On Tuesday, Assemblyman Mike Gatto announced that he is continuing his groundbreaking opportunity to allow individual citizens to draft a piece of legislation directly via an online Wiki. Citizens can visit the “Wiki bills” website and, by using an interface similar to Wikipedia, can propose, draft and edit a bill, which Gatto has committed to introducing, after a consensus emerges. Gatto initiated the project last year as the first purely crowdsourced piece of legislation in the United States.
Inspired by his new role as the chairman of the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection, this year’s Wikibill will ask citizens to weigh in on legislation to protect privacy. Gatto has advocated the use of technology as a tool for citizen engagement in the past, and hopes that he can show that modern technology can be used to protect privacy and increase democratic participation.
“There are growing fears in our society about the ability for technology to intrude into our personal lives and violate individual liberties. This is a great way to use technology to ensure those concerns are heard and give people a direct voice in their government,” said Gatto. “Too often, special interest groups draft legislation. In contrast, ‘crowdsourcing’ a bill on the Wiki platform will allow for a fully transparent brainstorming, drafting and editing process that incorporates ideas, experiences and concerns from a large group of people. The collective wisdom of the public will choose the final product.”
The effort is designed to perfect other citizen-participation mechanisms that are flawed. For example, the Petitions.WhiteHouse.gov site allows citizens to propose broad concepts, but has no teeth in that the public cannot directly draft legislative text, and there is no commitment by the government to act. On the other side of the spectrum, many reformers (including Gatto) believe that California’s ballot initiative process is too strong, because he feels inflexible initiatives can tie the hands of elected officials in perpetuity.
In contrast, Gatto’s Wiki process takes advantage of the ubiquity of the Internet to allow vast numbers of people to participate in their government from the comfort of their homes, and allows other members of the public to see exactly how the process unfolds. Thus, it is a way to effect real change, but the ideas will also get fully vetted through the normal legislative committee process after Gatto introduces the bill.
“Most people aren’t legislators, lawyers or lobbyists,” said Gatto. “But almost everyone has an opinion on how California’s privacy laws could be improved.”
Those interested in participating should visit www.MikeGatto.wikia.com. Once there, users can see what other people have proposed, propose bill text themselves, edit what others have proposed, and view the history of the entire process – just like a Wikipedia entry. Gatto will introduce whatever consensus emerges by the state legislature’s bill – introduction deadline, which is in early February.