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Communications Government United Kingdom IT

Recrafting Government As an Open Platform 233

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the wouldn't-it-be-nice dept.
itjoblog writes "How effective are the world's governments at using technology to become more responsive? Technology has revolutionised the way that we do business, but the public sector has traditionally moved more cautiously than the private one. Now, a report from the Centre for Technology Policy Research in the UK has made some recommendations for the use of technology as an enabling mechanism for government." I have one simple requirement: all laws must be written in a wiki with full history.
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Recrafting Government As an Open Platform

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Governments are less responsive because there is no penalty for being unresponsive. When nobody can get fired for incompetence and there is no competitive choice, you get less responsive outcomes.

    • by bunratty (545641) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @08:56AM (#32347990)
      Elected officials regularly get "fired" and have to be rehired, often every two, four, or six years.
      • No they are not. The "tomato-catchers" are replaced. The ministers that stick their neck out and have to "take responsibility" when things go too wrong to be publicly acceptable. The layer directly below that remains, and they are the ones that make all the plans...
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by sznupi (719324)

          And the layer below that. And one more below. And another.

          All originating from the society - with the system of governance reflecting...the society.

      • by Demonantis (1340557) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @09:57AM (#32348756)
        And the unelected ones continue being unresponsive.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jackspenn (682188)

        Elected officials regularly get "fired" and have to be rehired, often every two, four, or six years.

        Not bureaucrats. Not government union employees.

        Why does the post office totally suck compared to either FedEx, UPS, or others when it comes to deliver times, quality of package handling, number of lost, open or damaged items, ability for customers to track packages, customer services, cleanliness of facilities, etc? Because the workers there don't care, they feel entitled and see working for customers as inconvenience. On every level the USPS is last, except one, pension payments and benefits paid t

        • The USPS sucks for many reasons not the least of which is a strong union that blocks any changes to improve efficiency.

          Other more compelling reason include:

          Universal Service - The post office must deliver everywhere, 6 days a week.
          Postal Regulations - Any changes to postal regulations must go through a convoluted approval process with testimony, federal register publishing, Postal Rate Commission and Board of Governors approval required.
          Congress - 535 people with a vested interest in making sure none of the

  • by Pojut (1027544) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @08:51AM (#32347912) Homepage

    ...are the Library of Congress [loc.gov] site and the Supreme Court [supremecourt.gov] site. Both of them are extremely informative, and have a massive wealth of information that is readily available.

    • by SgtChaireBourne (457691) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @10:55AM (#32349464) Homepage

      Likely the best websites from the US Government...are the Library of Congress site and the Supreme Court site. Both of them are extremely informative, and have a massive wealth of information that is readily available.

      Development of legislation is quite byzantine and revision (mis)management during the drafting can make for some very serious readability problems. Currently it is nearly impossible to have time, even for a full-time politician with staff, to have time for their team to individually work through all changes and revisions of a draft of a bill.

      Using a version control system (CVS [nongnu.org], Subversion [tigris.org], Mercurial [selenic.com], Git [git-scm.com]) makes it very easy to track individual changes and who made them. It also makes it trivially easy to integrate all the changes and show a snapshot of the current draft or one from any arbitrarily earlier version.

      Code bases for large software projects are unwieldy, constantly changing and have many authors yet need full transparency and accountability to succeed. So are drafts of legislation. Using a versioning system in our legislative process is long overdue.

      • Using a version control system (CVS [nongnu.org], Subversion [tigris.org], Mercurial [selenic.com], Git [git-scm.com]) makes it very easy to track individual changes and who made them.

        Whatever makes you think that any government, anywhere, wants its citizens (or anyone else) to be able to track individual changes and who made them?

  • by jra (5600) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @08:53AM (#32347938)

    an open platform, for the same reason we don't want daytraders on Wall Street, or intra-day trading at all, really. It's really nasty positive feedback, and has the bad effects positive feedback always has.

