We the People (petitioning system)

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We the People
We The People, Your voice in our government
Website logo in 2011
Screenshot
We the People screenshot.jpg
Screenshot of website homepage (2017)
Type of site
Government site
Available inEnglish
DissolvedJanuary 20, 2021
OwnerUnited States government
Created byObama administration
URLhttps://petitions.whitehouse.gov/about
CommercialNo
RegistrationRequired
LaunchedSeptember 22, 2011; 10 years ago (2011-09-22)
Current statusDown
Content license
Public domain
Written inDrupal 7

We the People, launched September 22, 2011,[1] is a defunct section of the whitehouse.gov website used for petitioning the administration's policy experts. Petitions that reached a certain threshold of signatures were reviewed by Administration officials who in most instances would subsequently provide an official response.[1] Legal proceedings in the United States were not subject to petitions, rather, the site served as a public relations mechanism for the presidential administration to provide a venue for citizens to express themselves. 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 United States federal government and licensing under the GPL v2.[3]

On December 19, 2017, the Trump administration announced its intention to temporarily shut down the website and replace it with a "new platform [that] would save taxpayers more than $1m a year", though ultimately it was retained in its initial form.[4] On January 20, 2021, the day of the inauguration of Joe Biden, the website's address started redirecting to the main whitehouse.gov domain, marking the discontinuance of the feature by the incoming administration. It has not been relaunched since.[5][6]

Overview[edit]

The right "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances" is guaranteed by the United States Constitution's First Amendment. Users who wished to create a petition are required to register a free whitehouse.gov account. To sign a petition, users only need to provide their name and their email address, and they will receive an email with a link that they must click to confirm their signature. It is not necessary to have a whitehouse.gov account to sign a petition.

Thresholds[edit]

Under the Obama administration's rules, a petition had to reach 150 signatures (Dunbar's Number) within 30 days to be searchable on WhiteHouse.gov, according to Tom Cochran, former director of digital technology.[7] It had to reach 100,000 signatures within 30 days to receive an official response.[8] The original threshold was set at 5,000 signatures on September 1, 2011,[9] was raised to 25,000 on October 3, 2011,[10] and raised again to 100,000 as of January 15, 2013.[11] The White House typically would not comment when a petition concerned an ongoing investigation.[12]

"It's unclear whether Trump's advisors will make a tradition of publicly responding to petitions from the American people," Dell Cameron wrote for the Daily Dot on the day that Trump was inaugurated,[13] noting that the Trump administration that same day "archived" (that is, deactivated) all petitions in progress on the 'We the People' site. New petitions were created, but only two petitions—both created on Inauguration Day—soared above the 100,000-signature threshold within the Trump administration's first week, while other petitions created subsequently seemed not to count signatures at all.[14] The website was later fixed to count signatures but the Trump administration did not respond to any of the petitions until March 2018.[15]

Notable petitions[edit]

Death Star[edit]

In November 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[16] 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.[17] 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.[16][18][19]

Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting[edit]

Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 14, 2012, a petition for new gun control measures achieved 100,000 signatures within 24 hours.[12]

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.[20] Two weeks later, the Obama administration issued a response urging the FCC and Congress to 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.[21] The bill was signed into law by President Obama on August 1, 2014.

Prosecute 47 senators under the Logan Act[edit]

In March 2015, as the United States and the P5+1 group were negotiating with Iran on an agreement to restrain Iran's nuclear program, 47 Republican Senators sent an open letter to the leaders of Iran strongly suggesting that a future president or Congress could nullify any such agreement. This action was widely construed as deliberate interference with the negotiations, and possibly a violation of the Logan Act.[22] In response, several similar petitions were posted on March 9, 2015. One petition, entitled "File charges against the 47 United States Senators in violation of the Logan Act in attempting to undermine a nuclear agreement", passed the 100,000-signature threshold within one day. The petition had reached the number 1 spot, garnering more than 320,000 signatures by April 8, 2015, more than three times the number of signatures required to qualify for a response from the White House.[22][23][24][25][26]

