Open Source Legal System

For the serious discussion of weighty matters and worldly issues. No off-topic posts allowed.

Moderators: Azrael, Moderators General, Prelates

User avatar
Entropy
Posts: 233
Joined: Sun Apr 20, 2008 9:40 pm UTC

Open Source Legal System

Postby Entropy » Mon Sep 27, 2010 10:55 pm UTC

Proposal for a legal system:

1) The law is an online wiki-like collection of documents.
2) Edits to these documents do not immediately change the documents: rather they are listed as 'proposed edits' at the bottom of the relevant pages.
3) Proposed edits can be upvoted or downvoted, and are sorted accordingly.
4) When support for an edit reaches critical mass, a notification regarding it appears on the main page. If it subsequently maintains it's critical mass of support for 30 days, it goes through.
5) Laws are phrased in a logic-predicate like language that can be machine parsed.
6) This allows complex queries to be made about whether a specific scenario is legal, and whether it would be legal under any proposed edit
7) Moderators would be elected for limited terms to prevent system abuse (from spammers, hackers, etc...)

The main motivation behind this idea is it puts the power to vote directly on issues into the hands of the people, and people who know more about or care more about specific issues can focus on legislation that matters to them personally.

Could a system like this work?

User avatar
Azrael
CATS. CATS ARE NICE.
Posts: 6491
Joined: Thu Apr 26, 2007 1:16 am UTC
Location: Boston

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Azrael » Mon Sep 27, 2010 11:08 pm UTC

Laws by direct democracy via nothing but popular demand?

No, it couldn't work. Even if you somehow prevented people from voting twice. Checks and balances and the concept of a tyranny of the majority have been around for a long time for precisely this reason.

User avatar
Entropy
Posts: 233
Joined: Sun Apr 20, 2008 9:40 pm UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Entropy » Mon Sep 27, 2010 11:40 pm UTC

In what ways is this inferior to a system where legislative capability is restricted to elected officials? While I will admit that tyranny of the majority is a potential problem, and I would be interested in suggestions on how this system could be augmented to address this issue, I don't see how it is any worse a problem than tyranny of a minority...

User avatar
mmmcannibalism
Posts: 2150
Joined: Tue Jun 30, 2009 6:16 am UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby mmmcannibalism » Tue Sep 28, 2010 12:13 am UTC

Entropy wrote:In what ways is this inferior to a system where legislative capability is restricted to elected officials? While I will admit that tyranny of the majority is a potential problem, and I would be interested in suggestions on how this system could be augmented to address this issue, I don't see how it is any worse a problem than tyranny of a minority...


At the very least, elected officials means people who sort of know what they are doing are casting the votes.

Consider for instance, This video.

However, it would be interesting to set up a page where people created a hypothetical set of laws by vote just to see how it turned out.
Izawwlgood wrote:I for one would happily live on an island as a fuzzy seal-human.

Oregonaut wrote:Damn fetuses and their terroist plots.

User avatar
Krong
Posts: 288
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 12:49 am UTC
Location: Charleston, South Cackalacky

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Krong » Tue Sep 28, 2010 12:24 am UTC

As mmmcannibalism is saying, the major difference is which minority.

In the case of a representative government, it's a minority of people that are able to convince a large portion of the public of the suitability of their qualifications and/or views on issues. It's also a set of people that are constantly in the public eye, due to speeches and appearances in the legislature, thus providing the people an adequate opportunity to judge their work. They are also somewhat required by the mandates of their job to be useful even on mundane issues, and to seek consensus on the difficult ones.

In the case of a wiki government, the minority is the people who are able to frequently make posts or votes on a wiki and choose to do so. All this really requires is them to be opinionated and have time on their hands, and it's likely that only the loudest voices will even become known to the public. The day-to-day work of governing would have a good chance of falling through the cracks, though I'll admit you might have some "government geeks" interested enough to take care of things.

Also, there are the technical and logistical issues -- not everyone has a computer, for instance, along with the usual quiver of arguments about the security of electronic/online voting.
The answer to the question "What’s wrong with the world?" is just two words: "I am." -- G. K. Chesterton (attributed)

User avatar
Entropy
Posts: 233
Joined: Sun Apr 20, 2008 9:40 pm UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Entropy » Tue Sep 28, 2010 12:36 am UTC

I feel that a representative government is no better, because:

In the case of a wiki representative government, the minority is the people who are able to frequently make posts or votes on a wiki appear on TV and choose to do so. All this really requires is them to be opinionated charismatic and have time on their hands lots of money, and it's likely that only the loudest voices will even become known to the public. The day-to-day work of governing would have a good chance of falling through the cracks, though you might have some "government geeks" interested enough to take care of things run for office.

PeterCai
Posts: 865
Joined: Tue Feb 17, 2009 1:09 pm UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby PeterCai » Tue Sep 28, 2010 1:23 am UTC

hence the best form of government is benign dicatorial technocracy.

User avatar
Magnanimous
Madmanananimous
Posts: 3485
Joined: Wed Feb 17, 2010 7:11 pm UTC
Location: Land of Hipsters and Rain (LOHAR)

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Magnanimous » Tue Sep 28, 2010 1:56 am UTC

The problem is that knowing exactly how many people like a law doesn't tell you much about whether it's a good idea. Plus, what happens to the people who lose? If your voters decide 65-35 that abortion should be illegal, you end up with thirty-five percent of the population angry.

