Jimmy Wales To Become UK Government Transparency Tsar

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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Wikipedia founder will advise the government on transparency and crowdsourcing

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales will become an unpaid adviser across all government departments to help civil servants develop “innovative” new technology, reports The Telegraph.

Rohan Silva, the aide to Prime Minister David Cameron, made the announcement yesterday at the South by Southwest (SXSW) technology conference in Austin, Texas.


Wales will help with “open government” initiatives, instructing civil servants on how to harness the power of the Internet to make UK democracy more transparent. His engagement in government has not always been so supportive. In January, Wikipedia voluntarily shut down for 24 hours in protest against the US government’s SOPA anti-piracy legislation, which is similar to the UK’s controversiqal Digital Economy Act.

“He will advise Government on developing innovative new ways technology can be used to give the public a greater say in the policy-making process,” a Whitehall source told The Daily Telegraph.

In his talk titled “The Open Source Government, Enterprise and Innovation”, Mr Silva, a senior policy adviser in the No 10 Policy Unit, told the audience that the government wanted to “usher in the age of open source government”.

The appointment of Wales as an adviser follows several “crowdsourcing” initiatives undertaken by the government. These include getting rid of more than 600 regulations, accepting suggestions on policy from a large number of civil servants and replacing various government resources online with a single websitewww.gov.uk.

Wales co-founded Wikipedia, the open-source online encyclopaedia, in 2001 with philosopher Larry Sanger. Sanger left Wikipedia in 2002, and Wales later claimed to be the sole founder. Wales gave up his rights to block users, delete pages or protect pages on the online encyclopedia in 2010 after wiping thousands of images without proper authorisation, after Sanger told the FBI that Wikimedia Commons housed child pornography images.

The idea of appointing special government advisors or “tsars” has been widely criticised in the media. David Cameron’s ‘back to work’ tsar Emma Harrison had to quit amid fraud allegations in February, meanwhile,  Martha Lane Fox has been engaged as Digital Champion to get the digital refuseniks online, and led a review of government websites. The chancellor, George Osborne, announced a plan to open up government data in November.

Jimmy Wales did not respond to TechWeekEurope’s request for comment at the time of writing.

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