Dinu ȚURCANU, Vice-Rector for Informatization, Partnerships, Institutional Image and Communication at Technical University of Moldova, was interviewed by the Juridice Moldova Platform, addressing the need and importance of the process of technologization of the judicial system in order to digitize the institutions in the field, a process that he considers an inevitable phenomenon, as one of the pillars of development of any intelligent community.
Technological progress is increasingly incorporated in our lives. In this context, how could you define and characterize the phenomenon of technologization of justice?
As technologies have become a part of our daily lives, we came to live in a technological era, in which, recently, we can no longer discuss any subject or field, which would not have been assisted by the tools of technology – not that of the national economy, nor the sphere of justice, that are, in fact, essential to society. The continuous development and efficiency of the information systems made available to both juridical workers and litigants are, in essence, imperative conditions for the evolution of a judicial system, including in the Republic of Moldova. For the latter, the prospects of the application of information and communication technology in the judicial process will bring an added value to the system. It is also worth mentioning the aspect of saving time for those performing their professional duties. It was reasonably noticeable – the fields that automated their operations and implemented technologies in their activity quickly, have detected an increase in the efficiency of their performance. Moreover, in the field of law, which is currently falling behind in terms of technological progress – the nature of such an omission could lead to a wave of illegalities to break out in the age of technology. Therefore, if the field of justice will not get in touch with the modernization of technology, cyber risks and the inability of officials to prevent them will become a real problem. All this directs us to the conclusion that we must encourage the use of modern technologies – such as machine learning, artificial intelligence – in supporting the work of judicial systems in the Republic of Moldova, and to ensure the necessary legal framework for their use, while aiming for the notion of “E – Justice”. It is certain that there are definitely pros and cons, but I will try to answer as objectively as possible, while recognizing that no matter how hard we oppose progress, no matter how many arguments we try to find against the development and implementation of technology in the judiciary, we will not be able to keep it isolated from advancement. For example, during this period of time in which we’re going through a pandemic, the population became aware of the importance of videoconferencing, the implementation and development of electronic files or certain electronic materials, communication (including between the court and litigant, lawyer and any other participant in the administration of justice), use of e-mail or use of electronic signature.
In relation to everything mentioned – how could we prevent cybercrime?
Beyond cybercrime, minimizing the risk of a cyber incident implies a careful approach to accessing links, which are often carriers of false news, or refraining from opening messages with attachments that pose danger within the online environment. Given that we are currently in the European Cyber Security Month, we must note that the dissemination of information of a preventive nature that could discourage the occurrence of illegal phenomena would increase the education of the population: it is most definitely an essential goal in this time.
In this context, the measures taken by the national authorities are commendable, including the initiatives of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research, that introduced a series of optional courses in the field of information technology and initiation in cybersecurity, implemented in high schools, not to mention the courses of Digital Education provided to primary school students. Therefore, this approach, involving the informational education of the young generations, regardless of the arrangement of the courses taught optionally or compulsorily, becomes an effective one. This practice should be extended to public institutions and their employees in a mandatory form of training in the field of cyber security, but also the training of digital skills for members of private entities, as the latter also participate in forming the entire sector of the national economy.
The subsequent conclusion is: the minimization of the cyber incident is interdependent on the training of the population, the dissemination of factors that could influence the emergence of informational dangers, the understanding of the way to combat the phenomenon. Although most are not afraid of this type of danger, given the lack of massive attacks in our virtual space, thinking that attacks are far from the Republic of Moldova and staying under the illusory presumption that everything is secure, the truth is different – cybersecurity specialists contradict these impressions, motivating the lack of threats due to the absence of a major interest in one area or another. By acting preventively, disseminating the importance of training in evading the cyber incident, we are excluded from the circle of victims who can fall into the trap.
The importance of education in terms of technology is also clear in relation to maintaining the order of the law, by its fair application. In previous discussions with legal specialists, I had noticed a vulnerability: cybercrime cannot be ascertained as long as the representatives of power do not highlight its constituent elements, and this phase can only be possible after a flawless administration of evidence, but in the absence of training, evidence can be easily lost, as well as the chance to stop the crime.
