MIT project tracks government officials

A student project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology seeks to help citizens track government officials the way that some agencies would like to track citizens.

The MIT Media Lab's Government Information Awareness Project, which went online July 4 at opengov.media.mit.edu, is a collection of software and data about federal officials and industry lobbyists. Its name is a play on Terrorism Information Awareness, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's R&D program for developing advanced data-mining and decision-support tools for homeland security.

Graduate student Ryan B. McKinley developed GIA under the direction of Media Lab assistant professor Christopher Csikszentmihalyi. Both are in the lab's Computing Culture group.

'As the government broadens internal surveillance, and collaborates with private institutions to access data on the public, it is crucial that we maintain a symmetry of accountability,' the GIA creators said in a statement on the Web site.

A note on the GIA home page today noted that some features of the Web site, including personalized alerts, are unavailable due to high demand. Because the site is a student project, the Media Lab wasn't expecting that much site traffic, Media Lab spokeswoman Alexandra Kahn said.

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