It'd make a great sci-fi movie, though.

User avatar
Entropy
Posts: 233
Joined: Sun Apr 20, 2008 9:40 pm UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Entropy » Tue Sep 28, 2010 2:17 am UTC

Magnanimous wrote:The problem is that knowing exactly how many people like a law doesn't tell you much about whether it's a good idea.

Agreed. Which is again, still true of representative democracy. Except replace 'like a law' with 'are motivated to support a law for political or financial gain'.

User avatar
mmmcannibalism
Posts: 2150
Joined: Tue Jun 30, 2009 6:16 am UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby mmmcannibalism » Tue Sep 28, 2010 2:45 am UTC

Magnanimous wrote:The problem is that knowing exactly how many people like a law doesn't tell you much about whether it's a good idea. Plus, what happens to the people who lose? If your voters decide 65-35 that abortion should be illegal, you end up with thirty-five percent of the population angry.

It'd make a great sci-fi movie, though.


You should take that jump to the rest of individual rights.
Izawwlgood wrote:I for one would happily live on an island as a fuzzy seal-human.

Oregonaut wrote:Damn fetuses and their terroist plots.

User avatar
CorruptUser
Posts: 9777
Joined: Fri Nov 06, 2009 10:12 pm UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby CorruptUser » Tue Sep 28, 2010 5:08 am UTC

I think it was (wrongly attributed to) Benjamin Franklin that "Democracy is 2 wolves and a lamb voting on lunch, Liberty is a well armed lamb contesting the vote".

nqdp
Posts: 7
Joined: Wed Feb 03, 2010 5:40 am UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby nqdp » Tue Sep 28, 2010 6:50 am UTC

Well, I guess the system could work. The people who would end up casting the most "votes" would be geeks who spend too much time online reading webcomics and proposing new forms of government... so it wouldn't be terribly representative, but then again, neither is current American democracy. I think the best part of the proposal is that laws would be written logically, and it would be easier to cut out pork-barrel spending (since it would be harder to pull off a back-room deal when a million people all read and vote on something).

Levelheaded
Posts: 185
Joined: Thu May 27, 2010 3:42 pm UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Levelheaded » Tue Sep 28, 2010 1:13 pm UTC

I don't think this is a 'horrible' idea, just not a particularly good one.

It seems to have the same weaknesses as the current system, but is more open to abuse. It also seems like the public interest and engagement this system requires to work in the real world isn't present.

The major problems I see are elitism, accountability, conflicts of interest, transparency, and public apathy.

Pretty much anyone who has tried to contribute to a popular topic on Wikipedia has run into elitism. The idea that everyone can contribute become a joke, because people with way too much time on their hands take personal ownership of articles and aggressively defend against any outside changes. A well meaning contributor usually finds that their changes are reverted, and the 'owner' of the article has thrown all kinds of procedural roadblocks in their way instead of collaborating to improve the article. They aren't necessarily knowledgeable - they just have the time to spend and experience of the system to steamroll any changes. This has some parallels to modern government, but without the same controls.

In the current system, a group of elected officials is accountable to the public. If they do a poor enough job, they will not be re-elected and will be replaced. They may even be recalled before they complete their term. Either way, they will be held accountable for their actions by the public and must - at least to a certain extent - act in the best interests of the voting public. In the proposed system, there is no accountable individual or reason to act in anything but self interest. If there is some way to remove an individual contributor who has taken aggressive ownership of a law, there is nothing stopping another person (or even their alternative ID) from stepping in and doing the same thing. They aren't voted in or even appointed, they just bully their way in.

Next comes problems with a conflict of interest. While it's true that some companies basically use lobbyists to write laws for them, there are restrictions and regulations on what they can do. The CEO of a company can't get elected on a position that they will directly benefit their company and stockholders. Nothing stops that same CEO from logging into this 'Wikilaw' site and writing laws that do whatever they want. Which brings us to our next problem...

Transparency. At least if the CEO is running for an elected office, you know they are the CEO. It's not like people didn't know about Dick Cheney and Haliburton. The CEO above? How are you going to know if he's the CEO or not? I'm pretty sure that companies have been caught having PR people edit Wikipedia in ways that will benefit their business (or hurt their competitors). Now, we are talking about laws - not just information. I can see requiring each user to be a registered individual (problems with that later) but who is going to check to make sure the CEO isn't using his wife or his nanny's account to write law? How will you know if the only people voting up a law are 'sockpuppets'?

The biggest problem though, is public apathy. It can be hard enough for poor / middle class people to catch fifteen minutes of news in a typical day. It's a known issue that the poor don't vote as regularly because they lack access to polls and transportation. Now, they need a computer and internet access? Do you really expect that the public, as a whole, will find the time to read and vote on these laws? Does anyone think that every group will be equally represented in their ability to read and understand these laws and the impact the laws will have? On many issues, you have a very vocal minority and a silent majority. I doubt that the silent majority that supports abortion will work as hard to vote and uphold the existing laws as the vocal minority that wants to ban abortion. And abortion is a major issue. What about the minutia of day-to-day government? Most of the laws that are written are boring things that the public doesn't care about. Then only people who are going to write these laws and vote on them are people with a dedicated self-interest.

