Making it easier to read privacy policies, terms of use and legislation

A while back now I was drafting a privacy policy for a particular website, when it struck me that one could use a nifty content rendering effect (using, for example, a bit of jQuery) to make navigating privacy policies, terms of use and legislation a better experience for those who actually read them.

Take, for example, an average privacy policy for a site that collects and uses quite a bit of personal information. If the privacy policy has been well drafted, it should cover all bases sufficiently to enable those using the website to know, for example, when their personal information will be collected, the uses to which it will be put, whether any of it will be shared with third parties and who to contact to check and request correction of one’s personal information. Sometimes the need to cover all bases can make for a longish privacy privacy. Yet, it may well be the case that many users only want to find information on a specific issue. The clause or paragraph title should lead them to the right place. But should they have to scroll down through multiple paragraphs? And what if they’d like to read only two or three clauses and see them all in close proximity, even if the clause numbers are far apart?

To give another example, think of what it can be like sometimes to navigate through detailed legislation, in which sections are subject to other sections and subsections, sometimes scores of sections apart. Wouldn’t it be helpful if we could see an Act’s list of sections, click on those we want to see and, instead of being rocketed to either a single HTML page containing that section or to a single point in a single HTML page containing the whole Act, the section content would magically drop down?

This sort of thing is quite doable these days. To show you what I mean, I’ve plucked the first seven sections from the Interpretation Act 1999 and added them to a drop-down kind of interface. Imagine if one had an option of navigating all legislation and legal notices online in this way. Wouldn’t that be, well, useful? Anyway, here’s the demo with a handful of sections from the Interpretation Act. Click on a few section titles; open and close them and you’ll see what I mean.

Interpretation Act 1999

Public Act    1999 No 85
Date of assent    3 August 1999
Commencement    see section 3

An Act relating to the interpretation, application, and effect of legislation

1. Short Title

This Act may be cited as the Interpretation Act 1999.

2. Purposes of this Act

The purposes of this Act are—

(a) to state principles and rules for the interpretation of legislation; and

(b) to shorten legislation; and

(c) to promote consistency in the language and form of legislation.

3. Commencement

 This Act comes into force on 1 November 1999.

4. Application

(1) This Act applies to an enactment that is part of the law of New Zealand and that is passed either before or after the commencement of this Act unless—

(a) the enactment provides otherwise; or

(b) the context of the enactment requires a different interpretation.

(2) The provisions of this Act also apply to the interpretation of this Act.

5. Ascertaining meaning of legislation

(1) The meaning of an enactment must be ascertained from its text and in the light of its purpose.

(2) The matters that may be considered in ascertaining the meaning of an enactment include the indications provided in the enactment.

(3) Examples of those indications are preambles, the analysis, a table of contents, headings to Parts and sections, marginal notes, diagrams, graphics, examples and explanatory material, and the organisation and format of the enactment.

6. Enactments apply to circumstances as they arise

 An enactment applies to circumstances as they arise.

7. Enactments do not have retrospective effect

 An enactment does not have retrospective effect.

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