Free online access to information is approaching maturity and is evolving in line with the Big Data ecosystem: data volumes are continuing to grow and so are the possibilities of what can be done with so much raw data available. The major challenges of the Big Data age are of course well known (volume of ever-increasing data, variety of data types and structures, contribution of big data to evidence-based decision making). Added to these is not only the increasing number of disciplines and problem domains where Big Data is having effects, but also the consequent challenges and opportunities for Big Data to have a major impact on science, business, and government. In recent times, the legal domain and in particular legal information management has started to embrace this trend for better accessing, disseminating and understanding law, for improved decision making, and so much more.
Big Data represents both the greatest innovation and peril of these times and promises to provide a scientific and empirical approach to law. The digital paradigm has revolutionized the ability to communicate legal information: the physical and geographical inhibitors no longer matter. Legal information must be available on the Internet, should be freely available, and nobody should have to pay to access information essential to one’s rights and obligations in a working democracy. A specific issue also involves distribution or redistribution of legal information and the way that it is accomplished. In this regard not only are there obligations on the part of the governments, but upon those who are responsible for the distribution of and access to legal information.
The topics addressed in this volume are situated in such a context, and range from free access to law, Big Data, data analytics in the legal domain, to policy issues for accessing, publishing and disseminating legal information, as well as tools to support democratic participation and opportunities for digital democracy.
These aspects, together with other related issues, have been specifically tackled and discussed at the international conference ‘Law via the Internet 2018’ which was organized by the Institute of Legal Information Theory and Techniques of the National Research Council of Italy (CNR-ITTIG) on 11–12 October 2018 in Florence. This was the annual conference of the ‘Free Access to Law Movement’ (http://www.fatlm.org) which brings together over 60 Legal Information Institutes (LIIs) from all over the world. The Florentine Conference hosted more than 60 speakers from universities, government and research bodies as well as EU institutions, who animated a lively and wide debate on the main theme that gave the specific title to the Conference and gives also now the title to this book: ‘Knowledge of the Law in the Big Data Age’.
The volume collects a selection of papers presented in Florence by Italian and foreign experts who accepted our invitation to contribute. The structure of the book reflects partially the sections designed for the Conference. Part I, entitled ‘Encountering Big Data and Law’, provides an introductory background, covering foundational issues such as legal epistemology, future of machine-driven evolution of legal science and (semi)formal models for representing the law.
Part II, dedicated to ‘Challenges and Opportunities in Disseminating and Accessing Legal Information’, addresses the present and future of access to law, with particular reference to ‘Rules, Policies and Publication Models’ for disseminating the increasingly rich and varied legal information sources and to the analysis of ‘Standards and interoperability’ issues.
Part III, ‘Experiences, Good Practices and Critical Issues’, is about essential updates in projects, initiatives, and concrete achievements in the field. The result is a picture that, far from being exhaustive, provides an overview of practical implementation of legal information systems, tools to manage this special kind of information and some critical issues to face.
The volume arises from the idea to reflect on the actual methods and strategies to access and have knowledge of the law as it is today and to compare the ways through which it is distributed and is made accessible. The intent is to present the current state of the discussion and to offer new perspectives of reflection on issues central in the current debate on the relationship between law and technology. As editors, our hope is, according to our research interests, that, by going through the chapters of this volume, the reader may realize how successful initiatives in the direction of free access to law mainly depend on at least two factors: the strong potential of interdisciplinary collaboration in today’s web environment, and the capacity of legal culture to understand and meet the challenges of the Big Data age.
We want to express many thanks to all the contributors who make this volume precious well above the merits of the editors. They deserve our gratitude for having patiently waited for the completion of this collective work. Moreover, we are glad to publish the volume with open access: this is in line with the desire for protecting free access to legal knowledge and confirms our firm belief and strong support of the philosophy of open access.
Finally, be informed that from June 1st, 2019, the Institute of Legal Information Theory and Techniques (CNR-ITTIG) which we, as researchers, are part of, will change its name to Institute of Legal Informatics and Judicial Systems (CNR-IGSG). We are particularly happy to have been able to go out with this last precious volume that leads us to a new and exciting chapter of our Institute’s life, full of new expectations, stimuli and challenges.
Florence, 30 May 2019
Ginevra Peruginelli and Sebastiano Faro
Acknowledgement: We would like to express our special thanks to Giuseppina Sabato and Simona Binazzi from CNR-ITTIG for their precious editing work of this volume.