SCL Policy Forum: Decentring Internet Regulation

October 6, 2006

On 26-27 October a sponsored ‘think-tank’ is to be held in London on ‘Decentring Internet regulation: the changing roles of government and the private sector in determining and enforcing acceptable online behaviour’. The initiative for the event came from Andrew Charlesworth of the Centre for IT & Law at the University of Bristol, who outlines its aims and format.

Online technologies have become ever more ubiquitous, span a rapidly broadening range of technologies and commercial models, and are creating new interaction spaces in which citizens, commercial organisations, NGOs and government can operate, eg the e-commerce, m-commerce and e-government environments.  As such developments progress, it is vital to ensure that the regulatory structures and mechanisms used to define acceptable online behaviour are capable of accurately reflecting the aims and objectives sought by relevant regulatory bodies.  Yet, at the same time there is a need to avoid unnecessarily inhibiting positive social interactions, reducing incentives to technical innovation, and obstructing commercial and governmental approaches to developing effective online delivery of information and services.

With this in mind, SCL, together with the Centre for IT & Law at the University of Bristol, and the UK Economic and Social Research Council’s eSociety Programme, are sponsoring a ‘think-tank’ event at the offices of Herbert Smith LLP on 26-27 October 2006 to examine the state of the interface between theoretical approaches to Internet regulation and its practical application.  The event will bring together a select group of academic, commercial, government and regulatory contributors chosen on the basis of their expertise in the fields of regulation theory, Internet law, and commercial practice to discuss the changing regulatory environment. 

SCL has a well-established reputation as a supporter of high quality research in the field of information technology law.  Its support of this event is part of its continuing commitment to the development of innovative research and practice links between academia and legal practice.

Attendees will discuss the range of regulatory techniques that are being adopted, or which could be adopted, by national governments, in areas such as data protection, protection of intellectual property, and control of unsolicited commercial e-mail, to effectively regulate online activities. The event will provide a unique forum for the free exchange of information concerning theory and practice in Internet regulation.  It will enhance the quality of research links; foster new relationships between researchers, policy makers and business; and provide valuable input to those tasked with developing future regulatory policy and commercial practice. 

Speakers at the Policy Forum will include:

Professor Jos Dumortier, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven;
Jeremy Olivier, Head of Multimedia at OFCOM;
Simon Deane-Johns, General Counsel of Zopa, the innovative Internet financial services company;
Clive Hawkswood, Chief Executive of the Remote Gambling Association;
Professor Chris Reed of Queen Mary University of London;
Professor Lilian Edwards, University of Southampton.

Discussion about how Internet regulation should occur has often placed government action and ‘top down’ or ‘command and control’ regulatory strategies at centre stage – for example, the European data protection regime.  This approach has fostered long-running debates about the desirability and practicality of government action to enforce acceptable online behaviour.   It has also tended to unnecessarily limit the suggested choice of options for Internet regulation to direct government regulation, self-regulation by commercial entities, or no regulation.  Significant academic research has been undertaken into regulatory theory and practice: and that research suggests the possibility of a much more sophisticated range of options.  However, there has been relatively little overlap between this innovative area of research, and academic research, policy development, and commercial/regulatory practice in the information technology and Internet law fields.

The Policy Forum will take as its focal point the concept of ‘decentred regulation’ – the use of particular mechanisms of regulatory activity that do not require, or which may actively deny, a direct or central role for traditional forms of governance and regulation.  Over the two-day event, the speakers will seek to bring to a wider academic, practitioner and regulatory audience an appreciation of the issues facing those currently engaged in regulation, as well as the diversity of potential regulatory options currently being explored.

While attendance at the Policy Forum will be principally by invitation, there will be a limited number of places available for those who wish to attend the sessions on either or both days.  The cost for SCL members is £300 + VAT for both days and £175 + VAT for one day.  The cost for non-members is £400.00 + VAT for both days and £275.00 + VAT for one day. 

Reduced rates for full-time academics and graduate students specialising in IT law will be available on request. For further details please contact

The UK Economic and Social Research Council eSociety programme

The Centre for IT & Law, University of Bristol