Carl Malamud is going to Washington.
But the bigger question is, will he move there?
Malamud, a Sebastopol resident, is an Internet maverick who for two decades has dogged the government to be more transparent by putting its public documents online.
In the mid 1990s, he pushed the Securities and Exchange Commission to put all corporate filings online.
More recently, Malamud began posting millions of court documents online for free ? something the government would have charged an individual about $1.6 million to access.
Now, after nearly 20 years as a nagging political outsider, Malamud wants in.
He is campaigning to be appointed Public Printer of the United States. It is a Washington position that would afford him the power to quickly push through many of the ideas he has arduously battled for ? in particular making public government data available free online.
He?s spent the past two weeks collecting endorsements, which range from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar to noted Internet advocate Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford professor. He launched his campaign on Feb. 24 on his site www.YesWeScan.org.
Now he is taking his endorsements to the U.S. political mecca, where he hopes to make a case for his appointment.
?I bought a plane ticket and I?m going to Washington,? Malamud said from his office in Sebastopol.
Is he a long shot? Probably. Even he thinks so. And it?s not clear that President Obama, who appoints the U.S. Public Printer, is even considering him.
But the Sebastopol resident has garnered dozens of high-profile endorsements from the tech community, and recently was featured in publications ranging from the New York Times to Mother Jones.
?I?m absolutely confident that Carl walks in and within seven months you see a radically different G.P.O.,? Lessig said.
The U.S. Government Printing Office, or GPO, which the public printer oversees, is charged with providing access to public documents produced by all three branches of government ? executive, judicial and legislative.
In the past year or so, the idea that the government should be more transparent and make all its public documents available online for free has enjoyed a groundswell of support. What Malamud spent years doing in obscurity is suddenly getting a lot more attention, support and collaboration.
For instance, the content-loaded Internet has spawned a whole new genre of artists who remix audio, video and other mediums into inspiring mashups. But many artists run into problems with copyright. Even the famous Obama ?Hope? poster has its creator embroiled in a copyright battle with the Associated Press over the president?s image.
Putting online the government?s extensive collections of content ? from World War II newsreels to tax compliance videos ? would represent a treasure trove of copyright-free material.
Also, easy access to laws and regulations makes for a more informed citizenry. Laws are the operating system of our society, Malamud likes to say.
To be clear, he is not advocating that the government make its non-public information available, such as top secret documents or individuals? Social Security numbers.
Rather, Malamud has set his sights on the government?s vast public data that is either offline in paper-only form, or hidden behind pay-for-access firewalls. For instance, the U.S. Court system charges 8 cents a page to view court documents online at its PACER Web site.