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7x57
12-08-2008, 10:41 AM
In another thread (http://www.calguns.net/calgunforum/showthread.php?p=1760013) bdsmchs posted something that illustrates something I call "hacking the law." Maybe this is interesting enough to discuss? (Or was beat to death long ago and I don't know it? There are plenty of techies here, I cannot be the first to notice the parallelism.)

I first became aware of this idea some years ago while reading Pamela Jones' Groklaw website for news on the SCO lawsuits and other open-source/free software related litigation. If you don't know what those are, never mind; the important point is that much of the litigation depended on often obscure technical and historical questions that neither lawyers nor courts generally know much about. Prior art, for example. So it was quite possible to lie in court or to a patent officer and be quite comfortable that you would never be caught. Apparently, this has *always* been true, largely to the advantage of large companies and opportunists.

What Pamela Jones did was interesting: she would identify such questions and throw them out to her readers, and inevitably someone would come back and point out prior art from some impossibly obscure source, say while employed at a long-defunct hardware company.

What she was doing was taking the open source development discovery, that "no bug is subtle to everyone," and applying it to the law. The astronomical cost of legal time to find all those precedents was beyond even IBM's pockets. It also wouldn't be effective to try, because lawyers have neither the knowledge nor the experience. And yet, it turned out that "no prior art is obscure to everyone." The lawyers involved would themselves read groklaw, because groklaw could find things they could not on any legal budget.

My conclusion from this was that the net was going to create a new kind of law. It would enable communities of amateurs that care passionately about their issue to obtain legal representation/redress/whatever of a kind and quality simply impossible by the normal means of pooling money to pay lawyers. The groklaw community was simply the leading edge of something I expected to happen again and again. In effect, it has the effect of reducing the lawyers' professional monopoly on the law.

I forgot about this line of thought until I started reading Calguns and realized I now had the second example I had predicted. I was finding the answer to the question posted by bdsmchs:

Wait a minute.

The answer has been staring us in the face for YEARS and we're just NOW noticing?

Until I started that thread, I had always just assumed that on the DROS there was no real way to transfer a "handgun" that's not on the roster and not really exempt.

But it's right there! There's an option under the exempt guns for frame only!!!!!

Why didn't anyone see that before?!

The answer to bsdmchs' question is that no one saw it before because there weren't enough eyes reading the law. In fact, I will claim that in retrospect, historically almost no law has apparently had enough eyes reading it. What calguns seems to have done is applied the open source development model to the law even more than the groklaw community did. That is the next step I expected to happen. Groklaw seemed (admittedly I didn't read it obsessively so I might not have understood everything they did) to primarily focus the community on technical questions, orchestrated by Pamela's reading of the cases. It was also focused on ongoing litigation. But what you guys are doing is even closer to software development: you are simply reading and understanding the code, which for the law is of course the penal code (Funny how "code" is used for both software and the law, isn't it?), and demonstrating that nothing is obscure to *everyone*. You even have the same organizational structure as many successful open source projects: a few key leaders who obtained their positions informally (I am guessing here, I don't know the history of calguns) by earning the trust of the community. Lack of formal structure, but extremely responsive to the community.

I wasn't reading calguns back then, but I gather this happened with OLL's--the "code" had unforseen, probably unintended consequences--it had quite a few "bugs" (actually, I'm guessing some of them are misfeatures, and some may have even been intended but perverted in practice by the DOJ) as far as the DOJ was concerned, and probably as far as the legislature was concerned. Same with magazines; I doubt bullet buttons would have been entirely favored by the legislature if they'd thought of them. Now I see you right in the process of doing the same thing with the handgun roster and with FFL/armored car sales of standard cap magazines: those laws probably have bugs, and you're looking for them and designing ways to avoid/exploit them.

You are hacking the law, in the true sense of hack (not the idiot news media sense). You might also be cracking the law (what reporters call hacking), at least in the minds of the DOJ, but whether or not that's true you are certainly hacking it. My point is: this is *interesting*, far beyond the Second Amendment. It is the leading-edge of a likely change in the relationship of the citizen to the state, and that's big. Communities of sufficient size and sophistication can use the law in ways not possible before, and can do so without having deep pockets. And when professionals do need to be called in, it is also possible to raise money for things the community really cares about, which is what CGF does.

