Crowdsourcing Bills and Law Revisions


padlockTwo legislative crowdsourcing efforts came across my desk today: OpenPACER and Fork the Law. I love the idea of collective effort to make laws.

The government has tried this to some extent with There, you can sort, view, and comment on proposed regulations. An even better iteration of this is GovPulse, a site that was created in the private sector to categorize and search proposed regulations. GovPulse encourages users to comment and contact their representatives, but it’s not an official comment site.

OpenPACER and Fork the Law are something entirely new, however. They are created by citizens for citizens in order to change the law. If you’re reading this blog, you probably already know about PACER and efforts underway to eliminate the paywall. The folks at RECAP (a PACER recycling tool) have started OpenPACER to solve this problem legislatively. You know that saying “There ought to be a law?” – well, OpenPACER is acting on that by proposing legislation to “provide free and open access to electronic federal court records.”

From their site:

The courts currently offer an expensive and difficult-to-use web site. They charge more than their cost of offering the service—more than Congress has authorized—violating the E-Government Act of 2002. This Act seeks to, once and for all, compel the courts to fulfill Congress’ longstanding vision of making this information “freely available to the greatest extent possible“.

If you have an opinion on how this law should be drafted, what should be included, what should be left out – you can visit OpenPACER and let them know. You can help draft the law that will eventually be proposed.

Along those lines, Fork the Law seeks to amend existing legislation by crowdsourcing proposals to change it. They are starting with the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 USC §1030 et seq.

From their site:

Fork the Law is an effort to bridge the gap between rapidly evolving technology and governing law. Our initiative is to take all necessary steps to move from where we are to where we must coalesce, from drafting new legislation, to educating Congress and the People about the issues we face as a nation, to promoting passage of new laws that continue our forward progress.

If you have expertise or opinions on the law, you can join the effort by suggesting text, changes, deletions, etc. The folks at Fork the Law will then lobby these changes.

PS. I had to ask about “fork” – according to the engineer on my couch, it means to make a copy, or a clone, of code. It can also be used to describe the process by which you take an opensource code that you don’t like, clone it, and change it to make it better.

HT Robert Richards at Legal Informatics Blog, who keeps us up to date on all this stuff.