Trump taxes[edit]

"Within hours"[27] of President Donald Trump's inauguration on January 20, 2017, two petitions had been started on the site. One, for the release of his taxes, "with all information needed to verify emoluments clause compliance" reached the 100,000 signature threshold within twenty-four hours.[28] Another, for the President to divest himself of his assets or put them in a blind trust, had some seventy-seven thousand. On January 22, Presidential aide Kellyanne Conway declared that the tax returns will not be released.[29] On January 27, the petitions had over 385,000 and 119,000 signatures, respectively, with the former being a record number of signatures for any petition on the site. By the February 17 deadline to reach 100,000 signatures, it had exceeded one million signatures, making it the first petition on the site to do so.[30]

American Antifa[edit]

In August 2017, a petition requesting that Antifa be classified by the Pentagon as a terrorist organization was launched. The petition had over 100,000 signatures within three days. The final count before White House responded was 368,423. The originator of the petition, who goes by the pseudonym "Microchip", remarked to Politico that getting conservatives to share and discuss the petition was the entire point, rather than prompting any concrete action by the government.[31] The White House responded to the petition, stating "Although Federal law provides a mechanism to designate and sanction foreign terrorist organizations and foreign state sponsors of terrorism, there is currently no analogous mechanism for formally designating domestic terrorist organizations. Nonetheless, law enforcement has many tools at its disposal to address violent individuals and groups."[32]

Criticism[edit]

Concerns about the efficacy of We the People have been raised since before the first White House responses were published.[33]

On August 13, 2013, the Washington Post website published an article about 30 petitions that had been left unanswered for an average of 240 days despite each having met the signature goals. The article refers to the website www.whpetitions.info for taking "its own tally and highlights petitions that have received enough signatures but have not received responses."[34]

As of 16 October 2016, 323 White House petitions have met their signature thresholds. The White House has responded to 321 of them (99%) with an average response time of 117 days. Average waiting time for unanswered petitions was 23 days, according to whpetitions.info.[35]

The Obama White House faced criticism[by whom?] for the choice of administration official selected to answer 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.[36] The criticism stemmed from the Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 1998, which legally required that the Director oppose all attempts to legalize the use of illicit drugs in any form.[37][38]

Other complaints of We the People focused on its technical glitches,[39] democratic rationale,[40] and political dilemmas.[41] There was criticism about the willingness of the administration to answer petitions that meet the threshold for response, when several qualifying petitions have been unanswered for months or years.[42] In addition, the digital divide means that poor communities may have had difficulty participating equally in We The People.[43]

During the first weeks of the presidency of Donald Trump, The Independent and The A.V. Club reported that many popular petitions did not appear to be receiving any signatures. Additionally, certain URLs to the petitions led to error pages.[44][45] Macon Phillips, the man behind We the People, told BuzzFeed News that the issue stemmed from issues with its cache. He also thought that Trump's administration "is still trying to get their heads around how it works".[46]

Discontinuation[edit]