Whoops--too long, I never did learn to write concisely. Will conclude in a follow-up.

7x57

7x57
12-08-2008, 10:48 AM
A couple of conclusions follow from this observation. The relationship of groups like the NRA to Calguns is very like the relationship of professional software developers to open source projects, and in particular they can greatly benefit each other because they are complementary. They cover each others weaknesses. Open source doesn't work so well for leading edge game software (moves too fast) or medical software (liability too high). But old-style software development (what Eric Raymond, a gunnie BTW, calls the cathedral model) does many things poorly itself. I suspect the analogy holds for the NRA, surely an example of the ordinary way communities obtain legal relief, and calguns. They have very different strengths.

That would suggest that the NRA could imitate how some of the largest software houses in the world work with open source. Often simply supplying a steady but modest money flow to the right people has much higher returns than hiring your own developers (lawyers) and doing the work in-house. The Linux kernel is the most successful example of this idea. Another thing that might work is to intentionally foster similar groups in other key battleground states, just as sophisticated companies now will often start open source projects. In other words, it should be possible for gun-rights advocates to achieve greater efficiency of effort by learning to connect the respective strengths of the different organizations.

Do I think that will happen? I'm dubious, as it takes time and sophistication for a tradiitonal software house to learn to "let go" of the process. It's extremely hard for managers to not be in control. I'm guessing that learning how to do this would be similarly hard for the NRA, and plenty of mistakes would be made along the way. But it's not impossible.

Second, in the larger scheme of things it is probably true that "the law is too important to be left to the lawyers." Someone here has a very apt Jefferson quote in their .sig: "You seem... to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions...a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy... The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal..." I'm glad to have that brought to mind, because it shows that Jefferson understood the abuse and lack of representation inherent in having the law owned solely by what amounts to a professional caste of priests. Governments want predictability and control. Citizens want justice, which is not at all the same thing. I think it's being shown that really effective communication allows a different model with far more input and interaction by those ultimately subject to the law. The idea of a jury is to place those subject to the law in the loop. Though I think courts are loathe to admit it now, it is to moderate the legal monopoly. Nobody likes to talk about jury nullification, but I think it exists precisely as a weapon to place the citizen's goal of justice above the government's goal of consistency and control. I'm arguing that amateurs hacking the law can/will have a similar effect.

The greatest weakness of our (probably any known) legal system is that it takes a lot of money to buy the representation that will get you everything the law allows: the little people cannot get from the same law what the very rich and very well connected can. I'm not talking about corruption here; I mean you may not be allowed to do what the law allows unless you can afford to litigate for relief or simply to educate law enforcement. It is inherent in the system, certainly in the common law. But if, as you are showing, the law can be hacked, that will be less true. There will be an alternative to enormous legal fees: communities that are large enough, passionate enough, and sophisticated enough will be able to pool their time and effort to do things that would either take a lot of money or could not be done at all. It means a strange kind of democratic, participatory lawyering.

This means looking for bugs and understanding the "source code," yes, but it also means being able to coordinate volunteers in a way that can't be done otherwise. Lawsuits often need just the right litigant, or at least potential litigant willing to risk arrest to be the first in line. Just like someone, somewhere will quickly notice something in source code or the penal code the rest of us won't, someone somewhere will be willing to sell/buy the first OLL or whatever because they believe enough to risk jail, or at least a lawsuit. The net lets you find these people and aim them at the right issue. It lets you put the person willing to go to the wall together with the person who knows where and when it is worth going to the wall and where it is counterproductive. (That's very important, because the personality traits that make a good revolutionary or sacrificial lamb usually don't make a good strategist. Patrick Henry can't win the war without George Washington.) And it means being able to use the money that is required more effectively, again by putting together a large number of people willing to contribute bits of money with those who know where, when, and how to spend it. That's what calguns does, after all. It obtains (so I gather) a very high bang-for buck efficiency.

