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Using Wikis to Catch Outdated and Bad Laws?

Cliff posted more than 8 years ago | from the better-society-through-judicious-application-of-technology dept.

The Courts 137

Mick Ohrberg asks: "While listening to NPR this morning, I heard about the ridiculous law, passed in 1675, that orders the arrest of all American Indians entering Boston, and just now, 330 years later, is ready to be repealed. There are a LOT of really outdated and/or inappropriate laws out there; would an 'open' Wiki-style approach to law-making (with appropriate supervision, of course) be able to catch more of these 'bad' laws? Should the law-makers be able to keep track of all these laws, or are the number of laws simply too large for that relatively small group of people to keep track of? The more and more outdated copyright laws also come to mind as an area that could stand some more scrutiny."

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Here's a big list of them (5, Informative)

bob whoops (808543) | more than 8 years ago | (#12595307)

I'm not sure how accurate this is, but my friends and I used to have fun going through these. http://dumblaws.com/ [dumblaws.com]

Here are just a few more... (0)

dpilot (134227) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595768)

From the memepool.com Sex archive:
>Friday Nov 12, 2004
>A couple sets out to break every one of America's weird blue laws,
>and photograph the process to boot.
>to Sex by riotnrrd

Since the links don't show in the quote:
http://www.dribbleglass.com/subpages/strange/sexla ws2.htm [dribbleglass.com]
http://www.nerve.com/photography/egan/illegalacts/ [nerve.com]
(Sorry, when first posted on memepool the second link was free, but now it's "premium.")

Re:Here's a big list of them (1)

Rs_Conqueror (838344) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596296)

Having contacts in the law enforcement profession in Boston I believe I can speak with some certainty. For the most part, such laws aren't even given any attention. And should you get "cought" you are likely to be let off with a couple of chuckles at most.

Re:Here's a big list of them (2, Insightful)

mini me (132455) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596477)

For the most part, such laws aren't even given any attention.

What about when they decide to start enforcing the silly laws?

Case in point: Here in Ontario you are issued a license plate sticker for snowmobiles. But they aren't very attractive, so for years pretty much everyone was putting custom designed numbers on their snowmobiles instead. While it was technically not legal to do so, it was never enforced. Then all of a sudden a few years back they decided to crack down on it. About a year thereafter they got around to changing the law, but people were charged during that period. So, in conclusion, the same could happen with any law, no matter how silly it is.

Re:Here's a big list of them (1)

IconBasedIdea (838710) | more than 9 years ago | (#12597411)

What about when they decide to start enforcing the silly laws? And start arresting Native Americans that enter the city of Boston? This was more about taking laws off the books that have not been enforced for many, many decades, if not centuries.

Re:Here's a big list of them (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12597556)

"What about when they decide to start enforcing the silly laws?"

Then you would be living in post 9/11 USA.

References? (1)

jbn-o (555068) | more than 9 years ago | (#12597557)

Where can I find references for these so-called dumb laws? For example, how do they figure that "Spitting is forbidden" in Chicago? Without references this could easily be something people mostly made up.

Re:References? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12598453)

I agree with your need for reference, but spitting is a strange one to pick. Spitting in public should be outlawed everywhere. It was outlawed to help slow the spread of TB and TB is coming back.

Re:Here's a big list of them (1)

Sentry21 (8183) | more than 9 years ago | (#12598688)

A lot of those laws, however, are only 'dumb' to the people who make the site. For example, they list as 'dumb' a law that states 'Citizens may not relieve themselves or spit on the street.' I don't really think that making it illegal to relieve oneself in public is dumb, do you?

They also list the French language laws in Quebec, which state that signs must be in French, or, if bilingual, the French must be larger. French, however, is the official language of Quebec, and thus this law makes as much sense as one requiring that signs be in English anywhere else in Canada or the US.

They also say it's dumb that you can't work on your car in the street (Kanata, ON) or wash your car in the street (Montreal, QC), even though doing so could obstruct traffic or cause a danger to yourself or others.

Then they list the illegality of clear or non-dark sodas to contain caffiene - or rather, to have caffiene added to them. I read an article a few years back about the FDA reconsidering their stance on this issue (allowing it), because of possible health risks.

Then there are the laws in China about only having one child (or paying a fine) - for the world's most populous country, a country that has enough trouble supporting the population it has already, this law makes perfect sense.

That being said, there are some pretty amusing ones on that site ('It is illegal for a woman to be topless in public except as a clerk in a tropical fish store,' Liverpool, UK).

The laws ARE open (3, Interesting)

MerlynEmrys67 (583469) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595320)

There are a few strange building code laws, but by and large - for the price of publication - you too can get a full copy of the law as it exists on a given day.

That said - this document would be HUGE and frankly no one will want to read it.

I would love to run to become a congress critter with a sole platform of "I will not vote for any law that I can not read and understand". Unfortunately - I would have to vote against pretty much EVERY law being writen today. Of course the libertarian in me says this will be a good thing

Re:The laws ARE open (1)

Dr. Weird (566938) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596148)

I would vote for you.

Re:The laws ARE open (1)

qwiksilvr (42267) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596609)

You've got my vote.

Re:The laws ARE open (2, Insightful)

thucktyranny (880553) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596791)

Maybe the libertarian in you would appreciate the Read the Bills Act [downsizedc.org] .

Re:The laws ARE open (1)

westhebass (735318) | more than 9 years ago | (#12597070)

ah, why no mod points tonight...

Re:The laws ARE open (1)

wesmills (18791) | more than 9 years ago | (#12597715)

I'd vote for you.

