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Open Source Effort To Codify America's "Operating System" Online 98

Posted by Soulskill
from the does-america-run-linux dept.
Rubinstien writes "O'Reilly Radar is reporting on an effort to produce Law.gov, 'America's Operating System, Open Source.' The group Public.Resource.Org seeks to 'create a solid business plan, technical specs, and enabling legislation for the federal government to create Law.gov. [They] envision Law.gov as a distributed, open source, authenticated registry and repository of all primary legal materials in the United States.' According to its new website, 'Law.gov would be similar to Data.gov, providing bulk data and feeds to commercial, non-commercial, and governmental organizations wishing to build web sites, operate legal information services, or otherwise use the raw materials of our democracy.'"
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Open Source Effort To Codify America's "Operating System" Online

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  • Nice (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sakdoctor (1087155) on Friday October 16, 2009 @08:16PM (#29774541) Homepage

    Anyone got an RSS feed for bribes accepted per politician?
    It's open access to this information that democracy is built upon.

  • spectacular idea (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dAzED1 (33635) <brianlamere@y[ ]o.com ['aho' in gap]> on Friday October 16, 2009 @08:18PM (#29774549) Homepage Journal

    Spectacular idea - maybe, just maybe, if we remember what could be happening, and what shouldn't be happening, things will shape up a bit. Both sides seem hell bent on tearing up everything.

    I perused the top level sales pitch docs - can't find any good details on how they'd want to organize it. subdomains for each state? subdomains for each type of law? A giant wikipedia? If info can't be easily found on the site through intuitive methods, it's a "failure" from the start (assuming the intent is availability of the data...).

    Anyone have any info on such (ie, how it is going to be organized)?

  • by selven (1556643) on Friday October 16, 2009 @08:19PM (#29774559)

    What does open access to laws have to do with operating systems or open source? Sounds like an attempt to ride the Linux hype wave, and it seems to be succeeding so far.

    • by tepples (727027) <tepples&gmail,com> on Friday October 16, 2009 @08:41PM (#29774699) Homepage Journal

      What does open access to laws have to do with operating systems or open source?

      There's a reason why they call it a "legal code [wikipedia.org]", and not just because of Dr. Lessig's book [wikipedia.org].

      Sounds like an attempt to ride the Linux hype wave, and it seems to be succeeding so far.

      "Law like a free software project" would at least require a patch to the patent code [uspto.gov] to make it more efficient at rejecting obvious inventions.

      • by Dachannien (617929) on Friday October 16, 2009 @10:28PM (#29775207)

        "Law like a free software project" would at least require a patch to the patent code to make it more efficient at rejecting obvious inventions.

        The Supreme Court submitted the KSR patch to the case law branch back in 2007 which helped tremendously with this bug.

        Most of the problem now seems to be that since patent claims resemble Perl scripts, most users end up reading the comments at the top of the file rather than the claim code because it's easier to understand. Then they start submitting bug reports based on the comments without even finding out whether the new code conflicts with other modules that are already loaded.

      • If this means that new laws have to undergo beta-testing before getting signed, then I'm all for it.
      • What does open access to laws have to do with operating systems or open source?

        There's a reason why they call it a "legal code [wikipedia.org]", and not just because of Dr. Lessig's book [wikipedia.org].

        Nope. They call it a "legal code [wikipedia.org]" by derivation from "codification [wikipedia.org]", which ultimately derives from "codex [wikipedia.org]" - I.E. a book of law that present and organized system of law. Computer "code [wikipedia.org]" on the other hand derives it's name from the definition of code that means to translate information from one form of representation to another - E.G. to

        • by tepples (727027)

          They call it a "legal code [wikipedia.org]" by derivation from "codification [wikipedia.org]", which ultimately derives from "codex [wikipedia.org]" - I.E. a book of law that present and organized system of law. Computer "code [wikipedia.org]" on the other hand derives it's name from the definition of code that means to translate information from one form of representation to another - E.G. to and from native binary.

          The American Heritage Dictionary editors seem to think [answers.com] that the "code as abbreviation" meaning, which led to the computer symbol and cryptographic meanings, also came from "codex".

