The failure of an early episode in the open government data movement: A historical case study

Source: Xiaohua Zhu, Government Information Quarterly, In Press – Corrected Proof, Available online 6 April 2017
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From the abstract:
The open government data (OGD) movement that focuses on government transparency and data reuse did not appear out of thin air. Some early episodes of this social movement can be traced to the early 1990s.This paper presents a historical case study of such an OGD episode, a campaign targeted at a government database called JURIS, initiated by OGD advocates in the early 1990s. JURIS was a legal information retrieval system created by the Department of Justice and used by government employees, which contained federal court decisions (or case law), among many other primary legal materials. Public interest groups and small publishers intended to open up the database for public access and data reuse, but their effort failed and eventually led to the shutdown of the JURIS system. This paper provides a detailed account of the history, analyzes the reasons of the failure, and discusses outcomes of the campaign. Drawing from social movement theories, especially the political opportunity structure, the paper illustrates the complexity of the social political environment surrounding the OGD movement, especially with regard to an important type of government data, primary legal information, in the United States.

Highlights
• JURIS campaign was an early episode of open government data social movement.
• Study of a failed case reveals the complexity of open government data movement.
• Many factors shaped access rights to primary legal information in digital format.
• The case reveals the conflicts between public access and information privatization.
• The OGD movement needs favorable political culture and strong allies to succeed.