Gareth Hughes, the Greens, Internet Rights and Crowd Sourcing

One of the over arching themes of social media lately has been crowd sourcing. Most people on Twitter will have done it at some point. Asking their followers for advice on something, or the answer to a simple or not so simple question. It is a great way to leverage peoples knowledge or divide tasks into small bites. I suspect everyone has heard of crowd funding, like kick starter or give a little. They are just money based versions of crowd sourcing. The most well known version has to be Wikipedia, which allows people to edit entries. Gareth Hughes and the Greens have taken this to the next level with a crowd sourced approach to a new Members Bill to do with internet rights and freedoms.


I have already blogged about the Internet Party and their wikipolicy approach. I have outlined my concerns about the process there, as well as stating my view that I think the idea of crowd sourcing policy, and legislation, is a good idea.


Gareth was kind enough to provide some answers to a few questions to help with this blog.


Over at The Daily Blog Gareth outlines what the aims of the process are and what brought it about.

I have just launched New Zealand’s first crowdsourced Internet Rights and Freedoms Bill, enhancing our human rights laws for the digital age. It’s time to develop positive, rights-affirming Internet law to protect our human rights online and open Internet.

However, I am more interested in the process and methods that are being used.


This is the first time that a political party has crowd sourced a Members Bill, but it is not the first time that a bill in NZ has been crowd sourced. In 2007 the Police created a wiki, now taken offline, to get input on a rewrite of the Policing Act 1954. At the time Superintendent McCardle had the following to say.

“The wonderful thing about a wiki is we can open it up to people all around the world – other academics and constitutional commentators interested in legislation – and make the talent pool much wider,” he said.


Gareth, and the Greens, have set up a website that allows people to contribute their comments to the bill that has been drafted. There is a link to download that full bill, as well as a short summary The debate is broken down into three areas, the 10 rights and freedoms, internet rights officer and chief technical officer, each of  which relates to a section of the draft bill. Within each section there are a number of bullet points representing clauses of the draft bill, each of which is expanded on, in varying amounts, then a section at the bottom for people who have signed up to comment. There are a few comments so far. What I have noticed looking at the small number so far is there are those who fall into the group of simply stating opinion, and not making useful suggestions. There are also those who are making constructive suggests. As an example:

1. “Everyone has the right to freedom from search, surveillance and interception on the Internet.”

Perhaps this should read something like “…unreasonable search…”? Should we recognise that surveillance under a court issued warrant is permissible?

2. If we say that there is a right to be free from search and surveillance, does the government have a responsibility to protect that right even when our data leaves our shores?

The risk with this process is that the first group will down out the second group. One way that could be used to minimise this effect is implementing an up/down-vote system on comments. This would also be a good initial screening process. It would stop the need for people to reply with similar comments over and over again. We have all seen the flame wars that can erupt in the comments section of blog, how this can be prevented here is a key question. But I suspect there will always been tension when people are debating key rights where passions run high on both sides. However one of the great advantages of this process is the fact that people can see what other people are saying.  One of the limitations of the current Select Committee submission process is the lack of discussion that is possible. Allowing people to engage in debate about the wording of clauses and the way they will work is a good idea.


It will be interesting to see how many people become involved in the process, as well as how many will use real names and how many will use pseudonyms. When it comes to submitting to Select Committees there is a requirement that real names be used. A debate that is worth having, if this crowd sourcing approach becomes more common, surrounds the use of pseudonyms.

Even though this has been down before in NZ, it is still cutting edge and outside of the norm, so it may take time for people to start to engage. Gareth has planned to have it open for input until the 1st of July. At which point they are going to start work on amending the draft bill to take account of the suggestions made. It is this stage that will be the most interesting to watch, Gareth is already thinking about how to undertake this in such a way that maintains the democratic spirit of the exercise, he is considering using the New Zealand start up Loomio as part of the process.


Ultimately it is Gareth’s name, and that of the Green party, associated with this bill. How they deal with suggestions, that get enough support, that may not fit perfectly with their view will be a key test. If they do it in a way that is open and transparent, then it will help strengthen the appeal of using this process. However if they do it in a way that isn’t transparent it could be a significant blow to the idea.


For a lot of people, the idea of making a submission to a select committee is not something that appeals. Parties in the past have tried to get around this by producing preprinted cards that people are able to sign to express their views. However these are by their nature limited in content. Making it easier for people to provide input is a good thing. Just because someone doesn’t feel they have the time or knowledge to submit to a select committee doesn’t mean they don’t have valid comments to make. This process allows those people to have direct input into the process, without having to follow the stringent rules around making a select committee submission. As the process continues, I will check in with Gareth to see how it is going, and I will be keeping an eye how things are going on the website.