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What does open access to laws have to do with operating systems

      Suing someone over any disagreement is standard operating procedure in the United States.

    • ... an attempt to ride the Linux hype wave ...

      There is a 'Linux hype wave'? In which universe?

    • It might be that they really are mixing terms up. Maybe they just mean a open software system that supports their workflows -- some webtool on top of apache/linux, and a internal extended http client for the OCR stuff would do it. Operating System = Software System that enables their work.

    • Sounds like an attempt to ride the Linux hype wave

      There's a Linux hype wave? Woohoo! Someone break out the champagne!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    See e.g.: Canlii [canlii.org], Austlii [austlii.edu.au], Bailii [bailii.org], ...

    • mod parent troll (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Or at least take away the 'informative'... I was curious so I looked it up.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Access_to_Law_Movement [wikipedia.org]
      >The Free Access to Law Movement is the umbrella name for the collective of legal projects across several common law countries to provide free online access to legal information such as case law and legislation... The name Legal Information Institute has been widely adopted by other projects. It is usually prefixed by a country or region identifier.

      >LII (Cornell) The Legal

      • >LII (Cornell) The Legal Information Institute at the Cornell Law School provides free legal information for the United States. It was the original LII project, founded in 1992.

        But what do we have to show for it? If it is ridiculously hard to obtain and keep up to date it will not help in today's world.

  • by jcohen (131471) * on Friday October 16, 2009 @08:26PM (#29774589) Homepage

    For eons, West and Lexis have been making staggering sums reselling primary legal material to all and sundry. Best of luck to this project in prying that material out of their hands, and in surviving the massive lobbying and astroturfing that will ensue before the project achieves that goal.

    • Best of luck to this project in prying that material out of their hands, and in surviving the massive lobbying and astroturfing that will ensue before the project achieves that goal.

      Wikipedia is a relatively harmless site that requires pointing elsewhere for information, and like any good encyclopedia disclaims any status as a source of authority. And they are plagued by trolls, malicious edits, and so forth.

      Open sourcing "law" is something of even greater complexity, where EVERY SINGLE PAGE is going to have someone determined to change what the law says.

      Should the government-ran web pages for law be standardized? Hell yes. Is a classic "Open Source' model appropriate for the genera

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mftb (1522365)

        You don't have to allow everyone to edit articles/commit code to be open.

        • Mod parent up!

          $MAJOROSSPROJECT is open and nobody gets their own malware put in it by commiting it repeatedly.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by rhsanborn (773855)
        I don't believe it will necessarily follow the open source model of allowing free, unfettered, public updates. Rather the idea of Open Source law should be based on the premise that the law of the country should be available with the lowest barriers possible to all citizens. It is basic to the running of the country, the country that we, the people, ultimately own, and we should all have access to it. To that end, it should be a government initiative to make that as easy as possible. I think that is what th
  • ... or use the raw materials of our democracy.

    I thought capitalism did a pretty good job of using us all.

    • by MrMista_B (891430)

      You do realize that capitalism is entirely voluntary, right? If it wasn't 100% voluntary, it wouldn't be capitalism.

      • by retchdog (1319261)

        Fucking mysticist Randroids.

        "The capitalism you can achieve, is not the True Capitalism."

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by tepples (727027)

        You do realize that capitalism is entirely voluntary, right?

        Not if large capitalists form a cartel on an essential good or service.

        • I believe you're thinking of an oligarchy.
        • There's nothing involuntary about a cartel. You might have a point should someone manage to monopolize all the available raw materials necessary for life (i.e. air, water, land), but that's merely a "life-boat situation" and not relevant to everyday economics or social policy. Naturally the normal rules tend to be bent or broken when sheer survival is forced to take priority over all other considerations.

          Complaining about a cartel or monopoly on a service, though, is ridiculous unless the cartel in question

          • You might have a point should someone manage to monopolize all the available raw materials necessary for life (i.e. air, water, land), but that's merely a "life-boat situation" and not relevant to everyday economics or social policy.

            In that case, capitalism has the weakness that a monopolist can threaten to send an economy back to the stone age.

