Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Shine a light on how we're governed

Communications Foundation Seeks FOI Award Nominees

Report: Political reviews delayed document release - AP -

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Schools slow to release records - Buffalo News
The Buffalo Public School District consistently fails to comply with the state's Freedom of Information Law when responding to Buffalo News requests for public records, according to the state's leading authority on open government. A prime example of ...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New ethics code may include city integrity commissioner - Metro -

Open records law used to muzzle critics - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Two days later, the Republican Party of Wisconsin filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act, Wisconsin's open records law, for the following: "Copies of all emails into and out of Prof. William Cronon's state email account from January 1 ...

Cayman Islands News - Info boss foils secrecy attempt

Monday, March 28, 2011

GovFresh: New recommendations for improving local open government and creati...


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Alex Howard, Government 2.0 Correspondent for O'Reilly Radar, provided a good wrap-up of last week's Roundtable on implementing the recommendations for government transparency and creating community hubs. New recommendations for...

- To see the full article, please visit KnightComm by clicking the headline above. -


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The Future of Democracy, According to Knight Reports


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The keys to a more open and transparent democracy include increased broadband access and a steady flow of government data into online communities, according to two white papers released by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of...

- To see the full article, please visit KnightComm by clicking the headline above. -


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Gov't emails: Political reviews over requests for US records 'meddling,' 'cr...


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WASHINGTON - Insiders at the Homeland Security Department warned for months that senior Obama administration appointees were improperly delaying the releases of government files on politically sensitive topics as sought by citizens, journalists and ...


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Saturday, March 26, 2011

The rules of our democracy

The rules of our democracy

The Prime Minister will momentarily arrive at Rideau Hall to ask that Parliament be dissolved. Meanwhile this morning, Michael Ignatieff has released a statement on how he would handle a minority government. This election is not just an exercise in democracy, it's about democracy.  So as we begin the campaign, let's be clear about the rules. [...]

CanLII Now Has Tables of Contents for Laws of Five New Provinces
This is a follow-up to the Library Boy post of September 27, 2010 entitled CanLII Now Provides Tables of Content for B.C, Ontario and Quebec Legislation.

CanLII (the free Canadian Legal Information Institute) announced this week that it has added tables of contents to the legislation of Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Group sues for Obama White House visitor list -
White House records are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, as agency records would be. Federal Judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled twice during the Bush administration that White House visitor logs belong to the Secret Service, which creates and ...

City school board votes to keep audits from public - Democrat and Chronicle
said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state's Committee on Open Government. "That's one of the purposes of the Freedom of Information law: To help expose malfeasance and misspending." The school board created the Office of Auditor General under ...

Federal government clearly not transparent enough - Star-Press
The national picture for Freedom of Information laws, celebrated during national Sunshine Week (March 13-19), is bit brighter thanks to two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions and some White House initiatives. But to give a twist on the old saying ...

Friday, March 25, 2011

FOI requests on-the-up (From Worcester News)

Democracy Day Takes Civics to the Classroom

The right to vote is a fundamental part of democracy, and 40 years ago this year, the 26th amendment lowered the voting age to 18. Now "Democracy Day", a joint effort between Rock the Vote and the National Education Association hopes to make the current generation of young people, the most civically educated ever. More than 800 teachers across the nation participated in Wednesday's first annual Democracy Day

By 2012, young Millenials will make up 24 percent of voters, and if the folks at Rock the Vote and the National Education Association have any say, Democracy Day have any say, they'll be the most civically educated generation ever.

More than 800 educators across the nation more than 800 educators are celebrating the first annual Democracy Day, committing to teach Rock the Vote's Democracy Class lesson plan to students in a massive push towards civic engagement. Democracy Day is a partnership between Rock the Vote and the National Education Association, enabling educators, student organizations, youth groups and after school programs to bring this civic education lesson to classrooms from Los Angeles to Chicago to Philadelphia, and everywhere in between.