Final note: this sword has two edges. It only requires a dedicated, passionate community that just needs the net to gather their scattered efforts. It will work for evil just as well as good. Bad men can also be dedicated and passionate. For example, how many civil rights laws have bugs waiting for the right eyes? How many things are thought to be protected, but in fact are not? I don't know, but we're going to have to live with it. The right way is not to try to fight it, but rather to understand that when a bug is found it can be fixed. Kill the bug, not the messenger. But that's also double-edged, as a few people here have noticed: the legislature can close holes, and they can be evil as well. Recall that California carry laws apparently started because the Black Panthers actually used the existing ones. They "fixed" that. Still, the overall result should be good; it is obscene when a citizen goes to jail because of insane or unintended consequences of a badly-written law. On the whole, debugging is good.

BTW, I guess this will always be in our favor: gun-control is largely a matter of top-down imposition, gun rights is largely a bottom-up grass roots effort. This effect favors bottom-up, and therefore should (I hope) always favor gun rights. Perhaps it will always generally favor rights over prohibitions.

I suspect that in decades to come quite a few other groups will get good at this, and eventually legislatures and justice departments may be come more used to "pushback" from citizens and find ways to make it less effective. In any case, it's the way it is going to be.

Anyway, perhaps that's all too long to read, but if you made it this far, thanks and I hope it was interesting. More importantly, I hope it stimulates a conversation that will teach me more about how this is going to end up.

7x57

dragonbait1a
12-08-2008, 11:36 AM
The intelligent discussion, the friendly atmosphere and the innovation!

Calguns.net keeps me hopeful for the future of gun rights through the concept of "Legislation Begets Innovation." The Legislature writes and passes a "Ban" like SB-23 and we come up with Bullet Buttons, Prince 50s, RaddLocks. We force definitions on "pistol grip" and then make MonsterMan grips and U-15 stocks that comply with their definitions. We challenged the law and got OLLs. We read the provided forms and have a concept to circumvent the "Roster," enabling guns that have been restricted by "Common Sense" legislation to be imported into the state. And all of this is before Heller has been incorporated.

Their attempts at restricting our rights have brought about all of this. It shows ingenuity and cunning and the tenacity to keep fighting as they slam doors in our face.

RGB

JimmyD
12-08-2008, 11:55 AM
Its not a bug its a feature :)

bohoki
12-08-2008, 1:14 PM
Its not a bug its a feature :)

yea ive always looked at laws as a list of specifications to follow

if the only way to sell large capacity magazines is to be a armored car business then start an armored car buisness to sell large capacity magazines

edwardm
12-08-2008, 1:34 PM
What's more interesting is that Eric Corley has been advocating, supporting and talking about 'hacking the law' for going on 25 years now. And there are plenty of his predecessors from the 60's and 70's who focused on the same thing. If you want to go really way back, you can find 'hacks' against the law 500 years ago, i.e. the common-law definition of arson vs. how we define arson today.

The trend (or activity, if you'll call it that) is nothing new. What is new is the coalescing of certain minds, resources and skillsets around a 'new' (loosely used) problem in need of creative solutions. Someone finds a hole, exploits it, another comes along and plugs it up. And on and on it goes.

Now, take that idea, and go reread some of the laws that have been questioned (not thinking of things like Harrot, but actual statutes, i.e. the current 12125 discussion). Do you see intentional backdoors? Sometimes I do, but that could also just be the result of poor planning thought processes on the part of various legislative staff.

It's an interesting subject and one which will continue to grow as the body of law expands.

In another thread (http://www.calguns.net/calgunforum/showthread.php?p=1760013) bdsmchs posted something that illustrates something I call "hacking the law." Maybe this is interesting enough to discuss? (Or was beat to death long ago and I don't know it? There are plenty of techies here, I cannot be the first to notice the parallelism.)

I first became aware of this idea some years ago while reading Pamela Jones' Groklaw website for news on the SCO lawsuits and other open-source/free software related litigation. If you don't know what those are, never mind; the important point is that much of the litigation depended on often obscure technical and historical questions that neither lawyers nor courts generally know much about. Prior art, for example. So it was quite possible to lie in court or to a patent officer and be quite comfortable that you would never be caught. Apparently, this has *always* been true, largely to the advantage of large companies and opportunists.

What Pamela Jones did was interesting: she would identify such questions and throw them out to her readers, and inevitably someone would come back and point out prior art from some impossibly obscure source, say while employed at a long-defunct hardware company.

