The flip side of government surviellance technologies is citizens’ freedom to access the data collected for the administrative purposes of their government.
One government database in the United States that has long been a rich vein for government watchdogs is the Federal Procurement Data System, which records the purchases made by the government. But as Mother Jones magazine reports, the FPDS is now being privatised. No, not just the data collection and management — the data itself will be in private hands. This means it will no longer be subject the Freedom of Information Act:
… the new system appears designed to virtually eliminate unfettered public access. Under the Freedom of Information Act, all records created by federal agencies are available to the public for modest reproduction fee, with a few specific exceptions. By allowing [Global Computer Enterprises, Inc.] to directly collect contract data from each agency, the Bush Administration has effectively bypassed the Act, because the compiled records are never directly controlled by any government agency.
Without direct access to the raw data, groups like Investigative Reporters and Editors, a popular source of government databases for reporters, may no longer be able to offer the information to its members. “I’m a little bit concerned about the next go-round, and whether we are going to be gouged in terms of cost,” says Jeff Porter, the database editor at IRE. Aron Pilhofer, who manages databases at the Center for Public Integrity, said he was withholding judgment on the new system until he found out the price for non-profits and journalists. “If they plan to charge $35,000 for what we used to pay $500 for, they are in for a lawsuit,” he said.