The Permaweb for Legal Professionals

This is a guest blog post from the Decentralised Public Library, an Arweave initiative.

The traditional web provides a wealth of crucial evidence to those in the legal profession, helping to determine the outcome of cases and the fates of plaintiffs daily, worldwide.

Although today the web is the cornerstone of our justice system, the methods we use to store and reference web evidence today have many flaws. These flaws limit the reliability and trustworthiness of said evidence.

Here, we will explore these problems and explain the solutions offered by the permaweb, specifically, Arweave’s archiving web extension.

The Problem: Link rot and lost sources

When a link ‘breaks’ and no longer points to an active web page, this is known as ‘link rot’. When this happens you’ll often find a 404 error like the one above, or if the whole domain is now dead, something that looks a little like this, depending on your browser.

70% of Harvard law journal articles and 50% of U.S. Supreme Court rulings suffer from link rot.

Of course, when you encounter a 404 error, you can try searching for the content elsewhere on the web (for example with the Wayback Machine), but this is time consuming and you are definitely not guaranteed to be successful. Ultimately, things can simply be deleted and lost from the internet, despite what some may wish. Naturally, when you’re preparing for a case, disappearing web evidence is the last thing you need. You need a reliable, permanent way of storing and sharing online evidence.

Causes of link rot are varied, including an organisation moving to a new domain name, restructuring their site map, or deleting pages. We explore some of these reasons for link rot in more detail here.

Clearly, if you’re relying on access to web evidence for your work link rot can be a serious roadblock. It’s vital to retain access to your web evidence now and far into the future, given that rulings will impact case law and future rulings potentially for decades.

The Solution: Use permaweb links

Quite rightly, you might wonder — surely that link could rot too? Well, that’s correct, one day far into the future the domain might indeed become inaccessible — perhaps we stop hosting it for some reason, or perhaps your internet provider or even your government might restrict access to it. That’s okay though, anyone can set up a new ‘gateway’ domain and use the very same unique identifier (‘saYqBP_aEVTlpc62xaCOtWgmVKPdQe566Z5Wiz_kRFs’, in our example) to access the very same content. This means that these identifiers can outlive the Arweave project itself indefinitely! Ultimately, this gives the content a vastly longer lifespan and solves link rot not just for ourselves, but for our children and our grandchildren too!

The Problem: Content drift and changing web pages

The reasons for unreliable, changing content on a web page are numerous, ranging from innocent updates provided to a breaking news article to the more sinister phenomenon of stealth editing. A discussion of how stealth editing can undermine trust in media and journalists can be found here.

Content drift is a very worrying phenomenon as your case relies on reliable, accurate citations of web evidence for transparency and legitimacy.

The Solution: Permaweb snapshots of pages

Once a web page or PDF is perma-archived, it cannot be altered, edited, or otherwise tampered with.

This provides extra confidence and reliability in your vital web evidence. Whether the page was perma-archived yesterday or a year ago, you know with mathematical certainty that what you’re viewing hasn’t changed since it was archived.

The Problem: Maintaining backups

The Solution: Lots of automated, permanent backups

Simply put, this means you don’t have to worry about maintaining your own backups! The permaweb will automatically fuel the creation of an increasing number of replications of your backups, with no extra cost to you at all.

So, in summary, the permaweb is a very powerful tool for any legal professional. By providing truly permanent links and snapshots of vital web evidence and citations to backup your work forever, the permaweb can help you and future generations in your fight for justice.

If you want to try out some perma-archiving for yourself, you can do so for free by following the steps in our very beginner-friendly guide here.

A novel data storage blockchain protocol enabling a permanent serverless web and creating truly permanent data storage for the first time.

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