The Corpus Callosum

Collaborative Community Legislation

Senator rel="tag">Dick Durbin has started a project using
an innovative method of writing legislation:

href="http://www.openleft.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=318">What
should be America’s national broadband strategy?
by: Dick Durbin
Sun Jul 22, 2007 at 13:06:58 PM EDT

(This diary will remain at the top of the page for the next day. New
content will continue to appear below. For example, check out Jenifer
Fernandez Ancona’s The Role of Candidates in Movement-Building, and
Matt’s Why Are Men Overrepresented in CNN/Youtube Debate Submissions? -
promoted by Chris Bowers)

Today I’m writing to invite you to participate in an experiment — an
interactive approach to drafting legislation on one of the most
significant public policy questions today: What should be America’s
national broadband strategy?

Starting this Tuesday, July 24 at 7pm EST on OpenLeft.com, I will be
engaging in a series of four nightly broadband policy discussions with
the online community.  During those four nights, I am looking
for the best and brightest ideas on what Congress should do to promote
and foster broadband.

I will begin each night’s discussion with a conversation about some of
the core principles I think are important, and then I’ll ask for you to
contribute your ideas that will help me craft legislation.


They did not draft the actual legislation online, but they engaged in
an open collaboration to generate and test ideas that could be
incorporated into actual legislation.

This is not what I would suggest for transparent-source legislation,
but it is a step in the right direction.


Ideally, the process of writing legislation should be
completely open.  Ideally, it would be viewable in real time,
and viewable by anyone.  All contributors would be validated,
and all contributions would carry an electronic signature.  

I’ve written about this href="http://scienceblogs.com/corpuscallosum/2006/09/what_linus_could_teach_congres.php">before,
so I won’t belabor the point here and now.  The gist of it is
this:

The standard “vanilla” Linux kernel
consists of over 3.6 million lines of code.  Thousands of
persons have contributed over a period of many years…The maintainers
and developers of the Linux
kernel have explicit documentation of who wrote all 3.6 million lines
of code. In fact, there is a href="http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20050529095918381">public
review process for all proposed changes.  


It would be fairly simple from a technological standpoint to come up
with a system that would allow us to see exactly who
wrote what in every law that is passed.

The actual legally-binding text would be a bit cumbersome.
 Each part would be digtally signed.  For example,
using one of my digital signatures, this paragraph would look like this:

—–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
Hash: SHA1
 
The actual legally-binding text would be a bit cumbersome. 
Each part
would be digtally signed.  For example, using one of my digital
signatures, this paragraph would look like this:
—–BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE—–
Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)
Comment: Using GnuPG with Mozilla – http://enigmail.mozdev.org
 
iD8DBQFGy9IzYzGNYsXJhsMRAuPxAJ4lDjySNDSfpBfiPlI2LcRvabMB/ACfY0oE
G5CzDRpoVY9TpCIAkbSS8eo=
=/wIh
—–END PGP SIGNATURE—–


Just memorize the digital signature.  Then see what happens if
I go back and correct the spelling error:

—–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
Hash: SHA1

The actual legally-binding text would be a bit cumbersome. 
Each part
would be digitally signed.  For example, using one of my
digital
signatures, this paragraph would look like this:
—–BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE—–
Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)
Comment: Using GnuPG with Mozilla – http://enigmail.mozdev.org

iD8DBQFGy9KWYzGNYsXJhsMRAhz0AJ9Xs4oRSBzR5Hfxfc9tHGK7liHoiwCgg6tx
s2JiNyw+8bKYrmM2sGR+LVs=
=OqVS
—–END PGP SIGNATURE—–


See, the signature is different.  Using this method, it would
not be possible for anyone to make changes to the text without it being
evident that the text had been changed.  The origin of all
valid text would be known.  The text could be audited
electronically, and validated.  Each person using an
electronic signature would have to swear an oath that he or she would
not let anyone else use it, and would not pass off text written by
someone else.  Thus, the actual author of
each line could be determined.

If a legislator signed something that later was found to have been
written by a lobbyist, it would be a felony.

 Transparency, of course, is the first building block of
accountability.  We can do it.  We have the
technology.