Open government geekery
So, is it legal to use a web forum or internet chat for official public discussion in California?
The plot thickens. I asked informally, through city council folk in two Bay Area cities, and got conflicting responses from city attorneys. One says it’s illegal. Another says it’s permitted but recommends that officials use the tools cautiously. And neither has provided citations in case law or administrative ruling.
Point to point email is explicitly prohibited under California’s Brown Act, which requires conversation among a quorum of public officials to occur only in public meetings. But web forums are different — unlike an email, which is visible only to the sender and recipients, tools like blogs, forums and wikis are visible to the public.
Teleconferences are permitted under the Bagley Keene act. What about web conference and chat, which are like teleconferences without a phone number, and with or without voice?
In search of some more solid legal grounding, I sent a question to these California open government watchdogs. If I don’t hear from them directly, I’ll network in.
The new tools are great ways to broaden public discourse. If they’re not legal, they should be. The first step is to find out where the law stands.
I discovered another opportunity for fixing, listening to Jon Udell’s interview of Carl Malamud on IT Conversations. Malamud’s activism was behind the publication of Edgar, and many other initiatives to make public data publicly available. In the interview, he mentioned that Congressional Committee meetings are webcast but not recorded and archived. Well, that’s wrong. Sounds like a lovely opportunity for some blog activism, sometime after election season.