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Geek Chic

National Day of Hacking

2/6/2013

The word “hacking” has received a lot of bad press lately, especially after being portrayed in movies as a criminal act to steal data and commit crimes. However, it’s actually a neutral term that can also be used for good. Boiled down, hacking is just the exercise of taking something apart, analyzing it and finding a use for it. Specifically, there’s a lot of information that could be used to benefit the public but is too difficult to access. To that end, the White House announced in January that it will sponsor the very first “National Day of Civic Hacking” on June 1-2.                

The Office of Science and Technology Policy stated that, “Civic Hacking Day is an opportunity for software developers, technologists and entrepreneurs to unleash their can-do American spirit by collaboratively harnessing publicly-released data and code to create innovative solutions for problems that affect Americans.” Government data will be made available to the public with the intention of helping society and improving the way information is shared. NASA, the Census Bureau and the Department of Labor will be among the agencies not just sharing their information, but challenging the public to do something with it.              

While possibly completely unrelated, this news arrives in the shadow of the tragic suicide of Aaron Swartz, a 26-year-old Internet activist who laid the groundwork for many common Internet fundamentals. Swartz suffered from a history of depression that, his parents argue, was caused by excessive legal prosecution from the U.S. Attorney’s Office following his downloading of documents from the academic journal database JSTOR using an MIT computer. Swartz was an advocate of making information freely available to the public rather than paying money to access. The U.S. Attorney’s Office intended to prosecute Swartz with numerous crimes, even though JSTOR and MIT agreed not to press charges. CV

Robert Anhalt is Director of Content at Geek Speak Forum and contributes to Cityview.

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