I’ve spent the last few weeks delving into the subject of civic hacking, specifically when local governments open their data to legions of “hackers” in the hopes of improving city services and enhnacing the connection between government and citizen.
This interesting nugget from Emily Badger shows an example of when civic hacking actually cuts against the interests of the government that has released the data. An app called Spot Agent uses city data on parking tickets to estimate the probability that a user will get a ticket for parking at a specific spot.
In Seeing Like a State, James Scott offers a brilliant thesis about statemaking as a process of reducing “illegibility.” In plain terms, the state gains of foothold on power when it “knows” those whom it aspires to govern. By being able to identify and understand norms, state’s can work to bring them under rational control.
This view of “legibility” as control is one that Internet activist are aware of and fear. On a small scale, this Spotagent app opens up the possibility that the state can become more legible and “known” in ways that allow citizens to elude their overtures at control. While increasing the chances of avoiding a parking ticket isn’t exactly a blockbuster movie plot, it does point to the cat and mouse game that emerges when city government make their data accessible.