Saturday, December 29, 2007

ICT for Microjustice?

I've previously written about Microjustice, and today, ICT4Peace reported on her blog about the Microjustice Initiative.

An overview of the initiative is available here. Excerpts from an email exchange I had with some of the Microjustice Initiative’s key thought-leaders follows (and was based on the initial concept note they sent to me):
To May Britt | 3rd September 2007The paper, which I read through briefly, sounds very interesting and timely. I would submit, and I am sure you would agree, that the technical architecture required for the systems envisaged in the paper would be easier to design than the networks of community participation required for it to be (and to be seen as) effective and just. This is particular a problem in societies where inter-communal trust is abysmal, such as regions of protected ethnic conflict. Micro-justice in these regions are invariably tied to the larger social and political inequity – and addressing them on the ground needs to be done in parallel with larger systemic legal (constitutional) and political changes at the national level. As a study on ADR done by some of my colleagues at the Centre for Policy Alternatives found out, there’s a rich tradition of ADR in conflict zones, but the practice and promotion of these mechanisms is deeply problematic in violent conflict.
There’s also the question of gender – which I didn’t see directly addressed in the paper. It is often the case that even successful ADR mechanisms are in the control of and culturally primarily address the needs of men. The access to and participation of women in micro-justice initiatives I think is of paramount importance, but also tied to the particular cultural dynamics of a region country / locale. You may be interested in the two attached papers I wrote a few years ago on the use of mobiles and PCs in ODR at a very local level and also in the work of the Claro Parlade in the Philippines.
Email from Prof. Mr. J.M. Barendrecht, Universiteit van Tilburg | 5th September 2007
You are absolutely right, the IT structure is doable, the networks of community participation are much more critical. Our guess is that providing simple and understandable information about what fair outcomes are for standard disputes would contribute to making existing informal processes more just. Moreover we assume that a ‘business model’ can be developed in which local people upload local knowledge about fairness to a Microjustice website. But we need people who have this knowledge and have an interest in doing this. Much research and development will be necessary, and that is why try to involve not only NGO’s, but also IT companies.

Friday, November 23, 2007

New Law and Development Blog by Law Professors

Law Professor Tom Ginsburg of University of Illinois has started a Law and Development Blog on the Law Professor Blogs platform (which is a network of law professors blogs, grouped usually by subject matter).  There is also repository of Law and Development syllabus from various professors and schools, which is useful comparison on how different that subject is taught in law schools. I look forward to hearing more academic (and applied?) thoughts on this subject- Tom Ginsburg is a respected academic AND practitioner.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Facebook goes to China!

I came across this report from Reuters reporting that Facebook will be in China as early as next month. Wow! I wonder if China will start to censor it like the other services? Duh- need I even ask? 

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Report on Chinese Internet Censorship- "Journey to the Heart of Internet Censorship"

A Chinese colleague recently directed me to a Reporters Without Borders report on Chinese Internet Censorship. This report is produced by an anonymous Chinese internet expert, with funding and support from Reporters Without Borders and Chinese Human Rights Defenders, with good timing in light of the Beijing Olympics. 

Having designed and implemented projects in China for more than a decade now, and experiencing firsthand the culture of censorship and control, I think that this report is pretty accurate based on my experience.  Here are some key summary points: (You can view and download the full report here at Reporters Without Borders)

