Government legislation can be open and transparent

Can citizens use open source to create legislation?

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In recent weeks we've seen a number of projects in the area of collaborative legislation that operate similarly to open source software. Today, you can find French, German, and Swiss proposals in git repositories. If you're a developer familiar with these tools, it's easy for you to review the patches (bills), submit your own, and collaborate around the code (law). These are exciting projects undertaken by people in many different countries, but very few governing bodies appear to be harnessing their citizens' input.

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Under a traditional 'democratic' system, bills are often drafted behind closed doors by legislative staff with the help of a few lobbyists and subject matter experts. With advances in technology, bills introduced into a legislative body are now often posted online, but changes are submitted by other legislators, or can be suggested via email, letters, or phone calls from citizens. It isn't the most efficient or transparent process.

Governments, with help from legal academia and ordinary citizens, could be pushing forward systems that could make the democratic process easier, more effective, and cheaper—as we know, democracy is not cheap! So, why not utilize technology to help us with it?

There are now a few government-sponsored projects aiming at this problem, such as the legislation portal of the Slovak Republic's Ministry of Justice, where you can comment on laws in the making. Sadly, because this portal is closed source, it cannot expand due to vendor lock-in and the lack of public access to the source code. More interesting software may come from LEOS, Legislation Editing Open Software, an open source project funded by the ISA for the European Union expected to be completed in 2015.

I think this is the question for discussion: Is legislative collaboration one of the essential parts of eGovernment?

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About the author

Marek Mahut - Marek Mahut is working as a system engineer for Red Hat Czech. He's also the chairman of the Society for Open Information Technologies (www.soit.sk). He believes openness can make this world better. My posts contains my personal opinion only.