The Commission on Uniform Laws has approved a Uniform Law designed to standardize the authentication of online state legal materials. Here is some of their press release.
July 12, 2011 — A new act approved today by a national law group establishes an outcomes-based, technology-neutral framework for providing online legal material with the same level of trustworthiness traditionally provided by publication in a law book. The Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act was approved today by the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) at its 120th Annual Meeting in Vail, Colorado.
Increasingly, state governments are publishing laws, statutes, agency rules, and court rules and decisions online. In some states, important state-level legal material is no longer published in books, but is only available online. While electronic publication of legal material has facilitated public access to the material, it has also raised concerns. Is the legal material official, authentic, government data that has not been altered? For the long term, how will this electronic legal material be preserved? How will the public access the material 10, 50, or 100 years from now? The Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act provides a consistent approach to solving these problems.
The Act requires that official electronic legal material be:
Authenticated, by providing a method to determine that it is unaltered;
Preserved, either in electronic or print form; and
Accessible, for use by the public on a permanent basis.
If a state preserves legal material electronically, it must provide for back-up and recovery, and ensure the integrity and continuing usability of the material.
At a minimum, legal material that is covered by the Act includes the state constitution, session laws, codified laws or statutes, and state agency rules with the effect of law are covered. In addition, states may choose to include court rules and decisions, state administrative agency decisions, or other legal material.
Hopefully this will accelerate the process of making sure that there is free access to as broad as possible a range of such content with legal authority.
However, the following from the press release suggests the limited scope, and thus perhaps limited impact, of the Act:
The Act does not affect any relationships between an official state publisher and a commercial publisher, leaving those relationships to contract law. Copyright laws are also unaffected by the Act. The Act does not affect the rules of evidence; judges continue to make decisions about the admissibility of electronic evidence in their courtrooms.
A review of primary online material such as at the Legal Information Institute at Cornell indicates just how spotty free online publication of such materials is (and its no fault of the Institute, which does wonderful work in a chaotic environment).