White House updates We the People petition platform

The legislation that made cellphone unlocking legal began as a We the People petition. (White House)

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After four years, hundreds of causes and more than 11 million signatures, the White House’s popular e-petition platform We the People is getting some updates.

Now when petitions meet the 100,000-signature threshold required for a response, the White House will issue an update or policy statement within 60 days. Jason Goldman, White House chief digital officer, wrote in an announcement that this is meant to be the “the start of the conversation, not the final page.”

In the midst of the
announcement Tuesday, the White House tackled We the People’s petition backlog,
responding to all 20 outstanding calls for action.

Americans have used the site to lobby on an array of topics, most often related to civil rights and liberties, and human rights. Earlier this year, the White House responded to a petition to pardon Edward Snowden.

Not all the petitions are serious, though: In 2012, users petitioned the government to begin building the Death Star from Star Wars by 2016. The administration responded with a bit of levity.

“The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn’t on the horizon,” the official response says, namely because of the estimates $850 quadrillion price tag for a space station with “a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship.”

In addition to promising a speedier response time, the White House plans to start tapping into outside platforms, like Change.org, Goldman said. This will open We the People to more petitions, “meaning the future signatures of [Change.org’s] 100 million users will count toward the threshold for getting an official response from the Administration,” Goldman wrote.

And if other groups or governments fancy using an online petition platform like the White House’s, they’re in luck. The administration is posting the code for the system on Drupal and GitHub for others to use.

Finally, Goldman said the White House has assembled a team devoted to giving quality responses to petitions or finding the qualified person within government to do so.

“You might not always be happy with what you hear from us, but we’ll be upfront with you about why we can’t take action on a given issue if we can’t  —  or about why we’re choosing not to,” he said. “If there’s genuinely nothing we can do, we’re going to let you know. If we agree with you, we’ll let you know. If we’re working on it, we’ll tell you that. And we’ll keep you posted with additional details and related content that we think you might be interested in along the way.”

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Citizen Services, Government IT News, Jason Goldman, open government, We the People, White House
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