MerlynEmrys67 for anything

Re:The laws ARE open (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12598466)

For a long time city codes were copyrighted. Thankfully the courts aren't as stupid as I thought and said citizens have a right make copies of laws anytime they want. Of course you need to get the law in the first place and you still have to pay for that.

New laws more important than old ones (4, Interesting)

Trepalium (109107) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595342)

Generally, more effort is put into making new laws rather than getting rid of old obsolete ones. The basic problem with repealing old laws is they become bikeshed type events [unixguide.net] with endless debate on things that don't really matter. Secondly, as a politician, no one will remember you for the laws you got rid of, only the ones you brought into existance.

Also, keep in mind that laws that are not enforced might as well not exist. If they do get suddenly enforced, I believe a court may very well turn over any decision because of this selective enforcement.

Re:New laws more important than old ones (3, Interesting)

mrami (664567) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595559)

The problem with obsolete laws is that they can be used for blackmail by the state (an example of largesse). 1) Make a joke about that blowjob you got to an undercover cop. 2) Write an editorial recommending police cuts. 3) Wait for the arrest warrant...

Laws to make everyone a criminal (2)

MacFury (659201) | more than 9 years ago | (#12599885)

That's the great thing about old laws. They are designed to make everyone a criminal. Think about how many things in any given day you do that are illegal if the law is followed to the letter.

To make matters worse, they say ignorance of the law is no excuse. Tell me how I'm supposed to know all of the existing laws, when there are hundreds of local laws and likely thousands of state laws.

Perhaps there should be a system whereby every 100 years a law must be reviewed for it's relevence.

experation date (1, Insightful)

AnotherBlackHat (265897) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595358)

Just require an experation date on the laws.

Re:experation date (3, Insightful)

Sancho (17056) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595432)

I can only imagine the nightmare this would cause.

While it would be a good way to keep things in check, it would bog down Congress more than they already are, and allow for riders to get in more easily and with less scrutiny. Just imagine:

Democrat: "Oh, looks like the 'murder is illegal' law is expiring. Better make a new one."

Republican: "What an opportunity! We can add a bill to remove freedom of speech while we're at it! And add addendums such that no court (except the Supreme Court, which is backlogged anyway) can overturn the law! And if the Dems vote against it, we'll claim they're murderers! Win/Win!"

This is not to mention the problems police officers would have with laws which could, at any point in time, be in a state of flux. Imagine the unlawful arrest suits when your local government lets jaywalking laws slip, for example.

Re:experation date (4, Insightful)

ebrandsberg (75344) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595538)

Congress NEEDS to be bogged down. If by law they have to read and vote on each law at least once very 20 years, then the bad laws will be thrown out so they don't have to read them. The system of laws in this country is now so complex, nobody knows them all, so forcing them to simplify would be of value.

Re:experation date (2, Insightful)

WIAKywbfatw (307557) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596480)

If by law they have to read and vote on each law at least once very 20 years, then the bad laws will be thrown out so they don't have to read them.

(Bold emphasis added by me.)

Ah, but first you'd have to get the US Congress to pass legislation that made it compulsory for Congressmen to read the all laws that they are voting on, and that's never going to happen. Just as turkeys don't vote for Christmas, Congressmen won't vote to give themselves a more demanding workload.

Most Congressmen will openly admit to not reading the bills that they are passing, which means that bills like the USA PATRIOT Act get passed even though they have sections in them that many Congressmen later confess to finding abhorrent.

(The whole system of attaching riders that have nothing to do with the original bills doesn't help either. At best it's dubious, and at worse it's immoral.)

I've no doubt that a few Congressmen are hard-working and conscientious, but the majority of them seem to have no interest in doing anything other than not rocking the boat whilst they put maximum effort into making sure that they maximise their campaign funds and get re-elected.

Re:experation date (1)

coaxial (28297) | more than 9 years ago | (#12597295)

Just as turkeys don't vote for Christmas,

Why wouldn't turkeys vote for Christmas? Afterall, its "Christmas hams". Well I guess, the animal kingdom has to stick to together.

Re:experation date (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12597641)

Ahh...but when that law expires, and congress doesn't re-examine it, will they have broken the law?

Re:experation date (1)

Tim C (15259) | more than 9 years ago | (#12597958)

Yes, if the law says that each law must be re-examined *before* it expires, which it would have to. Otherwise, you'd end up with periods in which the thing legislated were no longer illegal (or a legal requirement, as appropriate). Imagine if murder or theft were legal for a month or so while it was being re-examined...

Congress is DESIGNED to be bogged down (1)

arete (170676) | more than 9 years ago | (#12599155)

Congress isn't bogged down because:
1) We have unprecedented party-line voting due to corporate interests.

2) We have essentially nonexistant third parties at the federal level. (IRV/RCV can help this)

Usually, though, Congress, IS bogged down - that's the point.

Of course, there are a ton of other misunderstandings in this article.

1. Copyright law isn't an outdated leftover, it's actively being made worse all the time. It is an obvious sign of the control of our government by corporate non-persons.

2. There are a zillion more important things I'd rather have Congress doing than repeal non-enforced ancient laws - although they usually aren't doing those things either.

3. I believe the federal level isn't nearly as bad about this, because the number of people examining the laws is much larger. We didn't have federal laws in 1675...

4. "wiki" doesn't mean "everyone can read" it means "everyone can change" "wiki" style laws would be terrible, especially because it only works with some kind of moderation and because it would mean most laws would get written by the corporate lawyers who were fulltime lawmakers. So a system where everyone can read the laws is great, but not a wiki.

5. We already have a system where everyone can read the laws; there are no secret laws. (Actually, the only exception is the rules about showing your ID to board a plane, which IS a secret law and is probably therefore invalid. I believe this is in the courts now but will probably take forever.)