  • China has always controlled all traditional media, and the Internet poses a new challenge for control. China now has more than 160 million Internet users and at least 1.3 million websites, both of which continue to grow.
  • China blocks thousands of websites, censor online news and imprisons activists. 
  • Leading actors include the 
    • Internet Propaganda Administrative Bureau (affiliated with the Information Office of the State Council, the executive office of the government), 
    • Bureau of Information and Public Opinion (affiliated with the party’s Publicity Department, the former Propaganda Department) and 
    • Internet Bureau (another Publicity Department affliate).
    • Beijing Internet Information Administrative Bureau 
    • Other secondary bodies listed in the report
  • Some methods of control include:
    • (as per the report) "a skilful mix of filtering technologies, cyberpolice surveillance and propaganda, in all of which China invests massively.", at both the national and local level
    • Government employees and University journalism students are trained vigorously, to the point of 'ideology control', while key staff of online companies (including Yahoo!) are asked to go on a propagandistic Chinese "online media trip". 
    • The government, through the Beijing Internet Information Administrative Bureau, asserts daily editorial control via a variety of ways (such as meetings, emails/SMS and directives) over leading news agencies based in Beijing. Many agencies practice self-censorship as a result. 
    • In addition to passive monitoring, especially after 2005 when the Beijing Internet Information Administrative Bureau was formed, the government actively control internet news by insisting the publication of propagandistic materials.
    • Key-word censorship (where government or self-censors use to monitor sites):
      • masked words: words replaced by an asterisk
      • sensitive words: words that need to be checked by moderators before they can be posted
      • taboo words: words that cannot be posted or isolated or appear in an article’s content.
    • Penalties that have been inflicted includes: media criticism, strict fines, dismissal of site employee, and site closure. 
    • When bloggers and others have appealed or otherwise made their plight public, they have been ignored, threatened or imprisoned. Similarly, human rights activists are imprisoned.  
  • Recommendations on eluding control
    • proxy server to to hide IP addresses, and downloading software to access foreign sites
    • exploiting the different levels of censorship between provinces or between levels in the administration and 
    • using new Internet technologies (blogs, discussion forums, Internet telephony etc.)
You can view and download the full report here at Reporters Without Borders

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

First Second Life Law Firm Created?

Following my post earlier this year on law firms in second life, the American Bar Asssociation, which I'm a member of, reported that a Canadian law firm is claiming that it is the first law firm in Second Life. The ABA Journal article is reproduced and adapted below:

A Canadian law firm claims to be the first to establish an office on Second Life, a 3D virtual community that has attracted millions of participants from all over the world.
Davis LLP is staffing its Second Life office with lawyers from the firm's Video Game law & Interactive Entertainment Group, the firm reports in a press release posted on its law blog.
"The virtual world of Second Life gives us the opportunity to interact with our current and potential clients in a unique way," says Dani Lemon, a lawyer at the firm who will be known as "Lemon Darcy" at the new virtual office. "We also aim to generate business leads and attract job candidates for our bricks-and mortar business through Second Life."
Others lawyers reportedly have already found the virtual world a potentially lucrative game to play, as discussed in an ABA Journal feature story.
For intance, Stevan Lieberman, a Washington, D.C., intellectual property lawyer who is known on Second Life as "Navets Potato," has a virtual office and advertises its services in a Second Life classified. However, "his listing also directs viewers to his real-life law firm Web page," the magazine article notes. "As of December, he had picked up about $7,000 in business from Second Life."
In addition to Lemon Darcy, the Davis firm's "avatars," as participants who establish graphic characters on the site are known, will include: "BarristerSolicitor Underwood" (aka, in real life, Sarah Dale-Harris); "PabloGuzman Little" (Pablo Guzman): "IPand Teichmann" (Chris Bennett); "DaveS Blackadder" (David Spratley); and "IP Maximus" (Chris Metcalfe).

Monday, October 15, 2007

Emerging Trends for ICT in Parliaments

This discussion paper  (ICT IN PARLIAMENTS- CURRENT PRACTICES, FUTURE POSSIBILITIES by Jeff griffith) is a background paper for the World e-Parliament Conference 2007 on 11 October 2007 in Geneva, Switzerland. It describes briefly the history of ICT in legislative bodies,summarizes current practices, assesses the potential impact of some of the newest technologies and trends, considers some of the key requirements for the successful introduction and management of ICT, and underlines the importance of ICT in  parliaments.

While all of the paper is an interesting read (especially the section on current practices if you are not familiar with them), of particular interest to me is the section that predicts there new developments and emerging trends that might have the biggest impact on ICT in Parliament in the near future:

  • Interactive Technologies and Web 2.0- The newest Web technologies encourage user generated content and participation.

  • Open Standards and Open Source Software- Proprietary systems and software will remain in operation for some time, but there is a strong movement toward the use of open standards and the sharing of open source software.

  • Collaborative Development of Parliamentary Applications- While institutions may be cautious about investing in and accepting systems and software to support their most important functions if they are not developed and maintained under their direct control, development of a collaborative platform or application that can be customized might possibly be a trend. 