This proposal seems like it would be nice in an ideal world, but would fall flat on it's face in any large scale real-world implementation. It's got all of the problems of direct democracy with none of the benefits. It is open to widespread abuse and gaming.

That said, I could possibly see something like this working for a municipal government or home owner's association or similar. You would still need elected officials and administrators, but things like local ordinances could possibly be voted on like this. It probably would still be a mess, even with things as simple as 'what colors are you allowed to paint your house' if anyone could edit it. I would say edits would be restricted to elected officials (city council, etc) and itemized voting / discussion open to the public. Basically, an electronic town-hall meeting.

User avatar
mmmcannibalism
Posts: 2150
Joined: Tue Jun 30, 2009 6:16 am UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby mmmcannibalism » Tue Sep 28, 2010 1:33 pm UTC

So, does anyone else find the idea of setting up a wiki that does this just to see how the laws turn out interesting?
Izawwlgood wrote:I for one would happily live on an island as a fuzzy seal-human.

Oregonaut wrote:Damn fetuses and their terroist plots.

User avatar
Bipod
Posts: 33
Joined: Fri Dec 04, 2009 8:51 pm UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Bipod » Tue Sep 28, 2010 2:04 pm UTC

mmmcannibalism wrote:So, does anyone else find the idea of setting up a wiki that does this just to see how the laws turn out interesting?

I think it would be extremely interesting, and I would do it myself if I was more proficient with wikia. (Or is this even something you could do with them?)

User avatar
Vaniver
Posts: 9422
Joined: Fri Oct 13, 2006 2:12 am UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Vaniver » Tue Sep 28, 2010 2:04 pm UTC

Alternatively:

Contemplate if you only gave elected officials (and possibly their staffers) access to the wiki, but this is how they did their work.
I mostly post over at LessWrong now.

Avatar from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, owned by Hasbro.

Levelheaded
Posts: 185
Joined: Thu May 27, 2010 3:42 pm UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Levelheaded » Tue Sep 28, 2010 2:26 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:Alternatively:

Contemplate if you only gave elected officials (and possibly their staffers) access to the wiki, but this is how they did their work.


You mean full transparency on the entire lawmaking process?

Seems like the best of both worlds.

Роберт
Posts: 4285
Joined: Wed May 14, 2008 1:56 am UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Роберт » Tue Sep 28, 2010 2:47 pm UTC

mmmcannibalism wrote:Consider for instance, This video.

That is an excellent example of why a large government should never try direct democracy. It's too complex for everyone to spend enough time to understand the issues and have a real job.
The Great Hippo wrote:[T]he way we treat suspected terrorists genuinely terrifies me.

User avatar
Vaniver
Posts: 9422
Joined: Fri Oct 13, 2006 2:12 am UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Vaniver » Tue Sep 28, 2010 3:19 pm UTC

Levelheaded wrote:You mean full transparency on the entire lawmaking process?

Seems like the best of both worlds.
It's unlikely, though- politicians hide from sunlight. When discussions are televised, people read prepared statements and actual conversations go on behind closed doors.
I mostly post over at LessWrong now.

Avatar from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, owned by Hasbro.

Dark567
First one to notify the boards of Rick and Morty Season 3
Posts: 3683
Joined: Thu Jun 25, 2009 5:12 pm UTC
Location: Everywhere(in the US, I don't venture outside it too often, unfortunately)

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Dark567 » Tue Sep 28, 2010 4:40 pm UTC

In 2006 Pete Ashdown was running for Senate and decided to make his platform whatever was written on a wiki, instead of his personal political views.(Although it seems like he me have changed it to be more of a forum than the more direct platform than it previously was). http://vote.peteashdown.org/wiki/index.php/Main_Page

Granted its not actually open source law, but it is an actual attempt to use wikis to create campaign stances and if he would have one, theoretically influenced legislation.
I apologize, 90% of the time I write on the Fora I am intoxicated.


Yakk wrote:The question the thought experiment I posted is aimed at answering: When falling in a black hole, do you see the entire universe's future history train-car into your ass, or not?

Capt. Obvious
Posts: 36
Joined: Wed Aug 19, 2009 5:55 am UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Capt. Obvious » Tue Sep 28, 2010 6:26 pm UTC

There are a few issues, leaving aside some that others have mentioned with which I agree.

Unintended Consequences: I see that Tomatoes are incorrectly categorized as a vegetable, so I go and change it to a fruit. The problem is, law 2879 requires fruits to XYZ. Now Tomatoes have to XYZ, even though the law was clearly not supposed to apply to them. I'm sure there are better more convoluted examples, but the main issue is that changing a tag can have further reaching goals than most people can appreciate. While some of this may be unintentional, I'd imagine intentionally getting people to agree to things of unintended consequences is more likely.

People are Greedy: It's easy to vote to limit taxes at their current level. It's also easy for them to vote longer library hours. Mutually exclusive commitments played havoc with California's state government.

Unscientific formulation: It's impossible to have a scientific formulation of the law, or at least unwise. Look at zero-tolerence penalties. It's all well and good to forbid asshats who bring a pistol to school from ever coming back, but a literal read has also led to kids being expelled for bringing a GI Joe. There's no real substitute for human judgement. I mean for every dumb decision made, imagine if the people making that decision had been trying to craft a general purpose rule instead.