            Complaining about a cartel or monopoly on a service, though, is ridiculous unless the cartel in question is forcibly preventing others from offering the same service

            In communications, for instance, the FCC forcibly prevents wireless competition by exclusively reserving (allegedly too much) spectrum for emergency first responders and the armed forces. Land owners forcibly prevent wired competition by owning the land between the central office and subscribers.

      • Re:bad phrasing (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Friday October 16, 2009 @08:47PM (#29774749) Homepage Journal

        You do realize that capitalism is entirely voluntary, right? If it wasn't 100% voluntary, it wouldn't be capitalism.

        The only pure capitalism I see is at local self-organized farmers' markets. Ironically, largely patronized by people who vehemently criticize capitalism.

        Just about everything else is taxed and regulated, which perturbs real market function.

        • by Lumpy (12016)

          Most people who hate "capitalism" are the ones that hate the current iteration and not pure capitalism.

          The bastardization that is coperatism passed off as capitalism is pretty much hated by everyone but the uber-rich that benefit from it.

          At a farmers market I can shop 5 different peach farmers and buy the peaches I want at the price I want. Plus most of them are friendly and bend over backwards to make you a happy customer.

          Best buy and other large corporations do not sodomize the customers with plungers as

          • by maxume (22995)

            Amazon and Walmart have happily been putting competitors out of business for years now.

  • by Korin43 (881732) on Friday October 16, 2009 @08:32PM (#29774641) Homepage
    Issue #15327: Government OS fails to load Constitution.inc. Error message is "But think of the children!"
    • by flydude18 (839328)

      The latest release always loads the interstate_commerce and necessary_and_proper modules, but the rest are hit or miss.

    • FIRST PATCH (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      118 U.S. 394 [justia.com]

      @@ -16,7 +16,7 @@

      Syllabus

      -The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in
      +The defendant Corporations are not persons within the intent of the clause in
      section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United

      Page 118 U. S. 395

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by jawahar (541989)
      I think all the efforts to empower common man will be resisted because legislative, judiciary, administration & business community will not allow their clout to be diluted.
  • Just what we need (Score:3, Informative)

    by igny (716218) on Friday October 16, 2009 @08:41PM (#29774701) Homepage Journal
    AOS discs in mail.
  • by identity0 (77976) on Friday October 16, 2009 @08:43PM (#29774717) Journal

    Refactor 200+ years of code written by a constantly changing development team with no central management, revision control, scope checking, flowcharting let alone UML diagrams, and text editor consisting of a feather and some ink?

    Sign me the fuck up!

    • Bills are patches (Score:5, Interesting)

      by tepples (727027) <tepples&gmail,com> on Friday October 16, 2009 @08:48PM (#29774755) Homepage Journal
      Of course the U.S. Code has revision control. The actual bills look like patches: "Title 17, U.S. Code, section 301, is amended by striking 'foo' and inserting 'bar'." Try reading the Sonny Bono Act [gpo.gov] to see exactly how the U.S. copyright term got extended.
      • by jellybear (96058)

        CPU's are wetware

      • Yes, in the abstract. Now find the original copy of Title 17 and feed it into git/hg/svn/whatever. Then apply all the laws passed since the date of that copy as patches. Do you really think that could be automated?

        • by mhatle (54607) on Friday October 16, 2009 @10:01PM (#29775121) Homepage

          I have worked on systems in the past (for West specifically) that perform automated primary law patching.

          The key thing is to understand the standard language and breakdown of the code. In some jurisdiction, it's by section, others it is by subsection, others, paragraph, and others sentence or sentence fragment.

          The laws themselves need to be organized in a fashion they can be searched, patched, and retrieved (verified) based on offical versions.

          One thing people have ignored is that generally speaking is there are two types of legal codes. Codified sections and Articles/Laws/Uncodified. The Codified sections are of the type mentioned above.. Title 17, section 237, subsection (a) is amended to read... vs Articles -- Act 236 of the 85th congress is amended as follows.. This is MUCH harder to patch.. because in essence you are patching a patch. (Note, most Tax and Social Security related rules are non-codified. This is because the only way to change from non-codified to codified is to repeal and then re-enact the legislation with an official title. And absolutely no congressman wants to be know as someone who voted to repeal social security, or know as someone who voted in all of these taxes...)

