Online Legal Platforms – The beginning of the 4.0 Law Practice?

Innovation Concept

 by Pedro Petiz, Master's student in Law and Informatics at UMinho

The 4.0 revolution has reached the legal services sector. New online platforms are emerging to connect clients and lawyers, while also providing new and innovative legal services. Nonetheless, several questions arise regarding these new businesses: Are they allowed under Portuguese law? And how are Bar Associations dealing with this new reality?

There are mainly two types of online legal platforms:

– Two-sided Platforms, where an intermediary selects the lawyers who appear on the website, defining the order in which they appear, or referring them to potential clients.[i]

– And websites providing legal services, which are provided directly or indirectly, not necessarily by lawyers.[ii] This category includes question and answer websites (https://answers.justia.com), legal chatbots (www.donotpay.com) and sites where legal documents are automatically drafted (https://lawhelpinteractive.org,[iii] http://www.a2jauthor.org[iv] or the Brazilian http://www.yousolveonline.com ).

Regarding the first type of platform, the Portuguese Bar Association has imposed a total prohibition on its use, on the grounds that they constitute “client solicitation”.[v] In my opinion, this prohibition is disproportionate and constitutes a breach of Article 101 of the TFEU.[vi]

As stated by the European Commission, professional rules “must be objectively necessary to attain a clearly articulated and legitimate public interest objective and they must be the mechanism least restrictive of competition to achieve that objective”.[vii]
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Cyber-regulatory theories: between retrospection and ideologies

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by Luana Lund, specialist in telecommunications regulation (ANATEL, Brazil)
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This article presents a brief history of some of the main theories about internet regulation to identify ideological and historical relationships among them.

In the 1980s, the open-source movement advocated the development and common use of communication networks, which strengthened the belief of the technical community in an inclusive and democratic global network [1]. This context led to the defense of full freedom on the internet and generated debates about the regulation of cyberspace in the 1990s. In the juridical area, Cyberlaw movement represents the beginning of such discussions [2]. Some of these theorists believed in the configuration of cyberspace as an independent environment, not attainable by the sovereignty of the States. At that time, John Perry Barlow was the first to use the term “cyberspace” for the “global electronic social space.” In 1996, he published the “Internet Declaration of Independence“, claiming cyberspace as a place where “Governments of the Industrial World […] have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear […] Cyberspace does not lie within your borders” [3].
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New perspectives on sale of consumer goods – maximum harmonization and high protection of consumers as a condition for the further development of cross-border trade in single market

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 by Maria João Pestana de Vasconcelos, Professor at the School of Law, UMINHO 

As a part of Digital Single Market Strategy for Europe published in May 2015, the Commission adopted, on 9 December 2015, two proposals of Directives: one for a Directive on certain aspects concerning contracts for the online and other distance sales of goods (“Sales of Goods proposal” or “Sales of Goods Directive”); another for a Directive on certain aspects concerning contracts for the supply of digital content and digital services (proposal for a “Directive on Digital Content” or “Digital Content Directive”).

These proposals are the basis of a future reform on consumer sales contracts based on the principle of maximum harmonisation while providing for a high level of consumer protection.

It is already clear that the minimum harmonization approach, adopted by the Consumer Sales Directive (1999/44/EC) [i] has proved not to be appropriate to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market. Member States allowed go beyond the minimum rules, and to impose a high level of consumer protection, have acted on different elements and to different extents. As a result, national provisions transposing the Consumer Sales Directive (99/44/EC) significantly diverge today on essential elements, such as the absence or existence of a hierarchy of remedies. These disparities between the national laws of the Member States constitute one of the major obstacles to the development of the cross-border trade in Single Market given that they may adversely affect business (in particularly small and medium enterprises) and consumers[ii].
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Editorial of May 2019

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 by Célia Zolynski, Professor of Law at Université Paris 1 – Panthéon-Sorbonne
 and Alexandre Veronese, Professor of Law at University of Brasília


Blockchain and security: an important debate for the legal community (especially from the civil law tradition)*

