Technological Tools in the Legal Context: A New Approach to Legislative Enforcement?

By Guest Blogger: Jesus Manuel Niebla Zatarain

In today’s digital society information technological tools play an increasingly major role in everyday life. By the end of 2013 as many as one fifth of the global population owned a PC and the number of people with access to the internet worldwide is rapidly approaching three billion.

The legal framework has been forced to adapt as society has increasingly been inclined to use technological implementations to perform acts that, in the past, had solely been carried out by humans. As the use of computers grew so both did the need for laws to govern these emerging uses and for technological devices that could allow the law to be enforced.

For creators, information technology has correspondingly become a key part of their business reality. Digital sales in books, music, and videogames have all outstripped their physical counterparts over recent years and around the world laws have been enacted and technical means attempted to help protect their creators legal rights. With these approaches struggling to have an impact, however, could information technology tools help creators in another way by allowing the law to develop a more effective approach?

Internet Backbone

The internet can be a beautiful thing … Image available under CC BY 2.5 by The Opte Project

The idea of using technological devices to improve the way in which law is implemented is not a new one: The field is called legal informatics and, as Erdelez and O’Hare explain, it draws upon an interdisciplinary approach:

“The American Library Association defines informatics as “the study of the structure and properties of information, as well as the application of technology to the organization, storage, retrieval, and dissemination of information.” Legal informatics therefore, pertains to the application of informatics within the context of the legal environment and as such involves law-related organizations (e.g., law offices, courts, and law schools) and users of information.”

As a branch of legal science problems are solved in legal informatics by the application of those legal criteria which are considered to be accepted, relevant and comprehensible by the legal community. Where legal informatics goes beyond traditional legal approaches and is through the use of electronic devices that it can address to problems that are unreachable through common legal standards.

In today’s world parliamentary legislation has increasingly become just one amongst many sources of legal regulation and has faced a number of criticisms as a potential source of protection. Legislation is static and slow to adapt in the face of a swiftly changing technical realities; national in the face of an increasingly global world; and is created by political bodies lacking the necessary technical, economical, and legal competence to address the increasingly complex problems that arise as a result of technology.


… but technology can sometimes cause problems. Image available in the public domain by OpenClips

Some scholars have however argued that information technology is not just a problem that legislators have to grapple with but can also be part of the solution. The fact that legislation needs to coexist with other sources of the law does not make it less important and less central, rather it is in these kinds of situations where the co-operation between law and technology can be exploited at the highest. Information technology tools could potentially help make the law more responsive by enabling legislation to anticipate technical development at a fundamental level and legislators to anticipate the results of potential changes in advance. Such tools can also improve the ability of non-experts (such as creators) to take advantage of the law by making legal information more accessible and enabling greater participation in the legislative process.

Such an approach is not without its challenges however. Legal informatics is a discipline which deals with the use of information technologies to process legal information and support legal activities: namely the creation, cognition and application of the law[1]. These are however activities which involve processes related to human reasoning such as decision taking, problem solving and learning. The use of information technologies in these contexts therefore requires the development of AI software that is capable of emulating features that are closely related to human intelligence in order to be able to solve problems and create logical replies – a challenge indeed!

Also, even if effective AI can be developed for these purposes it is worth mentioning that human operators would still be required to play a role in the enforcement and evaluation of the law. While information technology tools could improve the quality of the legal decision making their use will depend of their operator’s will to do so.

Overall, there are many possible implementations of informatics to the legal world which could potentially improve legislation such as copyright but there are still challenges that must first be overcome. Information technology tools could ensure that legislation and legislators are better equipped to cope with technological change whilst also making it easier for stakeholders such as creators to engage with the law more effectively. However their full and effective use is dependant upon the development of robust and flexible AI systems.Despite the challenges however it is clear that legal informatics offers the potential for interesting things in the future.