Emerging Legal Issues: OII and SCL Collaborate on Lectures

January 30, 2009

A new initiative by SCL, acting in collaboration with the UK’s leading Internet Institute, offers members and others the chance to stretch their intellectual muscles and equip themselves for IT law practice in the 21st century.

Beginning with a lecture by Professor Roger Brownsword of Kings College, London on 30 March in Oxford, the series will cover some of the most pressing issues surrounding the interpretation, application and enforcement of legal principles in cyberspace. Addressing topics as wide-ranging as privacy and reputation online, intellectual property and copyright and the future of the Internet, this series will ask whether the application of law to online transactions and interaction simply entails a more technologically sophisticated analysis of traditional legal principles, or requires radical new perspectives on law and regulation.

Bill Jones, Chair of SCL, is delighted about this collaborative venture between SCL and the OII: ‘It is important for SCL members, working as they do in fields that survive and indeed should thrive through innovation, to keep abreast of new thinking. The OII is a true centre for excellence in creative thinking about the Internet and is recognised as such throughout the world. The new lecture programme will provide an opportunity for SCL members to hear from opinion formers and leaders in their respective fields about significant areas of legal development and analysis as they relate to the Internet.  I look forward to a series of stimulating lectures.’  This is one of a number of SCL initiatives of this kind.  SCL has already established an Annual Internet Policy Forum, and has recently published a number of papers from the most recent of these, held in September 2008.

Dr Victoria Nash, Policy and Research Fellow at the OII, welcomed the initiative: ‘The legal issues raised by the ever-growing use of the Internet are not merely of academic interest, they will increasingly affect many areas of legal practice. This series is an excellent way to create a dialogue between some of the most prominent legal scholars in this field and those who are shaping the debate by engaging with the issues on the ground.’

Speakers following Professor Brownsword will include Professor Jonathan Zittrain (Harvard University), Professor Elizabeth Judge (University of Ottawa) and Professor Daniel Solove (George Washington University).

In his lecture, Professor Brownsword will argue that the emergence of a raft of rapidly developing technologies (ICTs, biotechnologies, nanotechnologies and neurotechnologies), together with the prospect of significant convergence between some or all of these technologies, should be of major concern to the legal community. Roger Brownsword’s book Rights, Regulation, and the Technological Revolution (OUP, 2008) was described in the Journal of law and Society as ‘a book of impressive scope and detail and it should have a wide audience. It will encourage the reader to think deeply about the challenges we face as we engage with technology and about our commitment to core moral principles’. He can properly be described as a leading opinion former in this area and his views carry weight across the world.

One set of questions which will be posed by Professor Brownsword focuses on the regulatory environment in which these technologies first emerge before developing and moving on. What contribution can lawyers make to ensuring that the regulatory environment is fit for purpose? In particular, how well does law perform in controlling for the risks presented by these technologies; and how well does it perform in supporting the research, development, and distribution of these technologies?

A second set of questions relates to the use by regulators of various kinds of technological fix, including fixing opportunities presented by developments in these emerging technologies. In addition to checking that technological fixes are legitimate and effective, what should the legal community make of the possibility that technology might displace law as an instrument of social control?

In short, says Professor Brownsword believes that, lawyers should be concerned to contribute to debates about getting the regulatory environment right for emerging technologies; but they should also be concerned about the implications of technology and design replacing law as a channelling mechanism.