Democracy Class is a one-class-period program that uses pop culture, video, a classroom discussion and a mock election to teach young people the skills necessary to navigate the elections process and engage as active citizens. (

Darren Criss, star of Fox's Emmy award winning mega-series Glee, will kick off the program at Hamilton High School in Los Angeles, California on March 23rd. (For more information, see the schedule of Democracy Day Launch Events below.) In California alone there are more than 130 schools participating in the Democracy Day celebration.

"The voting process can be a bit overwhelming and at times confusing, particularly for first time voters," said Criss. "I'm very excited to be a part of such a comprehensive effort that both educates and encourages young people about the importance of their vote."

The Democracy Day launch coincides with the 40th anniversary of the passage of the 26th Amendment, which gave 18-year-olds the right to vote. Educators and students worked together, and in doing so they amended the Constitution and empowered millions of American citizens to have a say in our democracy.
"Teachers and young people fought hard 40 years ago for 18-year-olds to have the right to vote, and we are excited to offer a program to classrooms around the country that can help high school students exercise that right," said Heather Smith, President of Rock the Vote. "Turning 18 and becoming eligible to vote is a tremendous rite of passage. Junior and senior year of high school is the ideal moment to connect with young people, and give them the tools to become life-long voters and participants in our country's democracy. We are asking that schools take one day, once a year to bring Democracy Class to their students."

Democracy Day events around the country will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 26th Amendment. In addition to learning about their right to vote, young people in some states will also get the chance to interact with elected officials who impact their local communities. At Grady High School in Atlanta, Georgia, State Senator Jason Carter will join Rock the Vote in the classroom and US Representative Jay Inslee will participate at Lake Washington High School in Kirkland, Washington.  Secretary of State Jon Husted will join students at LaBrae High School in Northeast Ohio in the Democarcy Day celebration.

In Pennsylvania, the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Youth Commission have partnered to host a week long Voter Registration Drive from April 11- 15th asking every high school in Philadelphia to bring Democracy Class to their students and get them registered to vote.

We are working with more than a dozen organizations such as Future Educators Association, SparkAction, Youth Policy Institute, and Junior Statesman of America who are supporting Democracy Day activities in their local communities by reaching out to their national membership and encouraging them to bring Democracy Class to their high schools.   

In April, the Youth Policy Institute (YPI), the largest after-school provider for high schools in California, offering tutoring and enrichment that increase academic achievement while keeping learning fun, will roll out Democracy Class at more than 40 high schools in Los Angeles.

Democracy Class is supported by an impressive and diverse advisory board of public officials, education leaders and artists, including: The Honorable Debra Bowen, Secretary of State, California; The Honorable Sam Reed, Secretary of State, Washington; Steve Barr, Founder and Chair Emeritus, Green Dot Public Schools; and Benji and Joel Madden of the band Good Charlotte. A full list of advisory board members is available on the Democracy Day website.

The supporting website,, offers easy access to election information, ways to get involved in registering voters, interviews with artists and athletes, and materials for teachers and community groups to use in their classrooms.

Teachers like Barbara Wainer, a social studies department chair in Columbus, Ohio who has brought Democracy Class into her classroom, says it's an "excellent way for students to learn that they have a voice in the future if they take the time to vote. This program helps to make the students understand that voting is essential to their future."

Democracy Class is an important part of Rock the Vote's outreach plan in 2011 and beyond, as almost 13,000 young people turn 18 every day. High school students care about the issues that affect them, and Rock the Vote is committed to making sure they have the information and resources they need to participate when they become eligible, and to encourage them to make a lifelong commitment to vote in every election.  

"The most common reason why young people don't register to vote is that they don't know how," said Smith. "Every student deserves to be empowered with this knowledge."

Local Government Lawyer interviews Deputy Information Commissioner Graham Smith
As local authorities and other public bodies continue to grapple with freedom of information and data protection, Philip Hoult speaks to Deputy Information Commissioner (and former local government lawyer) Graham Smith about monetary penalties, vexatious litigants, spending cuts and the inexorable rise of requests for information.
Full interview here.