Re:experation date (1)

wowbagger (69688) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595546)

...it would bog down Congress more than they already are....

And you say that as though it were a bad thing.

However, all you need to do is allow a simple, on the record yes/no vote - should the period of $LAW be extended another 5 years?

That way, unpopular laws (55MPH, PATRIOT, CAN-SPAM) can be allowed to expire, and good laws (murder) can be renewed with little effort.

Require that any change other than extending the date require a new law, and also that the effective date cannot be extended by more than a decade.

Re:experation date (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12595721)

However, all you need to do is allow a simple, on the record yes/no vote - should the period of $LAW be extended another 5 years?

That way, unpopular laws (55MPH, PATRIOT, CAN-SPAM) can be allowed to expire, and good laws (murder) can be renewed with little effort.


This is a brilliant idea! It's too bad it isn't already written into the PATRIOT Act [reuters.com] - gosh, I sure wish they had done that.

Re:experation date (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12595810)

You still end up in a situation where all the legislature would do is vote on old laws. There are way too many laws, and it would consume all of thier time to review each one to find if it was worth keeping the law around. I think the current method where outdated laws are challenged when they are found is better. The one major change I would like to see is the removal of riders. There are very few legitimate reasons for riders to exist and too many unpopular and bad laws are passed simply because they are attached to other packages that are popular or important. .$.

And this is bad how? (1)

drewzhrodague (606182) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595947)

Wouldn't that be great? No more fucked-up additional laws? Do we need additional laws? I think everything can be distilled into it's basics, and infered through debate at it's instance. All laws should be writen in large letters on a single side of a sheet of paper, and anything above that is unwaranted. Don't fuck with other people, enjoy life, and don't impede on other people's fun. Too simplistic? Perhaps it can be worded more succintly?

Re:And this is bad how? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12596615)

All laws should be writen in large letters on a single side of a sheet of paper, and anything above that is unwaranted.

You are forgetting that this is the government we are talking about. They'd simply pay outside contractors a billion dollars to build them a really large sheet of paper.

Re:And this is bad how? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12597625)

everything can be distilled into it's basics
infered through debate at it's instance

"its".

Minnesota has such a law... (1)

kcb93x (562075) | more than 9 years ago | (#12598707)

Minnesota Constitution, Article 4, Section 17:

http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/cco/rules/mncon/A rticle4.htm [state.mn.us]

Sec. 17. LAWS TO EMBRACE ONLY ONE SUBJECT. No law shall embrace more than one subject, which shall be expressed in its title.

In fact, we all were reminded here in Minnesota of this constitutional article not too long ago, when the courts struck down our concealed-carry law, not because the law itself was illegal, but because it came attached to a DNR-related bill. (that was unrelated to guns, arms and the like)

Re:experation date (2, Interesting)

mbstone (457308) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595693)

Actually, sometimes it happens that a court decision invalidates a whold bunch of laws that most people would consider good public policy. Earlier this month, a federal judge in Virginia ruled that roads on military bases in Virginia are not "Virginia highways," thus invalidating most traffic laws on military bases in Virginia. So if you find yourself on a military base in Virginia (and you are not in the military and therefore subject to military discipline) feel free to drive as fast as you want.

Re:expiration date (2, Insightful)

wronskyMan (676763) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595922)

However if you break traffic rules on most military bases, you can have your base driving privileges revoked, which are enforced by serious people with M-16s.

Re:experation date (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12597413)

Police officers don't the law now and it doesn't seem to hold them back all that much.

It could work, but... (2, Interesting)

AntsInMyPants (819105) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595362)

I think this could be done. One way of handling it logistically, is for people to concentrate on their home state. Although you wouldn't get nation wide coverage right away, but as the project became more popular than it would build. I think what you are talking about are for the most part blue laws (In Connecticut, I tihnk you can't eat a pickle on Sundays). From a logistical standpoint it makes it easier, as there aren't too many blue laws being passed now a days.

The real problem is going to be politcal. Unless you very carefully limit the definition of "bad laws" you open yourself up to all kinds of partisan spamming. Left wingers will put up all anti-gay marriage laws, far right wingers will start listing welfare laws, white supremicists will put up all laws pertaining to non-descrimination, etc.

If you can deal with that issue, I think you will be fine. If not, the wiki will just become a jumbled yell fest.

Re:It could work, but... (1)

mnmn (145599) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595752)

Its a good idea that its geographically localized. I also think it should only have laws that are technically in effect, not replaced/removed laws and bylaws.

I'm interested in the dumber laws of Toronto, Ontario, that I can sue people over, bring the laws in court, and have them removed from the books, for instance I can sue a friend and he can sue me for the same amount against two different 'dumb' laws. As soon as theyre challenged in court, I suspect they will be removed.

A nice GPL 'many eyeballs' way of cleaning laws.

CowboyNeal Rolex & Penis Enlargement Act of 20 (2, Funny)

S. Baldrick (565691) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595401)

nuff said.

err that should be 2006 (2, Funny)

S. Baldrick (565691) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595565)

Someone needs to send slashdot some subject field enlargement pills.

Legislated to Oblivion (4, Insightful)

Rocketship Underpant (804162) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595474)

I believe in the US it is possible to obtain a published set of all laws currently in effect and on the books. I think it's around 20 volumes, with the index itself being one 700-page monolithic tome.

The legislative model of democracy is absolutely ridiculous. Law has nothing to do with right and wrong any more; legislators spend all their time trying to pass as many laws as possible while spending no time actually reading or understanding these laws. Legislators think it's their job to "do something", and the media portrays a deadlocked Congress as an obstacle to progress. In fact, the opposite is true.

