HM Government E-Petitions go live – sort of

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The UK Government’s new e-petitions have gone live, and the initial interest in this initiative seems to be causing some problems.

My first attempts to access the list of petitions repeatedly resulted in the following message:

Sorry if you’re experiencing problems accessing e-petitions. There is currently a much higher level of demand than we expected.

However, I have been able to get various parts of the petition site to work, at least sporadically, which has allowed me to make a few early observations. Please note that as I write this, the site is still experiencing problems due to heavy traffic load, and so if you click on any of the links herein, you may only get an error message.

Quickly perusing the list of accepted petitions, I noticed that there seem to be a lot of petitions addressing the same issue. This is not supposed to be allowed. On the How e-petitions work page, the first step is to “Search existing petitions before creating a new one”. If you click on the little information icon, you are informed that:

Before you create a new e-petition, search the site to make sure there isn’t one that covers your issue. If a new e-petition is the same as one that’s already on the site, it will be rejected.

Yet, perusing the list of submitted petitions submitted to the Department of Justice (at least the first page – trying to get subsequent pages to load results in the aforementioned “Sorry…” message), there are certainly more than one petition calling for the reinstatement of capital punishment/the death penalty. Quite a few more, in fact.

If these various petitions on essentially the same topic are allowed to stand, it could well undermine efforts by pro-capital punishment supporters to garner the required 100,000 signatures. Or, the government could end up with several petitions calling for essentially the same thing, which all end up with the required number of signatures.

It is quite likely, however, these identical petitions are appearing because the site is having trouble coping with demand. Every time I have attempted to use the search function, it has resulted in an error message. Therefore, I am assuming that people are unable to search for existing petitions and so are simply going ahead with creating new ones. I won’t be at all surprised if in coming days, once the novelty has worn off and the site stops breaking down, many of these repeat petitions will disappear.

Calls for a return of the death penalty aside, I have noticed a few amusing petitions listed (when the site cooperates, that is). There are at least three e-petitions about e-petitions. One calls on the government to do away with e-petitions while another asks that the Government remove “the requirement for citizens to find out which department deals with the subject of their e-petition” – I guess because a lot of people simply don’t have any idea which Government department does what. The third petition asks that the Government revise the 100,000 signature requirement, since this may be difficult to achieve for some petitions that are nonetheless very good petitions.

I have to say that I am surprised that the Government didn’t properly anticipate that traffic to the e-petitions site might be quite heavy. They’ve had issues previously. When the Your Freedom site, which asked people to tell the government which laws and regulations it should get rid of, was launched in July last year, high demand in the first 24 hours caused the site to crash repeatedly. One would hope governments would learn from experience.

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