Also, think about programmers. Most programmers introduce bugs in their code. Think about how many "bugs" would get introduced in this system.

Ken Lay of Enron, for instance, was (arguably) legally correct in any individual action he took. So the government just tried to prove that in aggregate, Enron was a scam. How would a rigid code deal with something like that?

(Edited to make underlines appear properly.)
Last edited by Capt. Obvious on Wed Sep 29, 2010 3:45 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
phillipsjk
Posts: 1213
Joined: Wed Nov 05, 2008 4:09 pm UTC
Location: Edmonton AB Canada
Contact:

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby phillipsjk » Tue Sep 28, 2010 7:58 pm UTC

Thank-You Capt. Obvious!
You said what I was going to say (laws are complex (it is probably impossible to follow the letter of the law).)

Levelheaded mentioned voting; something I overlooked in the original proposal. Put simply, E-voting is impossible to authenticate given the current state of computer technology.

Bruce Schneier summary:
Bruce Schneier wrote:Way back in 1974, Paul Karger and Roger Schell discovered a devastating attack against computer systems. Ken Thompson described it in his classic 1984 speech, "Reflections on Trusting Trust." Basically, an attacker changes a compiler binary to produce malicious versions of some programs, INCLUDING ITSELF. Once this is done, the attack perpetuates, essentially undetectably.
- Countering "Trusting Trust"
Mirror of "Reflections on Trusting Trust" speech

The only way to counter this is for all software and hardware to be routinely proven correct while being designed. All hardware interfaces must be open, trade-secrets must be a thing of the past. I don't see that happening in the next 100 years.
Did you get the number on that truck?

GoC
Posts: 336
Joined: Mon Nov 24, 2008 10:35 pm UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby GoC » Sat Oct 02, 2010 10:59 pm UTC

Entropy wrote:5) Laws are phrased in a logic-predicate like language that can be machine parsed.

Understanding human language is considered a Hard AI problem.

[quote="Levelheaded"]The biggest problem though, is public apathy. It can be hard enough for poor / middle class people to catch fifteen minutes of news in a typical day. It's a known issue that the poor don't vote as regularly because they lack access to polls and transportation. Now, they need a computer and internet access? Do you really expect that the public, as a whole, will find the time to read and vote on these laws? Does anyone think that every group will be equally represented in their ability to read and understand these laws and the impact the laws will have? On many issues, you have a very vocal minority and a silent majority. I doubt that the silent majority that supports abortion will work as hard to vote and uphold the existing laws as the vocal minority that wants to ban abortion. And abortion is a major issue. What about the minutia of day-to-day government? Most of the laws that are written are boring things that the public doesn't care about. Then only people who are going to write these laws and vote on them are people with a dedicated self-interest.[quote]
Perhaps those that do not have time to be informed should not be allowed to vote?
Belial wrote:I'm just being a dick. It happens.

User avatar
Vaniver
Posts: 9422
Joined: Fri Oct 13, 2006 2:12 am UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Vaniver » Sat Oct 02, 2010 11:12 pm UTC

GoC wrote:Understanding human language is considered a Hard AI problem.
But understanding something like lojban should be significantly easier.

All that does, though, is push the difficulty onto writing laws in lojban.
I mostly post over at LessWrong now.

Avatar from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, owned by Hasbro.

stevey_frac
Posts: 947
Joined: Tue Oct 20, 2009 10:27 pm UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby stevey_frac » Sun Oct 03, 2010 6:25 am UTC

phillipsjk wrote:Thank-You Capt. Obvious!
You said what I was going to say (laws are complex (it is probably impossible to follow the letter of the law).)

Levelheaded mentioned voting; something I overlooked in the original proposal. Put simply, E-voting is impossible to authenticate given the current state of computer technology.

Bruce Schneier summary:
Bruce Schneier wrote:Way back in 1974, Paul Karger and Roger Schell discovered a devastating attack against computer systems. Ken Thompson described it in his classic 1984 speech, "Reflections on Trusting Trust." Basically, an attacker changes a compiler binary to produce malicious versions of some programs, INCLUDING ITSELF. Once this is done, the attack perpetuates, essentially undetectably.
- Countering "Trusting Trust"
Mirror of "Reflections on Trusting Trust" speech

The only way to counter this is for all software and hardware to be routinely proven correct while being designed. All hardware interfaces must be open, trade-secrets must be a thing of the past. I don't see that happening in the next 100 years.


This would require a rather large conspiracy to pull off. You realize that, right? It would require that the back door that gets implanted into every program ever made be somehow perfectly concealable. It would also mean that someone who writes "Hello World" Then looks at the assembler, not realize the flaw in the assembler code.

Unless you think the problem lies in the hardware, which implies that Intel or AMD purposefully implanted a instruction sequence of some description, that then does... something. And that the thousands of engineers,who had to go over that chip didn't notice the addition, or for some reason keep silent about it. You might be able to silence a person or two. But, thousands of highly educated people, who take a vow to protect society?

Unlikely to the point of impossibility.



With regards to the legal system proposed. You would essentially end up with a series of convoluted laws that disagree with each other. It would be impossible to interpret correctly, and the legal system would be in constant flux. Also, you think it's bad now with lobying? Imagine what would happen if Microsoft or GM could market laws directly to the people?! Total control to any corporation with deep enough pockets.