As a democracy progresses, it becomes absolutely impossible for any individual to know, understand, or abide by the actual law. Indeed, many of the hundreds of thousands of laws and statutes conflict with each other, so you're a law-breaker no matter what you do.

This is great for tyrants, since there's always a law you can accuse someone of breaking. That's especially true in the US, now that there's a whole class of federal "conspiracy" crimes that don't require any proof of wrongdoing for a conviction.

Legislatures have made law irrelevant, paradoxical, oppressive, and absurd; and Western democracy is going to fail because of it.

Re:Legislated to Oblivion (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12595639)

The legislative model of democracy is absolutely ridiculous.

It's not an intrinsic property of democracy, merely a pitfall many implementations have succumbed to.

I don't think that a wiki in particular would be all that useful, but I do think that geek technologies in general could help democracy greatly, simply because we built tools to cope with massive amounts of communication between disparate groups, while dealing with trolls, spammers, short attention spans, etc.

legislators spend all their time trying to pass as many laws as possible while spending no time actually reading or understanding these laws.

If I were constructing a government today, in the constitution, I'd have a section saying that all laws must have a summary and rationale attached to them, detailing exactly why the law is required, and it would be a crime for somebody to vote for a bill without reading at least the summary and rationale.

Re:Legislated to Oblivion (2, Funny)

Rocketship Underpant (804162) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595949)

If I were constructing a government today, in the constitution, I'd have a section saying that all laws must have a summary and rationale attached to them, detailing exactly why the law is required, and it would be a crime for somebody to vote for a bill without reading at least the summary and rationale. I'd suggest something stricter. Give every bill a sunset of one year, so that every law on the books must be renewed or expire on an annual basis. That way, only the most worthwhile laws will stay in force. Additionally, require every legislator to quote a bill verbatim from memory if he wishes to vote "yea". If he's not intimately familiar with every clause and its ramifications, he shouldn't be voting for it. If it's too complex and full of legalese to remember, he shouldn't be voting for it. Or better yet, put a comprehensive set of just laws in the constitution, and get rid of the legislature.

Re:Legislated to Oblivion (1)

thucktyranny (880553) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596801)

Read the Bills [downsizedc.org] . It could happen...

Re:Legislated to Oblivion (4, Insightful)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 9 years ago | (#12597467)

I believe in the US it is possible to obtain a published set of all laws currently in effect and on the books. I think it's around 20 volumes, with the index itself being one 700-page monolithic tome.

Kindly get yourself down to your local law library; your state capitol, local law school, or local community college should have a reasonably up-to-date sample.

You should be able to find the 20+ volumes of the USC, the 20-odd volumes of your local state couterpart to the same, maybe a copy of your town charter, and the 50-odd volumes of legal precedent and casework.

Why all this bulk? Because the nitty gritty of law can be very, very complex, after years and years of arguing as to what the law means in the innumerable situations that come up.

Law has nothing to do with right and wrong any more

Law never was about right or wrong. Law is about what acts are illegal, and when your rights trump my rights.

This is great for tyrants, since there's always a law you can accuse someone of breaking. That's especially true in the US, now that there's a whole class of federal "conspiracy" crimes that don't require any proof of wrongdoing for a conviction.

Conspiracy crimes--which date back to Prohibition, mind you--require an illegal act or an illegal purpose. And if you're a US citizen, there's a rather finite ammount of time that they can hold you before they have to bring you before a jury and convince the jury that their conspiracy case is solid.

You're probably thinking of "terrorism" crimes, which are problematic when it comes to non-military enemy combatants and a bit unsettling when it comes to the investigative powers of our government.

As a democracy progresses, it becomes absolutely impossible for any individual to know, understand, or abide by the actual law. Indeed, many of the hundreds of thousands of laws and statutes conflict with each other, so you're a law-breaker no matter what you do.

Actually, the hundreds of thousands of laws across this country have strict priority, with the newest and the highest ones overruling the lower ones. The best example of this is sodomy laws--they're still on the books in the dozen-odd states that passed them, but they're irrelevent unless SCOTUS or the Constitutional Amendment process lets states outlaw sodomy again.

And if you're worried about not always following every law, just remember this: the law is only words on paper. When it comes down to the wire, it's three learned citizens (two lawyers and a judge) arguing a case which gets decided by twelve-sixteen common folk, who can almost ignore legal precedent at will.

Re:Legislated to Oblivion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12598471)

a case which gets decided by twelve-sixteen common folk, who can almost ignore legal precedent at will.

Except it's often illegal to tell them they aren't require to follow stupid laws.

What about history? (1)

clem.dickey (102292) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595500)

Isn't hizzoner being a bit hasty? Why not keep the law on the books, for history's sake? Not that anyone would, should or could enforce it. Just as a matter of historic preservation, like brick pavement or steam locomotives or the Electoral College. If the mayor feels that the law is too much of an embarrassment he should at least offer it to Williamsburg, Virginia, a town dedicated to the preservation of Colonial history.

Re:What about history? (1)

Dark Nexus (172808) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595598)

There's a difference between repealing a law, and erasing it's existence. It's not like they're burning the only copy of the law, or anything like that.

A great opportunity for civic involvement (1)

Xaroth (67516) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595514)

Many locations are putting their laws online (the state of Minnesota coming to mind immediately). Most of the time, legislators will never take the time to go through these older laws and weed out those that just don't make sense any more, because there are other, more important things that they feel they could be working on (which is probably true most of the time).

