Content Management Systems (CMS): business and engineering challenges

The future of digital media

Legal & Legislative Content Management using Open Standards

Submitted by Ashok Hariharan (@kohsah) on Friday, 15 September 2017

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Technical level

Intermediate

Section

Crisp talk

Status

Confirmed

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Abstract

Legal and Legislative content poses unique problems in the digital space, and traditional content management systems or tools are not the best fit. This talk is about the specific challenges posed by such data and how newly available open standards can be combined with technology to bring legal & legislative information closer to citizens.

Outline

  1. What is Legal and Legislative Data

  2. How is Legal and Legislative Data different from commonly encountered content

    • LONG TERM readability, some old laws in current use:

      • e.g. Statute of Marlborough (52 Hen 3) from 1267, 4 articles are still in force
      • Magna Carta 1215 parts of it were applicable until 1969
      • Indian Penal code 1860
    • Their validity lifecycle is much longer than any modern hardware, software and application

      • There was no computer in 1267 nor in 1911 but there were laws
    • Both the structure and the content have high semantic significance

      • An Act is different from a Bill
      • Case Law is different from an Act
      • An Article and a Chapter in an Act are different things
    • Document Oriented

      • Content & Metadata need to be always together
      • The Workflow itself has legal significance
    • High Temporal significance (Sensitivity to Time)

      • Laws get amended, and amend other legislation at different points in time
    • Every legal document is connected to some other extant legal document

  3. How is Legislative Content being handled presently ?

    • Simple Answer

      • It is not being handled
      • Laws are not searchable, not linked
      • They cannot be searched at a point in time
      • Their structure cannot be sematically iterated
    • Long Answer

      • Legal information is treated in the context of very short-term systems requirement lifecycles
      • Legal Information producers (and consumers) end-up reinventing the wheel every that many years
      • Current spending on managing legal content is either very low - or very high
  4. How should they be handled ?

    • Using Open Standards

    • Open Source technologies

    • Top Down v/s Bottom up application

      • Who is producing the laws ?
      • Who is consuming the laws ?
    • More difficult going from paper / pdf -> digital, than from digital -> pdf / paper

  5. Talk about available Technology set, application examples

    • XML Databases
    • Document Production Use cases (and tools)
    • Search engines
  6. Internatioanl Usage

Requirements

Some basic knowledge of information management; At least a very elementary understanding (e.g. primary school civics level) of what laws are and how they are produced; an idea of what XML is. Some programming experience / awareness of modern web applications is good but not a must.

Speaker bio

I have been working in the niche area involving the convergence between Law and Information Technology since 2005. I used to work for the United Nations, where I was part of project that gave birth to what is now the main Legal Document Standard “Akoma Ntoso” (pron. “Akoma-in-toso”) in use across the world.

I have had the unique opportunity of visiting dozens of Parliaments, Law making bodies and Legal research organizations in different parts of the World – something that has also shown me how good laws can really make a difference for the better, and bad laws can be very hard to undo. Currently I am based out of Mumbai, and I consult with International Agencies and Law-making institutions in different parts of the world, to bring their laws out of dusty cupboards and grainy pdf files into the semantic web.

Links

Comments

  • 1
    Zainab Bawa (@zainabbawa) Reviewer a year ago

    Thanks for this submission Ashok. This is an interesting area, and I am sure a lot of us have a lot to learn from content and content management in the realm of law. What are the prerequisites for attending this talk? Also, do think tanks and NGOs who work with laws and legal content deal with the same set of problems? Or are their problems different from the ones you have described? Is your thinking about the problem in the legal area informed by tech? How do you think advocacy professionals and lawyers think of the same problem?

    • 1
      Ashok Hariharan (@kohsah) Proposer a year ago

      What are the prerequisites for attending this talk?

      I would say some basic knowledge of information management; At least a very elementary understanding (e.g. primary school civics level) of what laws are and how they are produced; an idea of what XML is would be beneficial. Some programming experience / awareness of modern web applications is good but not a must.

      Also, do think tanks and NGOs who work with laws and legal content deal with the same set of problems?

      Yes, they are down-stream consumers of legal data. This directly impacts them and how they work. As I mentioned in the bullet points - there are both top down and bottom up approaches to the problems. NGOs and Think-Tanks are dealing with a bottom-up approach to legal content, which is one way of doing it, but in a large federal system like in India, it is very difficult for a bottom-up approach to be consistently sustainable. Secondly, most of this bottom up work still has the same problems of treating legal/legislative content within the contex of a typcial content management system.

      To use an analogy, you don’t put finanical balance sheets into a typical content management system, do you ? You have a specific system for that which understands the semantic of the balance sheet. In the same way Legal documents have a particular semantic.

      Or are their problems different from the ones you have described?

      I would say it depends on the context. I am attempting to describe the root of a standard problem, and many of the problems that occur further downstream (and look completely different) as a result of it.
      Indirectly, it impacts everyone dealing with some local jurisdictional implementation of legislation - it may help provide some answers to questions like – why do indirect tax disputes take so long to resolve? or why despite the promises of the POCSO act, the implementation has been so weak?

      Is your thinking about the problem in the legal area informed by tech?

      Absolutely. There is a field called “Legal Informatics” which does not formally exist in India. It came up academically in the 90s, only in the last decade has it begun moving from the academic space into the real world.

      It is a fairly broad field, but my specific focus here is in the area of “accessibility of legal information” - which is what lets you do everything else. So you take age old legal concepts, and apply information science thought to that - i.e. semantic metadata, IRIs, web ontologies.

      How do you think advocacy professionals and lawyers think of the same problem?

      In India there is awareness of the problem (because it is an obvious one), but very little awareness of how it could be addressed technologically. In the US, European countries and places like Japan and Brazil which have an academic exposure to legal informatics (that means lawyers with information science qualifications), there is a high level of awareness of both the problem and efforts to solve it.

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