N.S government user fees going up April 1[but not for FOI] - Nova Scotia - CBC News

Evidence to Protection of Freedoms Bill Committee


Evidence to Protection of Freedoms Bill Committee
Published on UK Freedom of Information Blog | shared via feedly
The Information Commissioner and Campaign for Freedom of Information gave oral evidence to the Protection of Freedoms Bill Committee on 24 March 2011. You can watch a recording of the evidence session here.

A note submitted to the Committee setting out the Campaign's views on the Bill is available here. The Information Commissioner's written evidence to the Committee is here.

NDP secrecy on schools insulting


NDP secrecy on schools insulting
Published on Google Alerts - secrecy canada | shared via feedly
The NDP government's emphasis on keeping student performance data secret put us offside with Saskatchewan and sets us apart from the practice of every other province in Canada. Information that is routinely available in other parts of the country ...
See all stories on this topic »

No more secrets, please


No more secrets, please
Published on Google Alerts - "foi" -"ma foi" | shared via feedly
Come April 28, we may finally have a law that promotes government accountability and transparency; the Selangor state government tables its final draft of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill. It is worth noting that feedback from civil society was ...
See all stories on this topic »

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tweet From Alex Howard (digiphile)

Alex Howard (digiphile):
"The value of data openness in government cannot be overestimated"-@OpenCongress #opengov #gov20

(Sent via Seesmic

Austin Wrestles With E-Mail and FOI


Austin Wrestles With E-Mail and FOI
Published on The Art of Access | shared via feedly

The Austin American Statesman had an interesting piece on e-mail access:

Worried that Austin City Council members may not have turned over all of their emails, officials are bringing in city technology experts as they make a new attempt at complying with the state's open records law.

Information technology workers are compiling the records — emails among council members and City Manager Marc Ott during the past 13 months — requested by the American-Statesman and other media, amid allegations that the city's first release of records was incomplete.

The new effort has already triggered the release of more emails from Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who last week made public 75 more correspondences, some of which were from an "automatic archiving system," officials said.


Filed under: 4. Finding records, 7. Electronic records Tagged: e-mails, Texas

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 iPhone : PM’s bureaucrats shirked ‘duty to assist’ with access request

Health Canada’s ‘culture of secrecy’ keeping Canadians in the dark -

New Canadian Award on Transparency: Grace-Pépin Access to Information Award - Tweet From Ilone Harrison (ilone)

Ilone Harrison (ilone):
New Canadian Award on Transparency: Grace-Pépin Access to Information Award #FreedomOfInformation

(Sent via Seesmic

Wages under microscope


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via Google Alerts - "freedom of information request" canada by on 3/23/11

There are 35 native communities in Atlantic Canada. ... leaders were released to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation through a freedom of information request. ...


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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Glooscap chief pledges openness, accountability - The Chronicle Herald


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The community was in the spotlight last December when the salaries of native leaders were released to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation through a freedom of information request. It showed that Clarke collected $243,150 in pay and expenses in 2009 ...


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The Right to Information and Privacy: Balancing Rights and Managing Conflicts - D Banisar

[PDF] Program The Right to Information and Privacy: Balancing Rights and Managing Conflicts

D Banisar
... ATIP access to information and privacy ... nd) during his term as president of the French National
Data Processing and Liberties Commission, freedom of information and data ... and the state" (p.
1). On first inspection, it would appear that the right of access to information and the ... 

News Release: New Board Members Appointed to CAPAPA

For Immediate Release:
March 21, 2011
New Board Members Appointed to CAPAPA

March 21, 2011. Calgary, Alberta – CAPAPA (Canadian Association of Professional Access and
Privacy Administrators) Canada's leading association of privacy and access professionals, today
announced the appointment of four new directors to its Board.

The CAPAPA Board of Directors now includes Dr. Teresa Scassa, who currently holds a Canada
Research Chair in Information Law at the University of Ottawa; Marc Gagné, President of ATIPshop
and Senior Consultant with Citizenship and Immigration Canada; Lawyer, consultant and author
Michael Power; and Paulette Lacroix, Senior Privacy Consultant and Certified Management
Consultant at PC Lacroix Consulting Inc.