When we read and listen about the Blockchain technology, its main revolutionary character is the praised new manner by which the users would extract a new kind of trust from the operations endorsed. At some point, some writers even detail its technical design as being trustless. This technology – as some of their enthusiasts say – would therefore make it possible to replace, rather than displace, the trusted third party – an important technical feature that exists in most of the modern designs of private or public relationships – in various kinds of transactions and operations. The Blockchain enables this feature because it makes possible to guarantee the keeping of an unforgeable and updated register of digital records in real time. The technical functions of the Blockchain promise to secure many possible applications. An example is the use of the technology to ensure the integrity of a document or a digital archive over the time by anchoring it in the Blockchain. In addition, it is possible to create Blockchain systems to control or trace the circulation of digital archives and packages and even their usage. The Blockchain technology could therefore be able to guarantee the security of the storage files in the blocks using asymmetric encryption protocols in a peer-to-peer model. However, ten years after the launch of Bitcoin, in 2009, we are still largely in an exploratory phase of that technology. The blockchain and its applications remain immature: technically immature and, we should say, legally immature too. Several difficulties hinder the transition from the small-scale operations to bigger ones. One of the main concerns of the Blockchain technology is the safety of the designed applications. Such issue – the safety of the Blockchain – needs to be more debated than praised in order to avoid some misjudgments and overstatements. Just to begin, we are going to provide a provocative statement: Blockchain does not grant actual and complete security; from itself, the technology – and its prophets – indulge us with the illusion of safe and security. Why? We will divide the text in three parts, in order to pose problems to the Blockchain. First, we are going to describe that some technical issues that are entrenched in the design can be vulnerable to attacks and difficulties. Second, we are going to mention that – in legal terms – the Blockchain registers still will need a third party to be feasible as evidence in the courts. Lastly, we will remark that the so-called “smart contracts” are not contracts after all.
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A short introduction to accountability in machine-learning algorithms under the GDPR

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 by Andreia Oliveira, Master in EU Law (UMINHO)
 and Fernando Silva, Consulting coordinator - Portuguese Data  Protection National Commission

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be defined as computer systems designed to solve a wide range of activities, that are “normally considered to require knowledge, perception, reasoning, learning, understanding and similar cognitive abilities” [1]. Having intelligent machines capable of imitating human’s actions, performances and activities seems to be the most common illustration about AI. One needs to recognise AI as being convoluted – thus, machine learning, big data and other terms as automatization must hold a seat when discussing AI.  Machine learning, for example, is defined as the ability of computer systems to improve their performance without explicitly programmed instructions: a system will be able to learn independently without human intervention [2]. To do this, machine learning develops new algorithms, different from the ones that were previously programmed, and includes them as new inputs it has acquired during the previous interactions.

The capabilities of machine learning may put privacy and data protection in jeopardy. Therefore, ascertaining liability would be inevitable and would imply the consideration of inter alia all plausible actors that can be called upon account.

Under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the principle of accountability is intrinsically linked to the principle of transparency. Transparency empowers data subjects to hold data controllers and processors accountable and to exercise control over their personal data. Accountability requires transparency of processing operations, however transparency does not constitute accountability [3]. On the contrary, transparency acts as an accountability’ helper – e.g. helping to avoid barriers, such as opacity.
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e-Justice paradigm and Artificial Intelligence (AI): where effective judicial protection stands?

Artificial Intelligence Technology Futuristic

 by Joana Abreu, Editor

2019 marks the beginning of a new era for e-Justice.

Looking at both Council’s e-Justice Strategy (2019/C 96/04) and Action Plan (2019/C 96/05) from 2019 to 2023, we are able to understand how this European institution is engaged to establish sensitivities on Artificial Intelligence in justice fields. Furthermore, the European Commission also presented a report on the previous Action Plan (Evaluation study on the outcome of the e-Justice Action Plan 2014-2018 and the way forward – Final Report – DT4EU), where it advanced the need to bet on artificial intelligence mechanisms in the e-Justice fields.

In fact, the European Commission, when questioned stakeholders on the possibility of using Artificial Intelligence technologies in the domain of justice, 41% understood it should be used and other 41% understood its potentialities could be explored.

Taking into consideration those numbers, the Council also established the need to understand AI’s influence and potential on e-Justice fields, addressing it under the topic “Evolutivity” and relating to future perspectives.
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Google (again) and advertising on the web. Comment on the European Commission Decision of 20th March 2019

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 by Pedro Madeira Froufe, Editor

Much of the creation of wealth through the digital economy (individualized advertising, anticipation of reactions from consumers to new products, etc.) depends on the knowledge of our tastes and ways of life, knowledge of our profiles and even the knowledge of how our brain reacts to advertising messages (that’s what “neuromarketing” is about) [1]. And of course, the scale counts! There is a kind of return of “economies of scale” in the field of advertising services. That is, there is a large / global business communication that is simultaneously individualized, as, as a result of the knowledge and algorithmic use of personal data of each of us, can adapt and address each group (increasingly small) of consumers, with messages tendentially personalized.
Individualized advertising, enhanced by the use of algorithms, is one of the activities that has grown the most and has created the propulsion of wealth (directly and indirectly) in the digital era.

