Using Technology to Bring "Freedom" to Government

Much the same way a software code runs a computer, our legal code runs our government.  When you review our government through the lens of the four freedoms put forth by the Free Software Foundation, substituting legal code for software code, it becomes clear that our “freedom” in this country falls short.

  • freedom 0 – freedom to run the code – in this case our right to run our government
  • freedom 1 – freedom to study how our code works, and change it so it runs our government as you wish – access to the legal code is a precondition for this
  • freedom 2 – freedom to redistribute so you can help your neighbor
  • freedom 3 – freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others – by doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes – access to the legal code is a precondition for this

Freedoms 0 and 1 have become the domain of special interests that are running our government and changing its code to suit themselves, leaving the regular users such as ourselves without these same freedoms.

By way of background, after financing my education, I used these skills to launch WikiLaw.org, which has now partnered with Jurispedia.org, originally founded to make the legal code and judicial cases that make up our laws free.  However, I soon realized that the project was premature because legislation, laws, and court decisions were not free.  This meant not only could they not be put online, but the precondition to our basic freedom, access to the code, was often missing on a state level.

Soon after, I became a Chief of Staff in the New York State Assembly with the hope that from the “inside” I could set our legislation and laws free.  While serving in this role I reached out to Richard M. Stallman and Carl Malamud to draft the Free and Open Source Tax Credit which was introduced as legislation.  However, while it was nice to introduce novel legislation, it had no hope of becoming law without the freedom necessary to get it passed.

When I left the Assembly, a partner and I made the New York State legislature transparent by putting voting records online with OpenLegislation.org, which soon after gave rise to Open.NYSenate.gov.  The code behind OpenLegislation.org was distributed to the community and my partner joined Sunlight Foundation to lead the OpenStates.org project to bring the same freedom we brought to New York to the nation.  We weren’t satisfied getting a bill introduced and pretending we did something, were committed to getting an immediate result, and we did.

With the launch of my City Council campaign we’ve held substantive events on Computer Code vs. Legal Code on Copyright Laws featuring Ray Beckerman and Aram Sinnreich, who discussed laws that hurt us and where they come from, available online for free so that anyone could learn about it. 

We have leveraged our entire campaign to bring the kind of freedom that the Free Software Foundation initially brought to software with the concept of “free software” and with it the GNU License that has new permeated many other areas resulting in the free culture works to government.

While most politicians stand for nothing with no platform or different things depending on the audience,our campaign has placed more than 120 solutions on our GNU General Public Licensed Drupal site where members of the community can comment, vote and suggest their own solutions.

As your City Council member I will leverage technology to make our government is transparent, accountable, and open. We will make City Hall transparent by adopting Open Government Data Principles, so that information like our laws and our budgets will be made freely available to the public to use in making government accountable with projects like Open CongressPublic.Resource.org and Project Sunlight.

I will also fight to open the flood gates of knowledge by supporting our public libraries and advocating for free universal wireless so that every New York City resident has the same opportunity to learn from these valuable resources. I will also advocate for use of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in government to save billions a year, reinvigorate New York City's technology sector, and to create new jobs in a City that once boasted "Silicon Alley."

Many of the ideas from our platform that date back to 2009 have already been partially adopted by Mayor Mike Bloomberg as part of his initiative for a "Connected City."

 

Issue: 
Technology

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