairly priced access to content is a leading reason why Australians are choosing to use illicit means to access content. 
If the copyright industry wishes to reduce infringement, it must take steps to improve content access and pricing. It must also demonstrate a commitment to using Australia's existing laws to crackdown on any residual copyright infringement. 
Only if these approaches fail to impact on the level of infringement activity would it be acceptable to consider additional infringement powers - and these should be at the cost of the organisations who will profit from compliance, the copyright holders and distributors.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Kudos to Queensland government for taking a fun approach to their Premiers Awards for Open Data

Some of you might be aware that at the red carpet event for GovHack 2014 in Brisbane, the Queensland government's Assistant Minister to the Premier on e-government, Ray Stevens, announced the Premiers Awards for Open Data.

The Awards are a competition to come up with the best use of the 1,400 datasets released by the queensland government as open data in their data.qld.gov.au open data catalogue.

The competition has $77,000 in prizes up for grabs, and is fully international, open to anyone, anywhere in the world, without a requirement for any team members to be based in Queensland.

The competition is open until 26 September - so get your entries in.

Now to the kudos - normally these types of government open data competitions are rather dull affairs, with little in the way of fun or exciting promotion.

In this case however, Queensland has gone a little further than other states or countries, making a promotional video that takes a step away from the technical talk and has a little fun in the process while costing next to nothing.

It's the kind of approach we need to see more of from government - a little rough, a little fun and very sincere. View it below, then don't forget to enter!

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Monday, September 01, 2014

92% of Australia's federal politicians now use Facebook and/or Twitter

I've been tracking the number of Australian Federal politicians using Australia's leading social channels for two years now, seeing the number using at least one of Facebook and Twitter grow from 79% in April 2012 to 90% in November 2013 to a current level of 92%.

What's even more interesting is in the details, which you'll find in my thoughts below.

 To access the raw data and statistics, go to my latest Google Doc at: docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Ap1exl80wB8OdFhaQ1gzdzg3d1VWcFJpSl91bkQwbWc&usp=sharing

While the overall use of social media is at 92.48%, or 209 out of 226 federal politicians (150 Members of the House of Representatives and 76 Senators), the situation is very different between the houses.

The House of Representatives has a far greater level of social media use at 95.33% compared to the Senate at 86.84%. The gap has remained consistent with my last review in November 2013, where it was 92.67% compared to 85.14%. Senators, on average, are slightly older than Representatives (51.55yrs versus 50.19yrs), which is likely a factor, as is the consideration that Senators don't campaign in the same way as Representatives due to the difference in how they are elected and who they represent (states/territories, not electorates).

I still believe that Senators are missing a trick here - due to their different responsibilities in most cases they represent much larger electorates and thus social media can be of value for listening to and engaging with people they can't as easily drive out to see face-to-face.

This rationale also carries over to Representatives with geographically large electorates, such as in the NT, WA, SA and Qld.

I am particularly glad to see that the Nationals, who focus on rural and regional seats and were previously the party whose elected politicians were least likely to engage online, has picked up their act in this area, and 19 of their 20 elected members now uses social media, a greater proportion that either Labor or Liberals (and I count Qld LNP Nationals as Nationals federally).

Social media remains very important for smaller parties to get their message out, with the Greens maintaining their 100% use of social media and every other minor party (KAP, PUP, DLP, Family First) and independent politician using social to some extent.

I see the same trends we've seen in previous years from politicians, and the population in general, still hold true.

Similar to my past reviews, female politicians are more likely to use social channels than male politicians, though by a smaller margin (4% rather than 7%) than previously.


Equally, the older a politician is, the less likely they are to engage on social media, with a clear divide by decade.


This reflects the same phenomenon as we see in the community - with politicians aged 60+ far less likely to use online channels for engagement, and those aged under 45 likely to use it as one of their primary ways to communicate and collect information.

This tends to suggest that the maturity of political decisionmaking regarding the internet is likely to continue to improve as older politicians retire and younger digital natives take their place.

For your reviewing pleasure, below is an infographic with some of the key statistics, please have a play with the interactive elements - they provide an interesting view of how actively different groups of politicians engage via Twitter and Facebook.




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