  • The Mobile Legislator- ICT allows legislators to be more mobile. Cell phones, lightweight portable PCs, small hand held computers such as personal digital assistants and email devices, coupled with the increasing ubiquity of the Web, enable Members to conduct their work from many locations and with many people.

  • Developments in regional and international Parliaments- The success of regional or international efforts is likely to put additional pressure on national parliaments to adopt some of the same approaches in their use of ICT.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Recent Academic Books on Law and Develoment

While there is certainly a lot of happening within institutions that practice law and development (including many articles and publications), there has been relatively little happening on the academic front. I do see many good journal articles from time to time, but all of a sudden, there seem to be an explosion of academic books on Law and Development. Just last year, these 3 books (entailing chapters by prominent American academics in the field) were released. I haven't had time to read any yet, but I hope to at some point! In the meantime, here they are: 

  • David Trubek and Alvaro Santos (eds.), THE NEW LAW AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: A CRITICAL APPRAISAL (2006).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Law Firms in Second Life? A report by ABA Journal

Second life is hot! Following my recent post on law firms in second life, the ABA journal published a report on the topic. It mainly describes and illustrates what second life is, and talks about how lawyers are generally using it for discussion, teaching, marketing and communicating.  There is also discussion about the possibilities of legal issues happening within the world itself, and the roles that lawyers can play.

What is most interesting to me is some current concerns about the practice of law in Second Life, and the impact Second Life (and disruptive technology in general) has on the law and legal practice. Below, I've summarized and adapted from the ABA Journal article:

  • There’s no expectation of privacy in Second Life, (Cushman, a lawyer) says, and he was not sure whether the server is secure. 
  • Dialog there that’s delivered through chat rooms and instant messaging is considered real-time communication, and many lawyer regulatory agencies consider that solicitation. Most states prohibit lawyers from contacting potential clients through the Internet, (with some limited exceptions
  • ...lawyers advertising their real-world services in Second Life should be ok- but real-world considerations would likely apply, such as obtaining approvals from regulatory agencies that police lawyer advertising
  • “Having your avatar give real-life legal advice could run afoul of ethics rules,” (Tuft) says. But offering counsel for virtual disagreements, such as a dispute over one’s Second Life home, would probably not interest any legal regulatory agencies.
  • “If there is an intention, and action on the intention, for people to obtain real-life clients, they fall under real-life rules,” says Will Hornsby, staff counsel in the American Bar Association’s Division for Legal Services. “If a lawyer is going to participate in this, the best practice would be to have some kind of disclaimer saying that nothing translates out.”
  • Cushman recently contacted the ethics hotline of the Washington State Bar Association to see if the agency had regulatory power over his Second Life activities. The person who took the call was not familiar with it...
  • Residents of Second Life...  also note that the profession is often slow to address technology that changes how law yers do their jobs.
  • “As virtual places like Second Life mature and people spend more time there, the places really aren’t arbitrarily related to any legal jurisdiction,” says Lessig, founder of Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society. He also founded Creative Commons, a nonprofit group based at the law school that encourages sharing of copyrighted works. 
  • It may be time to start looking for answers. 
    • "It really becomes effectively, if not legally or technically, like a new jurisdiction,” Lessig says of the virtual world. “The question of how the law deals with that—I don’t think anyone has a clear sense.”
    • Lessig mentions early trespass laws, which defined property from the “grounds to the heavens.” When airplanes became common, the law no longer worked, Lessig says, and the Supreme Court adjusted it. Likewise, if Second Life allows better access to legal services, Lessig wonders, why shouldn’t lawyers use it without fearing reprimands from attorney regulatory agencies?
    • “We ought to welcome new ways to deal with legal problems,” he says. “The thing to be suspicious of is a response that is designed not so much to solve a true legal problem but to protect particular interests in the legal system.”

Monday, April 30, 2007

USAID and Legal Empowerment Publications

Following  USAID's contract to ARD to study legal empowerment for the poor, ARD has prepared two documents to USAID for review. Both these publications have been recently released by USAID. 

