Open Knowledge Belgium

Legislative version control

Pieter Colpaert

Recently someone pointed me towards a TED talk about “How the Internet will (one day) transform government“. In Clay Shirky’s talk, Clay is flirting with the idea that law makers would become digital natives and would use Github, a distributed and social version control website for software, for keeping track of their law changes.

Very interesting, many would say, and they would start off by lobbying their law makers in doing this and … they would quickly notice that their law makers have no idea what they are talking about.

We do however have the open data people, who already achieved in getting a lot of European/American countries’ laws publicized online under an open data license. The re-use community then took these laws, put them on github, and used scripts to update the git repository. For example: a member of OKFN Germany did this, and in The Netherlands this happened as well.

In Belgium, Tim Esselens, a member of the iRail npo (now the open transport working group at OKFN) back then, wrote BeLaws. The biggest frustration of the iRail team was that when they got legal letters, there was no such thing as an easy interface to the laws, unless you mean the official Staatsblad site, last updated in 1999. iRail scraped all the laws from the old website, Tim re-indexed them and came up with a nice interface, which you can still find at

How about us? Are we going to create this git-version of our lawbook as well? It only takes one man or woman to make the difference…


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