In Crazy Open-Source Project, Finnish Citizens Propose Laws for Parliament To Consider

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Nov. 5 2012 6:08 PM

In Crazy Open-Source Project, Finnish Citizens Propose Laws for Parliament To Consider

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Advance votes in the Finnish presidential elections are counted in Helsinki

Photo by SARI GUSTAFSSON/AFP/Getty Images

As the U.S. Election Day draws terrifyingly near, many Americans are frustrated as ever that their voice isn’t heard in the legislative process. But maybe Finland has a solution to that problem.

Through the open-source web platform Open Ministry, launched in March by a group of nonprofit entrepreneurs, citizens of Finland can propose legislation and throw their support behind laws of interest. Any legislation that receives 50,000 shares will be voted on by Parliament.

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Each suggested law gets six months to gather traction. Whether the majority is in favor or not doesn’t matter, as anything with 50,000 total shares (likes or dislikes) moves on to the next, official round of voting. Two weeks ago, a proposal to ban the practice of farming animals for the fur trade became the first Open Ministry idea to pass the threshold for Parliament consideration. Out of the roughly 340 pitches currently on the site, the fur-trade idea is far and away the most popular, having collected more than 56,000 shares with the majority in favor of the ban. But it seems the Finnish are not eager to overly burden their legislators with lots of new laws to consider: The next most popular proposal is a ban on selling energy drinks to children under the age of 16, with 3,486 Finns almost evenly divided on the ban. (Perhaps the legislation proposer saw some clips of Honey Boo Boo and her Go Go Juice?)

Open Ministry confirms citizens' identities through their bank or mobile API's, so spamming or hacking the system is incredibly difficult. The online version of Open Ministry didn't go up for months, in fact, until it was deemed hacker-proof.

Finnish sensibilities aside, could crowd-sourcing legislation work elsewhere? The code for Open Ministry is already on GitHub (a project-hosting site at the forefront of the open-source movement), and Open Ministry founder Joonas Pekkanen told Gigaom  in an interview in September, “We encourage anyone to ... contribute and use it in other countries.” But it would have to scale up—way up. Finland has roughly 5 million residents, while the United States has 311.5 million, according to the latest census.

And while Open Ministry may be spam- and hacker-proof, there are no signs that it is prankster-proof. Maybe the residents of Finland don't seem the type to vote on bogus legislation, but the same can't be said for citizens of the United States. In July of this year, two writers from the satire Internet site Something Awful got more than 62,000 people to like a Facebook page in order to “exile” rapper Pitbull to Alaska, effectively hijacking a Wal-Mart social media campaign.

Within hours of launching Open Ministry in the United States, there would surely be dozens of proposals for legalizing marijuana—just as talk about weed has taken over online White House chats.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Fruzsina Eördögh is a freelance writer covering digital culture and technology. Follow her on Twitter.

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