Apart from that, complex computer systems assist in the creation of files, different from the classic paper ones. Given the general trends, automation and digitization could help in reforming the processes of searching, identification, storage, archiving, etc.
These conclusions seem to lead to the idea that the human factor will be eliminated from the execution of technical work!
I am often asked if artificial intelligence or robots could replace the human factor in performing certain tasks, for example, technical ones – this is an erroneous idea. Staff has to be retrained to perform technologized work, and the volume of information and need to process it make the training of employees imperative in the sense of learning modern practices and technologies. Thus, the implementation of new technologies does not lead to job loss, but to the exclusion of the human factor from fulfilling certain components.
Also, the usefulness of technology can be measured by the simplest example I offer whenever I am asked for an explanation: the University management information system. If we talk about paper files, whenever we consult it and process data, there is a paper register that records the person, time, date, reason for accessing the data. If that register would disappear, the key element that warned about the person who accessed the data disappears consecutively, along with the reason for accessing it, or the absence of bits of actual data. In the case of digitization, the existence of log messages in the information system, which also implies permanent access, would respond to the important questions of: Who accessed the data? Did the person have the legal access authorization? What was the username? Reason for accessing justified/unfounded? Respectively, at any stage (in real time), the process can be monitored (by receiving notifications and alerts at any time), controlled and administered, which minimizes and reduces the risk of unauthorized access.
There is also a critical element in digitization, in terms of storing a quantity of data, which also requires backups, because losses are not excluded from the virtual environment. If previously the image of a burning library seemed to be a horror movie sequence, in comparison, a burning data center would frighten, perhaps, to an even greater extent.
In conclusion: digitization would mean, on the one hand, the construction and correct implementation of a system that will also allow the automation of processes, while minimizing the involvement of the human factor. As the rapid development of technology offers us new opportunities to improve the judicial system, new questions arise, such as whether the procedural changes caused by such technology in the judiciary will be as equitable. Will principles such as fairness, impartiality and independence be respected, given the conservative view of justice?
You have repeatedly pointed out – the technologization of justice is achievable only through the continuous training of existing staff!
At this stage we can no longer discuss “pure” professions. If we take into account the latest global reports on trends related to the professions of the future, for 2025, in just 5 years, the data shows: 7 out of 10 professions of the future will be unknown, which would mean that training of one specialty only at a certain period of life is not enough. In this context, we can no longer speak of a short-term continuous training. In order to train competitive skills and abilities, to maintain the job, to withstand the competition of recent University graduates, who are trained in a more progressive manner, you should constantly learn throughout your life, and this does not in itself mean retraining.
However, the conduct of all operations in front of a computer can not be addressed without taking into account the advantages and disadvantages of modernizing the judicial system. How will remote hearings affect the quality of representation in criminal cases and the ability of defendants to talk to their lawyers in complete privacy and as frequently as they need? How will the judge’s opinion about a defendant be affected when he appears in front of the camera? Another concern within the judicial system is related to the procedure involved in conducting a trial by videoconference. Although during the pandemic we had and still have online meetings, some of the participants mentioned that videoconferencing would not be the best solution in certain situations, the crucial issue being the quality of the presentation of the participants in the case. With this idea, there is uncertainty that video conferencing can result in affecting the decisions of the full court.
Thus, the process of technologization entails the need for training specialists throughout the duration of their professional activity, a conclusive example being the challenges posed by the current situation – the pandemic. Nonetheless, it is recognizable that each crisis also creates new opportunities: if previously, the electronic signature was not widely used, today, when most work is done from home, the possibility of using this mechanism, which was already implemented in the Republic of Moldova for a long time, was also admitted. It is undeniable that the electronic signature has the same value as the written one, however there have been found problems in its implementation, also encountered by public authorities: it is impracticable to print an electronically signed document, as this action would cause the loss its legal value, thus, it was decided that it is necessary to store the electronically signed document, in order to further verify its authenticity on the governmental electronic signature portal (msign.gov.md). In this context, a lot of misunderstandings appeared among the officials: what does this procedure entail? How is it used? How is it stored? Is there a need to purchase storage equipment? Where do we install them? Are we building data centers or migrating certain processes to the Cloud? How do we use and subsequently report these electronically signed documents? Through this example, we have demonstrated the need to train staff in the field of technology. Poorly digitized areas, certainly, upon receiving such a reform, are to be trained to complete their service.
