“If we consider a law to be a group of texts modified by different bodies of the government, we can treat them likecollaboratively defined text documents… there is another group of people who, for the last 50 years, work collaboratively on ever-evovling texts: developers. They have created extremely efficient tools for working together and tracking their source code. The most popular to date is Git.” – ReadMe text of France.Code-Civil by @Steeve
This week a unique new repository popped up on Github, which breaks down the entire French Civil Code into a series of collaboratively worked upon texts, tracing back the date each section of the code was created, as well as the last time it was modified. The project was a quick hack by reputed French developer Steeve Morin, a former colleague of mine who is known for his not-for-profit hacks, and was formerly the founder of LeCamping aluni Veez.io.
While the project only took Morin an afternoon – he built a script to pull down the Civil Code, which is publicly available online, and organize it into a format that is compliant with Github – it quickly got the attention of more than just his friends.
French civil code now on GitHub http://t.co/BXFqZ4TkMJ (cmts http://t.co/ZguQsNJO40)
— Hacker News YC (@newsycbot) March 31, 2015
Even French politicians were praising the initiative:
Le code civil sur Github, il fallait le faire, c'est fait https://t.co/0dnQTEQuLf
— Axelle Lemaire (@axellelemaire) March 31, 2015
Reading the comments on various articles and threads, you can clearly see that the subject captured the imagination of many. Github allows developers to pull down ‘branches’ (versions) of the (Civil) code, propose modifications and then merge them back with the main source code. Admin’s can see how many lines were modified, deleted & added, as well as make sure that the changes being proposed aren’t incongruous with other changes by other bodies currently being submitted.
I spoke with Steeve Morin about the project, who said that, while the repository does not currently update itself when the Civil Code is updated, “I guess now it will need to.” When asked why he thought the project was gathering so much attention, he said:
I think that despite our cynicism, we care a lot. It shows that the republic isn’t some soul crushing entity that swallows tears of children but a machine, that we are all a part of, and it shines light on the gears
using the tools we all know, and that are really good at it. We [developers] became real efficient about that whole process, applying to the law is the next logical step, I think viewing the law as source code (with its revisions, branches, merges, pull requests and so on) is the key.
We have amazingly efficient tools to deal with source code, but sadly not when it comes to the law and legal manners so i guess people welcome it because they feel it’s an efficient step in the right direction
it’s heart warming to see that [ a sense of Civic Duty] (in the sense of public-spiritedness), gathers people so easily.
Touching on a larger sentiment of dissociation with one’s Government
While it’s certainly true that developers have built better tools for their own collaborative, iterative work than they have for their own governing bodies, I think there is a bigger issue here. In France as well as in many Democratic countries, active or passive abstention from local and federal elections feels like it’s on the rise – Australia is perhaps the exception since voting is legally required.
Of course the youth have always felt distanced from the previous generation’s politicians who make decisions about their future; however, in this case, as technology sweeps over consumers lives, both at the office and at home, government’s seem increasingly archaic.
I can follow a hurricane or a riot in real-time, and yet the process by which a law is proposed, voted, and put into effect seems entirely foreign to me. Morin’s repository, or the idea of it at least, provides at least one amazing tool – the ability to follow who proposes what laws, what changes are made, and the effects of those changes (easily measured with publicly available macro-economic data). If your senator proposed a bill and claimed in would create 3 Million jobs in 2 years, let’s look at the jobs market 2 years after his proposition. How off was he? If so, should that law be reconsidered?