It's simply not workable.

User avatar
Entropy
Posts: 233
Joined: Sun Apr 20, 2008 9:40 pm UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Entropy » Sun Oct 03, 2010 6:34 am UTC

If proposed modifications were tested by the system for consistency then this wouldn't be an issue... such modifications could be tagged with 'X, Y, and Z must be passed as deleted before this can be submitted successfully"

stevey_frac
Posts: 947
Joined: Tue Oct 20, 2009 10:27 pm UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby stevey_frac » Sun Oct 03, 2010 6:54 am UTC

Who's going to do this? Paid professionals? Because that introduces a lot of the same issues that we started with, because they will be subject to the same kinds of grey area manipulation that politicians are.

You can't pass that bill allowing abortion until you delete the law about murder. See the problem?

User avatar
Entropy
Posts: 233
Joined: Sun Apr 20, 2008 9:40 pm UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Entropy » Sun Oct 03, 2010 8:38 am UTC

stevey_frac wrote:Who's going to do this?
Entropy wrote:5) Laws are phrased in a logic-predicate like language that can be machine parsed.

Computers are capable of this. And yes, this might require defining murder less emotionally and more logically before it would be able to pass.

somebody already took it
Posts: 310
Joined: Wed Jul 01, 2009 3:03 am UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby somebody already took it » Sun Oct 03, 2010 6:03 pm UTC

Levelheaded wrote:The major problems I see are elitism, accountability, conflicts of interest, transparency, and public apathy.

Pretty much anyone who has tried to contribute to a popular topic on Wikipedia has run into elitism. The idea that everyone can contribute become a joke, because people with way too much time on their hands take personal ownership of articles and aggressively defend against any outside changes. A well meaning contributor usually finds that their changes are reverted, and the 'owner' of the article has thrown all kinds of procedural roadblocks in their way instead of collaborating to improve the article. They aren't necessarily knowledgeable - they just have the time to spend and experience of the system to steamroll any changes. This has some parallels to modern government, but without the same controls.


To reconcile this a law could be created that only allows people to log into the legal system for some number of hours every day, perhaps with an addendum that allows people who are voted to be non-aggressive editors to log in for longer. Or maybe rather than limiting time (as some people would have more time to plot out their activity when they do connect to the legal system) we could limit the number of "legislative actions" a person can commit in a day.

Levelheaded wrote:In the current system, a group of elected officials is accountable to the public. If they do a poor enough job, they will not be re-elected and will be replaced. They may even be recalled before they complete their term. Either way, they will be held accountable for their actions by the public and must - at least to a certain extent - act in the best interests of the voting public. In the proposed system, there is no accountable individual or reason to act in anything but self interest. If there is some way to remove an individual contributor who has taken aggressive ownership of a law, there is nothing stopping another person (or even their alternative ID) from stepping in and doing the same thing. They aren't voted in or even appointed, they just bully their way in.

Not necessarily, each person could only have one account (perhaps based on their social security number), and if there were some class of citizens with special moderating powers (which I'm not completely convinced there is a need for), their powers could be checked by the requirement that they are voted into their position.

Levelheaded wrote:Next comes problems with a conflict of interest. While it's true that some companies basically use lobbyists to write laws for them, there are restrictions and regulations on what they can do. The CEO of a company can't get elected on a position that they will directly benefit their company and stockholders. Nothing stops that same CEO from logging into this 'Wikilaw' site and writing laws that do whatever they want. Which brings us to our next problem...

Transparency. At least if the CEO is running for an elected office, you know they are the CEO. It's not like people didn't know about Dick Cheney and Haliburton. The CEO above? How are you going to know if he's the CEO or not? I'm pretty sure that companies have been caught having PR people edit Wikipedia in ways that will benefit their business (or hurt their competitors). Now, we are talking about laws - not just information. I can see requiring each user to be a registered individual (problems with that later) but who is going to check to make sure the CEO isn't using his wife or his nanny's account to write law? How will you know if the only people voting up a law are 'sockpuppets'?

I'm not sure if it matters who proposes a law, if people vote it up it is probably a good law. 'Sockpuppets', people who vote for X because someone tells them to without concern for the result of X are a problem in any election system, and they will likely continue to be a problem as classifying someone as a 'sockpuppet' is difficult. However, some of the problems they might cause can be rectified by limiting their ability to vote as a block, for instance by only allowing 80% of the people who voted for one law to vote for another within a certain time frame.

Levelheaded wrote:The biggest problem though, is public apathy. It can be hard enough for poor / middle class people to catch fifteen minutes of news in a typical day. It's a known issue that the poor don't vote as regularly because they lack access to polls and transportation. Now, they need a computer and internet access? Do you really expect that the public, as a whole, will find the time to read and vote on these laws? Does anyone think that every group will be equally represented in their ability to read and understand these laws and the impact the laws will have? On many issues, you have a very vocal minority and a silent majority. I doubt that the silent majority that supports abortion will work as hard to vote and uphold the existing laws as the vocal minority that wants to ban abortion. And abortion is a major issue. What about the minutia of day-to-day government? Most of the laws that are written are boring things that the public doesn't care about. Then only people who are going to write these laws and vote on them are people with a dedicated self-interest.

