Saturday, September 29, 2007

NZ police let public write laws

New Zealanders have been given the chance to write their own laws, with a new online tool launched by police.

The "wiki" will allow the public to suggest the wording of a new police act, as part of a government review of the current law, written in 1958.

Police say they hope to gain a range of views from the public on the new law before presenting it to parliament.

The wiki, one of the first of its kind in the world, is open to any internet user, police say.

'Wiki sandbox'

The wiki is the latest round of public consultation in the 18-month review of the 50-year-old law.

The officer in charge of the review, Supt Hamish McCardle, described the site as "similar to a whiteboard" and said it was open to anyone who wanted to have their say on the new law.

It even includes a "wiki sandbox" that lets nervous newcomers practise their posting.

The final document will be given to a parliamentary committee in 2008 to be considered with other information gathered during the review period.

"Launching a wiki version of a statute is a novel move, but one we hope will yield a range of views from people interested in having a direct say on the shape of a new Policing Act," Supt McCardle said.

Aaron Smith - from the US-based Pew Internet Project, which studies the evolution of internet uses - told the BBC News website that the wiki was a new frontier in online government.

"You see a lot of government sites worldwide allowing for various feedback mechanisms... but in terms of bringing this to the public in the form of writing laws, that's obviously a different thing entirely and something that we certainly haven't seen yet," Mr Smith said.

He said any possible corrupting of the process should be reduced by the "self-policing" nature of wikis.

"It would certainly be difficult for people to put in bogus information... without people recognising that fact and the community of users correcting that before the finished product is completed," he said.

A "wiki" - from the Hawaiian word for "quick" - is a type of website that can be easily edited by anyone. The most well-known wiki is the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia.

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