    Whatever you think of Congress, it's a pretty handy damping loop to keep the Peepul from trashing the Constitution, and hence, the country.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dishevel (1105119) *
      Too late congress and the supreme court have already trashed the constitution. You know there is bullshit going on when the right to make 90% of the laws they pass is power they say is given to them by the commerce clause of the constitution.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by NervousWreck (1399445)
        That's only when they get challenged and need an excuse. Usually they simply don't care. Side issue: Does it strike anyone else as odd that Congress rarely tries to justify their actions based on the "necessary and proper" clause? Seems to me that means even they admit most of the laws they pass aren't "necessary and proper."
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by eln (21727)
          The necessary and proper clause just says they get to make laws deemed necessary to carry out their various duties as outlined in the Constitution. Every Congressional bill is implicitly backed by the necessary and proper clause because it's the only thing that gives them the ability to pass laws at all. However, in order to be Constitutional the law they pass has to be necessary and proper to carry out one of their enumerated Constitutional powers. Regulating interstate commerce is one of their enumerat
      • The now-trashed Constitution was written in secret and all of the members of the Convention observed an oath of secrecy while it was written and for many years after. If they hadn't, the individual members wouldn't have been able to make any of the compromises they did and the process would have quickly stymied. On the other hand, minutes were kept and the members wrote a lot of commentary before and after the fact.
    • by BrentH (1154987) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @09:17AM (#32348230)
      And this is what a lot of people seem to forget: we have all this bureaucracy, all these checks and balances not solely as a job program, but most also because we shouldn't want a government that moves fast. People crying for strong leadership and action forget that we had light governments that could do that in the past, and they were called monarchies and dictatorships. The number of benevolent kings and dictators are extremely small. A society has to have negative feedback loops to prevent any government from moving to fast and to meddle too much. We have a legislative branch to prevent crimes, an army to prevent invasions, and that is about the fastest I want a government to move. I don't want fast action and strong leadership, because the same happens what happened in the bad old days: leaders that go to war, are only interested in their own agendas, start idoitic programs to suppress minorities, are susceptible to corruption and lobbyists etc etc. I advocate good government, and good government should know what to do and what not to do, and moving fast is not one of those things.
      • I don't want fast action and strong leadership, because the same happens what happened in the bad old days: leaders that go to war, are only interested in their own agendas, start idoitic programs to suppress minorities, are susceptible to corruption and lobbyists etc etc

        "Old" days? This sounds pretty much like America since 9/11 (and in some cases, before 9/11).

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by BrentH (1154987)
          That's pretty much the point: seems like nobody notices that America is moving towards what Europe is moving away from.
      • Indeed. To me, the "lame duck" administration/congress is the best kind. When you get a clear majority, you start to lose barriers to making hasty decisions and changes. Historically, this doesn't seem to provide much long-term benefit.
      • I don't want fast action and strong leadership, because the same happens what happened in the bad old days: leaders that go to war, are only interested in their own agendas, start idoitic programs to suppress minorities, are susceptible to corruption and lobbyists etc etc.

        Uh... that all sounds pretty recent, some more than others.

        What would be nice is a gov that doesn't 1) Let companies do stuff that, in the case of shit+fans, has the potential to ruin lives and livelihoods without backup plan after backup

      • by Jurily (900488)

        The number of benevolent kings and dictators are extremely small.

        "Benevolent" is a truly misleading factor, and should probably ignored when choosing someone to run a country.

        For example: Mathias I [wikipedia.org]

        High taxes, mostly falling on peasants, to sustain Matthias' lavish lifestyle and the Black Army (cumulated with the fact that the latter went on marauding across the Kingdom after being disbanded upon Matthias's death) could imply that he was not very popular with his contemporaries. But the fact that he was elected king in a small anti-Habsburg popular revolution, that he kept the barons in check, persistent rumours about him sounding public opinion by mingling among commoners incognito, and harsh period known witnessed by Hungary later ensured that Matthias' reign is considered one of the most glorious chapters of Hungarian history. Songs and tales refer to him as Matthias the Just (Mátyás, az igazságos in Hungarian), a ruler of justice and great wisdom, and he is arguably the most popular hero of Hungarian folklore.

        Compare to his successor, Vladislas II [wikipedia.org]:

        He was a cheerful man, nicknamed "Vladislaus Bene" because to almost any request he answered, "Bene" (Latin for "(It's) well"). During his reign (1490-1516), the Hungarian royal power declined in favour of the Hungarian magnates, who used their power to curtail the peasants' freedom.[2] His reign in Hungary was largely stable, although Hungary was under consistent border pressure from the Ottoman Empire and went through the revolt of György Dózsa.

