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Hacking the Law 115

Posted by Soulskill
from the there's-an-arduino-for-that dept.
New submitter sethopia writes "Brooklyn Law School's Incubator and Policy Clinic (BLIP) hosted its first 'Legal Hackathon.' Instead of hacking computer code, attendees — mostly lawyers, law students, coders, and entrepreneurs — used the hacking ethos to devise technologically sophisticated solutions to legal problems. These included attempts to crowdsource mayoral candidacies in New York City and hacking model privacy policies for ISPs."
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Hacking the Law

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  • SVN for law (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dargaud (518470) <slashdot2&gdargaud,net> on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @04:20AM (#39792513) Homepage
    Want to hack law ? Then start by by putting the entire code of law in an SVN-like system. Including proposed laws. With traceability of authors, who voted for them, etc... And an associated wiki for comments. And a complete list of cases that used them. This would be invaluable.
  • Re:SVN for law (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ComaVN (325750) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @04:31AM (#39792551)

    Somalia does this, except they use git.

  • Re:SVN for law (Score:5, Interesting)

    by digitig (1056110) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @04:52AM (#39792621)
    Rather than a version control system, I think it would be more useful to put the law into a requirements management system (after all, what is the law but a set of requirements?) That *might* help lawmakers to see if they are complete (cover what is intended to be covered), consistent and measurable. I don't know of any open source requirements management tools though -- at least, not ones that are still maintained. Perhaps requirements management goes against the hacker ethos (which would reduce the open source effort put into such things, although it wouldn't eliminate it completely of course). If requirements management is against the hacker ethos then I suspect that attempts to hack the law won't work very well.
  • Re:SVN for law (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fph il quozientatore (971015) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @05:44AM (#39792783) Homepage
    In most countries without common law (I can speak first-hand about Italy and Germany), the laws are an unholy mess, impossible to read, search, and interpret; in most cases you have no hope other than asking a consult to a lawyer.
    You want the same people that spent at least 5 years studying this crap and make their living out of it to work actively to simplify it. It is a great idea, but I do not have any hope of seeing this applied.
    Shirky's law applies here as well: "institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution".
  • Re:Redundant? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @06:06AM (#39792893)

    Indeed. IAAL, and one of the big reasons I was first attracted to practicing law was the many similarities between legal thinking and computer programming.

  • by swalve (1980968) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @08:22AM (#39793667)
    No, it's almost exactly like following code. Lots of logic and ANDs and ORs, MAY or SHALL, etc. The law is only confusing to people who don't know logic.
  • Re:SVN for law (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @08:30AM (#39793739)

    ... and yet no one will care. OH dont get me wrong. Some will. But the vast majority punch their straight ticket D or R and are *very* happy with that choice. Their team 'won'/'lost'.

    They will even go as far as to take on whatever attributes their 'team' has to defend it. Even though if you sit them down and talk about it they really want the other 'team'. A perfect example of this effect is when Howard Stern went to Harlem and asked people what they thought about Obama and used John McCain's talking points. It is not about issues. It is about charm and who can get the most votes and 'my team won!!!'.

    Also we have 'hackers' of law. We call them lawyers they are 'doctors' of it.

    Version control can be manipulated (and lawyers are good at that). You designate a point man to commit everything. That way you can hide what you do anyway. You make all of your changes then commit... Think of a bad development shop with the worst practices where everyone is out to do the best for their agenda. That is what you have in most state legislatures and on the federal level.

    The whole version control is predicated that these guys 'will follow the rules'. Let me make this clear, they make the rules and are above them (most of the time, and at least feel they are). Its not 'right' but that does not change the fact of what is going on.

    This post
    http://news.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2808955&cid=39792575
    and this one sum up what I am saying
    http://news.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2808955&cid=39792671

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @08:30AM (#39793743)

    Lawyers have to play by the rules. That is why they have rules.

    They also try to bend the rules, hack the rules, and find exploits. Lawyers are law nerds, and they hack the law. They also compile manuals that are undecipherable to non-law nerds but make perfect sense to themselves. They write them for themselves, and then they do not understand when others say the whole thing is confusing.

    Sounds oddly familiar.... The only difference between law nerds and computer nerds is that law nerds dress nicer. That and their tv shows are more popular, but that is mostly because of the sex.

  • Re:SVN for law (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ffflala (793437) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @09:00AM (#39794047)

    Want to hack law ? Then start by by putting the entire code of law in an SVN-like system. Including proposed laws. With traceability of authors, who voted for them, etc... And an associated wiki for comments. And a complete list of cases that used them. This would be invaluable.

    Law seems to be the social equivalent of TFA: most people will base their entire opinions on the summary, and never bother to actually read the thing itself.

    The functional equivalent of an SVN-system already exists and has for decades. What you're describing are very basic components of what is called "legislative history." Bill authors, vote counts, comments made both on the floor of the legislature and in committee: these things (and more) can all be found in the Congressional Record for federal material, and every state legislature has a similar record. Lists of cases that refer to particular laws have been around for well over a century; the various publication types are called annotations, citators, and legal encyclopedias.

    The real problem is that very few people will bother to read what is actually out there. Ask yourself: when was the last time you commented on proposed legislation without actually bothering to read it? When was the last time you commented on a court decision without bothering to read the decision? These things are already available, for free, in most cases online and without any ads.

If you analyse anything, you destroy it. -- Arthur Miller

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