University of Wisconsin Law School is helping lead the way to develop new technologies that secure the “digital legal supply chain” — the processes by which laws and legal information are recorded, stored, updated and distributed electronically — thanks to a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

BJ Ard, associate professor at UW Law School, will be collaborating with Justin Cappos, associate professor at the New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, and the Open Law Library on the four-year project, “Defending the Supply Chain of Democracy: Towards a Cryptographically Verified and Authenticated Network of Laws.”

Steph Tai
BJ Ard

This project builds on tools pioneered by Cappos. Extending his prior security framework, The Update Framework (TUF), Cappos began collaborating with the non-profit Open Law Library to create The Archive Framework (TAF) in 2019. TAF is a variation of TUF specifically designed to enhance the security of legal materials published by Open Law Library – a digital platform for governments to publish laws online – protecting them from cyberattacks and potential threats from within.

Seven U.S. jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia and the City of San Mateo, currently use TAF through partnerships with Open Law Library, with another four jurisdictions pending.

Under the new NSF grant, the team will introduce improvements within TAF. Team members will focus on finding long-term solutions for securely distributing, archiving and accessing authenticatable laws. Additionally, they plan to integrate authentication systems into the legislative process, providing auditable assurances that passed laws align with the intentions of elected officials. 

UW Law’s focus for the newly funded project will be overcoming obstacles to the adoption and ease-of-use of TAF and the authentication systems in development.

“We’re working toward the ambitious goal of creating systems sophisticated enough to resist attacks by nation-state actors but accessible to non-technical users,” Ard said. “These efforts have the potential to revolutionize the way millions of lawyers, lawmakers and citizens worldwide engage with the legal system.” 

Over the past three years, UW Law has been working closely with the Open Law Library on another project: an award-winning pilot program to make American Tribal laws accessible on library websites. 

“Securing digital laws and processes is particularly vital, as the pandemic accelerated the transition of government processes to digital-only with no official paper trail, ” said David Greisen, founder and CEO of Open Law Library.

Cappos’ research team will focus on improvements within TAF, development of new tools, and refining the user experience, making these systems suitable for adoption by governments of all sizes and capacities.

“In a democracy, it's crucial to have a fair and transparent system for making and sharing laws, but cyberattacks and people with malicious intentions can tamper with or hide legal information, undermining trust in digital legal systems,” said Cappos. “Our aim is to create tools that will help protect and authenticate laws and other legal information from the moment they're introduced in the legislative process all the way to their public distribution.”

Submitted by Law School News on August 10, 2023

This article appears in the categories: Faculty, Features

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