        Mathias was not a nice guy. He wasn't elected (being the son of a warlord rising in power), increased taxes, ran the country on his own, suppressed the nobility and called his troops "the Black Army". Incidentally, he also knew how to run a country, and how to protect it.

        On the other hand, Vladislas was elected, was a truly benevolent kin

      • It doesn't seem the article advocates "faster" government, only more transparent government. If we're actually going to have a republic, it would be nice for people to be able to see what their representatives are doing with the money they take from us, and to see if our president is actually defending the Constitution. (ha)

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by quanticle (843097)

        Well, a government can't be too ineffective either. A lot of people forget that the Constitution wasn't the first government of the United States of America. The founders tried an even weaker form of government with the Articles of Confederation. That government was so weak that the newly independent colonies were almost separate countries. The chaos caused by that state of affairs is what prompted them to create the Constitution and lay out a form of government that could move boldly and decisively in

    • by Thanshin (1188877)

      Positive feedback, seems to be a minor drawback compared to the problem of uninformed decision.

      To make an open platform work you'd first need an informed population, and once you have an informed population (plus democracy), you don't need the open platform anymore.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Can you be more specific? I certainly see the negative effects of feedback in high-speed trading (volatile reactions, etc.), though there are some benefits to having all those day-traders and millisecond traders (liquidity, closing price gaps, etc.).

      In the case of governance, I can't really see what kind of problematic feedback loops would be generated. Obviously some government data needs to not be open (e.g. military secrets), but having the lawmaking process open and transparent (clear, easy to access
      • (Incidentally, one change that I've often thought about, which would serve both transparency and damping, is that any proposed law should have to sit, unchanged, for a set period of time (weeks) before being voted on. (New changes reset the clock.) This would give the public/voters/media/commentators time to examine it in detail, identify problems, and make their voices heard to their representatives. Having representatives act as a smoothing effect for the (sometimes irrational) public can be very good... but the way in which proposed laws currently mutate so rapidly and are modified at the last minute, so that the public isn't even sure what is finally put into law, is corrosive to democratic and transparent society.)

        That seems to be one thing the Confederacy would have gotten right during the US Civil War. From the Confederate Constitution (S 7.20):

        (20) Every law, or resolution having the force of law, shall relate to but one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.

        Of course, then they kind of blow it with this one...

        No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed

        Still... talk about babies and bathwater ;)

      • by sznupi (719324)

        Pork barrel politics would become much stronger. Generally it would become an impossibility to push unpopular, but neccessary decisions - sure, govs are not great at making them already, but...

        Plus the problem is that too many people don't strive to be "informed and make reasonable choices".

    • I prefer Frank Herbert's idea of a Bureau of Sabotage, a part of the government expressly created to ensure that the government doesn't become too efficient. It seems like it would work better than just hoping that doing everything badly will even out in the end. Especially when phrases like 'think of the children' manage to get small bits of the system to run very efficiently, at the cost of the whole.
    • by maxume (22995)

      You really think a slower market would be less susceptible to speculative pressures?

      • At least humans could monitor and have some control over trading. This, opposed to letting fully automated programs trade several times a second based on some other programs' sub-second trading, instead of basing trades (somewhat) on qualitative bases.

    • by russotto (537200)

      "We" don't want intraday trading? You want all transactions handled in 24-hour batches, then? That was too slow for the horse-and-buggy days, let alone now.

      Usually you handle positive feedback by turning the gain down, not slowing the loop to a crawl. I admit I have no idea how to do the former, but I don't think the latter is an option. Also, there are positive feedback mechanisms in the market which have nothing to do with daytraders. Short-covering is one, stop-loss orders are another; both can be s

  • by TaoPhoenix (980487) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @08:53AM (#32347944) Journal

    We know well enough "CongressCritter X voted for Bill Y".

    What seems to be tough to fix is the lobbying lockdown. "If you don't support us in the War Against Z, we'll sink any other bill you ever submit for a vote."

    • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @09:07AM (#32348110) Homepage Journal

      What seems to be tough to fix is the lobbying lockdown. "If you don't support us in the War Against Z, we'll sink any other bill you ever submit for a vote."