Since they're already publically available, you could certainly use a wiki to start to draft your own versions of existing laws / create a list of those laws you feel should be repealed, and hone it down until you have a comprehensive list... which could then be printed out (yes, even if it's hundreds of pages) and forwarded to your local elected officials. Properly annotated, it'd be simple enough for them to go through the summary and compose a bill to abolish/amend the giant wreck of laws that are there that should be scrapped, without having to spend the individual time to do it.

It'd be fun, educational, and a great way to contribute to your community without even having to be a lawyer!

In fact, if anyone gets around to setting one of those up for Minnesota or the Twin Cities, shoot me an email, because I'd love to throw a couple hours at weeding out stupid/conflicting/outdated laws, too.

There's just too much law (1)

strike3 (178420) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595615)

While the idea might be nice in theory, it's unfortunately laughable in the real world.

The law is practically infinite.

West Publishing's Annotated California Code (a set of books containing a subset of California's legislative law, plus excepts and pointers to relevant cases that interpret, clarify, expand, and/or limit those statutes) has an index that is five encyclopedia-length volumes long. And the type's really small, too. The number of issues that the law covers is literally infinite. Just think of all the things you might need a lawyer to help you with and then realize there's a fully developed body of law on just about all of those issues.

Then factor in that there are federal, state, county, and municipal laws, laws like the tax code that are incredibly long and dense, international law (like treaties and maritime regulations), regulatory laws (the EPA, the FCC, etc.), and more, all operating in conjunction or conflict with each other, and you can see how a wiki-style CMS would not scale well to the law.

Then there are the specific unique elements of the law that would be hard to convert -- things like laws that are still on the books, but have been eviscerated by subsequent court decisions. For example, a state law making it illegal to have an abortion has been trumped by Roe v. Wade but may never have been repealed. Also, our common law (judge-made law) is rooted in the English common law -- meaning every case that has ever been decided in England (and then later in the United States) that has not been overruled or distinguished is still "good law" and needs to be considered if a similar dispute arises today.

To make a long story short, anything that is subject to any form of government regulation has its own "laws" and those laws run to an amazing length. Perhaps by "the law" the original poster meant federal and state statutes -- that is, legislature-made law. But the law is much more than that, and even keeping tabs on that would be neigh-impossible.

Re:There's just too much law (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12595960)

The number of issues that the law covers is literally infinite.

Is there a law covering proper use of the word "literally"?

Re:There's just too much law (1)

strike3 (178420) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596626)

Point taken, AC. I was unclear.

The number of issues the law has covered thus far is not infinite, just very numerous. I meant to convey that there is no limit to the number or type of disputes that arise between human beings; in that sense the potential scope of the law is infinite.

Be careful what you wish for (1)

mbstone (457308) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595659)

When I was in law school I discovered that (in 1990) duelling was still illegal in California, as well as challenging someone to a duel (then a felony). I published my findings, there was some press, and the laws were repealed. I regret having people's attention called to these laws (especially since there are so many, many other California laws that need repealing). There are other quirky California laws still on the books, but my lips are sealed

Re:Be careful what you wish for (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12595851)

I honestly don't understand what the problem is with laws against duelling. The only purpose of duelling is to incite attempted murder, for some medieval idea of "honor."

Re:Be careful what you wish for (1)

mbstone (457308) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595974)

The law against duelling also had some modern, real-life applications (the penalty was 2, 3, or 4 years in state prison) in cases where persons would shoot one another as part of a mutual combat, e.g. Crips v. Bloods.

Re:Be careful what you wish for (1)

WhatAmIDoingHere (742870) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595882)

Such as there being a $500 fine for detonating a nuclear device?

OK kids, here's one of my favorites. (1)

mbstone (457308) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596009)

CAL. FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL CODE SECTIONS 37291-37292

37291. Renovated butter is the product made from impure or rancid butter reduced, for the purpose of cleansing and renovating, to a liquid state by melting and draining off the liquid milk fat and afterwards churning or otherwise manipulating it in connection with milk or any product of milk.

37292. It is unlawful for any person to sell any renovated butter unless there is printed upon the label of each and every package, or other container in which such renovated butter is put up for sale or sold at retail, all of the following:

(a) The words "renovated butter" in letters which are at least as large as any other type or lettering on such label.

(b) The name and address of the manufacturer or distributor.

(c) The net weight of the contents of the package.

(d) A full and accurate statement of all the ingredients which are contained in the renovated butter.

Re:OK kids, here's one of my favorites. (1)

biglig2 (89374) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596160)

And what's wrong with that? Unless you are a manufacturer of refurbished rancid butter, of course.

Haven't I seen this text before though? Where's me old EULA collection... Ah, here it is.

37291. Microsoft Windows XP is the product made from impure or rancid Windows NT reduced, for the purpose of cleansing and renovating, to a liquid state by melting and draining off the non-kernel components and afterwards churning or otherwise manipulating it in connection with BSD code or any product of BSD.

37292. It is unlawful for any person to sell any Windows XP unless there is printed upon the label of each and every package, or other container in which such software is put up for sale or sold at retail, all of the following:

(a) The words "needle naddle noo" in letters which are at least as large as any other type or lettering on such label.

(b) The name and address of the manufacturer or distributor's dentist.

(c) The net weight of the contents of the package.

(d) A full and accurate statement of all the ingredients which are contained in the developer's pants.

Re:OK kids, here's one of my favorites. (1)

WhatAmIDoingHere (742870) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596402)

I love that. Refurbished butter. Sign me up for a few pounds.

Re:OK kids, here's one of my favorites. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12596571)

No, refurbished butter is what they sell at Fry's.

Re:Be careful what you wish for (1)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596622)

Do you know it's a felony for a convicted felon to possess a nuclear device, or for someone to offer said felon a nuclear device?