What she was doing was taking the open source development discovery, that "no bug is subtle to everyone," and applying it to the law. The astronomical cost of legal time to find all those precedents was beyond even IBM's pockets. It also wouldn't be effective to try, because lawyers have neither the knowledge nor the experience. And yet, it turned out that "no prior art is obscure to everyone." The lawyers involved would themselves read groklaw, because groklaw could find things they could not on any legal budget.

My conclusion from this was that the net was going to create a new kind of law. It would enable communities of amateurs that care passionately about their issue to obtain legal representation/redress/whatever of a kind and quality simply impossible by the normal means of pooling money to pay lawyers. The groklaw community was simply the leading edge of something I expected to happen again and again. In effect, it has the effect of reducing the lawyers' professional monopoly on the law.

I forgot about this line of thought until I started reading Calguns and realized I now had the second example I had predicted. I was finding the answer to the question posted by bdsmchs:



The answer to bsdmchs' question is that no one saw it before because there weren't enough eyes reading the law. In fact, I will claim that in retrospect, historically almost no law has apparently had enough eyes reading it. What calguns seems to have done is applied the open source development model to the law even more than the groklaw community did. That is the next step I expected to happen. Groklaw seemed (admittedly I didn't read it obsessively so I might not have understood everything they did) to primarily focus the community on technical questions, orchestrated by Pamela's reading of the cases. It was also focused on ongoing litigation. But what you guys are doing is even closer to software development: you are simply reading and understanding the code, which for the law is of course the penal code (Funny how "code" is used for both software and the law, isn't it?), and demonstrating that nothing is obscure to *everyone*. You even have the same organizational structure as many successful open source projects: a few key leaders who obtained their positions informally (I am guessing here, I don't know the history of calguns) by earning the trust of the community. Lack of formal structure, but extremely responsive to the community.

I wasn't reading calguns back then, but I gather this happened with OLL's--the "code" had unforseen, probably unintended consequences--it had quite a few "bugs" (actually, I'm guessing some of them are misfeatures, and some may have even been intended but perverted in practice by the DOJ) as far as the DOJ was concerned, and probably as far as the legislature was concerned. Same with magazines; I doubt bullet buttons would have been entirely favored by the legislature if they'd thought of them. Now I see you right in the process of doing the same thing with the handgun roster and with FFL/armored car sales of standard cap magazines: those laws probably have bugs, and you're looking for them and designing ways to avoid/exploit them.

You are hacking the law, in the true sense of hack (not the idiot news media sense). You might also be cracking the law (what reporters call hacking), at least in the minds of the DOJ, but whether or not that's true you are certainly hacking it. My point is: this is *interesting*, far beyond the Second Amendment. It is the leading-edge of a likely change in the relationship of the citizen to the state, and that's big. Communities of sufficient size and sophistication can use the law in ways not possible before, and can do so without having deep pockets. And when professionals do need to be called in, it is also possible to raise money for things the community really cares about, which is what CGF does.

Whoops--too long, I never did learn to write concisely. Will conclude in a follow-up.

7x57

383green
12-08-2008, 1:49 PM
Now, take that idea, and go reread some of the laws that have been questioned (not thinking of things like Harrot, but actual statutes, i.e. the current 12125 discussion). Do you see intentional backdoors? Sometimes I do, but that could also just be the result of poor planning thought processes on the part of various legislative staff.

The requirement that microstamping not be required until/unless a non-patent-encumbered implementation is available seems like deliberate and well-executed sabotage of the microstamping law by lobbyists.

The way that the armored vehicle business exemption for large capacity ammunition feeding device sales appears to possibly allow AVBs to sell big magazines to any and all comers looks more like an unintended consequence of selfish and focused lobbying, however. That is, I see an element of poor planning in it.

I see more and more elements of poor planning in our weapons laws, as they have finally gotten so cumbersome as the begin collapsing under their own weight. In the attempt to ban guns in a piecemeal fashion in order to discourage various pro-gun factions from uniting, the anti-gun folks have finally erected a framework of laws so convoluted that it is now riddled with loopholes just waiting to be found. I think that this will only continue as more and more chunks get grafted on, until and unless the lawmakers either throw their hands up and stop trying to whittle away at gun rights, or they just show their hand and try banning everything outright with no exceptions.

