Romain Sertelon's tech blog


Github for Laws

This week, on HackerNews, someone noticed that the Bundestag (German Parliament) has published its laws on Github.

The state of our “democracies”

Since the last French elections, I’ve developed my political consciousness. Due to my young age, and the 5 year period between elections, I never had a chance to get really interested and involved in my country’s Politics until then.

Disclaimer: I can be labeled socialist, or even communist. But I don’t define myself as such. I prefer the label humanist.

What I’ve come to understand is that although we name our political system a democracy, it isn’t a real one. Democracy, comes from the ancient greek Demos (people) and Cratos (power). Literally, it means “Power to the people”, but is it? What happens nowadays (and it’s been for 200 years in France), is that we elect one president, or one deputy amongst some candidates every five years. Between these periods, our system doesn’t provide us with any way of saying “I disagree”, or even “I’d like to propose an idea”; this stuff is done by our “representatives”.

This is a huge problem, and as others, I think this system must change once and for all. But this is not the point, rather, it is related in some way, but that’s not the topic of this article.

We want transparency

Let’s pretend we are in a real democracy, then, each citizen should have the right to access to the laws, and the process of their creation. To some point, it’s the case, but it’s hard to understand what’s going on. It is “reserved” to legal-competent people, which I’m not (even though I can understand if I read slowly and have google in an other browser tab). I want to be able to quickly see what’s going on: what is the law proposal? Who proposed it? Who amended it? Which amendment was accepted? Which was not? Why? All these questions can’t find an easy answer because everything is kept from us, or, rather, everything is not done to make all of this easily accessible.

This is where I think the Bundestag have done a real good job. As the French association “Regards Citoyens” puts it: “Law is code”. It is versioned, and each law proposal either creates a new text, or patches an existing one (they started a project to put French laws in git repositories).

Having a Github for laws could be wonderful. Imagine all citizens having access to the laws being debated in the parliament and being able to propose amendments via pull requests! As a developer, I can’t dream of a better way to write laws in a democracy! I hope other (so-called) democracies will follow the lead of the Bundestag and put their laws up on a versioned repository accessible publicly.

But… (because there’s always a ‘but’)

There’s IMHO, one caveat in publishing the laws on _Github _: it is a company, and ‘worse’, a US company. I have nothing against US companies, don’t get me wrong, but I think that there should be a UN Github for laws. A country-independent organization behind the website holding the laws of these countries. It is not a matter of danger (I don’t think there’s a real risk to give a company the laws of your country, as it is public anyway), rather a matter of having a common independent website for each country to publish their laws to.

As we have the IMF (International Monetary Fund), WTO (World Trade Organization), Security Council, and many others, we could have an International Law Transparency Organization (excuse the lack of imagination).

I’d love to see all those laws being accessible, and later, citizens being able to vote +/1, and then being able to modify them via pull-requests… One day maybe!

Anyway: nice job Bundestag!