Laws are people’s public property but very often, it is hard for citizens to get acquainted with the country’s laws, rules and regulations. In effect, it is not important to know what the law, but where the law. For US laws, the right place is www. Americadecoded.org. It is a new project by the OpenGov Foundation designed to open up city and state statutes to citizens, stakeholders and public servants. Till now, the municipal laws, legal codes and state laws of a few cities and states are available on the website but more are on the way. The cities included in this beta release have come from existing open government partnerships. These laws are provided without any copyright restrictions, paywalls or fees.
The site is carefully organized by articles and topics and is easy to search. It also has a module for legal jargons to be translated into common English (similar to Federal Plain Language initiative). It offers in-line definitions of legal terms and follows an easy to use design and free access for all. The codes are also downloadable for users to save and read them when they are not connected to the Internet. Also,
The project is likely to take a few years before data from each city and state in the country can be uploaded. It also requires a high cost to employ dedicated developers for the job. The administration of the website does not consider it a good idea to charge people for accessing these statutes. Getting access to all statutes is also a difficult part.
We think that America decoded is the kind of project that is essential to any e-democracy in every country. It can enable people to understand their rights and responsibilities without going through the hassle of purchasing huge and high cost law books and becoming puppets in the hands of lawyers in case of lawsuits. An informed citizen is a responsible citizen, better able to judge the performance of his/her government. Also, it can come handy for public officials who are tightly bound by following rules and regulations in the jobs everyday.
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