Firstly, as a background report to the Commision's first meeting in January 2006, ARD prepared Land and Business Formalization for Legal Empowerment of the Poor: Strategic Overview Paper

Secondly, In June 2006, USAID requested that the team prepare a concept paper that presented a comprehensive picture of legal empowerment of the poor, and develop an LEP index—its conceptualization, development of a prototype, and choice of indicators. While recognizing the importance of government in creating law and enforcement mechanisms, the team shifted the paradigm to give greater support to civil society efforts that help or pressure government to do its job better. This resulted in Legal Empowerment of the Poor: From Concepts to Assessment

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Law Firms in Second Life?

I have been on Second Life, just to check out the virtual world, but I am beginning to wonder about these new business presence in Second Life, and am sure that at some point in the near future, law firms might set up their shop there too. Because of the current lagging state of jurisdictional laws and licensing requirements, I can't see lawyers 'praising law' in that virtual world anytime soon. As it is, lawyers took forever before they even adopted email as a form of communication. But it is a great business marketing and networking tool, especially for forms practicing IP , high tech, art and other non-traditional law areas.

Coincidentally, I came across a posting by Kevon O'Keefe of 'Real Lawyers Have Blogs' (a blog about law and social media) who is suggesting a similar idea. I adapted his post below:

... it's only a matter of time before were going to see law firms in Second Life...In the last few days:
The opportunity for law firms setting up an office in Second Life?
  • To network with other companies in Second Life, especially appropriate for innovative law firms with a new media, IP, start-up business, or VC bent.
  • Online and off line media exposure for what would certainly be perceived as innovative marketing.
It's going to happen.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The concept of "Microjustice"

Today, a colleague from Europe, who knows Patricia, forwarded me a working paper on the concept of 'Microjustice", written by Patricia van Nispen and Maurits Barendrecht, for review. (Update: The paper is now available here on the website. Update 2: as well as here on the SSRN website) Patricia van Nispen is currently the President of the International Legal Alliances, which together with Tilburg Univeristy has just launched a 'Microjustice Initiative'. I know of Patricia during my previous work in Kosovo during the late 1990s, where Patricia worked on the issue of identity papers for returning refugees and IDPs.   

The concept of Microjustice is not entirely new, although this is the first time that it has been called such and  packaged as a tool that can assist with Access to Justice. The paper introduces 'Microjustice' as a for-profit model that provides access to justice for poor people, similar in concept to 'microfinance' (thus the name).  Using a market-based analysis of demand and supply, the paper argues that where the demand for justice and the supply of justice meet, the poor will be willing to pay for legal services. At the same time, to drive costs down so that services are affordable to the poor, the delivery model needs to move beyond the traditional model of 'one-to-one', to encompass tools and concepts such as information technology, economies of scale, cheap labor at the place of delivery, flexible adjustment to local circumstances, self-help and empowerment of the user.

The paper goes in at length about the details and is a relatively easy and interesting read. Aside from setting  a case for a fee-for-service, micro' model based on a rational market analysis (particularly from the 'Bottom-of-the-Pyramid reasonings), the paper also sets out some possible arguments against this approach, and proposes counter-arguments (no surprise here, since Patricia was a practicing attorney previously). In light of the the recent UN 'Legal Empowerment of the Poor' actions, this paper is timely. 

I am excited to follow this concept and see it become a reality. I like the market basis, as well as the creative use of technology and other tools to revamp the traditional justice model and make it more efficient. My worry, however, is that it ends up, like so many other development tools, as a panacea for all things development. There will certainly be many situations where access to justice by itself does not address the cause of the problem, no matter how that access is promoted (microjustice or not). There might be other situations where access to justice does not help because of entrenched politics and power that is the real cause to the issue at hand (so an interest-based approach might be more appropriate than rights-based.) Other challenges could include the lack of enforcement, the lack of appropriate laws (necessitating legal reform first), the failure of the former legal systems, the existence of informal legal systems and the possibility of negative consequences. 

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Wikipedia Page Created for 'Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor'

Talk about the intersection of law, development and technology! I blogged about the UN Commission previously, and today I noticed that there is a brand new Wikipedia page on the Commission on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor. I am excited to see that an issue so new in the development industry is already 'wikipedized'. I might even contribute to it!
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