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Thursday, 11 November 2010

IT law isn't simple....

....but it's certainly seems to be newsworthy at the moment. In the last two weeks there seems to have been a deluge of new stories.

1) On the 28th October, there was a call for an 'internet bill of rights' in a parliamentary debate.
2) On the 2nd November, business minister Ed Vaizey suggested a 'mediation service' to deal with disputes about personal data held on the net.
3) Also on the 2nd November, the US Supreme Court began a hearing about violent computer games...
4) ....and Google put forward its proposed settlement over the Google Buzz privacy issue
5) ....and the busy Ed Vaizey put forward the suggestion of a new 'privacy code' for online businesses like Google and Facebook
6) ...while the case of the stabbing of MP Stephen Timms by a young woman who had been 'radicalised' by watching videos on YouTube sparked a little furore about why such things should be allowed online - this is just one piece about it from The Telegraph.
7) On the 3rd November the ICO issued its response to the Google Street View data gathering fiasco
8) ...followed almost immediately by a statement from five civil liberties groups (Privacy International, NO2ID, Big Brother Watch, Action on Rights for Children, and Open Rights Group) suggesting that the ICO's action on this issue (and indeed on many others) makes it 'not fit for purpose'.
9) On the 4th November, Prime Minister David Cameron spoke in East London about making that region the 'new silicon valley' - and, amongst other things, about making our copyright laws 'fit for the internet age'.
10) ...and the European Commission launched its proposals for a 'comprehensive approach on personal data protection in the European Union'.
11) On the 8th November, Google announced it was shutting off its data feeds to Facebook...
12) And yesterday it was announced that BT and Talk Talk had been successful in getting a judicial review of the Digital Economy Act.

Lots of news - but what does it all mean? Firstly, that the subject really is current, and of increasing importance. In these two weeks we've had a statement from the prime minister, we've had a hearing in the US supreme court, , we've had one of the biggest players in the internet world Google, involved in three different ways - four if you blame their YouTube service for hosting the radicalising videos - and we've had the European Commission making what could be a very significant statement.

Secondly, that the situation is far from simple - and that the 'regulatory matrix' is complex. The differing relationships between the different interested parties have all come into play. We've had civil liberties groups challenging a regulatory body, we've had companies challenging the law, we've had questions in parliament, we've had a spat between probably the two biggest players in the internet world, we've had a class action against a company (Google), we've had interventions from regulatory bodies and politicians.

This lack of simplicity is the key - as Andrew Murray highlights in his theory of Symbiotic Regulation (in his excellent book The Regulation of Cyberspace). All these different relationships - between politicians, the judiciary, companies, civil liberties groups, and, of course, individuals - have their part to play in what happens on the internet from a regulatory perspective. It makes it complex - but it makes it interesting. And, at times like these, it makes it news!