During a conversation with Larry Lessig
a couple of years ago,
Larry was lamenting the reluctance of many geeks to engage in the
political process, and how if they did, we might never need to resort to
systems like Freenet
Since then, and particularly in the last year or so during which I
have been working hard to prevent the introduction of software patents in the European
Union, I have seen first-hand how difficult it can be even for
determined geeks to combat experienced and well-paid corporate
lobbyists. Even when they figure out who it is they should be talking
to, the lack of a coherent message can often serve simply to confuse
their political representatives, rather than persuade them. On other
occasions people's time and energy is wasted in writing to politicians
whose minds are already made up.
My idea is to create a website which would allow geeks concerned
about particular issues to coordinate their lobbying efforts to avoid
these and other problems. At a basic level the website would contain a
database of political representatives (and possibly other relevant
individuals), and a record of all correspondence sent to and received
from that person, organised by issue or campaign (examples of which
might include the Software Patent Directive in the EU or the latest
piece of anti-technology legislation put forward by the copyright
industry's flunkies in congress).
This website would be somewhat analogous to "bugtracker"
software such as Bugzilla,
but instead of tracking the progress of particular bug-fixes, it tracks
the progress of informing those in power about the concerns of
Going into a bit more detail, people would be able to locate their
political representatives by indicating what issue they are interested
in and then entering their location. The website would be largely
user-generated in the spirit of Wikipedia. Users
would be able to add new politicians to the database, edit summaries of
those politician's positions, and obviously add details of
correspondence they have sent or received.
Each response received from a politician can be rated with a score
indicating how close they appear to be to the position the website has
taken on an issue. These scores will be combined by the site to
summarise the politicians apparent position, whether pro, anti, or
This data could then be mined in a variety of useful ways, such as
creating voting lists of which politicians are deserving of support, and
which are not, or determining whether politicians are accurately
representing their party's position on the issue.
Unfortunately I do not have the time to build this myself at present,
but I am hopeful that there is someone out there with PHP and MySql
experience that could get their teeth into it. For my part I am willing
to donate an account on a reliable Linux box from which the website can
be served, and also the domain name lawtracker.org, to anyone
that convinces me that they can make this a reality. Of course I will
also provide any other support and advice I can for the project.
If interested, drop me an email at ian at locut dot us.