"We are pleased to welcome these highly respected members of Canada's privacy and access
profession to the CAPAPA Board, and look forward to their wisdom and leadership," said CAPAPA
National Chair Sharon Polsky. "Their willingness to join the Board is a testament to the value of CAPAPA
to the profession. Their longstanding tenure as senior practitioners in law, academia, government, and
the health sector will provide invaluable insight and perspective as CAPAPA continues to expand its
reach and membership offerings."

CAPAPA, the leading professional association representing Canada's Access and Privacy
Professionals n the privacy and public sectors, is now represented by a most distinguished group of
Directors, from British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador.

1. Robert Doherty, Privacy lawyer and consultant
2. Marc Gagné, President of ATIPshop and Senior Consultant with Citizenship & Immigration Canada
3. Paulette Lacroix, Senior Privacy Consultant and Certified Management Consultant at PC Lacroix
Consulting Inc.
4. Eric Lawton, Senior Privacy Specialist, Risk Management & Information Security, City of Toronto and
Director of Professional Certification, CAPAPA
5. George Michelau, Assistant Director of Education, Labrador School Board
6. Sharon Polsky, President, Amina Corporation and National Chair, CAPAPA
7. Marc-Aurèle Racicot, B.Sc., LL.B., LL.M., Barrister and Solicitor
8. Dr. Teresa Scassa, who currently holds a Canada Research Chair in Information Law at the
University of Ottawa

The Canadian Association for Professional Access and Privacy Administrators is the Canadian not-forprofit
center of expertise and excellence in information access and privacy in the public and private
sectors. As Canada's voice for privacy and access, CAPAPA speaks for its members in private, public,
and government organizations across Canada.

For more information:
Sharon Polsky, CAPAPA National Chair
+1.403.254.4376 or NationalChair

Monday, March 21, 2011

Proposal pits right to know versus privacy -

Open Data is not Transparency


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There are many encouraging signs of late in the general area of open data. However, one thing that has to be kept in mind with this movement is that open data is only part of transparency - it is necessary but not sufficient. If the data is not understandable by the intended audience (and open data suggests a very broad audience) then there is no transparency. The information and knowledge locked in the data will be hiding in plain sight.

This thought suggests that any open data movement has to be combined with a 'plain English' (or 'plain <insert your language here>') programme and an investment in data literacy. In addition, to take the whole movement to its obvious conclusion, there should be some well defined success criteria. What is the answer to the question: what happens to whom when citizens experience open data?

You may also be interested in posts on data engines.


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University foundation Records Deemed Public

Pennsylvania's highest court has upheld a ruling entitling a newspaper to donor financial information from East Stroudsburg University's foundation.

The Pocono Record reports the state Supreme Court issued an order March 16 refusing to hear the university's appeal of a lower court ruling.

The action is expected to clear the way for the newspaper to inspect donation records related to East Stroudsburg's Science and Technology Center and examine meeting minutes of the university foundation.

The school had denied the paper's initial request in February 2009, which came as a former foundation executive director was being investigated on allegations of sexual and financial impropriety.


Filed under: 1. Records that matter, 3. Access law

Ottawa launches "open data" portal - The Vancouver Sun
Vincent Gogolek, executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, said while the federal open data site is welcome, it does nothing to address the Conservative government's long record of frustrating Access to Information requests.

Orders of the Day - Just when you thought it was safe to not go back to the ...


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via Inside Politics on 3/21/11

... the Procedure and House Affairs, it seems, will be back in the spotlight this morning after its members voted to break with longstanding parliamentary tradition and draft its final report on the Brison privilege motion in public -- and on camera, even.

Hit the jump for the full post! 


