It's time to write laws like software
Italian elected representatives write and discuss laws with an idiotic system (***)
A system that is regularly exploited to create problems. Even if an already applicable solution has existed for thirty years. I’m talking about the system that makes things like these possible, just to name two REAL, if not recent cases (***):
- (September 2015) “An Amendment that replaces “in” with “from” may make the Senate reform fail. ITS AUTHOR IS UNKNOWN”
- (December 2014) “A Save Berlusconi section was added at the the last moment to the tax decree. ITS AUTHOR IS UNKNOWN”
“ITS AUTHOR IS UNKNOWN?”
I don’t know what the actual procedure to write and distribute for parliamentary review law drafts is, but let me I repeat it: if that procedure makes it possible the regular occurrence of such things it is an idiotic system, to be replaced as soon as possible. With what, you can see it by yourself, on any Wikipedia page. Please do that, after reading the next few paragraphs of this post.
For computers, dealing with laws or the source code of software programs is pretty much the same thing. Both types of “documents”, in fact, are simple text, even if formatted in very different ways. The real difference is that programmers worldwide never have to guess, for decades, WHO among them changed a certain line of code, or when. Because they use version control systems, i.e. software that, as you can see in the illustrations:
- always preserves all versions of each document, allowing everybody to find and compare all differences among versions with just a few clicks (figure 1)
- automatically records, as you can see in figure 2, who changed even a single word, and when
- allows everyone, even from the outside the software project to make these checks
To learn more and see with your eyes what I am talking about, just go to the Wikipedia page on version control and then click on “More-> History” in the top right corner. “ITS AUTHOR IS UNKNOWN” does not exist there. It cannot.
It goes without saying that, in the case of laws, such a system should allow changes ONLY to registered users, who authenticate themselves every time with really secure systems and only from secure computers, possibly only inside the Parliament buildings. But it would surely be worth the effort, considering how much the whole country would benefit from real traceability (with concrete penalties for whoever played “ITS AUTHOR IS UNKNOWN” tricks…) of the whole lawmaking process.
Let’s face it: the only real obstacle to such a solution would be the mental effort, in those who should use it, caused by having to learn to write texts with a new program. Can we bear the guilt of causing so much pain?
(***) This is the English translation of I post I wrote in September 2015, published in 2020 because it is about a very general, always current problem. In and outside Italy.