On January 20, 2021, the day the Inauguration of Joe Biden took place, the website's address started redirecting to the White House's main web address. First reported by the Ron Paul Institute, the White House declined comment when a reporter from Newsweek asked about the apparent discontinuation of the website.[47][48][49]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "White House blog press release regarding the new "We the People" petitioning platform". Archived from the original on January 20, 2017. Retrieved March 2, 2021.
  2. ^ Phillips, Macon (August 23, 2012). "We the Coders: Open-Sourcing We the People, the White House's Online Petitions System". whitehouse.gov. Archived from the original on January 23, 2017. Retrieved August 28, 2012 – via National Archives.
  3. ^ "We the People GitHub repository". GitHub. Archived from the original on November 2, 2020. Retrieved February 11, 2013.
  4. ^ "White House to 'temporarily' shut petition website". BBC News. December 19, 2017. Archived from the original on July 16, 2018. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  5. ^ "Fact check: Did the Biden administration remove the White House petitioning system?". Newsweek. February 17, 2021. Archived from the original on March 22, 2021. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
  6. ^ "Archived Pages". Wayback Machine. Archived from the original on February 23, 2017. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
  7. ^ Cochran, Tom (December 1, 2016). "Farewell to Obama, our first digital president". Recode. Archived from the original on January 13, 2020. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  8. ^ We the People terms of participation page Archived November 24, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, whitehouse.gov
  9. ^ Phillips, Macon (September 1, 2011). "We the People: Announcing White House Petitions & How They Work". whitehouse.gov. Archived from the original on January 21, 2017. Retrieved February 10, 2013 – via National Archives.
  10. ^ Phillips, Macon (October 3, 2011). "A good problem to have: Raising the signature threshold for White House petitions". whitehouse.gov. Archived from the original on January 23, 2017. Retrieved August 13, 2015 – via National Archives.
  11. ^ Phillips, Macon (January 15, 2013). "Why We're Raising the Signature Threshold for We the People". whitehouse.gov. Archived from the original on January 21, 2017. Retrieved February 10, 2013 – via National Archives.
  12. ^ a b Eilperin, Juliet (June 10, 2013). "White House petition to pardon Edward Snowden gathers steam" Archived June 19, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, The Washington Post
  13. ^ Cameron, Dell (January 20, 2017). "Trump's team removes all old, pending 'We the People' petitions". Daily Dot. Archived from the original on June 14, 2020. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  14. ^ Lieberman, Tucker (January 28, 2017). "Under Trump administration, 'We the People' White House petition website is mysteriously broken". Disruptive Dissertation. Archived from the original on February 2, 2017. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  15. ^ Will Donald Trump keep the White House petition site alive? Archived June 12, 2017, at the Wayback Machine The Verge, March 22, 2017
    https://www.theverge.com/2018/3/20/17143536/white-house-we-the-people-online-petition-answers-back Archived April 1, 2019, at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ a b Shawcross, Paul (January 11, 2013). "This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For". Wired. Archived from the original on January 14, 2013. Retrieved January 13, 2013.
  17. ^ "White House Rejects Death Star Petition: Doomsday Devices US Could Build Instead". International Business Times. January 15, 2013. Archived from the original on April 6, 2015. Retrieved March 12, 2015.
  18. ^ "It's a trap! Petition to build Death Star will spark White House response". Archived from the original on December 16, 2012. Retrieved January 29, 2013.
  19. ^ "US shoots down Death Star superlaser petition". BBC News. January 12, 2013. Archived from the original on October 12, 2018. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  20. ^ "Here's How Cell Phone Unlocking Became Legal". whitehouse.gov. August 15, 2014. Archived from the original on January 21, 2017. Retrieved March 12, 2015 – via National Archives.
  21. ^ "Answering the Public's Call". whitehouse.gov. August 2014. Archived from the original on January 21, 2017. Retrieved March 12, 2015 – via National Archives.
  22. ^ a b "Were 47 Republican senators who wrote to Iran guilty of a crime?" Archived January 27, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, Ben Jacobs, The Guardian, March 13, 2015
  23. ^ ABC News.com, / "Iran Letter: 165,000+ Sign Petition to Prosecute GOP Senators for Treason" Archived May 21, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, Katelyn Marmon, Retrieved March 12, 2015
