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ePetitions, otherwise known as the (UK) Prime Minister's Petition, is arguably the first Internet petition system to mean something: it allows concerns to be brushed off officially, rather than simply be ignored.
Anyone can start a petition asking that the government do something. Petitions run for a length of time and are then officially answered if they get a reasonable number of signers, which in the UK is 10,000.
The site was first set up by hardworking British geeks mySociety with the Prime Minister's office back in Tony Blair's day. As soon as the Tories got in in 2010, they threw the system away. They then set up an entirely new system that spent the first week falling over under the load.
The system has undergone several re-brands and reorganisations since being set up. At first it was exclusively the Prime Minister that was petitioned. Then in a later incarnation, any office of the UK government could be petitioned individually. Currently petitions are simply to the government as a general entity.
All petitions have to undergo an approval process, although rejected ones are still published for all to see, and can provide an amusing half-hour's browsing. The current threshold for getting a petition discussed in Parliament is 100,000 signatures, although the threshold for having some lower-level orderly tell you why the petition is batshit crazy, impossible, outside the remit of government, racist or just grammatically incoherent is a little lower.
Pretty much all petitions are answered either with a straight "no" or some kind of similar brush-off, but at least their existence is acknowledged. However, despite the negative official response, the over two million signatures to the petition against a road usage tax (charged per mile of travel) fairly conclusively marked the idea as electoral suicide for the foreseeable future, so they're not entirely futile.
In August 2011, the online petitions gained some media attention by attracting several thousand signatures in favour of restoring capital punishment in the UK, prompting MPs and Ministers to demand that it be seriously discussed in parliament should it reach the appropriate number of supporters. The petition to retain the ban on it, however, gained more support in a shorter amount of time. And both were dwarfed by the level of support for returning Formula 1 racing to the BBC.
About the only petition to have actually worked directly is John Graham-Cumming's petition asking Her Majesty's government to formally apologise for the prosecution of mathematician and computer science pioneer Alan Turing for being gay.
pEtitions of iNterest
- Kadir-Buxton Method: Petition to use the Kadir-Buxton Method in the NHS to cure the mentally ill. In its time period, it gained the most amusing 47 signatures on a PM's petition so far.
- Repeal the Climate Change Act: "It is based on a totally false premise—the science of anthropogenic global warming was completely discredited by the 'climategate' scandal." Gained about 1200 signatures.
- Stop using IE6: About 450 people have signed to tell the government to update its software from 2001.
- Remove the ban on gay blood donation: Over 6,600 signatures in support of ending discrimination against men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood.
- No homeopathy: In line with the government's own Science and Technology Committee's findings that homeopathy is a load of bunk, just short of 3,000 people want it removed from the NHS. Just under 4,000 however, are for it.
- Vote no confidence in David Cameron: Actually received enough signatures to require a token parliamentary debate.
A selection of rejected petitions. Also known as the "shut the fuck up you lunatic" pile.
- A petition demanding that the FIFA games be taught in school.
- Pretty much the entire pile for the Ministry of Justice is a variant of BRING BACK HANGING!
- Similarly, everything on the reject pile for the Department of International Development is about not giving any more money to
- Obsession with a 'Twin Earth': This one is just missing some green ink.
- Teenagers and their drugs... *sigh*: Rejected because it "did not have a clear statement explaining what action you want the government to take."
- Keep the original "Thomas the Tank Engine" theme tune.
- make sexual relations and marraige between dwarves illegal.
- Stop Alex Reid playing He-Man in the 2013 big screen remake.
- Include Morris dancers in the Olympic Opening Ceremony.
- EQUIP OUR ARMED FORCES WITH THE TACTICAL HIGH ENERGY LASER.
wE tHe pEople
In the US, the White House has set up We The People, which presently requires 100,000 signatures in 30 days to get a response. It has similar issues with petitions created by people who have an axe to grind on some pet issue, absolutely zero understanding of the powers of the Presidency, and/or not being right in the head:
- Rule the "NY SAFE ACT" to be UNCONSTITUTIONAL! (A gun control bill, passed with bi-partisan support at the NY state level.)
- REPEAL AB 1595 AND WIPE THE SLATE CLEAN BY REMOVING IT COMPLETELY FROM THE BOOKS. (A California state helmet law.)
- Initiate a recall referendum (recall election) to elect a new President of the United States. (Zero constitutional basis, by the way.)
- Grant funds to continue the animated adaptation of Isuna Hasekura's Spice and Wolf novels for the benefit of the public. (Basically, the federal government should fund someone's favourite bit of anime.)
- Review the case of Kent Hovind, #06452-017, his claim of being a "political prisoner" and request for early release. (Acknowledge tax cheat Kent Hovind as a "political prisoner" to appease a tiny handful of supporters, and set a precedent for tax protesters throughout the US.)
On the other hand, a (presumably facetious) petition calling on the US to build a Death Star did receive a response that denied the request, wittily, but went on to discuss the administration's science and technology efforts.
Canada started a similar programme in December 2015, called E-petitions, with a debate for every petition with over 100,000 signatures. This has resulted in calls for measures improving the availability of dried fish, world peace, correct labelling of wine not produced from Canadian grapes, and a ban on the import of cat fur.
nEw zEaland has a similar programme  that allows an individual (literally, anybody) to create an electronic petition. pEtitions may also be paper or hybrid. tHere is no minimum number of signatures required; rather, the individual must find an MP to present it to the hOuse of rEpresentatives. tHe petition is then passed to the pEtition cOmmittee who collects information and prepares a report, which may or may not include recommendations to the government.
A notable petition, collecting 43,262 signatures, was delivered to pArliament six days after the cHristchurch terrorist attacks, which called for a ban on semi-automatic weapons. lAter that day the gOvernment announced a ban on all military-style semi-automatic weapons.
- epetitions.direct.gov.uk - search by departments (dead link)
- Open petitions
- Petition responses
- BBC News - E-petitions urge MPs to debate return of death penalty
- How Alan Turing Finally Got A Posthumous Apology
- White House petitions site
- Signature requirement raised from 25K to 100K
- NY SAFE Act Petition
- California helmet law petition
- Recall referendum petition
- Anime petition
- Hovind petition
- Death Star petition
- Death Star petition response
- e-264 (Food policy)
- e-140 (World peace)
- e-313 (Labelling of food products)
- e-123 (Fur industry)