It is no longer possible to stay within the limits of a single specialty or study program: economist, journalist, engineer or doctor; Currently, there is a need for knowledge of interdisciplinary subjects and intersectoral skills, therefore, employees should adjust to these future trends. For these reasons, lifelong learning, combined with the implementation of technology, will inevitably lead to intense competition between professionals and will keep the most prodigious at work. I often mention to students: if, after graduation, they do not keep the evolution of their skills in check through continuous training, their chances of staying at work, while there is always a new wave of specialists coming after them, with much more updated skills, are low.
The examples mentioned inspire confidence in the phenomenon of technologization of the judicial system, still, we’re wondering: internationally, does such an implementation include good practices or are we in the process of gradual growth?
Undoubtedly, the judicial system is one of the oldest pillars of society, a conservative field that has not evolved along with technology. However, we must take into account a gradual increase, as harmony should be maintained between the legislative processes and practical conduct – assuring the training and, respectively, the regularization of all elements that would mean reforming the judiciary system, providing the legal framework for implementation of E-Justice, etc. I believe that you cannot instantly change a field, that is, you cannot produce an absolute technologization in a single step. To be more explicit, some simple examples would be: the implementation of computer systems in judicial institutions, the application of automation and registration structures, which together assist in streamlining the way justice is conducted. I am firmly convinced that all elements of the reform have emphasized the need for staff training, which is certainly difficult, but still has a substantial effect.
In conclusion – there must be a well-structured plan if we are to initiate the technologization of a field, as to specify what needs to be technologized; what benefits the technologization entails – these aspects are constitutive, since, lately, the reluctance of the staff in the implementation of this concept becomes more and more visible. It is also taken into account that the reform has an impact on psychological factors: the employee feels comfortable in an unchanged environment, a certain insertion of technological progress would arouse feelings of doubt, of incapacity, hence, the need for training would become apparent, and, in conjunction with this, the demand for intensifying the efforts to be made for the completion of a certain service. Thus, any reform approach must be accompanied by an explanation of the benefits it could bring, both a report of the overall advantages and the individual ones (for each employee) – this strategy would encourage the assimilation of technology in the workplace, and staff will abandon any reluctance once felt.
The technologization of a field is definitely something to be designed gradually, this being demonstrated by the situation created by the pandemic, which has shown what vulnerabilities we can face in the event of a sudden change: the increasing use of devices has generated a surplus quantity of data, quite large compared to previous years, which caused issues regarding the high speed access to the public Internet network and the inability of data storage centers to cope with this immense volume. There have been divergences over how the data is to be stored and the need to create backup copies was verified; the case of storing sensitive data was also discussed, mainly how to protect it from a potential cyber incident. The reform is applied in stages, assuring a harmonious relationship between all its components.
If you were invited to participate as a specialist in the creation of a law aimed at technologizing the judicial system, what would be its foundation?
I would advocate for the improvement of efficiency of the activity. In my experience, I did not undergo such training, but I have witnessed, from an internal perspective, the problems of confrontation. Being an observer of the way the national courts carry out their activity on several occasions, I noticed the volume of work that a judge is assigned to complete – I was interested in the following aspect: how would it have been possible to manage, in the absence of an automated system that allows access to case materials by key words? How would it be possible to organize the service in the absence of tools that would order the volume of information? What if the omission of technology implementation could not have a negative impact on the quality of the justice activities?
Another necessary component in the technologization process would be the design of a mechanism that could allow access to specific information or identification of a specific file, a specific case, the solution adopted in relation to it, motivation of the verdict, all by using keywords.
This concept is implemented in the medical service, thus data regarding the progress of a disease, symptoms, treatment, or the final results, is registered – a tool that would allow the improvement of the activity in terms of the accumulation of successful practices. Also, during diagnosing (defect detection, location of the cause of the defect, etc.) the technician always tests probable causes first, thus, it is not proceeded to the disassembly of the device, but to the consultation of some guiding information, which, if not sufficient, other elements will be consulted.