      If Americans wanted representatives who would vote their principles, they would vote for representatives with principles. They don't; they want pork.

      • by Tom (822) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @09:43AM (#32348572) Homepage Journal

        You assume that any representatives with principles are available to be voted for.

        From all I gather, that is hardly the case in most districts, and even where it appears to be, you can't be certain. I know over here in Germany it took the founding of a new party (the pirate party) before I considered voting to be a possibility to express my preferences properly at all. All the others are either bought scumbags (major parties) or lunatics (minor parties) or both or somewhere in between.

        I know the solution is to go and do it yourself. Thank you, I've held an elected office for several years (and stepped down on my own), I've had enough of politics for life. Anyone who enters that arena with good intentions and manages to keep them has my respect, and if I can, my vote.
        But you can't play in the mudpit without getting dirty, and that's one reason why no matter how they start out, by the time they have progressed far enough in party politics to be on a ballot, pretty much everyone has become either a corrupted dipshit or a disillusioned cynic. My personal choice was to step down just before I became the later, but it was damn close (and as you may have noticed, I did take a good share of disillusion with me).

        • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

          by drinkypoo (153816)

          But you can't play in the mudpit without getting dirty, and that's one reason why no matter how they start out, by the time they have progressed far enough in party politics to be on a ballot, pretty much everyone has become either a corrupted dipshit or a disillusioned cynic.

          But why is that? It's because voters are easily led sheep, who vote for shiny trinkets. It's never going to change unless people get interested in their government, instead of what they're told by Faux News &c.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Mr. Sheep,
            I find it ironic that you blam Fox News, when it's CNN and NBC pushing for more shiny trinkets, and Fox shilling for the deficit reduction.

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Mr. Sheep,
              I find it ironic that you blam Fox News, when it's CNN and NBC pushing for more shiny trinkets, and Fox shilling for the deficit reduction.

              It's pretty amazing how they (both Fox News and Republicans in general) are only for deficit reduction when the Democrats are in power.

          • by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @10:26AM (#32349128) Homepage

            No, there's a much easier answer, that's more inherent in the job: you're dealing with (among other things) the allocation of a significant amount of cash. When you have a significant amount of cash to distribute, most people will try to get as big a share of that pile of cash as they can muster, and one way they'll do that is to butter up the people who are making the decision about how to distribute the cash.

            And the next step, of course, is that too many people try to butter up the actual decisionmaker, so a new set of people comes up who's job it is to decide who can butter up the decisionmaker, and they now get buttered up by the people who want extra cash.

            This is not limited to government - corporate purchasing departments and the like are also get caught up in this.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            But you can't play in the mudpit without getting dirty, and that's one reason why no matter how they start out, by the time they have progressed far enough in party politics to be on a ballot, pretty much everyone has become either a corrupted dipshit or a disillusioned cynic.

            But why is that? It's because voters are easily led sheep, who vote for shiny trinkets. It's never going to change unless people get interested in their government, instead of what they're told by Faux News &c.

            Bread and circuses [wikipedia.org] - some things don't change even after 2000 years. People will vote for the politicians they think will give them what *they* personally want. What's good for the town/county/state/country doesn't enter into it.

          • by Rogerborg (306625)

            How does any interest in government not end with the conclusion that there's a non-choice between Tweedledum or Tweedledee (or Joe Lieberman if you can't decide either way)? The only thing that really matters is candidate selection, and as you already noted, no honest candidate stands a chance against the Mob's candidate (take a bow, President Obama).

        • You assume that any representatives with principles are available to be voted for.

          I keep saying it--anyone who wants a job in politics should not by any means be allowed to take the job.

          I think someone else said that before me, but I forget who.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Unfortunately, people with principles have a much harder time raising funds. The politicians without principles can easily make up for it by running five times as many ads claiming they have strong principles and their opponent is a fickle traitor. With the recent Supreme Court ruling that uncapped corporate political spending, the least principled have even more advantages. The average payday for the top 25 hedge fund managers last year was over a billion dollars, which is roughly the cost to run a modern

        • by jwhitener (198343)

          The citizens united ruling is even worse than you describe. In addition to unlimited and anonymous political ads on tv, radio, print, etc.., corporations can now fund blatantly politically motivated third party organizations, who work around the clock promoting/demoting candidates, issues, and bills.

