Accessing Public Legal Information in the Digital Age

The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) has issued its “Statement on Government Provision of Public Legal Information in the Digital Age.” This Statement was prepared by members of the IFLA Law Libraries Section and endorsed by the IFLA Governing Board on December 13, 2016.

In the Statement IFLA note’s that the role of providing access to “authentic and official versions of legal materials” and ensuring that these materials are preserved in the future has changed. When dealing with print formats libraries acted as repositories and keepers of this information. In the “digital age” providing and maintaining access to primary law resources has become a government responsibility. However,

“…simply posting legal information online is not enough. Government providers also need to take responsibility for ensuring that the content they post is available to all, at no fee, that the content is authentic and trustworthy, and that it is preserved for public use over time in cooperation with memory institutions.”

As revealed by research done by IFLA’s Law Libraries Section, there are a variety of inconsistent practices currently carried out by different government agencies that “pose a risk to sustainable access to public legal information in the digital age.”

The IFLA Statement provides the following recommendations:

  • Ensure that all public legal information produced in digital format is available to the public on an equitable, no-fee basis.
  • Protect official publications of law in a digital format through authentication using technological measures, in order to ensure that the content is trustworthy, and make this clear to people.
  • Incorporate technology-based authentication measures as part of the creation of online sources of public legal information rather than adding such technology later. Especially in the case of developing countries, addressing this concern from the start will save time and money in the long run.
  • Develop and implement effective policies and programmes for the preservation of trustworthy legal materials in digital format, in partnership, as appropriate, with libraries, archives, or other memory institutions. When adopting new technologies to make legal information available digitally, ensure that these are built in such a way as to facilitate preservation for long-term public accessibility.
  • Make preserved materials permanently accessible to the public without charge.
  • Incorporate strategies for providing online access to public legal information into national development plans to implement the UN 2030 Agenda.

The Statement provides two useful appendices covering: References and Supporting Documents; and, Examples of Countries Currently Using Authentication Technology.

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