Therefore, the mentioned concept, exemplified by the several applications, enables us to save time and focus on a target solution. Also, the implementation of technologies assists in streamlining the internal process of an institution, providing the citizen with the necessary tools to observe, hence respecting the principle of transparency within the activities of public institutions, while ensuring protection of personal data.
Conclusion: the implementation of technologies in the field of justice would bring the citizen closer to what is happening inside public institutions, which brings into discussion an increase of the credibility of the society in front of the public authority. The progress of technologies would assist in the possibility of actively following the quality of the action of the authority – it could open the opportunity to come with an opinion on certain causes of public interest, thus liquidating any doubts about their legality.
Could artificial intelligence be a component of the technologization of justice or would this be too bold an escalation?
At this stage it is difficult to replace the human factor with artificial intelligence, for multiple reasons, including ethics, in this regard. To be more explicit, we present the following case: an individual identified as guilty of appropriation, involving goods of high value; another individual also found guilty of appropriating goods of low value – artificial intelligence would apply a legal sanction for each violation, but could not take into account the moral elements, which are individual, specific to the human factor.
Artificial intelligence is an achievable component in a totally democratic society, within which the law is of utmost importance, where individuals are aware of the consequences of violating it.
From another perspective, I consulted a case study – lawyers from Japan and Australia are trained to organize trials: robots vs the human factor – that is, we can detect other incidents – of digital rights violations.
Until then, it is our obligation to expand democracy, improve the actions of the authority, relying on transparency in the activities of state bodies. The experience of the Technical University of Moldova demonstrates the capacity of such a principle: to regularize things. As long as all Regulations and decisions are public and not secreted, the tendency of misinterpretation disappears.
It is certain: the application of the principle of transparency in the field of justice would make society responsible, would increase the quality of acts in the judicial system, as long as it is continuously under social control.
I also encourage transparency in the communication process and do not accept the practice of escaping from an interview by those involved with public powers, no matter how sensitive the subject is, it is to be reported and openly discussed. We often hear in the press the refusal to express one’s thoughts or explanations regarding incidents – a fact that raises some suspicions, since we are no longer in the period when the only sources of information were newspapers and magazines, in which information was often omitted. Now, the environment is overflown with news, which highlights the passivity of some subjects in clarifying or in explaining certain phenomena.
The approach must be accompanied by an explanation of its advantages – any combination or any interaction with technology simplifies the process by automation, digitization, and it can in no way cause detriment to employees, as there is a misperception among workers that link the implementation of technologies to the loss of jobs. Modern tools are not to be qualified as a problem, but cases of misuse are not excluded, which, moreover, can generate vulnerabilities. However, as a specialist, I can guarantee: the implementation of technologies inspires more confidence, as the human factor is not exempt from making mistakes as well.
Thus, the importance of technologies can be measured by comparison: the existence of a Call Center within which 10 employees work 8 hours and are physically and psychologically exhausted by the end of the day. The existence of a ChatBot that would allow an answer regardless of the time or the repetitiveness of the questions, free of any emotion or feelings towards the receiver. It is important to understand that such a reform does not remove the employees of the Call Center, they remain responsible for: checking the existing volume of data; processing sensitive topics and other consistent purposeful actions.
Could the technologization of justice be implemented within 5-10 years?
Certainly, the technologization of justice, but also of other fields, is actively happening, and in this context, I can exemplify some institutions (reliable partners in the field of Information Technology of the Technical University of Moldova) that deal with digital transformation at a national level: Information Technology and Cyber Security Service, the Electronic Government Agency, but also other bodies that manage and implement the new concept fairly and firmly. I believe that the next step in educating the population regarding IT culture is explaining the benefits that technologies can bring to society: it is about eliminating queues at any of the public authorities, it is about submitting an application or receiving any document in the online environment.
If we talk about the growth and change in technology, I can give an example: previously, I talked to students about the implementation of projects, which I forecasted to be achievable in the next 10 years. After a shorter time, they were already applicable, and this proves the dizzying nature and speed of the development of technical tools.
Thus, technologies become a part of our lives. By excluding them, we completely isolate ourselves from the social environment, and we are no longer the beneficiaries of the advantages they provide.