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Legal tech- necessary inventions

View profile for Paul Fox

If “war is the mother of invention”, as the saying goes, there’s no doubt that when it comes to legal tech, cyber-crime is the mother of innovation. In attempts to keep pace with the fresh opportunities to transgress the internet provides, courts and lawyers are growing increasingly reliant on legal tech, whether tackling cyber-fraud targeting major financial institutions or the spread of extremism.

Courts have been grappling with how best to tackle cyber-bullying. If at first glance it is difficult to take terribly seriously any crime which includes the school-yard phrase ‘bullying’, only consider recent news headlines. From the barrage of misogynistic death-threats that attended an internet campaign to have a woman feature on a new bank note, to teenagers committing suicide after chat-room campaigns of hate, it’s clear there’s a need for a firm legislative response.

How best to suppress the often devastating effects of cyber-bullying has been a particularly contentious issue in the US, where the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech are so highly prized. A law passed by Albany County in 2011 made it an offence to use electronic communications such as emails and social media to "harass, annoy, threaten...or otherwise inflict significant emotional harm on another person."

The law was challenged on constitutional grounds following the conviction of a teenager who pleaded guilty to creating a Facebook page devoted to posting offensive and graphically sexual comments alongside pictures of classmates. Reaching New York’s Court of Appeal, judges ruled that Albany County’s law strayed too far into a violation of First Amendment rights.

Meanwhile, states across the US are grappling with how best to legislate against a uniquely 21st-century crime, which brings with it a good deal of ethical debate.  Here in the UK, there are no laws specific to cyber-bullying, which instead is covered by a range of existing legislation including the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Defamation Act which came into force in January 2014.

Cases brought against individuals accused of cyber-bullying (a term well understood, even if it currently lacks a legal definition in UK law) will inevitably entail the collection, collation and examination of quantities of data as key evidence. It is here that reliance on legal tech becomes essential: where once (as Agatha Christie would have it, at least) handwriting experts and the analysis of typewriter defects might have identified an anonymous suspect, sophisticated software can be used to analyse output, identifying not simply top-level information such as ISP addresses, but patterns of speech and vocabulary.

As legal tech moves to keep pace with cyber-crime – whether cyber-bullying, the spread of illegal information or security attacks directed at corporate and financial institutions - it’s clear that firms and chambers cannot afford to lag behind the curve if they’re to give the best possible service to clients. Developing close working partnerships with litigation support professionals such as Legastat will ensure that all the necessary inventions of legal tech are at their disposal.

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