When you read books about living under an authoritarian national government one of the classic actions of such administrations is to control information. It’s one thing to read about it, quite another to live under such policies. In the early 1980s I started going to the Soviet Union regularly, first for citizens diplomacy and an art exchange and, then, for business. At one point I was spending three or four months of year in the USSR, and continued to do so until 1994.
Being there one the strangest things to which I, as an American, had to adjust was the fact that there was no publicly available telephone book, nor functioning information operator. Not were there any acknowledged switchboards In hotels, each room’s phone was a different number not an extension. If you wanted to get someone’s telephone number they had to give it to you. And the idea of publicly available outcome data would have been unthinkable.
Authoritarian governments don’t like citizens having access to performance and outcome data. Why? Because governments that have other priorities than social wellbeing don’t want people to know how expensive, inefficient, and unproductive their policies actually are.
Therefore, as predictable as a train schedule Donald Trump’s administration from the get go has been stripping policy outcome data from public databases. This report gives a good summary of what is happening.
This is an absolute crisis
Since President Donald Trump took office in January, thousands of government records that were previously public have gone offline—from a massive database of records on animal welfare at the Department of Agriculture to climate change data across the government.
The move has confirmed some of the worst fears of scientists who raced to back up government data on climate change ahead of Trump’s inauguration. Those efforts have archived terabytes worth of data on private servers. But government records on everything from labor violations to animal welfare are still at risk of being taken offline or destroyed altogether.
That’s why ThinkProgress is launching Disappearing Data, a project to recover government data that’s been taken offline.
We’ve already filed Freedom of Information Act requests for six disappeared websites. And we’ve already scored a victory: In response to requests by ThinkProgress and others, the Environmental Protection Agency posted a snapshot …