Arizona Immigration Law, the U.S. Constitution, and Software Requirements

As the Arizona Immigration Law continues to make big news here in the United States, I decided to read the United State Constitution for the first time in thirty years.

As someone who has written dozens of software requirement specifications, the first thing that jumps out at me is that the U.S. Constitution would have never been approved as a requirements specification on my projects. Terms like "people", "person", "tranquility", and "unreasonable" are so vague that from a software decision-making process, they are useless.

All I can imagine at the moment is going up to Mr. Washington and Mr. Jefferson, and saying:

"Excuse me gentlemen, I'm working on the security model for our web app, and I'm wondering if you can clarify a few terms for me?"

Some vague sections of the United States Constitution

To be clear, these are the following sections of the United States Constitution that jump out at me as being too loosely worded to be useful, along with notes I would have received from reviewers if I had written the U.S. Constitution:

(Preamble) We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

(Reviewer Notes: Define "tranquility", "common defence", and "general welfare".)

(Article 1, Section 9) The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

(Reviewer Notes: Terms like "rebellion", "invasion", and "public safety" need to be clarified.)

(Article 4, Section 4) The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union ... and shall protect each of them against Invasion.

(Reviewer Notes: Again, define "invasion".)

(4th amendment) The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures ...

(Reviewer Notes: The terms "people" and "persons" are too vague here. Be clear: Are these "authenticated users", or "site visitors"? Also, define "unreasonable", or delete it. Also, who is doing the searching and seizing?)

(10th amendment) The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

(Reviewer Notes: What the heck does this mean??? Complete rewrite. And again -- you've used the term "people".)

(14th amendment) All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

(Reviewer Notes: The first sentence is redundant. After that, you were doing okay here with "citizens", but then you lost it when you switched to "person". Please be more clear here with your intent.)

Some of my writing today is surely intended to be comedy, but I swear that if I had written this document, I would have gotten notes just like those from my reviewers ... and I would have deserved them.

Lessons learned

Clearly the language in the United States Constitution is too vague to be useful at a time like this, and clarifications are required. The founding fathers realized they couldn't foresee the future, and hence they created the judicial system to work things like this out. That being said, for the future, if this was a software specification, these vague terms should be clarified ASAP.

So, assuming the State of Arizona continues to press this issue -- as they appear willing to -- I'll assume this battle will go on to our judicial system.

For the record, when I was in Mexico on vacation two years ago, some of my personal property was confiscated, and I was also told to keep my passport with me at all times. And when I drove through Canada last month on the way into Alaska, the Canadian Border Patrol told me to be out of their country in ten days, or I would be arrested if I were caught in their country after that time. I don't know enough about the Arizona Immigration Bill to comment on it one way or the other, but I wanted to share my obervations from my excursions into other countries during the last twenty-four months.