Transparency in legislation, a must-have

The cabinet of Germany has the plan to publish the drafts of laws and associated position papers of the lobbies. This should be done for more than 600 laws of the past 4 years. This transparency can reveal a lot. For instance, which Lobby influenced which law actively. Nearly 17,000 documents are planned to be published. But how can one handle this huge amount?

4 years, over 600 laws, nearly 17,000 documents. These numbers are currently everywhere in the German media. The law “Informationsfreiheitsgesetz”, enables all citizens to request administrative data of the government. This include documents of the origin of law, like the first draft, the position papers of the lobbies regarding this draft or the later draft of the government, which considers the position papers. Over 1,600 citizen requests were just received within a week, after the portal (ask the state) [2] launched the campaign #GläserneGesetze (transparent laws). That are more requests, than received in the whole past year.
The administrative overhead seems overwhelming, according to [1] the German cabinet plans to gradually publish all law related documents of the past legislative period, which is 4 years.

Why transparency is a must-have?

In a democracy, the citizens are voting politicians to office. These politicians have to make decisions on a daily basis, which directly affects the citizens due to the created laws. But a politician is also just a human and cannot be expert in anything. After a first draft of a law is created, various interest groups, lobbyists, give their input. The respective groups are usually closer to the matter of the law. For instance the group BITKOM (the federal association for information technology) is active for subjects around IT. Besides represent direct members, these groups also represent companies. And as the name interest group suggests, these groups have interests.
This is where transparency comes into play. Was a law improved, due to the technical competence of the lobby, or were financial interests the main reason and the citizens have to suffer?

Transparency in legislation is necessary, as it is an important component of the democracy.

law photo

How to handle 17,000 documents?

Who, did when, how participate in the development phase of a law. These meta information, which is called provenance, provide a real added value to assess a law. Provenance is the focus of my research [3]. If the documents of the law development process are published in a digital format, they can be further processed. With techniques of the semantic web, raw data can be semantically enriched.

One with a specific questioning is then able to search the data efficiently with a computer program.
The sentence “The apple is read” for instance, can be semantically enriched, by saying an apple is a fruit and red is a color. Assumed the whole dataset (all sentences) is semantically enriched with the same technique, specific questions can be answered. E.g. “Give me all sentences, in which red fruits occur” or “Give me all sentences which are about fruits”.

With these techniques, simpler or more complex questions regarding legislation and the involved organizations can be answered

#GläserneGesetze erfolgreich: Bundesregierung will tausende Lobby-Dokumente veröffentlichen: 2017. Accessed: 2017-07-13.
Welchen Einfluss haben Lobbyisten auf Ministerien? Hilf uns dabei, Gesetze in Deutschland transparenter zu machen! Accessed: 2017-07-13.
What is Provenance? 2017. Accessed: 2017-07-13.

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