Don't worry, it's completely legal to own one if you're not a felon.

Re:Be careful what you wish for (1)

belg4mit (152620) | more than 9 years ago | (#12598130)

Your statement does not make any real sense.
Unless your point as there are bigger to fish
to fry, in which cash you can have phrased it more cogently. In any event "The journey of a thousand miles..."

it could work.. (3, Insightful)

Goeland86 (741690) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595672)

I'd say you'd have to start by creating the wiki first, then try and publicize it to the public, and when enough people read it and think it's a ridicule law you could then lobby [wikipedia.org] our lawmakers to repeal them. This I think would be the best approach, especially if you create online petitions from that community.

Of course, you don't want to have some big corporation that depends on a given law to come in and erase your wiki either, so keeping a history of modifications is in order too.

This might be an efficient way to get rid of stupid IP laws that the crowd on here loathes so ferociously.

This sounds like a great use of Wiki's (1)

bergeron76 (176351) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595700)

Because there are so many legal cases that are based on other cases. It's truly a wiki-esque industry (if you can call the Law that).

Re:This sounds like a great use of Wiki's (1)

bergeron76 (176351) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595731)

Oh yeah, just to follow up on this, I'm aware of Westlaw, LOIS, etc; but I think the Wiki Format could be superiour by it's nature.

Only 10 laws count anyway. (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595792)

The first 10 amendments.

Anything else i dont feel should be honored, and personally i act as such.

Interesting side note on that bill of rights thing (1)

Rhinobird (151521) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596601)

Some of the founding fathers didn't want a bill of rights. Not because they were evil tyrrants, but because they felt that if you start listing your rights, then any rights that weren't on the list would be trampled over, because they wouldn't be explicitly stated. It's happened. How many people beleve they have a right to privacy? It's not in the costitution or the bill of rights, so it's been pretty much trampled...to the point that some people say we don't have any privacy and we should just get used to it.

Re:Only 10 laws count anyway. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12599568)

So, according to you slavery is legal? Good. I'll be over to pick you up soon. I have some chores for you to do.

Also, GWB can dispense with this "two four year terms" nonsense, too? I don't think too many slashbots would go for that.

Are you sure you want that? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12595924)

Laws and sausages, laws and sausages.

Some things are best left unknown.

Are you sure you want that? (1)

eUdudx (880557) | more than 9 years ago | (#12598045)

Some AC said: Laws and sausages, laws and sausages. [The contents of]Some things are best left unknown. With my [revision], I'm willing to sign my name and agree with the statement. But perhaps it was just a slash-joke.

Outdated copyright laws? (1)

Inoshiro (71693) | more than 9 years ago | (#12595938)

In Canada, I don't think we have any outdated copyright laws, just the odd ham-handed enforcement of laws by people who know nothing about technology. Those are two different things.

In Canadian law, it's OK for two private people to share (not for profit) things they own which are copyright (IE: music, games), because -- honestly -- how the hell could that ever be enforced, and what kind of negative impact would it have on word of mouth?

The US laws are pretty decent, they just overspecify in a few areas, and try to enforce unenforceable things (the US war on drugs is another great example where throwing money at a minority problem does not solve it).

Self-maintaining legislative charters (2, Informative)

imsmith (239784) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596039)

It seems to me that if the charter of a legislature (whether it is internal rules or in the appropriate Constitution) should compel the legislature to engage in a kind of zero-sum game with regards to the body of law.

If it took a two-thirds or five-eighths majority to add a law without removing a law, those old laws would get cleaned out pretty quickly.

If the also had to reduce the body of law by five or ten percent before the end of every legislative session we'd accomplish the same thing.

Colonial America called... (2, Insightful)

idonthack (883680) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596051)

... and they want their laws back. I heard about the ridiculous law, passed in 1675, that orders the arrest of all American Indians entering Boston, and just now, 330 years later, is ready to be repealed. Has anybody *else* noticed that 1675 is more than 100 years before the United States of America even came into existence? Why is it a problem, if the law was made by a government that doesn't exist anymore?

Re:Colonial America called... (3, Informative)

geoffspear (692508) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596584)

The city of Boston existed before the United States was founded, and if you read the Constitution you'll see that the states, in founding the United States, did not in fact repeal all of their existing laws and those of their municipalities.

Or do you think that the day after the Constitution was ratified it was suddenly legal for everyone to kill each other because the state legislatures were too busy celebrating to pass new sets of statutes?

Re:Colonial America called... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12598165)

nah... the day after we declared independance, before the articles of confederation were signed...

That government still exists. (2, Funny)

Rhinobird (151521) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596642)

Why is it a problem, if the law was made by a government that doesn't exist anymore?

As far as I can tell, the city of Boston, and its government, still exists. Can't be too sure, though, as I am in Denver. But I did a google search and found some pictures. They pretty much convinced me.

Re:Colonial America called... (1)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596682)

What are you talking about? Boston, Massachusetts was founded in 1630, and has existed ever since.

Although, obviously, the government of the state of Massachusetts split from the city of Boston at some point, because they started out as a single entity. But cities are just 'virtual' governments...they exist solely because the state government chooses to have them exist. So the colony of Boston's government turned into the State of Massachusetts, and laws that applies to Boston were transfered to Boston's new government. (At least, I'm assuming. This actually could be a state law.)

But, anyway, signing up with the US didn't invalidate any existing state laws. (Before anyone says 'except the unconstitional ones'...restrictions on laws forbidding the exercise of rights under the US constition didn't apply to states until the...what? 14th amendment?)

Re:Colonial America called... (1)

technos (73414) | more than 9 years ago | (#12598941)

You have it backwards.

