We the People (petitioning system)

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We the People
We The People, Your voice in our government
Link We the People
Video YouTube Video
Home website whitehouse.gov

We the People is a section of the whitehouse.gov website, launched September 22, 2011,[1] for petitioning the current administration's policy experts. Petitions that meet a certain threshold of signatures will be reviewed by officials in the Administration and an official response will be issued.[1] On August 23, 2012, the White House Director of Digital Strategy Macon Phillips released the source code for the platform.[2] The source code is available on GitHub, and lists both public domain status as a work of the U.S. federal government and licensing under the GPL v2.[3]

The site was down from October 1–16, 2013, alongside most federal websites which operated in reduced functionality, because of a United States federal government shutdown.


Users who wish to file or sign a petition are required to register a free whitehouse.gov account.


A petition must reach 150 signatures within 30 days to be searchable on whitehouse.gov.[4] As of January 16, 2013, to receive a response a petition must reach 100,000 signatures within 30 days.[5] The original threshold was set at 5,000 signatures,[6] and was raised to 25,000 on October 3, 2011.[4] However, the White House will typically not comment when a petition concerns any investigation which may be ongoing.[7]

Notable petitions[edit]

Death Star[edit]

In 2012, a petition was created urging the government to create a Death Star as an economic stimulus and job creation measure gained more than 25,000 signatures, enough to qualify for an official response. The official (tongue-in-cheek) response released in January 2013[8] noted that the cost of building a real Death Star has been estimated at $852 quadrillion and at current rates of steel production, would not be ready for more than 833,000 years.[9] The response also noted that "the Administration does not support blowing up planets" and questions funding a weapon "with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship" as reasons for denying the petition.[8][10][11]

Newtown shooting[edit]

Following the spree-shooting in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, a petition for new gun-control measures achieved 100,000 signatures within 24 hours.[7]

Cell Phone Unlocking Bill[edit]

In February 2013, a petition started by OpenSignal co-founder and digital rights activist Sina Khanifar reached the 100,000-signature threshold required for a response from the White House.[12] Two weeks later, the Obama administration issued a response urging the FCC and Congress to take and legalize cell phone unlocking. A year later, Congress passed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, the first piece of legislation driven by an online petition.[13] The bill was signed into law by President Obama on August 1, 2014.


Concerns about the efficacy of We the People have been raised since before the first White House responses were published.[14]

Criticism of the published responses range from condemnation as boilerplate and non-responsive,[15] from an administration seeming to try to connect to the people and those issues which do not receive the same level of media attention, to outright false and oblivious to the actual question asked in the petition.[16]

Criticism has been directed at the choice of administration official to answer the petitions regarding the legalization of marijuana. Gil Kerlikowske, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, was chosen to craft the administration's response.[17] The criticism stems from the Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 1998, which states that the Director must oppose all attempts to legalize the use of illicit drugs in any form.[18][19]

Other discussions of We The People have focused on its technical glitches,[20] democratic rationale,[21] and political dilemmas.[22] Other criticism questions the willingness of the administration to answer petitions that meet the threshold for response, noting that several qualifying petitions have been unanswered for months or years.[23] In addition, for some petitions, the digital divide means that poor communities will have difficulty participating equally in We The People.[24]


  1. ^ a b , White House blog press release regarding the new "We the People" petitioning platform
  2. ^ Phillips, Macon. "We the Coders: Open-Sourcing We the People, the White House's Online Petitions System". The White House Blog. Retrieved August 28, 2012. 
  3. ^ "We the People GitHub repository". GitHub. Retrieved February 11, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b We the People terms of participation page, whitehouse.gov
  5. ^ Phillips, Macon (January 15, 2013). "Why We’re Raising the Signature Threshold for We the People". whitehouse.gov. Retrieved February 10, 2013. 
  6. ^ Phillips, Macon (September 1, 2011). "We the People: Announcing White House Petitions & How They Work". whitehouse.gov. Retrieved February 10, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Eilperin, Juliet (June 10, 2013). "White House petition to pardon Edward Snowden gathers steam", The Washington Post
  8. ^ a b Shawcross, Paul (January 11, 2013). "This Isn’t the Petition Response You're Looking For". Wired (magazine). Retrieved January 13, 2013. 
  9. ^ http://www.ibtimes.com/white-house-rejects-death-star-petition-doomsday-devices-us-could-build-instead-1014682
  10. ^ "It's a trap! Petition to build Death Star will spark White House response". 
  11. ^ "US shoots down Death Star superlaser petition". BBC News. January 12, 2013. 
  12. ^ http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/08/15/heres-how-cell-phone-unlocking-became-legal
  13. ^ http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/08/01/answering-publics-call
  14. ^ Forbes.com, "What The People Want: Abolishment of the TSA and Marijuana Legalization", Kashmir Hill
  15. ^ ology.com, "We The People" Petitions Result In Overwhelming Inaction, Jonathan Moormann
  16. ^ hawaiinewsdaily.com, White House response to NORML's "We the People" marijuana legalization petition, Russ Belville, NORML Outreach Coordinator
  17. ^ whitehouse.gov, We The People petition response, What We Have to Say About Legalizing Marijuana, Gil Kerlikowske
  18. ^ Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 1998, Title VII Sec. 704(b)(12)
  19. ^ redbook.gao.gov, Application of Anti-Lobbying Laws to the Office of National Drug Control Policy's Open Letter to State Level Prosecutors, B-301022, March 10, 2004, Anthony H. Gamboa
  20. ^ Huffington Post, The Case of the Missing White House Petition, October 31, 2011, J.H. Snider
  21. ^ Huffington Post, What Is the Democratic Function of the White House's We The People Petition Website?, October 20, 2011, J.H. Snider
  22. ^ Huffington Post, The White House's New We the People Petition Website, October 11, 2011, J.H. Snider
  23. ^ Josh Feldman (April 2, 2014). "New White House Petition Demands the White House Actually Answer White House Petitions". MediaIte. 
  24. ^ New Statesman, Britain's Other Islanders Petition the White House, April 3, 2012, Sean Carey

External links[edit]