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Friday, March 18, 2011

City hall information can be hard to get - Metro -

Data expert moves on from 'telephone journalism'

Regional news journalists offered masterclass for future skills

"In the end we'll no more talk about data journalism than we talk now
about telephone journalism" says Francis Irving. The computer programmer and freedom of information activist best known for his involvement in is busy working out how that shift will happen.

"How can we embed the skills and training and tools to work with data thoroughly into journalism? And at the same time encourage the culture of investigative journalism- by professional journalists, and with the power of the internet by making apps for citizens as well."

The skills gap is an issue for many journalists getting to grips with what Tim Berners Lee referred to as the future of journalism.

And regional news journalists, hit by reduced staffing levels and training budgets, risk being left behind which has prompted the Digital Editors Network to organise a two-day masterclass which Irving is involved with.

"Local newspapers don't have the resources to send people
to every court hearing or council meeting any more. Datasets can be made collaboratively at a national level and sliced

"Apps can be built to help users tell stories that are more relevant to
them, without having to write them all by hand."

The workshops are being led by the American Tom Johnson a former editor of the Scientific American and co-founder of the Institute for Analytic Journalism and will be looking at topics such as;

* Collaboration tools for the newsroom team
* Customizing search-and-retrieve data tools
* Extracting data from documents
* Data cleaning and formatting
* An elementary introduction to scraping web sites for data
* Using web "cloud" tools to clean and display data
* How to tease meaning and stories out of data and then tell those stories in multiple ways

There's more details about the event and a link to book places here. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Editorial: When it comes to government, it's your right to know - Baxter Bulletin
Here in America, we're used to having freedom of information. We even take it for granted sometimes. Unlike people elsewhere in the world, we have open access ...

Senate passes Freedom of Information Bill - NEXT
The Senate today passed the Freedom of Information Bill. The House of Representatives had passed the Bill on February 24. It has taken the current session of the ...

Canada launches – what works and what is broken

Those on twitter will already know that this morning I had the privilege of conducting a press conference with Minister Day about the launch of - the Federal Government's Open Data portal. For those wanting to learn more about open data and why it matters, I suggest this and this blog post, and this article - they outline some of the reasons why open data matters.

In this post I want to review what works, and doesn't work, about

What works

Probably the most important thing about is that it exists. It means that public servants across the Government of Canada who have data they would like to share can now point to a website that is part of government policy. It is an enormous signal of permission from a central agency that will give a number of people who want to share data permission, a process and a vehicle, by which to do this. That, in of itself, is significant.

Indeed, I was informed that already a number of ministries and individuals are starting to approach those operating the portal asking to share their data. This is exactly the type of outcome we as citizens should want.

Moreover, I've been told that the government wants to double the number of data sets, and the number of ministries, involved in the site. So the other part that "works" on this site is the commitment to make it bigger. This is also important, as there have been some open data portals that have launched with great fanfare, only to have the site languish as neither new data sets are added and the data sets on the site are not updated and so fall out of date.

What's a work in progress

The number of "high value" datasets is, relatively speaking, fairly limited. I'm always cautious about this as, I feel, what constitutes high value varies from user to user. That said, there are clearly data sets that will have greater impact on Canadians: budget data, line item spend data by department (as the UK does), food inspection data, product recall data, pretty much everything on the statscan website, Service Canada locations, postal code data and, mailbox location data, business license data, Canada Revenue data on charities and publicly traded companies are all a few that quickly come to mind, clearly I can imagine many, many more...

I think the transparency, tech, innovation, mobile and online services communities will be watching closely to see what data sets get added. What is great is that the government is asking people what data sets they'd like to see added. I strongly encourage people to let the government know what they'd like to see, especially when it involves data the government is already sharing, but in unhelpful formats.

What doesn't work

In a word: the license.

The license on is deeply, deeply flawed. Some might go so far as to say that the license does not make it data open at all - a critique that I think is fair. I would say this: presently the open data license on effectively kills any possible business innovation, and severally limits the use in non-profit realms.

The first, and most problematic is this line:

"You shall not use the data made available through the GC Open Data Portal in any way which, in the opinion of Canada, may bring disrepute to or prejudice the reputation of Canada."