  24. ^ Bloomberg.com, "Can 231,445 People Who Want Tom Cotton Tried for Treason Be Wrong?" Archived March 13, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, David Weigel, Retrieved March 12, 2015
  25. ^ Huffington Post, "The Logan Act and the Treason Meme: Click Bait for Liberals" Archived June 20, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, Monica Bauer, Retrieved March 12, 2015
  26. ^ NPR.com, "Why The GOP Iran Letter Is Spurring Debate Over An 18th Century Law" Archived April 30, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, Miles Parks, Retrieved March 12, 2015
  27. ^ Tal Kopan (January 20, 2017). "What happened to Obama's White House website?". Archived from the original on January 22, 2017. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  28. ^ Greenwood, Max (January 26, 2017). "Petition for Trump's tax returns gets record number of signatures". The Hill. Archived from the original on November 11, 2020. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  29. ^ Davis, Julie Hershfeld (January 22, 2017). "Trump Won't Release His Tax Returns, a Top Aide Says". New York Times. Archived from the original on June 29, 2017. Retrieved January 23, 2017.
  30. ^ Manning, Allee; Kelly, Kaitlyn (February 17, 2017). "One Million People Demand Trump's Tax Return, Smashing Petition Record". Vocativ. Archived from the original on February 17, 2017. Retrieved February 17, 2017.
  31. ^ Musgrave, Shawn (August 24, 2017). "White House 'antifa' petition written by pro-Trump troll". Politico. Archived from the original on July 3, 2019. Retrieved August 25, 2017.
  32. ^ "The White House is answering online petitions again, but does it still matter?". March 20, 2018. Archived from the original on April 1, 2019. Retrieved May 18, 2018.
  33. ^ Forbes.com, "What The People Want: Abolishment of the TSA and Marijuana Legalization" Archived October 11, 2018, at the Wayback Machine, Kashmir Hill
  34. ^ WashingtonPost.com, "Here are the 30 questions the White House doesn’t seem to want to answer" Archived June 18, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, Andrea Peterson
  35. ^ "whpetitions.info". Archived from the original on May 3, 2015. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
  36. ^ whitehouse.gov, We The People petition response, What We Have to Say About Legalizing Marijuana Archived November 24, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, Gil Kerlikowske
  37. ^ Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 1998, Title VII Sec. 704(b)(12) Archived December 24, 2021, at the Wayback Machine
  38. ^ redbook.gao.gov, Application of Anti-Lobbying Laws to the Office of National Drug Control Policy's Open Letter to State Level Prosecutors Archived November 3, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, B-301022, March 10, 2004, Anthony H. Gamboa
  39. ^ The Huffington Post, The Case of the Missing White House Petition Archived June 19, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, October 31, 2011, J.H. Snider
  40. ^ The Huffington Post, What Is the Democratic Function of the White House's We The People Petition Website? Archived June 19, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, October 20, 2011, J.H. Snider
  41. ^ The Huffington Post, The White House's New We the People Petition Website Archived June 18, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, October 11, 2011, J.H. Snider
  42. ^ Josh Feldman (April 2, 2014). "New White House Petition Demands the White House Actually Answer White House Petitions". MediaIte. Archived from the original on November 11, 2020. Retrieved June 14, 2020.
  43. ^ New Statesman, Britain's Other Islanders Petition the White House Archived August 4, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, April 3, 2012, Sean Carey
  44. ^ Hooton, Christopher (January 23, 2017). "White House petition to save arts funding not registering signatures". The Independent. Archived from the original on January 26, 2017. Retrieved January 30, 2017.
  45. ^ PenzeyMoog, Caitlin (January 26, 2017). "White House petitions are basically turned off". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on January 29, 2017. Retrieved January 30, 2017.
  46. ^ Montgomery, Blake (January 27, 2017). "No, Signatures On The White House Petition Site Aren't Intentionally Frozen". BuzzFeed. Archived from the original on January 28, 2017. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
  47. ^ "Fact check: Did the Biden administration remove the White House petitioning system?". Newsweek. February 17, 2021. Archived from the original on March 22, 2021. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
  48. ^ "Archived Pages". Wayback Machine. Archived from the original on February 23, 2017. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
  49. ^ "Biden Removes 'We the People' Petitioning From White House Website". www.ronpaulinstitute.org. Archived from the original on April 22, 2021. Retrieved October 27, 2021.

External links[edit]