          The candidates are even further from taking responsibility for the political vibe around a given issue/race now.

          I am positive that the level of 'crazy talk' on radio, tv, etc.. is going to increase astronomical

      • by jonwil (467024)

        The problem is, with a few rare exceptions, you have a choice between a Democrat candidate who supports pork over principles and a Republican candidate who supports pork over principles.

        The only difference is which particular items of pork they support (and that is determined by whether they choose to accept the suitcase of unmarked bills from lobbyist A or the suitcase of unmarked bills from lobbyist B)

      • by scamper_22 (1073470) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @10:25AM (#32349098)

        Unfortunately, you are correct, but the answer is regulation of government.

        You talk to people... and they recognize the need to regulate industry. Just look at the BP oil spill. Oil companies need to be regulated to make sure their oil rigs are safe.

        The banking sector needs to be regulated to make sure transaction are fair and externalities do not spread to bring down the entire system.

        Industries that use chemicals need to be regulated to make sure they don't cause undue harm to people.

        Monopolies need to be regulated to make sure they don't abuse their power. Heck the EU goes nuts over Microsoft bundling a media player with their OS.

        Yet, how about the most power monopoly in any country... the government... doesn't it need regulations in how it operates?
        Bundling unrelated laws in bills to gain support... don't we need regulations to ban this?
        Proving state benefits (pensions, healthcare...) to some citizens, but not others... don't we need regulations to ban this?

        I could go on with other examples, but then I'd show my various political biases :P
        So I'll leave it at this relatively straight uncontroversial example of regulations of government.
        Of course this is what a constitution is for... but when you have a living constitution... that's like having living regulations created by industry itself. Yet, the constitutions are still useful. People still have the rights... especially the ones they exercise on a daily basis. Americans still own guns no matter what governments have done to curtail it. We still largely have freedom of speech. We still largely have freedom of religion... We still have separation of powers and a court system... We just need to fix all the loop holes...

        Unfortunately, the ability to write government regulations in a sane manner is rare... normally just when a country is formed. So we don't often get this chance. And you can't really write it while the 'game of life' is in play. There are too many special interests that would fight it. If we were to say

        "Proving state benefits (pensions, healthcare...) to some citizens, but not others... don't we need regulations to ban this?"

        Public sector unions would go nuts, because they know they benefit immensely from the money of government.

        And no... the courts don't offer us the regulation of government. They should... but they don't. The courts in any country are a political body with political views... often appointed by political parties.

        Ultimately, it is up to good citizens and the public at large to insist government obey its regulations.
        But yeah... I'm pessimistic about any real change until society collapses and we can rewrite the regulations on government.

    • Personally, I suspect that people should start voting against legislators who vote for bills that are longer than 100 pages (I would be willing to consider different numbers of pages, 100 might be too long and there is a remote chance that 100 isn't quite long enough). Any bill longer than this should be more than one bill. The only reason to make a bill as long as most of the ones that Congress has been voting on lately is to hide stuff (either from some of the legislators or from the people or both).
      • by michael_cain (66650) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @12:30PM (#32350620) Journal

        Personally, I suspect that people should start voting against legislators who vote for bills that are longer than 100 pages. Any bill longer than this should be more than one bill. The only reason to make a bill as long as most of the ones that Congress has been voting on lately is to hide stuff.

        Speaking from my experience as a permanent non-partisan staffer for a state legislature, which required that I spend a lot of time with both state and federal bills, statutes and legislative processes, some remarks:

        • Some of the bulk is in the nature of bills. A bill may state that "Section 201, subsection 1, is amended to read," followed by the entire 20 pages of subsection 1 with the intended modifications indicated. The bulk of the actual changes may be small — a sentence removed here, three words added there — but clarity and accuracy require including the current statute as well as the changes.
        • Some of the bulk is a consequence of the size and complexity of current statute. I'm a BIG fan of simplifying government, but what is, is. What starts out as a modest change in policy becomes enormous in terms of the bill bulk simply because it may touch many other parts of statute. That is, repeat the previous point 20 or 80 times.
        • Many legislators are as unhappy as you are as they watch a bill grow to enormous size right before their eyes as staff adds the pieces necessary to keep the overall body of statute consistent.
        • Philosophically, the US Constitution makes Congress the primary power within the federal government (the executive branch is charged with "executing" policies set by Congress). There are limits to how much of the policy setting Congress can delegate (probably the most far-reaching Supreme Court decisions ever made were the ones late in the 19th century when the Court ruled that Congress could delegate at least some policy details — rule writing — to executive agencies). Sometimes Congress is simply exercising its prerogative to write a detailed design document instead of a high-level functional spec.
        • In many cases, the detailed design is appropriate. Consider the case where statute allows a factory polluting a river to be shut down. Under exactly which conditions can this be done? What pollutants count? Which don't? At what levels? What procedure must the agency follow to implement the shut down? Are there exceptions, say, in the interest of national security? Is there an appeals process? If so, what documentation must be submitted and on what schedule? Absent the detailed Congressional design, the agency and/or the courts are going to make it all up as they go along.
        • Splitting a bill into multiple smaller parts is dangerous, in the sense that some parts may pass and others fail. The result can be statute that is incomplete or even worse, contradictory.
  • by solevita (967690) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @08:59AM (#32348030)
    See also government transparency: http://programmeforgovernment.hmg.gov.uk/government-transparency/ [hmg.gov.uk]

    Including Open Source Software and Open Document Standards.
    • by Wiarumas (919682)

      Also, see also America's Freedom of Information Act: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_Information_Act_(United_States) [wikipedia.org]

      The U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law ensuring public access to U.S. government records.

      • by Shark (78448)

        I think the very broad 'national security' excuse has taken care of cases where FOIA is inconvenient.

    • by wwwrench (464274)
      We need more than just the ones on the list. All minutes of all government meetings (including cabinet meetings) should be published except parts which have security implications. Just like opensource code allows for scrutiny, opening up government will make representatives think twice before screwing us over...
      • Minutes? They should, at a minimum, make audio recordings, with a "voice key" that identifies each speaker. The amount of data required wouldn't be too bad using decent voice codecs. Video would be nice as it restores the non-verbal communications channels that you miss out on.

        Minutes rarely convey the actual content of a meeting, in my experience.

      • by sznupi (719324)

        All minutes of all government meetings (including cabinet meetings) should be published except parts which have security implications. Just like opensource code allows for scrutiny...

        You mean national security through obscurity?

      • by Americano (920576)
        I think what you're looking for there is called journalism.

        Unfortunately, most journalistic outlets (on both sides of the conservative / liberal spectrum) are too busy pushing their own editorial biases to produce fair & factual reporting, and most people are too busy reading about Lindsay Lohan's scandalous cleavage-baring shirt to give a fuck.

        You could publish every minute of every government meeting ever, and they would be lucky to get a handful of views, until long after the time when it'd be
  • "How effective are the world's governments at using technology to become more responsive repressive?" Great! Thanks for asking!
  • agreed (Score:2, Insightful)

    by atisss (1661313)

    Also history and diff mechanism with comments (as in reviewboard).

    So I can know that Senator A commented exactly that point with such note upon discussion. Actually they could use reviewboard as tool for creating laws.

    • by elronxenu (117773)

      Probably not a wiki; we should be using git repositories for working on laws.

      Anybody can commit their suggested changes, but getting them merged will be really difficult.

  • One requirement (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hijacked Public (999535) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @09:24AM (#32348316)

    I have one simple requirement: all laws must be written in a Wiki with full history.

    I have another:

    All laws must have a measureable objective, defined in advance of their passage, that they must meet or otherwise be repealed.

    • Re:One requirement (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JustinOpinion (1246824) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @09:50AM (#32348648)
      I like the concept. As hard as it is to get a law onto the books, it's almost impossible to get a law off the books. This leads to bloated and overly complex legal systems, innumerable special rules and exceptions, and so on. I also think that most laws should have time limits on them in the first place. Basically something that requires them to re-vote on the issue after X years, perhaps with a sliding scale if the law is always well-supported. (Something like 4 years, then possible 8-year extension, then 20-year extension, etc.)