I'm not sure how things will end up after all of the "Sons of Heller" come and go, but I do anticipate some interesting times ahead.

artherd
12-08-2008, 8:40 PM
This is the very reason I stepped in and host calguns.net free of charge. It's just that important.

Fate
12-08-2008, 8:54 PM
Interesting reading. Thanks for the post!

7x57
12-08-2008, 11:58 PM
What's more interesting is that Eric Corley has been advocating, supporting and talking about 'hacking the law' for going on 25 years now. And there are plenty of his predecessors from the 60's and 70's who focused on the same thing. If you want to go really way back, you can find 'hacks' against the law 500 years ago, i.e. the common-law definition of arson vs. how we define arson today.


If I want to go back five hundred years, I would trace it directly to a certain controversial insistence that every man could read and interpret scripture according to its normal meaning, that there was no special divine gift to the church hierarchy that it, and it alone, could understand the bible. I suppose secular moderns may not see just how big a keg of dynamite that detonates, but I think it did. I have become interested in the close parallels between how certain people read the law and how Luther and Calvin insisted that scripture be read.

As a simple example: for much of the twentieth century, most law professors insisted on the collective rights theory of the Second Amendment (so did Barak Obama up until Heller and his instantaneous rhetorical about-face). If we'd believed the Magisterium of the Bar as medieval theologians insisted we should believe the Magisterium of the church, that would be the end of it. There would be no Second Amendment.

The only thing is, the normal meaning of the Second Amendment in the context of the eighteenth century is not obscure, and certain non-lawyers have insisted loud and long that it can't mean now something different than it meant then. In other words, they insisted on reading the law the way the Founders intended (so far as I can tell--I have the least backing for this part of the argument), which in turn is also how Luther and Calvin insisted on reading scripture. And it still seems to annoy those vested in the hierarchy, doesn't it?

That is to say, I now suspect a lot more conceptual and intellectual connections between the European Reformation and the American Revolution. Something for me to pursue as time goes on, but it's interesting that it was *protestants* who threw out the king *and* the absolute supremacy of the state and replaced it with a supreme *text*, isn't it? Replacing people and institutions with a text is a uniquely Protestant thing to do. Perhaps they found a new use for some conceptual tools they already had laying around. Britain's constitution is unwritten, and subject to the whim of Parliament which is supreme and has no limit except custom--tradition, if you will. We have a text which is to be regarded as above the government, so now replacing people and institutions with texts is a uniquely *American* thing to do.

See the similarity in thinking? It doesn't matter that many of the founders were not Christian in any historically meaningful sense. They still thought the same way.


The trend (or activity, if you'll call it that) is nothing new.


That is interesting. It does seem that by and large most people simply believe that the law is impenetrable to amateurs without any evidence that this must be so. I used to. Apparently, at least in the right cases, it is *not* so, and not so in useful ways.


What is new is the coalescing of certain minds, resources and skillsets around a 'new' (loosely used) problem in need of creative solutions. Someone finds a hole, exploits it, another comes along and plugs it up. And on and on it goes.


I wasn't talking just about the possibility of hacking the law; I was talking about *how* you hack the law.

What I think is new is the effects of networking, the ability for very widely separated people to have an interactive conversation about it. First, you can create "critical mass" for things not popular enough for people to meet otherwise. I noticed this a long time ago with the Western Martial Arts people, a much more sparse group than gunnies. There are a few people here and there interested in the topic, but they'd never meet ordinarily. The net allowed a critical mass without physically meeting, and created a community where before there were a few isolated enthusiasts.

Second, you also get a somewhat different medium that is well-suited to the task. It's a little slower than speech, but also therefore more thoughtful and allows more people to contribute. But it's much more rapid and free-flowing than print. Put them together, and you can use an analog of Raymond's software bazzar. (I'm not a great fan of the word, but it's a well known description.)

There were plenty of hackers before there was an internet; the internet was essentially *built* by hackers from MIT, Berkeley, Bell Labs, and so on. Perhaps that is Eric Corley's role? Anyway, the GNU project made open/free source code an explicit goal, when the best way to distribute unix software was still magnetic tape. You could get everything GNU distributed for $100 on tape. But even though they used the internet for communications the GNU projects developed more or less the same way that closed-source projects did: central control of a few developers. They (or at least RMS wanted it free on principle. In hindsight, I think they had not learned everything that freeing the source enabled you to do. That, possibly, is the stage of development of Groklaw when I was reading it, though I think PJ was further along than that. Maybe all the way to the next stage, I don't know.