Royal land grant to a trading company in 1624 for Cape Anne created it. Some of the settlers moved to Salem, and it became a full colony run from Salem under grant in 1628. Another grant in 1629 rolled everything from the old Dorchester Bay Company and existing Massachusetts Bay Company, and the settlers sent over with the new grant set up in Salem. In 1630, another group of settlers rolled in, bearing yet another grant and charter, and set up shop in Boston.

After the city was up at the end of 1630, they sat down and looked at the charter, and elected eight men (plus the govenor) to run the whole colony, towns and all.

It wasn't till 1641 Boston got it's own local government.

Re:Colonial America called... (1)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 9 years ago | (#12598966)

I don't see how that's 'backwards', but my point was, that government still exists. Any laws created by that government still exist, unless repealed.

Re:Colonial America called... (3, Informative)

kalidasa (577403) | more than 9 years ago | (#12599376)

More or less. Salem, Massachusetts predates Boston by I believe 4 years (1624 versus 1630), and was the first settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. What is today Plymouth, Massachusetts, founded in 1620, was a separate colony until Massachusetts Bay and Plimouth Plantations merged in 1692. However, what happened is that the Massachusetts Bay colony government was transferred to Boston from Salem (I believe as part of the foundation of Boston).

The date of the law in question is important. 1675 is the beginning of "King Phillip's War" (there's a lot of debate about what it should be called, but that was what colonial Americans called it). Metacom ("King Phillip") was the sachem of the Wampanoags, who historically had been allied with the Mass Bay Colony and Plimouth colony (the Wamponoags signed a treaty with Plimouth in 1621). A complex sequence of events strained relations between the Wamponoags and the English colonies, and caused the English to force the Wamponoags to give up their arms in the early 1670s. When a Christian Indian was assassinated by Wampanoags (possibly for espionage), and the killers were executed, the Wampanoags rearmed and began to attack English settlements (in 1675). This led to a terribly destructive war between most of the Native American settlements in New England and the English colonies, though the Mohawks notoriously remained neutral, and there were many Christian Indians who were either neutral or pro-English. There were very heavy losses on both sides (massive losses, really, for the population sizes), the colony of Mass Bay lost its charter, the United Colonies were dissolved, and many Native American's fled the region.

So the law is a vestige of a nasty ethnic war. Even the various neutral Indians were banned from Boston. A lot of Indians were dependent upon English goods because of the drastic changes to their economies and agriculture resulting from deliberate actions by the English - buying land, etc. - and the terrible epidemics of the late 16th and early 17th century after first contact (mostly from contact with the small fishing expeditions who spent time along the New England coast - keep in mind that the first settlers of Plimouth were greeted in English by Squanto).

I can't think of ANY legitimate reason why this law should still be on the books, period.

Jury Nullification (4, Informative)

peter hoffman (2017) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596234)

One thing that would help a lot would be for more people to be aware of Jury Nullification. While the laws would still exist, unjust laws would be ignored.

There are some good links on this subject at:

As the saying goes There are four boxes to be used in defending our freedom: soap, ballot, jury, and ammo. Use them in that order.

I'll bite (2, Funny)

zbik (194004) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596241)

Courtesy of fortune -m:

Atlanta makes it against the law to tie a giraffe to a telephone pole or street lamp.

Frankfort, Kentucky, makes it against the law to shoot off a policeman's tie.

In Columbia, Pennsylvania, it is against the law for a pilot to tickle a female flying student under her chin with a feather duster in order to get her attention.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, it is against the law to open a soda bottle without the supervision of a licensed engineer.

It is against the law for a monster to enter the corporate limits of Urbana, Illinois.

Sho' they got to have it against the law. Shoot, ever'body git high, they wouldn't be nobody git up and feed the chickens. Hee-hee. -- Terry Southern

Re:I'll bite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12596645)

Anyone get the feeling that these laws are the legal equivalent of April 1st RFCs?

Re:I'll bite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12599601)

Making stupid April 1st RFCs illegal would be a smart law.

Re:I'll bite (2, Funny)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596700)

Atlanta makes it against the law to tie a giraffe to a telephone pole or street lamp.

You know, people make fun of that law, but it works...I've never seen a giraffe tied to a telephone pole or street lamp in Atlanta.

And can you imagine the chaos if someone actually did do that? We'd have all sorts of traffic problems as people slowed down to gawk, and, trust me, Atlanta has enough traffic problems for two cities already. (Luckily, we've started exporting them to surrounding suburbs.)

The one obvious objection seems to be 'but no one would ever want to do that', but there are plenty of laws banning things 'no one' would ever want to do, because there isn't anything stupid enough that some damn fool won't try it.

And if it's true that no one ever wants to do it, I don't see the problem with said law. ;)

Re:I'll bite (1)

BillyBlaze (746775) | more than 9 years ago | (#12598243)

Lisa, I'd like to buy your rock.

Re:I'll bite (1)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 9 years ago | (#12599113)

Yeah, yeah, I was being kinda silly.

But I don't think that's in the same class as other dumb laws. Most dumb laws forbid things people do all the time, or require them to do things they never do, and aren't enforced at all.

Whereas this law forbids something we really don't want people doing anyway, if we were to think about it...it's just that it's hard to imagine how they would, mainly because people walking giraffes around Atlanta are so rare as to be nonexistent.

The other dumb laws are dangerous. If the police need an exuse to arrest you, they can pull out the Tulsa, Oklahoma law and arrest you for opening a soda. Sure, it will get thrown out, but selective enforcement, even if selective means 'almost never ever ever', is bad, because it gives a harrassment tool to police. It's bad to have people break the law all the time, even if it's an absurd never-enforced one.