My intuition tells me that an open source legal system might actually dispel a lot of the public apathy we currently see. At least in my case having the ability to directly participate in the legal system would make me pay a lot more attention to it. As it stands I don't see any particular reason to study it over the many other things I could learn about because I can't really apply any knowledge I gain.
Equal representation is an important issue, and perhaps there could be laws to help with that. One possibility is limiting the number of people who connect to the legal system within a given geographic region, adjusted for population density. To help equalize the economic status of participants we could require that everybody connects to the legal system though publicly available terminals.
Last edited by somebody already took it on Mon Oct 04, 2010 1:44 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

stevey_frac
Posts: 947
Joined: Tue Oct 20, 2009 10:27 pm UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby stevey_frac » Sun Oct 03, 2010 7:55 pm UTC

Entropy wrote:
stevey_frac wrote:Who's going to do this?
Entropy wrote:5) Laws are phrased in a logic-predicate like language that can be machine parsed.

Computers are capable of this. And yes, this might require defining murder less emotionally and more logically before it would be able to pass.



I saw that. And I guess i'd have to challenge that. Computers are capable of solving simple logic problems. I wouldn't call a practical legal system a simple logic problem.

There are a myriad of ways someone can die by another's hand. Some are murder, some aren't. You are going to have to break out a detailed list of every possible scenario and then detail which is illegal and which isn't. Then humans are going to argue about the corner cases.

Then you are also going to have a mess on your hands with people pushing different laws.

For instance, you are going to have a right wing block pushing for higher mandatory sentences. And a left wing pushing for more rehabilitation. You can't really accept both agendas. So, you pick solely that which is more popular? What about laws that effect commerce? You'd have popular bills that have good intent, but have terrible results. I.E. In the recession, you'd have had laws passed that make it illegal to outsource, or that put high tariffs on imported goods. That would have resulted in a deepening recession, as people try and put in a reactionary law that feels good without understanding the consequences.

It's important to our society to have lawmakers guided by experts make laws, rather then pure popular demand. Think about how many Hotmail "Forward this to all your friends or Hotmail will think your account is inactive" emails you used to get before spam filters improved. Now imagine that body of people running the country. Bad mojo.

User avatar
Vaniver
Posts: 9422
Joined: Fri Oct 13, 2006 2:12 am UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Vaniver » Sun Oct 03, 2010 11:11 pm UTC

Yeah, if you haven't spent at least a few months looking at tort law, I strongly recommend not making any prescriptive comments about legal systems.
I mostly post over at LessWrong now.

Avatar from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, owned by Hasbro.

somebody already took it
Posts: 310
Joined: Wed Jul 01, 2009 3:03 am UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby somebody already took it » Mon Oct 04, 2010 1:38 am UTC

stevey_frac wrote:For instance, you are going to have a right wing block pushing for higher mandatory sentences. And a left wing pushing for more rehabilitation. You can't really accept both agendas. So, you pick solely that which is more popular? What about laws that effect commerce? You'd have popular bills that have good intent, but have terrible results. I.E. In the recession, you'd have had laws passed that make it illegal to outsource, or that put high tariffs on imported goods. That would have resulted in a deepening recession, as people try and put in a reactionary law that feels good without understanding the consequences.


One benefit of an electronic open source legal system is that it would be much easier to alter it than it is to alter present day non computerized legal systems. We could try out laws and if they began having negative effects it would be possible for people to vote them down in real time.

User avatar
Vaniver
Posts: 9422
Joined: Fri Oct 13, 2006 2:12 am UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Vaniver » Mon Oct 04, 2010 4:26 am UTC

somebody already took it wrote:One benefit of an electronic open source legal system is that it would be much easier to alter it than it is to alter present day non computerized legal systems. We could try out laws and if they began having negative effects it would be possible for people to vote them down in real time.
The problem with that idea is that the effects of the laws are primarily how they affect people's expectations. If, say, there's a death penalty, people may behave differently than if there isn't a death penalty. If the status of the law switches quickly, people on the street won't know what the law is right then.

That is to say: that feature sounds suspiciously like a bug.
I mostly post over at LessWrong now.

Avatar from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, owned by Hasbro.

somebody already took it
Posts: 310
Joined: Wed Jul 01, 2009 3:03 am UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby somebody already took it » Mon Oct 04, 2010 5:10 am UTC

Vaniver wrote:The problem with that idea is that the effects of the laws are primarily how they affect people's expectations. If, say, there's a death penalty, people may behave differently than if there isn't a death penalty. If the status of the law switches quickly, people on the street won't know what the law is right then.


There could be laws that place constraints on the processes for changing certain laws (as well as themselves). We could limit some laws to only be able to change states once every week/month/year, we allow them to change only after we see that they have been inspected by a certain proportion of the population, or we could require a certain amount of money be accumulated in an advertisement fund for them to be enacted.

User avatar
phillipsjk
Posts: 1213
Joined: Wed Nov 05, 2008 4:09 pm UTC
Location: Edmonton AB Canada
Contact:

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby phillipsjk » Mon Oct 04, 2010 6:07 am UTC

stevey_frac wrote:
phillipsjk wrote:Levelheaded mentioned voting; something I overlooked in the original proposal. Put simply, E-voting is impossible to authenticate given the current state of computer technology.
. . .
The only way to counter this is for all software and hardware to be routinely proven correct while being designed. All hardware interfaces must be open, trade-secrets must be a thing of the past. I don't see that happening in the next 100 years.