      I also like the idea of discouraging adding unrelated things into a bill. You don't want your pet project to be canceled just because the larger bill it was included in didn't meet a target!

      There are of course potential problems:
      1. Some legal changes that involve massive changes in infrastructure. Having these kinds of things be erected/deconstructed (perhaps repeatedly, as political climates for some issues can oscillate) might be even less efficient that the current situation.
      2. Corporations could temporarily break a new law (or collude, etc.) in order to force it to miss a target, thereby getting legislation repealed. (But then again, this is just another variant of the already-well-entrenched "powerful companies can cause problems" issue.)
      3. Issues not considered in the original objective target could arise. (E.g. an anti-pollution bill that misses its target because of a sudden environmental disaster in some other country that spreads...) Obviously the "targets" listed in laws would have to be crafted very carefully.
      4. Related to #3, it is tempting to have a target in a law that is tied to the action of the law itself... but society is far too complex for this to generally be true. Laws may try to address issues of the environment, economic stability, employment, or whatever; but all of these things can be drastically affected by other things going on in society, unrelated to the law. So a very successful and well-supported law could be automatically repealed just because of a recession or other event.

      As I said, I like the idea. But a blanket "measurable objective or repealed" rule might not work. At a minimum, I see no reason why laws shouldn't have an explicit statement of what the law is trying to accomplish, so that voters can more specifically assess whether the law is doing what it aims to. And we really do need better mechanisms for repealing laws.
    • by Qzukk (229616)

      So you're asking for evidence-based legislation?

      Why don't we just demand death panels for legislators ;)

    • by TimSSG (1068536)

      All laws must have a measureable objective, defined in advance of their passage ...

      I support above even if it did not cause the law to be repealed.

      The bill to improve health care never defined what improved meant
      in a simple way. That I could find; never read all 2000+ pages.

      Does it mean lowering costs?
      Or, maybe increasing the average age at death?

      Or, does it mean increasing the average age, at death, of the people
      in the party in power?

      Tim S.

  • >> I have one simple requirement: all laws must be written in a Wiki with full history.

    Sounds a like a do-able community project. How many laws within a particular scope change every day? Don't think all laws at first, start smaller.

    Most laws go by for years without change.

    If your government is not willing to do this, and it is still not happening then its just the laziness of everyone at large ; so stop complaining if you would like to see this happen.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by st_adamin (1029910)
      The solution I was thinking of a few years back seems even better. Not a law history type of law wiki, but a bill wiki.

      Picture It: Any number of proposed bills, weighted by community voting, then split directly in half for dissent. The dissent would take the form of comments... lolcats and flamers would be suspended, but not forever. Comments would also be weighted by community voting. We would need some impartial moderators to summarize. That would be very hard to get, but I think people would be w
      • by Magada (741361)

        I know it's counter-intuitive, but... people only polarize 50-50 on issues they really, really don't care about. If the signal to noise ratio is good enough in your wiki, you'll see very clear biases in the public opinion as well.

        • I don't know about that. There are many issues people tend to polarize on. Abortion, spanking children, Health Care (Currently going on in the US), religious affairs, etc...

          In an ideal world I love the idea of cutting government almost completely out of the picture and having Society create the laws to govern itself.

          However, one thing you need to consider is that there are many groups out there, PETA comes to mind, that would take advantage of an open system to enact crazy stuff. If the issue is only pe
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by necro81 (917438)

      all laws must be written in a Wiki with full history

      Sounds a like a do-able community project. How many laws within a particular scope change every day? Don't think all laws at first, start smaller.

      Most laws go by for years without change.

      If your government is not willing to do this, and it is still not happening then its just the laziness of everyone at large ; so stop complaining if you would like to see this happen.

      You can get plenty of up-to-date books or online databases that contain, for inst

  • by smchris (464899) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @09:33AM (#32348446)

    You want to give people a heart attack? I had to read the Federal Register and my state's Register as part of one job I had. Thank whatever deity, power or force of luck you hold dear that not everything that gets proposed makes it out of committee. Not just anyone should be exposed to that knowledge. The horror. The horror.

  • by Tom (822)

    Any attempt to fix current government systems fails to explain why its #1 pre-assumption should be taken as correct: That the government system is fixable.

