Google, Wikipedia: Government Records Hard to Find

Charles Davis
December 12, 2007 — 1,388 views  
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The Washington Post drops in on the pubic records/search engine issue:

These days you can Google just about anything, from your favorite celebrity's pet to your boss's middle name. But using the biggest search engine to get information about the government often falls short.

That's what leaders from Google and Wikipedia plan to tell the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs today, urging Congress to require federal agencies to make their Web sites, records and databases more searchable...

Four out of five Web surfers use search engines to find information, usually bypassing a site's home page unless the page appears in the search results, said John Lewis Needham, manager of public-sector content partnerships for Google.

Needham has spent the past 18 months working with agencies to make their online presence more Googlable. The Internet giant is also working with states to let people search databases to find, for example, licensing records, consumer complaints and financial transactions. Virginia and the District have partnered with Google.

The biggest hurdle agencies face in sharing information with one another and with citizens is not the technology but rather how the agencies organize information, said Karen Evans, who oversees the e-government program for the Office of Management and Budget. OMB also must protect the privacy of people listed in the hundreds of millions of records on file, she said.

Charles Davis


Charles N. Davis is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and the executive director for the National Freedom of Information Coalition, headquartered at the School. Davis' scholarly research focuses on access to governmental information and new media law, including jurisdictional issues, intellectual property and online libel. He has earned a Sunshine Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his work in furthering freedom of information and the University of Missouri-Columbia Provost's Award for Outstanding Junior Faculty Teaching, as well as the Faculty-Alumni Award.