TL;DR: OKCon 2013 was a blast, the results of our open law mining workshop and keynote videos are out! Read on to find out more about next steps in legal openness, plans for Open Legislation and upcoming legal hackdays.
At the Open Knowledge conference co-hosted by Opendata.ch and OKFN, managed by Lift and a fabulous volunteer team, we ran a satellite event together with Dr. Christian Laux (my colleague on the Opendata.ch board) and Prof. Jean-Henry Morin (University of Geneva). The Law Mining Hackdays put the focus on open law, apps and data to help lawyers, or that can be helpful for everyone to make sense of legal questions. We convened at the conference centre for the first three days and wrapped up with the last day at the University of Geneva.
We kicked off with a Monday workshop where 25 people from different backgrounds – hackers, lawyers, businesspeople and academics. They joined us for an introduction to mining law data online, to see our expert panel present 11 challenges, and to hear John Sheridan speak about legislation.gov.uk, the open legislation portal of the United Kingdom: a valuable lesson in the particularities of working with legal data and making it accessible to all.
Over the following three days we had dozens of people drop into the OKCon hackspace where everyone was putting their brains, pens and computers together to make the most of the opportunity to collaborate across geographic and professional boundaries, pitching into the projects during the busy conference schedule. We had people take part who run successful legal software businesses, they mingled with staunch advocates of open source and open data, data scientists applying Semantic Web ideas to meta-laws, students keenly visualizing the intricate networks of legal code, activists launching new awareness initiatives.. On-the-ground experiences were being shared from around the world, and a hacky let’s-do-it atmosphere prevaded.
In the buzz of excitement around OKCon and the ideas going around the room, three groups formed around our participants core areas of interests for the hackday, which we may call: Case Law (working with data about legal cases, such as the proceedings of courts), Legal Concepts (making the laws and their workings more open), and Usability of Law (making legal data more usable to the general public).
On Thursday we wrapped up the event with interesting results. It is clear that the law has much to say about openness, and that at the same time the road ahead to opening up the legal world to more analysis, visualization, and usable applications is long. While the technical understanding of laws around the world today continues to be more grounded in stories than systems, an enormous amount of work is being done to transform justice from a social artefact to a methodical science. Our hackday projects are seeds of change:
§ Case Law as a Service (CLaaS) will make legal decisions on national and international levels available online and more accessible than ever. The team aims to create an open framework and platform architecture that allows users and a multitude of applications easy access to case law data. Concepts and demos included: Human Rights Case Laws, Case Law Linked Data, and an open search engine for the Swiss Supreme Court.
§ Open Law Search makes everyday law work easier by exposing valuable resources on the Open Web. Users can search and filter across a variety of domains especially relevant to European law. It is live and available here: http://www.openlaws.eu/
§ Open Privacy Legislation assesses a range of government websites and rates them according to criteria from the Declaration of Parliamentary Openness. The result is this map of world legislative standards.
The meetings at OKCon and hackathon results (check out the full list on our wiki) have led to a renewed interest and new initiatives for the OKFN’s Open Legislation Working Group. We found a new legal openness champion to moderate the list, so please sign up at legislation.okfn.org and use it to send in your announcements, suggestions and ideas for projects on these themes.
Simultaneously to our hackdays, an exciting new project was unwrapped on the Web: Constitute (constituteproject.org) is a beautifully designed search and explorer of the world’s constitutions (e.g. ‘Privacy Rights’ from each country), and a result of the Comparative Constitutions Project seeded by a Google grant to the University of Texas at Austin.
This and many more inspirations and open data sources will guide us in helping to ensure that the law serves the needs of the many rather than the interests of the few. The next Swiss legal hackathon will be organized by Creative Commons Switzerland, and take place mid-November – stay tuned! For more events around the world, see here.
We are thankful to OKCon and the University of Geneva for hosting us, our experts and sponsors, and especially to all of the participants – you have contributed so much to make the hackdays a blast of learning, collaboration and hands-on making last week. Benigne ades, and see you again soon!
For more tweets and impressions, see my Storify of OKCon, our OKCon group on Flickr, videos from the main stage (more footage coming soon), the post on Opendata.ch (German), official wrap-up and OKFN/ODI announcement.