This would require a rather large conspiracy to pull off. You realize that, right? It would require that the back door that gets implanted into every program ever made be somehow perfectly concealable. It would also mean that someone who writes "Hello World" Then looks at the assembler, not realize the flaw in the assembler code.

Unless you think the problem lies in the hardware, which implies that Intel or AMD purposefully implanted a instruction sequence of some description, that then does... something. And that the thousands of engineers,who had to go over that chip didn't notice the addition, or for some reason keep silent about it. You might be able to silence a person or two. But, thousands of highly educated people, who take a vow to protect society?

Unlikely to the point of impossibility.


The instruction sequence does not have to be obviously nefarious: all that is needed is a buffer overflow in the right place. Even with a Harvard Architecture where you are not allowed to add any executable code, it is possible to introduce new behavior through return-oriented programing. This technique has already been demonstrated on a commercial voting machine.

At the OS and software level, most software has a built-in back door called "automated updates." Even if you trust that Microsoft is able to keep their updates secure, it is not necessarily true that all third-party software (such as an Antivirus) will receive the same scrutiny. Again, you are one privilege-escalation exploit away from owning the system.

At the Hardware level, the actual hardware interface is secret these days. You are interacting with firmware. Intel CPUs since the PII have supported microcode updates (They must be re-applied on every boot). These can be used to disable features in the wake of the infamous Pentium Bug. More recently, it appears (N&A) that features can now be enabled using microcode.

Your rebuttal also misses a subtle point: any e-voting system will likely rely on a central server. It would likely take a conspiracy of only 2 key people to compromise that server in a subtle way. With e-voting, both independent verification and anonymity are mutually-exclusive.
Did you get the number on that truck?

stevey_frac
Posts: 947
Joined: Tue Oct 20, 2009 10:27 pm UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby stevey_frac » Mon Oct 04, 2010 3:13 pm UTC

phillipsjk wrote:
The instruction sequence does not have to be obviously nefarious: all that is needed is a buffer overflow in the right place. Even with a Harvard Architecture where you are not allowed to add any executable code, it is possible to introduce new behavior through return-oriented programing. This technique has already been demonstrated on a commercial voting machine.

At the OS and software level, most software has a built-in back door called "automated updates." Even if you trust that Microsoft is able to keep their updates secure, it is not necessarily true that all third-party software (such as an Antivirus) will receive the same scrutiny. Again, you are one privilege-escalation exploit away from owning the system.

At the Hardware level, the actual hardware interface is secret these days. You are interacting with firmware. Intel CPUs since the PII have supported microcode updates (They must be re-applied on every boot). These can be used to disable features in the wake of the infamous Pentium Bug. More recently, it appears (N&A) that features can now be enabled using microcode.

Your rebuttal also misses a subtle point: any e-voting system will likely rely on a central server. It would likely take a conspiracy of only 2 key people to compromise that server in a subtle way. With e-voting, both independent verification and anonymity are mutually-exclusive.


Congratulations on demonstrating that there are security flaws in software. This is about two orders of magnitude less significant then your original claim of:

"Basically, an attacker changes a compiler binary to produce malicious versions of some programs, INCLUDING ITSELF. Once this is done, the attack perpetuates, essentially undetectably."


Back to the topic at hand,

In Walter Lipmann's book "Public Opinion", published in 1922 he says "The real environment is altogether too big, too complex, and too fleeting for direct acquaintance". If we peer past the flowery language of the time, we find that he is arguing that the issues are extremely wide ranging in scope, importance, and just generally extremely complex. So complex in fact, that we as humans make up fake worlds in our minds. These worlds are of necessity biased and simplified versions of the real world. We only see close to the "real world" on issues that we are subject matter experts on. As an aside, if you think there is an extremely obvious solution to one of todays problems, you don't know enough about the problem.

And these are the people who you want making the laws of the land? A recipe for disaster, no matter how subtle and cunning the implementation.

somebody already took it
Posts: 310
Joined: Wed Jul 01, 2009 3:03 am UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby somebody already took it » Mon Oct 04, 2010 9:56 pm UTC

stevey_frac wrote:...we as humans make up fake worlds in our minds. These worlds are of necessity biased and simplified versions of the real world. We only see close to the "real world" on issues that we are subject matter experts on.

That is somewhat of a self-refuting idea. If humans make up fake/simplified/biased worlds in their minds, then that proposition is only true in the fake/simplified/biased world a human made up in their mind.

stevey_frac
Posts: 947
Joined: Tue Oct 20, 2009 10:27 pm UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby stevey_frac » Mon Oct 04, 2010 10:24 pm UTC

It wasn't intended to be a metaphysical question, merely to state that normal people don't actually have the depth of understanding required in all issues to have truly informed opinions.

Instead, we gloss over the bits we don't understand, and take our stance on many issues from whatever political leanings you have.

Think about all the things you believe to be true, especially those things that are less factual, more subjective. I can guarantee that if you are honest with yourself, you will agree that you didn't come to each of those conclusions from first principles. Somewhere along the line, someone told you something, that you accepted as fact, because "it sounded right".