What does this mean? Does it mean that any journalist who writes a story, using data from the portal, that is critical of the government, is in violation of the terms of use? It would appear to be the case. From an accountability and transparency perspective, this is a fatal problem.

But it is also problematic from a business perspective. If one wanted to use a data set to help guide citizens around where they might be well, and poorly, served by their government, would you be in violation? The problem here is that the clause is both sufficiently stifling and sufficiently negative that many businesses will see the risk of using this data simply too great.

It is worth noting that no other open data portal in the world has this clause.

The second challenging line is:

"you shall not disassemble, decompile except for the specific purpose of recompiling for software compatibility, or in any way attempt to reverse engineer the data made available through the GC Open Data Portal or any part thereof, and you shall not merge or link the data made available through the GC Open Data Portal with any product or database for the purpose of identifying an individual, family or household or in such a fashion that gives the appearance that you may have received or had access to, information held by Canada about any identifiable individual, family or household or about an  organization or business."

While I understand the intent of this line, it is deeply problematic for several reasons. First many businesses to identify individuals, indeed, the individuals ask them to do this. Google, for example, knows who I am and offers custom services to me based on the data they have about me. It would appear that terms of use would prevent Google from using Government of Canada data to improve its service even if I have given them permission. Moreover, the future of the digital economy is around providing customized services. While this data has been digitized, it effectively cannot be used for this significant part of the digital economy.

More disconcerting is that these terms apply not only to individuals, but also to organizations and businesses. This means that you cannot use the data to "identify" a business. Well, over at we use data from Environment Canada to show citizens facilities that pollute near them. Since we identify both the facilities and the companies that use them, are we not in violation of the terms of use? In a similar vein, I've talked about how government data could have prevented $3B of tax fraud. Sadly, data from this portal would not have changed that since, in order to have found the fraud, you'd have to have identified the charitable organizations involved. Consequently, this requirement manifestly destroys any accountability the data might create.

It is again worth noting that no other open data portal in the world has this clause.

And finally:

4.1 You shall include and maintain on all reproductions of the data made available through the GC Open Data Portal, produced pursuant to section 3 above, the following notice:

Reproduced and distributed with the permission of the Government of Canada.

4.2 Where any of the data made available through the GC Open Data Portal is contained within a Value-Added Product, you shall include in a prominent location on such Value-Added Product the following notice:

This product has been produced by or for (your name - or corporate name, if applicable) and includes data provided by the Government of Canada.

The incorporation of data sourced from the Government of Canada within this product shall not be construed as constituting an endorsement by the Government of Canada of our product.

or any other notice approved in writing by Canada.

The problem here is that this creates what we call the "Nascar effect." As you use more and more government data, these "prominent" displays of attribution begin to pile up. If I'm using data from 3 different governments, each that requires attribution, pretty soon all your going to see are the attribution statements, and not the map or other information that you are looking for! I outlined this problem in more detail here. The UK Government has handled this issue much, much more gracefully.

Indeed, speaking of the UK Open Government License, I really wish our government had just copied it wholesale. We have a similar government system and legal systems so I see no reason why it would not easily translate to Canada. It is radically better than what is offered on and, by adopting it, we might begin to move towards a single government license within Commonwealth countries, which would be a real win. Of course, I'd love it if we adopted the PDDL, but the UK Open Government License would be okay to.

In Summary

The launch of is an important first step. It gives those of us interested in open data and open government a vehicle by which to get more data open and improve the accountability, transparency as well as business and social innovation. That said, there is much work to be done still: getting more data up and, more importantly, addressing the significant concerns around the license. I have spoken to Treasury Board President Stockwell Day about these concerns and he is very interested and engaged by them. My hope is that with more Canadians expressing their concerns, and with better understanding by ministerial and political staff, we can land on the right license and help find ways to improve the website and program. That's why we to beta launches in the tech world, hopefully it is something the government will be able to do here too.


Apologies for any typos, trying to get this out quickly, please let me know if you find any.

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