It is in this context that we should place the last “Google decision” of the European Commission, dated March 20, 2019, regarding the use of the Google / AdSense for Search platform to raise and broker advertising associated with online surveys. The Commission has, in effect, decided to impose a financial penalty on Google and Alphabet Inc. (the parent company of Google LLC, formerly Google Inc.) amounting to EUR 1,490,000 for abuse of a dominant position (infringement of Article 102 of the TFEU).
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e-Justice paradigm under the new Council’s 2019-2023 Action Plan and Strategy – some notes on effective judicial protection and judicial integration

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by Joana Covelo de Abreu, Editor


Information and Communication technology (ICT) and digital tools are shaping the way new solutions are being implemented in EU Procedure and justice, in all European Union. In fact, through the Digital Single Market (DSM) political goal, new technological and digital approaches have been adopted and are now being widespread.

Under DSM’s strategy, e-Justice appeared as a paradigm to be settled using a method: the one of interoperability. But this method was also acknowledged by the 2016 e-Government Action Plan as a general principle of EU law: in fact, alongside elder ones such as transparency or efficiency others were settled, truly built on this new digital approach it is being aimed to be accomplished: the one of interoperability by default, the one of digital by default and the once-only principle. In fact, first approaches to stakeholders revealed the importance of the latter since, in an EU settled and developed around fundamental freedoms, economic agents were able to raise awareness among stakeholders of the need to overcome administrative barriers to similar proceedings in different Member States or before the European institutions. In fact, they were able to devise that they had to provide, for as many times as they initiated a proceeding, the same information and documents, when, in fact, the proceeding was similar, the petition was the same… That determined the emergence of the once-only principle, based on the need of reusing data across the EU. However, to do so stakeholders also understood those public services had to work through interconnected databases and operative systems – otherwise, the reuse of data would come difficult and the once-only principle would never get out of the table of intended measures. That was the perfect setting to bet on digital components, considering the first services to start this digitalisation update were public services.
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Trends shaping AI in business and main changes in the legal landscape

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by Ana Landeta, Director of the R+D+i Inst. at UDIMA
and Felipe Debasa, Director of the ONSSTKT21stC at URJC

Without a doubt and under the European Union policy context, “Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become an area of strategic importance and a key driver of economic development. It can bring solutions to many societal challenges from treating diseases to minimising the environmental impact of farming. However, socio-economic, legal and ethical impacts have to be carefully addressed”[i].

Accordingly, organizations are starting to make moves that act as building blocks for imminent change and transformation. With that in mind, Traci Gusher-Thomas[ii] has identified four trends that demonstrate how machine-learning is starting to bring real value to the workplace. It is stated that each of following four areas provides value to an organisation seeking to move forward with machine-learning and adds incremental value that can scale-up to be truly transformational.
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Internet, e-evidences and international cooperation: the challenge of different paradigms

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by Bruno Calabrich, Federal circuit prosecutor (Brazil)


There is a crisis in the world today concerning e-evidences. Law enforcement authorities deeply need to access and analyze various kinds of electronic data for efficient investigations and criminal prosecutions. They need it not specifically for investigating and prosecuting so-called internet crimes: virtually any crime today can be committed via the internet; and even those which aren’t executed using the web, possibly can be elucidated by information stored on one or another node of the internet. The problem is that enforcement authorities not always, nor easily, can access these data[i], as the servers where they are stored are frequently located in a different country. Thus, international cooperation is frequently a barrier to overcome so that the e-evidence can be obtained in a valid and useful way. And, today, the differences around the world in the legal structures available for this task may not be helping a lot.

The most commonly known instruments for obtaining electronic data stored abroad are the MLATs – Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties –, agreements firmed between two countries for cooperating in exchanging information and evidences (not restricted to internet evidences) that will be used by authorities in investigations and formal accusations. The cooperation occurs from authority to authority, according to a bureaucratic procedure specified in each treaty, one requesting (where it’s needed) and the other (where it’s located) providing the data. But, in a fast-changing world, where crime and information are moving even faster, the MLATs are not showing to be the fastest and efficient way.  In Brazil, for instance, the percentage of success in the cooperation with the United States through its MLAT roughly reaches 20% of the cases. Brazil, US and other countries do not seem to be satisfied with that.
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