But the Atlanta law is just funny because it forbids an thing people never do, in such a specific way. It's fun to try to think of what circumstances could have possible lead to that law. I mean, I can see banning giraffes 'outside of circuses' or whatever, but why forbid tying them to two specific objects? Wouldn't people just tie them to street signs or parking meters or something? And why just giraffes? Why not llamas and other exotic animals? (Do giraffes eat the tops of street lamps and telephone poles? I think I'm on to something there. Maybe they bite into the wires and electricute themselves.)

So it's a silly law, but it's not bad law in the way that 'You must walk 50 feet in front of your car ringing a bell' is....police can't haul you in on some absurd charge of giraffe tying, because absolutely no one possesses a giraffe outside a zoo or circus (In fact, you can't legally possess an exotic animal like that without a lot of paperwork.), and they don't wander around the streets with them.

Re:I'll bite (1)

Inominate (412637) | more than 9 years ago | (#12597487)

Some of these are stretches though,
like one i saw saying "In .... it's illegal to throw a computer at someone across the street.". The actual law forbids throwing projectiles across streets, which is rather more sensible and understandable.

Many of these 'ridiculous laws' are simply a somewhat reasonable, but generalized law, with a ridiculous example of a way to break it.

I don't know the actual law but,
say the law is "Atlanta makes it against the law to tie an animal to a telephone pole or street lamp." Yes it makes it illegal to tie up a giraffe, it doesn't mean the law is as crazy as the example.

Re:I'll bite (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 9 years ago | (#12600367)

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, it is against the law to open a soda bottle without the supervision of a licensed engineer.

As a denizen of Tulsa who has, in fact, read the statute which is probably in question here, I believe an exception has been made. Pressure vessels under a certain diameter are now completely unregulated.

How about a byte quota for legislators (2, Interesting)

mbstone (457308) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596521)

Write it into the Constitution that the entire law of a state (or of the federal government) can not exceed x number of bytes, and the most recently-enacted (total bytes - x) bytes (or the oldest such number of bytes) are deemed invalid (i.e. they go to the bit bucket).

Re:How about a byte quota for legislators (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 9 years ago | (#12600310)

The only thing that would create is more efficient compression algorithms.

Many are Urban Legends. (3, Informative)

JabberWokky (19442) | more than 9 years ago | (#12596769)

From what I have heard (and checked up on), almost all of the supposed "laws" date back to the 50s, when joke books would list them. They have since propagated as "fact", although they do not, in fact, exist.

Examples includes "it is illegal to bathe in a tree in Kansas", etc.

State statues are available online and often municipal statutes. Of all the goofy ones that have been presented as "fact", I have yet to see one that is real. Not to say there aren't any, but many of the ones presented as existing are simply jokes that got out of control.

--
Evan

Laws should have a lifespan/half-life by default (1, Redundant)

TheLink (130905) | more than 9 years ago | (#12597500)

There seems to be more common for legislators to keep adding laws than for them to repeal them. And they become a burden on society - you can't remember and keep all the zillions of laws.

So except maybe for constitutional laws and a small set of critical laws (e.g. involving life, death, family), all laws should have a lifespan.

The longer the lifespan required, the more approval needed from more legislators or even a referendum.

Sure it means more work for legislators just to keep laws around, but at least it'll take extra effort to keep a stupid law alive way after the stupid people who made it have long passed on.

Alternatively, laws should have a half-life. That is to say the various jail-terms and fines in each law are halved each time their respective half-life period passes.

If it seems like too much work to keep all the laws around, then perhaps there really are too many laws.

Laws should have a half-life (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 9 years ago | (#12600328)

I'd rather enjoy the idea that, every few years, half of the words in a law are randomly removed.

Fix the cause, not the symptoms (2, Insightful)

Nice2Cats (557310) | more than 9 years ago | (#12597571)

Stupid old laws are not the real problem but simply a symptom of the archaic American Common Law legal system. There is a good reason why modern legal systems insist that laws are given numbers and written down in books instead of accumulating them as hard to access "Jack Dipdork vs. the City of Jerktown" cases that even the professionals have trouble finding. Unforunately, fixing the cause and not the symptoms is totally unrealistic in a system where Congress is full of lawyers who don't even want tort reform: They realize too well that the real goal of the legal system is to make money for lawyers and prepare their political careers, with justice just a side effect.

Waaay too many laws on the books (1)

gr8fulnded (254977) | more than 9 years ago | (#12598004)

I've always wondered why nobody's taken the effort to really go through the books and figure out what can REALLY get tossed these days, case in point being that Boston-Indian law. Even if it's just an ongoing project for a law school in the area, every semester the prof hands out a few chapters to everyone and at the end of the year give it to the lawmakers to weed crap out. Rough brainstorm, but something along those lines.

Personally, like many others, I feel there's way too many laws out there restricting us. Should I ever run for office of any type, my platform will be "make a law, take one off the books". If you REALLY want that law passed, take one out first.

The 'wiki defence'? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12598097)

"This law was made hundreds of years ago, but its in force today. Now think about that. That does not make sense. Why would a law, made so long ago still apply? That does not make sense! But more importantly you have to ask yourself 'what does this have to do with this case?'. Nothing. Ladies and Gentlemen, it has nothing to do with this case. It does not make sense!"

More death needed (1)

jago25_98 (566531) | more than 9 years ago | (#12598184)

Nature contains not just birth but death as well.

We need more death for progress.

keep the old laws (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12600381)

The new ones are worse. The old copyright laws were better than the existing ones. Maybe the anti-H1b people can use the anti-Indian law to keep the asian Indians from being imported for cheap geek labor?
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