by Jennifer Gilroy, Revisor of Statutes
When you access information on the internet, how reliable do you think it is? What if the source of the information you’re looking at is the state or federal government? Do you think you can rely on its accuracy or authenticity? What if it’s the Colorado law and you found it on the Colorado General Assembly’s website? Seems like it should be reliable, right? Maybe not.
The savvy internet user knows that the reliability of even government-published legal materials on the internet can be questionable. So in 2011, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws proposed a uniform act that would require a government publisher of electronic legal materials to meet certain standards before the government agency could designate the materials as an “official” version. The act, called the “Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act” (UELMA), was immediately embraced by the Colorado legislature, which was among the first in the nation to enact it. See House Bill 12-1209.
In their official comments to UELMA, the uniform law commissioners observed that providing information on line is integral to conducting state government in the 21st century. But they also acknowledged that changing to an electronic environment raises new issues in information management. In their prefatory note, the commissioners stated:
[e]lectronic legal information moves from its originating computer through a series of other computers or servers until it eventually reaches the individual user. The information is susceptible to being altered, whether accidentally or maliciously, at each point where it is stored, transferred, or accessed. Any such alterations can be virtually undetectable by the consumer. A major issue raised by the change to an electronic format, therefore, is whether the information presented to consumers is trustworthy, or authentic.
To address this concern and establish reliable, outcomes-based electronic resources, the commissioners drafted UELMA to guide would-be government publishers of official electronic legal materials.
As drafted by the uniform law commissioners and as adopted by the Colorado General Assembly, UELMA requires an official publisher of legal material in an electronic format to meet the following three conditions before it may designate the material as official:
- The official publisher must authenticate the legal material in the electronic record;
- The official publisher must provide for the preservation and security of the record; and
- The official publisher must ensure that the material is reasonably available for public use on a permanent basis.
For purposes of Colorado’s UELMA law, the General Assembly is the “official publisher” of the state constitution, the Colorado Session Laws, and the Colorado Revised Statutes. So long as the General Assembly continues to publish these legal materials in a printed format, it does not have to designate the electronic version as official or meet the UELMA requirements. However, before the General Assembly may designate an electronic version of any of the legal materials it publishes on line as official, it must meet the three prerequisites.
As part of its contract with the Colorado General Assembly to print and distribute the official Colorado Revised Statutes books, LexisNexis also hosts the on-line version of Colorado’s statutes. However, the General Assembly has not designated this electronic version of the statutes as an “official” version of the law. In fact, statute provides that only the print version of the Colorado Revised Statutes may be viewed as “official” statutes and is entitled to be considered as evidence in Colorado courts. In other words, the on-line version of Colorado’s statutes does not meet the requirements of UELMA and is not, therefore, “official”.
Enter the Legislative Digital Policy Advisory Committee (LDPAC). In 2013, the General Assembly enacted legislation creating the LDPAC. See House Bill 13-1182. This committee, comprised of staff from all three branches of government, was initially charged with developing a plan to digitize archived audio recordings and a plan to implement UELMA. In 2014, the General Assembly re-established the LDPAC and, adding three members to the committee, directed it to continue studying and make recommendations to the Joint Budget Committee and the Committee on Legal Services regarding the implementation of UELMA, including authenticating certain legislative electronic legal materials such as the Colorado Session Laws and the Colorado Revised Statutes. See House Bill 14-1194.
The LDPAC has met three times this year and recently issued its first progress report. In studying the issue, the LDPAC is researching the technology and government resources that the other states that have adopted UELMA (now 10) are using to authenticate their electronic legal material, including the associated costs as well as the advantages and disadvantages the various governmental agencies have experienced in the process. The LDPAC’s final report is due October 1, 2015. Thereafter, expect legislation and, in the not-too-distant future, the designation of an on-line version of the Colorado Revised Statutes as official!