Tutoring for the federal government: Volunteers document programming interfaces

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The portal bundDEV At first glance it looks like a big step forward towards a large-scale open data strategy of the German federal authorities. Under the slogan “We document Germany”, developers can find documentation on programming interfaces of government institutions on the page. Including traffic data from Autobahn GmbH and warning messages via the NINA-API of the Federal Office for Civil Protection.

But there is no federal authority behind the progressive platform and neither is the linked Twitter account of the “Federal Office for Open Data” does not belong to any state actor – such a body does not exist. The project came up with the developer Lilith Wittmann, who became known last week because she reported a serious gap in her election campaign app to the CDU and received an advertisement for it. And also for the voluntary documentation project, she says she gets headwind from government agencies.

The portal, which can be seen as a political protest, is very useful. The criticism is aimed at the rather slow implementation of a state open data strategy. In 2019 the “Second National Action Plan Open Government” decided and more data should be on GovData, the real open data portal of the federal government. Civil society is allowed until August 22nd make comments on the action plan.

It is criticized that the real competence center Open Data gets lost in bureaucracy instead of making state data accessible. Many interfaces between government agencies that already exist are still not documented. The protest project helps out here on a voluntary basis.

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The documentation on bundDEV is available in the established API documentation format OpenAPI 3. This results in human-readable online documentation that can be read in a browser. At the same time, the data is also machine-readable. with common open source tools For example, developers can quickly generate clients in their programming language that call up and process this data. for Python already has a librarywith which you can access the data directly.

Since the floods in the southwest, the federal warning infrastructure has been in focus – among the documentation on bundDEV there is also one for the API, that too the NINA app of the Federal Office for Civil Protection uses. Because publicly accessible documentation was not available so far, the project volunteers should only have been left with reverse engineering. With documented API access, useful integrations can be programmed that an app like NINA cannot do on its own. Integrations in alarm systems, for example in companies, are conceivable with the data and would generate added value. Documentation of the level API, which is provided by the federal waterways and shipping administration, is currently in preparation.

the Descriptions in the GitHub repos, in which the documentation work takes place, are partly ironic, partly resigned. In the description of the APIs from Autobahn GmbH it says: “The BMVI has built a completely useless app. A motorway info app. Really completely useless? No, there is now an open API […]”

As you can see from the GitHub commits, Wittmann is no longer working on the project all by himself. More volunteers have joined them and are helping with the self-made open data strategy. On Twitter, the unofficial account of the fictitious Federal Office for Open Data calls for further interfaces to be documented and the results bei GitHub to share.

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For some government agencies, however, so much initiative is a thorn in the side. As Wittman describes on Twitter, some authorities (including the Federal Employment Agency, whose job database API has also been documented) have announced that they will better protect the interfaces. Access to data interfaces with public data is thus equated with a security-relevant incident.


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