To say otherwise would imply that as a child, and the entire time you were growing into an adult, you were a cold unfeeling logical machine that was completely untrusting of others, and therefore, had to vet everything that anyone else said.

User avatar
Vaniver
Posts: 9422
Joined: Fri Oct 13, 2006 2:12 am UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby Vaniver » Tue Oct 05, 2010 3:25 am UTC

somebody already took it wrote:That is somewhat of a self-refuting idea. If humans make up fake/simplified/biased worlds in their minds, then that proposition is only true in the fake/simplified/biased world a human made up in their mind.
Of course- but the simplification is what is meant by "mind" and "made up," not that our models are less sophisticated than reality.
I mostly post over at LessWrong now.

Avatar from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, owned by Hasbro.

drunken
Posts: 181
Joined: Tue May 27, 2008 5:14 am UTC

Re: Open Source Legal System

Postby drunken » Tue Oct 05, 2010 7:02 am UTC

I have thought about and discussed this proposition for some time now. Most of the objections here are also valid objections against our current system, and as entropy demonstrated, much of the discussion can be slightly reworded to be stating the same problems with representative democracy as it is currently practised. If we remove these we are left with the security issue (assuming your current system doesn't already use electronic voting in which case there are no objections that don't apply to both systems).

The security issue is a weighty one and while several useful suggestions have come up here it will take a lot of planning and careful thought to create a system such as this which is secure, reliable and prohibitively hard to exploit. This is not impossible though in my belief and we should work on ways of solving this issue. One possibility that I thought of which could compliment the network/internet/electronics side of this question would be to simply form a branch of government to administer this project, and to treat it as a kind of select committee, that send recommendations to the government as to future policy decisions, but leaves the actual final decision in representative hands. This could be a temporary solution until the kinks are worked out, or a permanent new addition to government.

Many of the issues that are problems with our current system as well, nevertheless deserve discussion as their details, severity and consequences are different in an open system.

First I would like to attempt to refute this

mmmcannibalism wrote:
Entropy wrote:In what ways is this inferior to a system where legislative capability is restricted to elected officials? While I will admit that tyranny of the majority is a potential problem, and I would be interested in suggestions on how this system could be augmented to address this issue, I don't see how it is any worse a problem than tyranny of a minority...


At the very least, elected officials means people who sort of know what they are doing are casting the votes.

Consider for instance, This video.

objection with the following clip. All videos like this prove is that if you go out with a camera looking for clips of people doing or saying stupid things, you will find a lot. Apparently it is easiest in the US as people sometimes travel a long way just to do it there. This is not evidence for or against any particular political system (except perhaps one in which legislation is based on what people on stupid youtube clips do and say)


The objection of apathy also ties in with the objections about influence bias (people with more time on their hands, people who have no computer). There are several ways to tackle this and some combination of them will likely prove necessary. Firstly, representation is not out of the question in a system like this. In the same way that users can follow each other on twitter, users in this system could simply have a "vote with" option that can be set to someone else's account. This would result in a tree of voters where my vote might include those of my household, I might give my vote to a local organisation, who then for a period might support various national or international organisations etc. This creates some potential for abuse so the following measures would need to be added. Any user must be able to log in and view a list of all they have voted for in their lives, they can check through every few months and make sure their representation is behaving themselves. In addition votes need to be reversible so that if abuse does occur voters can cancel the offending votes. This should be designed carefully in the same way as the rest of the site will have to be. If for example a lot of voters cancel their votes for a certain bill/amendment citing abuse as their reason for doing so, a warning email could be issued to all voters who voted under the same representative saying they should check their vote. people could have representation privileges revoked for abuse.

Computer and internet access is another problem which affects both systems but in hugely different ways, and is also a form of influence bias. Open source government would only work in countries where it is feasible to make both a right rather than a privilege. The government would have to supply basic one laptop per child style machines to everyone who wanted one, and free public internet kiosks would need to be set up in public areas. These goals are certainly achievable in some countries, but near impossible in others.

Money as an influence bias affects both systems strongly. This will always be a problem in politics and needs to be tackled separately, possibly via economic and social reforms, which could be planned and decided on by the government, which is influenced by people with money...

The objection that special interest groups will have undue power over areas they are experts in, and the objection that people with no interest or expertise in a certain field will not be able to usefully vote on it, both cancel each other out. The only time no one will pay attention to some facet of the law is if no one is affected by it. If only a few people are affected by it then only those people really need to vote on it. Examples such as fishing quotas can be worked out between fishermen and environmentalists and anyone who is not part of either group will not subtract from the outcome by ignoring the debate. in our current system politicians rarely know enough about the majority of issues to really vote wisely on them and rely on (non-representative) experts to make their decisions anyway.

Lastly (if anyone has bothered to read this far) I would like to complain about the term 'tyranny of the majority'. A cursory look at a dictionary shows this to be a meaningless contradiction in terms. I understand however the sentiment behind it and therefore urge that anyone who wishes to convey this idea choose themselves a new phrase. I suggest 'oppression of the minorities' because not only do the words in it actually mean what the phrase is intended to mean, but it also focuses attention to the minorities, and also reminds us that there are more than one of them.
***This post is my own opinion and no claim is being made that it is in any way scientific nor intended to be construed as such by any reader***


Return to “Serious Business”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 7 guests