• Nulpunt is a web application that aggregates all documents produced by the Dutch government and the public sector into an online database.
• Nulpunt asks users to register with this database and subscribe to feeds on topics of government information that he or she is interested in. From that moment on the user has access to all government documents relevant to the selected topics.
• Nulpunt makes it possible for registered users to comment on and share elements from these documents through third party social media and other channels.
• Nulpunt also provides the option to follow the activities of other users.
In the past years we have witnessed the development of an international democratization movement. From WikiLeaks to Occupy, from the Pirate Party to Anonymous, the demand for transparent government and political self-organization has become evident. We call this the demand for a democracy without secrets.
The Netherlands today has a basic transparancy law. In English it’s called: the Law on Transparancy of Public Authorities [Dutch: “Wet Openbaarheid van Bestuur (WOB)”]. Conceived in 1980, it specifies how citizens requests for government policy information are to be dealt with when related to matters of public interest. But the law is seriously outdated, a product of the pre-digital era and embodying a traditional authoritarian bureaucratic culture in which access to information is seen as a favor to citizens, and not as their right. Responses to requests for information are structurally delayed and habitually negative, forcing the requesting party to enter expensive legal battles. A request for information can easily take up one-and-a half years or more. Access is easily denied, as the grounds for refusal are broad and lend themselves to abuse.
A new Freedom of Information Act is in the making. This law enshrines public access to information as a citizen's right, and impels public authorities to make government information widely, and quickly, accessible in a digital format. It broadens the scope of the information to be made accessible, to include all information held by public bodies or private bodies with a public mandate or financed by taxpayers money. If government nevertheless wishes to keep information secret, this exemption will have to be justified on a case by case basis. The new law will guarantee that in the future all public documents produced by government will be automatically accessible, and that these will be stored in a permanent electronic record. These are the first steps to what we call the Leaking State [Dutch: “De Lekkende Overheid”].
The problem is that in the hands of government this new law will lead to inaccessible databases. Only professional researchers will be willing and able to make their way through the dense bureaucratic thicket that obscures the information they’re looking for.
Meanwhile, the time invested daily by politically-aware citizens using social media, online forums and newspapers indicates there’s no lack of willingness for political participation. We just need a tool to enable us to do so directly.
Therefore we have developed nulpunt [“0.”], a website that works like a merge between Wikileaks and social media. In combination with the new Freedom of Information Act, nulpunt will force government to ‘leak’ all documents into its public database. Once there, users can search through this information stream, comment on, and share documents. It is a dashboard, a digital parliament, where we control and shape our politics.
As part of the registration process, the user sets up filters to limit the stream of documents to those dealing with the issues or sectors he or she is interested in. The user chooses to make his or her account either public or private. It’s here that the user also decides on the color of the marking tool: the main asset of nulpunt.
Once registered the user can start. On the left we see the inbox displaying a filtered list of documents matching the user’s interests. We can see how many comments have been added to each document by other users.
To view a document, click its title. This one relates to the Dutch government’s decision making process preceding its support of the war in Iraq in 2003. It has 24 comments attached. Each comment corresponds to a passage highlighted by one of the users. While reading the document and comments this user has become convinced there was never a legal mandate for war, meaning that it was waged illegitimately. With the marking tool the user highlights the part of the document that makes this evident, and in a comment explains why.
The new comment can be saved as a draft that only the author can see, or can be made public by clicking ‘Publish’. The user may use the 'Amplify' button to share the annotated selection to a variety of different media.
While some social media platforms try to keep users ‘locked in’ to their service, and have been known not to protect their users from governmental and commercial interests, nulpunt has been conceived as a user-friendly tool to follow and control government. Information about users is guaranteed to never be handed to third parties and nulpunt will always be a non-profit and commercial-free environment.
This is our contribution towards the only concept of democracy we deem right:
a democracy without secrets.
A project by
Metahaven (Vinca Kruk & Daniel van der Velden)
With thanks to
Brenno de Winter
Ernst van den Hemel
This is our contribution towards the only concept of democracy we believe worthy of the name: a democracy without secrets.
[0. is a project by:
Daniel van der Velden