15 October 2009

Open Sourcing America's Operating System

And how do you do that? By making all of the laws freely available - and, presumably, searchable and mashable:

Public.Resource.Org is very pleased to announce that we're going to be working with a distinguished group of colleagues from across the country to create a solid business plan, technical specs, and enabling legislation for the federal government to create Law.Gov. We envision Law.Gov as a distributed, open source, authenticated registry and repository of all primary legal materials in the United States.

This is great news, because Carl Malamud - the force behind this initiative - has been urging it for years: now it looks like it's beginning to take a more concrete form:

The process we're going through to create the case for Law.Gov is a series of workshops hosted by our co-conveners. At the end of the process, we're submitting a report to policy makers in Washington. The process will be an open one, so that in addition to the main report which I'll be authoring, anybody who wishes to submit their own materials may do so. There is no one answer as to how the raw materials of our democracy should be provided on the Internet, but we're hopeful we're going to be able to bring together a group from both the legal and the open source worlds to help crack this nut.

I particularly liked the following comment:

Law.Gov is a big challenge for the legal world, and some of the best thinkers in that world have joined us as co-conveners. But, this is also a challenge for the open source world. We'd like to submit such a convincing set of technical specs that there is no doubt in anybody's mind that it is possible to do this. There are some technical challenges and missing pieces as well, such as the pressing need for an open source redaction toolkit to sit on top of OCR packages such as Tesseract. There are challenges for librarians as well, such as compiling a full listing of all materials that should be in the repository.

What's interesting is that this recognises that open source is not just an inspiration, but a key part of the solution, because - like the open maths movement I wrote about below - it needs new kinds of tools, and free software is the best way to provide them.

Now, if only someone could do something similar in the UK....


Julius Beezer said...

There's this Glyn: http://www.bailii.org/

I don't know how comprehensive it is, not being a lawyer.

But this is an important area: after all, if the law applies to everybody, everybody should be able to read it...

glyn moody said...

@Julius: - thanks, I'd forgotten about that. It's a good resource.