      • by Qzukk (229616)

        Of course the U.S. Code has revision control

        But does it have cvs blame so when we find some particularly brain-dead chunk, we can find out who committed it and revoke their access?

    • by mevets (322601)

      One of the first installments of that spaghetti code was the vote; one per person (ok, landowner), counted. Apparently, the best practices of information technology have yet to meet this as a deliverable. I can't wait to see what our advanced technology will do to murky concepts.

      But, being a whore, where do I catch this train?

  • I guess some marketing type figured 'Public.Resource.Org' was trendy and would appeal to the 'internet generation'. I wouldn't take it seriously going by that name. Similar to 'OO.o', pay the trademark owner or get a different name. They both posses a sense of levity.
  • Lexis and Westlaw? (Score:3, Informative)

    by jellybear (96058) on Friday October 16, 2009 @09:06PM (#29774845)

    Won't this destroy Lexis and Westlaw's business model?

    • Let's hope so.
  • by llzackll (68018) on Friday October 16, 2009 @09:32PM (#29774989)

    Is this part of Obama's promise to open source the government by letting us read bills before they are voted on? Will congress actually get a chance to read them here?

    • by schwit1 (797399)
      Please explain how the Executive branch has any say on how the Legislative branch does its business. All BO can do is veto or threaten to veto legislation that doesn't meet his transparency guidelines.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Palshife (60519)

      http://thomas.loc.gov/ [loc.gov] Read anything you want. You don't need the president's permission to read bills before they become law. Though, unlike your representatives, you're not bound by due diligence to do so.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      It'll be like digg -- you can vote a bill up or down and the most popular ones are passed :-P
      It is outsourcing the reading process. And to those who don't like the system people will say -- similar to as they do now with wikipedia -- "if you don't like the bill, just vote it down'

  • The first rule of any new project is, of course, to find a good acronym! Doubly so for government projects! AOSOS just doesn't cut it. How can I take them seriously when they can't even come up with a good acronym?

  • by MountainLogic (92466) on Friday October 16, 2009 @09:38PM (#29775019) Homepage
    In many technical areas, such as building codes, the law will say something like, "The city of Nowhere adopts in whole the International Building Code of 2007." The problem is that the International Building Code and most other codes are written and copyrighted by private organization that charge lots of money for a copy.
  • by FatherDale (1535743) on Friday October 16, 2009 @09:57PM (#29775103)
    I deeply love this idea -- rationalizing our Bizarro World legal code, shining light in the dark corners, showing ourselves and the world who we are. Having seen a number of open source projects go all faily because they were dominated by one person/cabal, though, I'll wait until I see how they're going to distribute the workload before I sign up.
  • by schwit1 (797399) on Friday October 16, 2009 @10:46PM (#29775285)
    Run a virus scan in safe mode to remove the parasites, aka lobbyist.
  • A project can be as "open source" as it wants, but that doesn't mean it has to take patches, adhere strictly to disclosure policies, or release early/release often.

    I'm skeptical, because the same goes for this project of "open sourcing" our "operating system." I don't see how it helps much if we can't contribute our changes back to upstream. Neither do those who submit changes often have any guarantee whatsoever of receiving recognition and getting commit access.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bsDaemon (87307)
      I'm pretty sure that they mean the effort itself is going to be based on open-source technologies, and not that there is an effort to open source the legislative procedure, which is something all together different. We have elected legislators to make laws, and citizens can petition directly or in groups (some people call them "special interest groups," but only because they aren't a member of one... when it's their own "special interest" then its magically a "citizen's organization" or something equally g
    • First patch; your code has a self-assignment. Also, if being more explicit, it even rhymes.

      while (true)
        sue();

  • by Zarf (5735) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @02:02PM (#29778789) Journal

    Laws can and must be broken. No government can survive the stringent enforcement of its own laws. This is the fundamental difference between law and procedural computer code. Law requires judgment while code merely requires execution.

    On the level that this project seeks to work, however, the task might not be completely foolish.

It is better to give than to lend, and it costs about the same.

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