About a year and a half ago, the Obama administration brought the Constitutional practice of the public petitioning its government into the digital age with the “We the People” petitions. Since that time, the petitions have collectively gathered about 3.5 million signatures for an unfathomable swath of issues – imagine a topic, and there is probably a “We The People” petition to go along with it.
The petition rules dictate that any petition that gains at least 25,000 signatures within 30 days will be reviewed by White House staff, sent to the “appropriate policy experts,” and receive an “official response” from the Obama administration. Here’s a quick video that sums up the process:
Despite the increased popularity of the petitions, they haven’t really done much yet to change public policy. Still, “We the People” remains one of the best ways for ordinary people to have their voices heard by the elected officials in Washington – and that includes us tech geeks. Here are four “We the People” petitions that we nerds can get behind.
1. Make the Metric System the standard in the United States
Anyone who’s ever done a science experiment should know that the Metric system, which is used by almost the entire world, is far superior to the Imperial system of measurement (otherwise known as the “U.S. customary system”), which is a mind-boggling mess. Seriously, feet and inches are a headache we no longer need. it’s finally time for us to make the switch: Doing so just makes too much sense.
From the petition: “Why should we convert to using the Metric System? Because it’s superior, less convoluted – everything is ordered in units of tens, while the chaotic arrangement of the Imperial System slows things down for us – not only in terms of education, but also businesses, science, foreign relations, and daily life.”
2. Shorten excessive copyright terms
Copyright issues lie at the heart of many of the Web’s fiercest battles. And there are a great number of people out there who believe the only way to increase innovation in the digital age is to reform copyright law. And that starts with limiting the terms of copyright, which currently extend for the life of the copyright “author” plus 70 years; or, for corporate-owned copyrights, 120 years from the date of creation, or 95 years from first publication. This petition seeks to limit copyright terms to a mere 10 years.
From the petition: “It is not society’s duty to reward authors and artists for their creativity or hard work. Copyright should only exist as an incentive. The excessive monopoly terms must end.”
3. Modernize the rail network into a high-capacity, grade-separated, electrified system
While high-speed rail service in the U.S. is far behind that of countries in Europe, Japan, and elsewhere, improvements to the network are already underway – despite the fact that Republicans in Congress killed Obama’s $53 billion budget to upgrade train service in the U.S. back in November. Still, Amtrak has begun to update its service on the Northeast Corridor line (which runs between Washington D.C. and Boston), and California is at least trying to update its rail system.
Of course, there is far more to be done across the rest of the country, which is what this petition aims to make a national priority.
From the petition: “The core, consisting of approximately 40,000 route miles, should be modernized to permit rail traffic operation in the range of 60 to 150 mph. This can be achieved though multiple tracks, grade separation, automatic train control, and electric motive power. Benefits would include economies in freight transportation, reduction in need for highway construction, less environmental impact, and much expanded access to passenger rail at lower cost.”
4. Repeal the unconstitutional NDAA and FISA, which allow intelligence agencies to secretly spy on US Citizens
Big Brother really is watching you. And this is largely due to national security legislation, like the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), both of which were reauthorized by the federal government this year. This petition seeks to repeal both of these acts, which civil liberty advocates have slammed as unconstitutional. (Due to the intricacies of both these bills, I recommend reading up on them extensively to come to your own conclusions.)
From the petition: “To what end will we sacrifice liberty for security, and realize that eventually we get neither? First the Romans, then British, then the Soviets…”
Images via: James Steidl/sar_38/Andrey Yurlov/Shutterstock
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