Thursday, June 9, 2011

Free Advice to Congress: 5 Better Uses for the Internet

As the Wiener scandal reminds us, Congress doesn't quite have the hang of this internet thing. So I take the liberty here to provide 5 suggestions of better things Congressmen could be doing with their access to the web and our tax dollars:



How to Make Laws Web-Friendly

As I showed with California's statutes, now at calaw.tabulaw.com, legislators can take a few simple steps to make laws more accessible online.  Congress can start by publishing laws in a structured data format, identifying sections and subsections, as well as all references in the text.  This has been an underlying theme for this blog.

How to Make Court Opinions Accessible

Fund the Federal Courts to publish opinions in a single, open, online database.  At a minimum, each opinion should have a permanent link and id #, paving the way for vendor-neutral citations. What would this mean? The government would not have to pay millions of dollars to buy back its opinions from legal publishers.  This should reduce costs upfront as well, since today each court has its own IT department that is responsible for maintaining its own website and publishing its opinions, resulting in a hodgepodge of formats. A few projects, like RECOP from public.resource.org and CourtListner, are collecting and redistribute these opinions.  But these projects cannot correct for the loss of data that occurs before the opinions are published online in the first place.