BOSTON—Days after the inauguration, many folks panicked on seeing immediate changes to government websites. Others worried that scientists would be forced to have their work reviewed by the government first. One of the biggest worries: What would happen to the potentially petabytes of data (spreadsheets enough to fill thousands of external hard drives) collected on the environment, water quality, our food supply, or climate?
Armies of concerned folks banded together to begin pulling down sensitive data. Since then, it’s become a movement: Computer geeks, scientists, government employees and private citizens have gathered across the country to download and copy data—scientific, agricultural, judicial, etc.—collected and hosted by the United States government. Hoarding all of those bits and bytes has given a movement a purpose, and those involved hope to turn the data into a repository that anyone can use and access.