Linus Torvalds in particular was willing to simply let go of the development process, partly because initially the Linux kernel was essentially his summer project. There was nothing to lose, so he didn't fear what would happen. He also didn't treat software freedom as a principle, just as a practical tool. It turns out to have worked exceptionally well, and it works *differently*. That's the point of ESR's Cathedral and Bazzar essay.

What I'm trying to say is not just that calguns hacks the criminal code, but specifically that calguns seems to hack the law *that way*, the bazzar way, not the way (say) Ken Thompson did it solo or with a few friends at Bell labs (that would be the closed-source cathedral model, and also how I imagine professional lawyers normally work) or even the slightly more opened-up way GNU used to do it (I think most GNU projects are now bazzars, not cathedrals). I'm saying that calguns hacks law a little bit like LKML hacks code.

And that's interesting. Possibly, *significant.* If you think of the people you don't like who might learn to do the same thing well, possibly even scary. It probably should be. But definitely interesting.


Now, take that idea, and go reread some of the laws that have been questioned (not thinking of things like Harrot, but actual statutes, i.e. the current 12125 discussion). Do you see intentional backdoors? Sometimes I do, but that could also just be the result of poor planning thought processes on the part of various legislative staff.

It's an interesting subject and one which will continue to grow as the body of law expands.

I'm not sure I would see intent; perhaps I have too low an opinion of how the law gets written and the people who often seem to write it. Never ascribe to malice what is adequately explained by stupidity. :-)

The "conspiracy theory" I *do* see generally in these laws is the intent to forbid through complexity. If you can make people give up because it is too complex, you obtain a double benefit: first, they quit, which (if you're a gun banner) is good. But that probably means they lose interest and vote less reliably for gun rights, which means you've divided the community that existed before the new law. You're set up to attack the remaining gun owners with increased probability of success, as there are now fewer of them to resist.

That's one of the many tactics one uses to prohibit something popular with voters. It's possible that many of the legislators didn't do this on purpose. It is certain that there were those lobbying for the bill who knew *precisely* what they were doing and how that system works. After all, it's been consciously used on a hundred other issues. The left taught me everything I know about gun rights politics, actually. :-)

7x57

rkt88edmo
12-09-2008, 7:23 AM
Sounds like the hive mind at work. The networking tools available to us allow more eyeballs with more diverse, broad, and deep knowledge pools to examine the issues while being connected to each other.

The NRA part is important, because I think there is some inevitable drift to consensus when you work together with the same folks over time. But a healthy org recognizes this and keeps moving blood in and out and listens to their constituency.

On the open source - its all about how what benefits all, benefits me. The old "high priest" way of enforced scarcity and tight control over knowledge is woven into our society and government in so many ways. As long as we stick to freedom and liberty we will be able to peek behind Oz's curtain at will.

ramble ramble ramble

Calguns /h/v/a/c

OC_Gunman
03-07-2009, 7:03 AM
Profound. Oh, and a new sig found...

tankerman
03-07-2009, 7:54 AM
In a nutshell, subvert.
What's more interesting is that Eric Corley has been advocating, supporting and talking about 'hacking the law' for going on 25 years now. And there are plenty of his predecessors from the 60's and 70's who focused on the same thing. If you want to go really way back, you can find 'hacks' against the law 500 years ago, i.e. the common-law definition of arson vs. how we define arson today.

The trend (or activity, if you'll call it that) is nothing new. What is new is the coalescing of certain minds, resources and skillsets around a 'new' (loosely used) problem in need of creative solutions. Someone finds a hole, exploits it, another comes along and plugs it up. And on and on it goes.

Now, take that idea, and go reread some of the laws that have been questioned (not thinking of things like Harrot, but actual statutes, i.e. the current 12125 discussion). Do you see intentional backdoors? Sometimes I do, but that could also just be the result of poor planning thought processes on the part of various legislative staff.

It's an interesting subject and one which will continue to grow as the body of law expands.