    We all know that there are things that you can repair, and then there are things that are broken far beyond repair. Before going about to fix the government system, one should prove that it is actually fixable, and not simply kaputt.

    The mistake that most attempts at fixing the system make is the same one that the security industry has been making for the

    • by russotto (537200)

      The mistake that most attempts at fixing the system make is the same one that the security industry has been making for the past 20 years - coming up with solutions for todays actual problems. But the evil guys are already working on tomorrows exploits.

      You can not win if all you do is playing catch-up.

      Probably true, but the alternative is dissolving the system and starting over. That wasn't even done during the US Revolutionary War (the state governments remained basically intact, as did the system of comm

  • by rwa2 (4391) * on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @09:54AM (#32348712) Homepage Journal

    I'd love to be able to control where my tax dollars go... so I'd be able to say, "30% to education, 10% to research, 20% to paying off national debt, 0% to the DoD". Congress can still fight over what's left.

    Hell, they could even phase it in slowly... maybe let people earmark even just the first $100 or $1000 of their taxes, so everyone gets a nearly equal say, and it would serve as a great data collection tool as to the political priorities of most people... better than anything else I can think of.

    • Judging by the quality of US education, I suspect that many people would add the percentages up wrong.
  • Simple Requirement (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rlp (11898) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @09:55AM (#32348728)

    I have one simple requirement: all laws must be written in a Wiki with full history

    I have a simpler one - legislators must read the laws before voting on them.

  • git for law. LawML. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dr_Barnowl (709838) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @10:11AM (#32348910)

    Perhaps make the law accessible via a wiki. But most wiki revision control systems aren't very sophisticated.

    Keep the law in git branches. If people wish to amend the law, let them branch the law, make their amendment, and propose it for merging to the master branch. What the proposed changes are become very easy to track, as does the person responsible for each and every line.

    Even better, produce an unambiguous machine-readable language for law, one that can be used to make legal inferences (e.g. - is this particular act legal?). Of course, this would cause a huge mess when people realise how self-contradictory and downright logically impossible some of the law is...

    • Even better, produce an unambiguous machine-readable language for law, one that can be used to make legal inferences (e.g. - is this particular act legal?). Of course, this would cause a huge mess when people realise how self-contradictory and downright logically impossible some of the law is...

      The current situation, where a citizen has no hope of really ascertaining if a prospective action will be legal or not, is a huge problem. But trying to make law even more rigid and codified is not necessarily the answer. It does appeal to many in the Slashdot crowd, since we like and understand computer languages, but has numerous problems when applied to real laws.

      1. The average person will have great difficulty parsing a truly unambiguous and machine-readable language. Elsewhere in this discussion som

      • You've caught me out.... I oppose electronic voting systems for exactly the same reason - that they are incomprehensible by the average citizen and thus impossible for them to audit. I even note that geeks love to noodle with the ideas for implementing a successful e-voting system because they love a complex problem.

        Thanks for clarifying an extra benefit though - not being a lawyer I wouldn't have thought about laws being composed of what is effectively a stream of patches, that the user has to read verbati

    • by canajin56 (660655)
      We need pretty advanced AI before computers can start interpreting law, and even more before they can start enumerating all possible actions a person, group of people, or corporation, could possibly commit.
  • Tyranny (Score:2, Insightful)

    The problem with Democracy and most other forms of governance is tyranny.

    We try to keep tyranny of the majority from affecting the rights of the minorities, and then we end up with tyranny of the minority, which infringes upon the rights of the majority.

    LIBERTY, is the ONLY governance that works. It says each is responsible for his own actions, to the end that he doesn't infringe upon the liberty of others.

    The problem with Liberty, is that all the do-gooders who want to tell others how to live, because they

  • "for the use of technology as an enabling mechanism for government."

    I'm not sure I want my government enabled any more than it is. Ineffective oversight of offshore oil drilling, failed immigration control, failed financial oversight, my government needs to do some things that are just not that hard, and don't need technology to do them. Only three of many examples shown. C'mon, Obama, fix your own house, eh?

    "I have one simple requirement: all laws must be written in a Wiki with full history."

    Of all the

I don't have any use for bodyguards, but I do have a specific use for two highly trained certified public accountants. -- Elvis Presley

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