Formalizing Date Arithmetic and Statically Detecting Ambiguities for the Law

Abstract

Legal expert systems routinely rely on date computations to determine the eligibility of a citizen to social benefits or whether an application has been filed on time. Unfortunately, date arithmetic exhibits many corner cases, which are handled differently from one library to the other, making faithfully transcribing the law into code error-prone, and possibly leading to heavy financial and legal consequences for users. In this work, we aim to provide a solid foundation for date arithmetic working on days, months and years. We first present a novel, formal semantics for date computations, and formally establish several semantic properties through a mechanization in the F⋆ proof assistant. Building upon this semantics, we then propose a static analysis by abstract interpretation to automatically detect ambiguities in date computations. We finally integrate our approach in the Catala language, a recent domain-specific language for formalizing computational law, and use it to analyze the Catala implementation of the French housing benefits, leading to the discovery of several date-related ambiguities.

Publication
ESOP 2024

This work has been nominated for one of the ETAPS best paper awards.

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