laws and regulations
Daniel Schuman of the Sunlight Foundation has a must-read post about the Government Printing Office, the Joint Committee on Printing, and The Statutes at Large:
GPO is Closing Gap on Public Access to Law at JCP's Direction, But Much Work Remains, by Daniel Schuman, The Sunlight Foundation (Feb. 19, 2013).
The GPO's recent electronic publication of all legislation enacted by Congress from 1951-2009 is noteworthy for several reasons. It makes available nearly 40 years of lawmaking that wasn't previously available online from any official source, narrowing part of a much larger information gap. It meets one of three long-standing directives from Congress's Joint Committee on Printing regarding public access to important legislative information. And it has published the information in a way that provides a platform for third-party providers to cleverly make use of the information. While more work is still needed to make important legislative information available to the public, this online release is a useful step in the right direction.
Enhancements to U.S. Statutes at Large on FDsys, FDLP.gov (16 January 2013).
The U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) recently enhanced the U.S. Statutes at Large collection on FDsys by adding descriptive metadata for public laws, private laws, concurrent resolutions, and presidential proclamations. For approximately 32,000 individual documents, the enhancements allow researchers improved searchability and retrieval by searching such metadata fields as title, SuDocs classification number, date, category, etc. The U.S. Statutes at Large collection includes volumes 65–115, covering the 82nd –107th Congresses, from 1951–2002.
The additional descriptive data was added by both manual and automatic processes. A team of GPO staff members from Library Services and Content Management (LSCM), including catalogers and automation librarians, added descriptive metadata for titles, public law numbers, and dates.
- Access the U.S. Statutes at Large collection on FDsys. [scroll down on linked page]
In 2011, GPO announced the release of digitized volumes of the U.S. Statutes at Large, in partnership with the Library of Congress. The U.S. Statutes at Large is the permanent collection of all laws and resolutions enacted during each session of Congress.
The U.S. House Office of Legislative Counsel produces a number of compilations of public laws for use by the committees. Recently, they made them over 250 of these compilations available to the public on their web site:
- Statute Compilations: A list of our frequently requested compilations in PDF format.
[T]he frequently requested compilations of those public laws that either do not appear in the United States Code or that have been classified to a title of the Code that has not been enacted into positive law. They have been prepared by our Office for the use and convenience of the Members and committees of the House.
- Unofficial documents: The compilations of public laws, as amended, provided at this site are unofficial documents and should not be cited as legal evidence of the law.
- Status: Please note carefully the date of the last amendment compiled, as some of these files have not yet been updated to reflect the most recent amendments enacted.
Here is an announcement from the Office of Law Revision Counsel of the United States House of Representatives of a new version of the United States Code.
From: Seep, Ralph, Office of Law Revision Counsel
Subject: OLRC website Beta 2 announcement
A little over a year ago, the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the United States House of Representatives released beta version 1 of a new website for the Office and the United States Code. Beta version 2 is now being released for testing and feedback. It is available at http://uscodebeta.house.gov. You are invited to test version 2 and give us your comments about its features, content, and ease of use.
Version 2 includes the following new features:
Default searching and browsing in the most current version of the Code (formerly USCprelim) Ability to search and browse previous versions of the Code back to the 1994 main edition (either separately or concurrently) Internal links to referenced Code sections
External links to referenced Public Laws and Statutes at Large citations (back to 1951) will be included in the near future. Since the new release is a beta, there will be a period of testing for both new and existing features. Following this period, which is anticipated to last several months, beta version 2 will replace the existing US Code website at http://uscode.house.gov.
Your comments and questions about version 2 are welcome and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your assistance.
Ralph V. Seep
Law Revision Counsel
What happens when federal agencies rely upon standards developed by standard-setting bodies and communities of practice and incorporate those standards into federal rules? In many cases agencies refer to the standards but do not include the full text of the standards in Federal Register or the Code of Federal Regulations. As a result, those interested in commenting on a particular regulation may not have access to the relevant standard, particularly if it is copyrighted or only accessible for a fee.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Association of Research Libraries, and OpenTheGovernment.org have sent comments to the Administrative Conference of the US recommending that "all material incorporated by reference -- regardless of the stage in the regulatory process, the subject matter of the regulation, or the identity of the regulated entity -- should be made freely available, with no purported copyright restrictions and downloadable on a government agency's website."
Public.Resource.Org submitted comments to the Office of Management and Budget on making standards that are incorporated by reference into federal regulations widely available to the public without charge. Public.Resource.Org also said that such standards should "be deemed in the public domain rather than subject to copyright restrictions."
- OpenTheGov and ARL Join EFF in Urging Government to Make all Parts of the Law Easily Available to Everyone (10/24/2011).
"copyrighted materials, once incorporated into law, should be available for free." The principles of transparency and accessibility to the law should animate agency decisions in this arena and materials incorporated by reference should be made freely available, online and off, at all times...
- Revised Draft Recommendations of the Administrative Conference of the US on "Incorporation by Reference in Federal Regulations" ACUS.gov (October 2011)
- Comments on "Incorporation by Reference in Federal Regulations" (October 21, 2011) To Committee on Administration and Management Administrative Conference of the United States Committee of Administration and Management from Corynne McSherry & Mark Rumold Electronic Frontier Foundation, Prue Adler, Association of Research Libraries, and Patrice McDermott, OpenTheGovernment.org
We urge ACUS to reject any suggestion that access to the law may be limited where the regulation in question happens to incorporate copyrighted materials. All material incorporated by reference - regardless of the stage in the regulatory process, the subject matter of the regulation, or the identity of the regulated entity - should be made freely available and downloadable on a government agency's website.
