Monthly Archives: August 2019

Computer Code as Law: A New Frontier?

As distributed ledger or “blockchain” technology continues to offer decentralised and distributed decision-making, Yeung considers the way in which those automated processes (code as law) are likely to interact with conventional means of governance (code of law). This technology is based on peer-to-peer verification of transactions: it takes various forms, but the common theme is that the record of transactions is shared with all users of a given system, and transactions only make it on to that record after a fierce process of mathematical ratification. As a result, the intermediaries on which transactions have for so long depended, such as banks, clearing houses and property registries, are no longer required. Altruism and self-interest are aligned because all users have a vested interest in the continued integrity and success of the closed system, and third party intervention is neither required nor (for many users, at least in principle), desired.

Distribution and decentralisation are the crucial components of distributed ledger technology, and are the principle features which distinguish them from those forms of electronic payments which use intermediaries and electronic bank money, such as Paypal, WorldPay and BACS, for example. These characteristics also explain why cybercurrencies are often described as “trustless”, meaning that transacting parties need not have any trust for one another in the real world, so long as they trust the payment protocol (which, for reasons which will soon become apparent, they probably should). Decentralisation in this context simply means that everyone who might want to use the currency, and so has a copy of the relevant software, also has a copy of the ledger. The ledger is a record of every transaction made using that currency, and each computer operating the software (known as a node) has a copy of the entire thing: from the beginning (the “Genesis Block”) to today’s latest block. This is where the term Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) comes from: Blockchain, which was created to underpin Bitcoin, was the first distributed ledger, but there are now distributed ledgers of several different forms. Common to every one, however, is the idea that all participants have access to the full history of transactions made using that protocol. This is a novel way of dealing with the ages-old double spend problem. Historically, the challenge of how to prevent double spending has been met in two ways: the first is by using physical tokens, whose corporeal form physically prevents their being spent more than once, and the second is by employing an independent third party, such as a bank, to keep a record of transactions and their effects on the subsequent spending power of the parties involved. Cybercurrencies achieve the same thing by sharing information with every user and by ensuring that the information so shared is perfectly synchronised. This way, “coins” cannot be spent twice because everyone would know that this is what was being attempted, and the consensus necessary for validation and recording would not be reached. Security is thus achieved through complete transparency, and distributed ledgers have no need for any centralised record-keeping, nor for any third party intermediary to verify the integrity of transactions. Continue reading "Computer Code as Law: A New Frontier?"

Is E-Carceration a Problem? Confronting the Shortcomings of Technological Criminal Justice Reforms

Chaz Arnett, From Decarceration to E-Carceration, 41 Cardozo L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming, 2019), available at SSRN.

Almost six months ago, best-selling author and legal scholar Michelle Alexander wrote for the New York Times in reference to electronic monitoring devices used in the criminal process: If the goal is to end mass incarceration and mass criminalization, digital prisons are not the answer. But why not? States are increasingly considering alternatives to incarceration, including electronic monitoring, as a means to reduce the economic and social pressures of the phenomenon of mass incarceration. The notable and bipartisan First Step Act passed by Congress in December 2018 encourages further use of electronic monitoring devices in the federal system. Why not embrace this ever-improving technology to reduce the deleterious effects of this phenomenon? Indeed, many Americans believe electronic monitoring can and should be a part of the solution.

Chaz Arnett’s powerful article, From Decarceration to E-Carceration, forthcoming in the Cardozo Law Review, argues to the contrary. He asserts that the expansion of electronic monitoring devices in community corrections threatens to entrench the most deleterious effects of mass incarceration – its operation as a mechanism of social stratification and racialized marginalization–without reducing the expanding footprint of the carceral state. Because his novel contribution reframes how we engage with the introduction of technologies as criminal justice reform, this is a must-read piece for those interested in resolving the problems of mass incarceration in the United States. Continue reading "Is E-Carceration a Problem? Confronting the Shortcomings of Technological Criminal Justice Reforms"

Environmentalism Inc.

Sarah E. Light, The Law of the Corporation as Environment Law, 71 Stan. L. Rev. 137 (2019).

Climate change and its implications are among the most debated and pressing issues of our time. The effects of climate change are felt throughout the country and the world. Raging wildfires, rising oceans, overflowing rivers, devastating storms, crippling drought, and other weather phenomena have directly disrupted vast populations, nation-states, ecosystems, and businesses across the globe. Policymakers, executives, scientists, lawyers, and activists have long discussed and debated how best to confront these and other challenges of the environment.

In her recent article, The Law of the Corporation as Environment Law, Professor Sarah Light makes a valuable contribution to these discussions and debates by arguing for a more expansive view of environmental law:

In light of the significant impact that firms can have on the environment (often, though not always, when they are organized as publicly traded corporations), this Article argues that the law governing the corporation throughout its life cycle—corporate law, securities regulation, antitrust law, and bankruptcy law—should be understood as a fundamental part of environmental law. Continue reading "Environmentalism Inc."

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