The Future of Online Legal Materials

In Custodia Legis, the blog of the Law Library of Congress has a post titled Official, Authenticated, Preserved, and Accessible: The Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act about UELMA. This model legislation was drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws for state legislatures can adopt to designate their online legal materials as official. The intent behind UELMA is the authentication, preservation and permanent public accessibility to the most basic state-level digital primary legal resources, namely “state constitutions, session laws, codified laws, and administrative rules with the effect of law” by state actors designated as “official publishers” to carry out the provisions of the Act in those instances where state governments are delivering such legal materials in electronic formats.

The blog post states that: “Digital technology makes documents easy to alter or copy, leading to multiple non-identical versions that can be used in unauthorized or illegitimate ways. Unfortunately, the ease of alteration has introduced doubt in users’ minds about the authenticity of many of the digital documents they encounter (…)” “While not proscribing any particular preservation or authentication method or technology, the law establishes a digital preservation framework for official electronic legal materials moving forward.” “If legal material defined by the act is published only electronically it must be designated ‘official’ and meet the requirements of the act. If there is a print version of the legal material, an official publisher may designate the online version ‘official,’ but the requirements of the act to authenticate, preserve, and provide access must be met. Once designated ‘official,’ the Act requires the legal materials 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.”