If you went to open.whitehouse.gov at one point on Tuesday, you would have seen a whole lot of nothing. The database of publicly available data was originally put up by the Obama Administration in 2013, but on Tuesday, it became a digital boneyard.
Most of the information is currently archived at the Obama Administration’s archived website, though it does not seem to be accessible in the same way. Scientists have seen this sort of thing coming for quite some time, however, and thanks to their commitment to collaborative research, all nine gigabytes of it should be accessible again in relatively short order.
Here was the nearly empty page on Tuesday. It merely said “No Results.”
On Tuesday night, the page had more comments, but offered this promise: “Check back soon for new data.”
What could that “new data” be? Given the Trump administration’s approach to climate change data, it’s reasonable to assume the “new data” will be political in some way. They may just be placeholders, but it’s worth nothing that there are two photos of Trump on the page right now.
It’s currently unclear precisely when the data was removed, as the most recent snapshot by the Wayback Machine comes from all the way back in the simpler, more innocent days of a few weeks ago.
Maxwell Ogden, a programmer for the open data sharing project Dat Project reacted quickly, assuring Twitter that he had downloaded a complete copy of the archive on January 20. He later posted the full metadata for this snapshot, so people can see what’s included in this slightly outdated version of the database. As mentioned, his haul is over nine gigabytes in size.
It’s not surprising that scientists would have preemptively downloaded the information since open data activists and scientists, in general, have been warning of purges exactly like this one. In general, though, the worries have been specifically related to climate science, while open.whitehouse.gov was a more general source of data.
The Obama Administration opened the resource as a means to help researchers understand the nation and, more importantly, get the best bang for every research buck. Researchers could upload their data in easily searched (“pulled”) databases. With the White House Open Data Initiative, research can be used more than once, and generate far more value for Americans.
It’s unclear what utility there could be to separating this data across multiple databases based on Presidential administration. The whole idea of open.whitehouse.gov was that it would be a centralized repository for information, not one of an ever-growing number of four- or eight-year repositories.
The Trump Administration has paid some lip-service to the idea of transparency, but there has been little follow through — it’s quite the contrary, in fact. This latest move is worrying commentators who fear it shows an overall disinterest in fostering real transparency. Closing an open data repository is pretty on-the-nose, after all.
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