- Incorporation by Reference, A Proposed Rule by the Federal Register Office on 02/27/2012
On February 13, 2012, the Office of the Federal Register (OFR or we) received a petition to amend our regulations governing the approval of agency requests to incorporate material by reference into the Code of Federal Regulations. We've set out the petition in this document. We would like comments on the broad issues raised by this petition.
- Re: Request for Information 2012–7602, 77 FR 19357 submitted by Public.Resource.Org to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs of the Office of Management and Budget Washington (April 11, 2012).
See also: Liberating America's secret, for-pay laws.
Susan Crawford comments on deregulation of the telecom industry:
- 'Radicalized' ex-Obama adviser blasts deregulation of telecom. By Andrew Feinberg, The Hill (05/21/12)
She said telephone service had long been considered, along with water and electricity, to be among the utilities that were extended to all based on a "collective responsibility" to ensure that everyone receives the benefits of modern society.
Crawford said that "basic network" of services should now include Internet access, but argued deregulation is undermining that goal by creating a consolidation in the cable and wireless industries that will limit choice and make it harder for people to afford services.
One-third of people in the United States still lack Internet access, Crawford said, which will hurt competitiveness at home and abroad.
Crawford is Visiting Stanton Professor of the First Amendment at Harvard's Kennedy School, a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School, and a columnist for Bloomberg View and Wired. She served as Special Assistant to the President for Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy during 2009 and co-led the FCC transition team between the Bush and Obama administrations.
Cory Doctorow says: "This morning, I found a an enormous, 30Lb box waiting for me at my post-office box. Affixed to it was a sticker warning me that by accepting this box into my possession, I was making myself liable for nearly $11 million in damages. The box was full of paper, and printed on the paper were US laws -- laws that no one is allowed to publish or distribute without permission. Carl Malamud, Boing Boing's favorite rogue archivist, is the guy who sent me this glorious box of weird. I was expecting it, because he asked me in advance if I minded being one of the 25 entities who'd receive this law-bomb on deposit. I was only too glad to accept -- on the condition that Carl write us a guest editorial explaining what this was all about. He was true to his word."
Liberating America's secret, for-pay laws, By Carl Malamud, boingboing (Mar 19, 2012).
Boing Boing Official Guest Memorandum of Law To: The Standards People Cc: The Rest of Us People From: Carl Malamud, Public.Resource.Org In Re: Our Right to Replicate the Law Without a License
As a complement to Cory Doctorow's excellent talk about "The Coming War on General Purpose Computation" (see http://freegovinfo.info/node/3594), an article in Miller-McCune says we need a better understanding of technology before trying to regulate it.
- SOPA Debate Highlights Congress's Ignorance, By Emily Badger, Miller-McCune (December 29, 2011).
When members of Congress earlier this month considered the Stop Online Piracy Act -- better known to anyone who actually hangs out on the Internet as #SOPA -- the most notable feature of the debate turned out to be the sheer ignorance of the elected officials discussing it. One after the other, members of the U.S. House of Representatives professed -- nay, bragged about -- approaching this weighty legislation from the vantage point of someone who is not "a nerd" or a "tech expert."
The article highlights the book, The Information Diet by Clay Johnson, which discusses the relationship between power, authority, and information.
You have probably seen references to this presentation by Cory Doctorow, but if you have not taken the time to watch it (or read the transcript), I urge you to do so. He not only explains the issues and their importance, but why laws and regulations that sound reasonable to many people manage to fail in accomplishing their stated goals while simultaneously having disastrous unintended consequences.
- The Coming War on General Purpose Computation, by Cory Doctorow, [video of December 26 keynote at the 28C3, the Chaos Computer Congress in Berlin; 55 minutes]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUEvRyemKSg
"[T]he copyright wars are just the 0.9 beta version of the long coming war on computation."
- transcript by Joshua Wise
Ari Hershowitz, who runs Tabulaw (software tools for legal work), has converted California's statutes into structured html, with most internal references now hyperlinked (calaw.tabulaw.com), and has written about the process of doing this on his blog:
- How to Convert All Files in a Directory: CA Legislation.
- How to Convert Citations to Hyperlinks: CA Laws.
- How to: Convert Sections Into Hyperlink Targets.
- How to convert Text to HTML: Using txt2html Perl Module.
- California Laws: Converting Plain Text to HTML.
- California Law: Recovering Meaning and Metadata with RegEx.
As he notes in his blog posts, California at least makes all of its codes available for FTP download (not all states do even this), but there are a lot of "challenges in recovering meaningful structural information (titles, paragraphs)." It takes many steps to add structure to plain text documents, to add back in the metadata that the Section's original drafters intended, to help a reader understand and navigate the law. He wonders why governments don't distribute documents with this structural/semantic information included. PDFs may look pretty to the eye, but they are not easily "understood" by software. If governments distributed documents that were "machine actionable" -- that is, marked up with tags that denoted the structure of the documents and the meaning of the text, it would be easier to create indexes, link documents with other documents, and so forth.
In an email yesterday, Ari asks if there are others who would like to work with him on making California law more usable:
...tracking of bills or proposed legislation becomes more meaningful if it can be compared to existing legislation. Please get in touch if you are interested in brainstorming or working with me to connect proposed legislation to the existing statutes to create a "legislative diff", or related improvements. Even better would be thoughts on how we can get California's legislature to include this metadata in the original drafts of bills.
See www.tabulaw.com if you'd like to get in touch with Ari.