In early November, EPFSUG members and supporters were invited to come together to discuss "the hacker perspective" on lawmaking. It turned out that if you say "patch" instead of "amendment" and "code freeze" instead of "plenary vote", many members of our community suddenly understand what you are talking about!
Stefan Marsiske talked about the need for free software to offset the knowledge and resource asymmetry between civil society and industry interest groups. Pippi Longstrings aims at detecting "the DNA sequences" (the long strings) in lawmaking. By mark-up of phrases which occur in many different places in many different laws, such a tool could make it easier to understand law proposals since every context gives a certain phrase a certain meaning (software for detecting plagiarism does something similar).
Along with the "why" above, the "when, where and how" in lawmaking is also essential for anyone who wants to engage with the law making process. ParlTrack is a tool aiming at providing detailed information about the activities of the European Parliament, for example deadlines for tabling amendments (the current version extracts such data from committee agendas published as PDFs). ParlTrack also detects and notifies any interested party about changes related to a particular dossier in a similar way to the services provided by the Parliament itself - the difference being that the information is based on aggregation of publicly available data.
The discussions after Stefan's talk showed that staff from the many different institutions in the EP themselves desire to produce and publish such aggregated data (and ParlTrack appears to be an interesting proof of concept):
- the EP should keep improving the quality of the data it makes available to the public, in particular with regards to time and date accuracy
- the EP should continue to ensure that data is made available in formats and through interfaces which enable free and easy access and processing of the data
- the EP should avoid investing in software and services which leads to "lock in" of citizens and risk the institution's vendor independence, also with respect to social media
- the EP should develop strategies for making its data available for all to use and reuse as per existing best practices for opening up of public sector data
Peter Ljungstrand followed up with looking at the methaphor "Code is Law" from a computer scientist perspective and talked about what would be the result if law actually was code. Would that be the case you could apply a number of methodologies from computer science - from patching, to debugging and finding exploits - and basically reverse engineer the lawmaking process and build software tools to support it. Large amounts of legal and political documents would need to be processed and new frontiers for research would have to be opened. For example, would it be possible to find a computer linguistic "implementation index" of how well (or bad) a directive has been integrated into national law? The answer is definitively yes and there are algorithms fit for purpose, for example random indexing combined with LSA. Peter took a strong stance for transparency as a founding principle in the EU, quoting from the Treaties:
- Article 1, TEU”...decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen.”
- Article 15, TFEU “In order to promote good governance and ensure the participation of civil society, the Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies shall conduct their work as openly as possible.”
These propositions will hopefully play a role in the development of the future of democracy.
Finally, Jonatan and Erik made a short summary of the latest tunings and fixes to the tmail service.
Unfortunately the video camera battery was not able to serve us during the whole meeting (note to self, check the battery uptime next time...), but you can find the sound recording here: http://xwalck.se/j/pub/epfsug-20111109
Links to presentations:
- Stefan Marsiske, Mining for freedom in oeil, eur-lex and a few others, https://www.ctrlc.hu/~stef/epfsug-presentation.pdf
- Peter Ljungstrand, "Code is Law", http://epfsug.eu/wws/arc/epfsug/2011-11/msg00060/EPFSUG_talk_Peter_Ljung...
- Jonatan Walck and Erik Josefsson, First class tmail, (link coming up soon)