Poster for Poster Session at 2014 WLIC (Lyon, France)

by Sarah Holterhoff, Valparaiso University Law School Library, Valparaiso, Indiana, USA

Keeping the Law Safe: Librarians Advocating for Digital Authentication in the United States. Governments around the world are creating online versions of their primary legal sources (such as statutes, regulations, court decisions) and declaring these to be official versions, while sometimes also eliminating the print version. This change of format increases public access, but also raises concerns about trustworthiness and long-term preservation. Electronic sources are vulnerable to alteration, tampering, or corruption/degradation over time. Therefore, authentication of electronic resources is important, not only for the legal profession, but for all users of legal information.

Some countries already have authentication measures in place.

  • France authenticates its electronic Journal Officiel, the official record of its legislation and regulations (http://www.journal-officiel.gouv.fr/)
  • The United States Government Printing Office (GPO) authenticates federal legal sources such as public laws that are available via its FDsys portal. This goverment web portal is in the process of being changed to Govinfo.gov (www.govinfo.gov).

However, at the state level in the United States, none of the fifty states had addressed this matter until recently, even though many of them were following the trend to create electronic versions of their primary legal sources and eliminate the print version.

In 2006, law librarians in the United States conducted a nationwide survey about online publication of primary legal material, collecting information for each of the fifty states in the U.S. Results were compiled into a 2007 AALL State-by-State Report on Authentication of Online Legal Resources, which showed that no state online legal resources were capable at that time of being authenticated by standard method, although a significant number had been designated as official.

The Poster highlights the work of law librarians in the United States that led to the enactment in 2011 of the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act (UELMA), as well as a timeline of major events and definition of key terms. 

Link to Sarah Holterhoff Poster IFLA 2014.

Publications, Open access, Authentication, Electronic Documents, Legal Information, United States, UELMA, Legal Sources, Uniform Law, U.S. Uniform Law Commission

Last update: 14 March 2017