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Where Law and Information Technology Meet

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Remarks for the Canadian Conference on Law and IT

Montreal, Quebec
April 21, 2008

Address by Jennifer Stoddart
Privacy Commissioner of Canada


Today, we will discuss an important subject that is as ambitious as it is rich and diverse: how information technology is changing and increasingly challenging the practice of law, the content of law, and the way courts and tribunals operate.

The organizers of this symposium have selected five themes to guide our work today.

We will start off by discussing how information technology is helping lawyers do their jobs.

We have come a long way from the days in Daumier’s era, when clerks copied manuscripts by hand. We now have young web-savvy lawyers who use powerful, global search engines. As you can see, our role has been tremendously transformed.

But is our profession fully exploiting this new technology? In principle, freed from tedious library research on case law and similar facts, we should be more effective, and in administrative jargon, more efficient!

In principle, we should be able to unleash the creative potential of lawyers, who strive to find original solutions, tailored to today’s legal constraints.

But do we? Or has the Google era simply opened the floodgate of information lawyers need to sift through, adding to, not lightening, the burden of searching for the correct solution?

We will then talk about mastering information technology, which now means much more than being able to use programs and search tools. Metadata adds an unsettling degree of transparency to documents.

Our messages need to be encrypted. Montreal is dreaming of a “wireless island,” without thinking about how vulnerable this technology is to hacking and without considering that information stored on any computer with an open network connection may be accessible.

During this symposium we will also look at how information technology is changing areas of practice and the concept of what is right.

New requirements raise the bar with respect to performance, in order to serve our clients well or bring the guilty to justice. New online tools are emerging every week, opening up new doors to the online world and eroding the foundation of existing legal structures.

The debate on reforms to the Trade-marks Act is but one example.

Today, we will also have an opportunity to look at how technology, when used appropriately, can reduce operating costs for law firms and lower court’s or tribunal’s management costs.

However, my experience as an administrator shows me that often expenses are simply transferred from one budget item to another.

Two thirds of Canadians use the Internet, and this figure is considerably higher in more affluent families and by people living in urban areas. Two thirds of households have access to a cell phone or a BlackBerry.

These figures are increasingly inversely proportional to the age of the users. The Internet is full of chat rooms and blogs on every topic possible, including justice as defined in every conceivable way. The Internet is a lawless, or nearly lawless, leading edge environment where people are judged based on their own rules of practice.

An incident in Toronto this winter clearly illustrates some of the challenges that arise when people have access to information technology.

According to media reports, a teenager died, apparently at the hand of another teenager.

The alleged killer was arrested and the court issued a publication ban under the Young Offenders Act.

Yet, at the same time, young people where identifying the killer online, condemning his actions, and demanding he be punished.

How can a publication ban be enforced when there are thousands of teenagers constantly writing, text-messaging and speaking to each other from their bedrooms, when riding the bus, or at the mall?

How do we silence opinions and the sharing of opinions in our connected world?

We have a great deal of information and discussion awaiting us. Have a great work day, everyone.

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