We live in the Information Age, it is said, and yet information is not free.
Globalization has increased information and information networks. We are more aware of what is happening around the world.
There is now a sea of information.
Yet we are aware of this information only through specific organizations and aggregations of that information.
We rely on transnational advocacy groups, such as NGOs, IGOs and international media organizations to report concisely about what is happening, what has happened, and what global civil society makes of what happened.
Yet there are mounds of data sitting statically in databases which have not been tapped by the media, or by public interest groups.
There is publicly-funded data located in the United Nations, in universities, in governmental departments and bodies, in the national statistical agencies.
But the data is hidden; it’s down in the databases. And it is not searchable on the web. These are barriers to free and public information.
This data is not free, and it needs to be. It is asymmetrical and it needs to be symmetrical.
Public viewers and media users exist, and the internet exists as a tool to tap this data, but we have not used our tools effectively.
As long as global civil society is paying for this data, it ought to be able to access it and search for it freely on the web.
There are organizations with public domains who are trying to do this. Gapminder.org, for example. But most of these domains are encrypted, password-protected, pricey, and filled with unorganized statistics. All of that aggregated information with sources from NGOs is not free information.
We have the databases; it’s not new databases we need.
We have design tools, such as flash animations and other devices; it’s not new designs we need.
There exists non-profit ventures which would like to link data with designs and aggregation tools; it’s not new ventures we need.
There exists software which could potentially link the data together and animations which will liberate publicly funded data; it’s not new software we need.
What is needed is a search function that will allow all the aggregate information to be searched in the public sphere.
This data can then be mapped and graphed with tools used to liberate information that already exists.
A massive search function like this is already available for government agencies in the United States, for example, within the DARPA and the NSA complex. This sort of technology is used to search and scale possible terrorist attacks through the tapping of vast amounts of data available on multiple databases.
This same function could be used to allow students and public interest groups to search, scale, map, and graph data from public-funded sources, like the United Nations, national statistics agencies, and so on.
Pressing concerns about human migratory patterns, refugee statuses, human trafficking operations, and various other international problems can easily be mapped, studied, and analyzed by internet users around the globe. But this data is not available to us. It has not been made searchable.
When this data is searchable, it can be tapped by web crawlers that will find that information and put it in the public sphere. This is what is needed.
The reason why this is important is that in an information society, information cannot be asymmetric. It must be free and symmetrical.
The data must be highly contextualized, it must be visible and analyzable by internet users from all angles and perspectives who wish to gain a deeper understanding of global politics through the information source that they fund themselves. We are calling for information symmetry and information democracy.
Free the information!