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White House 'Wiki government' expert to revamp UK.gov

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An energy, transport and social data "research centre" was announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne this morning.

Speaking at the annual Google Zeitgeist event, Osborne said that teams at Imperial College London and University College London were working together to create the new centre in collaboration with unnamed tech companies.

It will be based in Shoreditch, squarely in Silicon Roundabout territory.

Osborne also made lots of noises about the "wisdom of the crowd" by claiming that, unlike the previous Labour administration, the Coalition was much more heavily plugged into the interwebs – which, according to the chancellor, means the current government is more accountable to the British public.

"Instead of simply relying on government hierarchies to decide which regulations should be reformed or abolished, we've opened up the process to the wisdom of the crowd," said Osborne.

Aside from a lot of political rhetoric, Osborne did announce that the Treasury had poached a key adviser at the White House, Beth Noveck, who had been running President Barack Obama's "Open Government Initiative" until January this year.

"Beth literally wrote the book – Wiki Government – on how policy-making needs to change in the internet age," said Osborne.

"She's a genuinely world-class recruit, and she'll be working alongside the likes of Martha Lane Fox, Tim Kelsey and Tom Steinberg to harness new technologies to make government more innovative and accountable."

Osborne said the government would push for all public service reforms to be "digital by default", with the assumption that everything can be shifted online, despite the fact that the Coalition openly admits that nine million Britons don't access the internet.

"Officials and ministers have to justify why any aspect needs to be delivered through traditional offline channels," he said.

Osborne added that over 6,000 government datasets were "freely available" to developers to fiddle with.

"Over the next 12 months, we're going to unlock some of the most valuable datasets still locked away in government servers," he said.

"This is the raw data that will enable you, for the first time, to analyse the performance of public services, and of competing providers within those public services."

In October last year, Osborne co-penned a puff piece with Google's then-CEO Eric Schmidt, in which both men said:

"We simply cannot afford to be modern-day Luddites, resisting change in our private or public sectors. Innovation can upset the established order, but it is to be welcomed, not feared."

But on data protection and digital privacy, the Coalition's stance appears less certain.

After admitting that in 2010 hackers made hundreds of attempts to break into the Treasury's computer systems, Osborne – who last year announced a £650m investment programme to help thwart such attacks online – said the government was "determined to get the security question right, so that we can maximise the opportunities that the internet age presents".

Which is a bit like saying it's still searching for correct answers to prevent flaws in the government's cybersecurity plans. ®

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