SCL 6th Annual Policy Forum 2011: The New Shape of European Internet Regulation

July 4, 2011

The aim of this year’s SCL Policy Forum is to look at the impact of the various strands of important and long delayed Internet law reform that are now coming to a head in Europe. The main focus may be on the Data Protection Directive review process but reforms of the E-Commerce Directive and ACTA (the anti-counterfeiting trade agreement) and changes to intellectual property rights enforcement through IPRED are highly significant too. These changes have a clear counterpoint in changes in UK law, even in something not obviously connected like libel law reform. 

The SCL Forum, again generously hosted by Herbert Smith LLP, will mix a focus on specifics like the ‘right to forget’ with wider discussions. For example, session 2 will ask what is really wanted from the Data Protection Directive that is not already available. It will even address one of the issues that is so often buried under the carpet: can a European DP framework really work effectively within a global world of unrestricted data flows? 

These are narrow issues compared to what comes next – online freedom of speech, the tensions with libel, the relationship between democracy and social media and how does freedom co-exist with child abuse. That is a session for IT lawyers that could only take place at the SCL Forum. 

Day two begins with a session on file-sharing. The Forum programme raises the following question: ‘The alleged need to protect the copyright industries from the Internet revolution by special legislation enrolling ISPs as enforcers, is one of the most contested issues in modern law, having even spawned its own political party.  What balance should be struck between protecting the creative industries, and standing firm on user rights and the public domain?’ The question is familiar but the very special atmosphere and approach at the Forum means that the answers are likely to be less familiar – and may even be genuinely innovative. 

A session examining the roles of and attitudes to intermediaries follows. Is it right that knee-jerk immunity continues to apply when many intermediaries seem to have acquired the capacity to regulate users effectively for their own ends? It seems likely that governments will look to intermediaries to do more to enforce governmental policy objectives and not just in their own interests, or perhaps the concept of intermediary will be redefined. 

The Forum closes with ‘Futuregazing’ – four leading participants in the Forum give their quick predictions for what are the most exciting things they think will happen in relation to European and UK ICT law regulation in the year before the next Policy Forum. 

Professor Lilian Edwards is the creative spark and main organizer of this year’s Forum so it is guaranteed to be focused and controversial; she will be making telling contributions herself. With other participants including Trevor Callaghan from Google, Casper Bowden from Microsoft, David Allen Green (the Jack of Kent blogger and libel campaigner) and an array of  interesting and challenging academics (from 6 different jurisdictions, at the last count), the Forum promises to be a fascinating event. 

The Forum is the interface between the IT academics and IT law practitioners. They may clash like the knife on its steel, but both will leave sharper and better equipped to cut through the dross. 

The Forum will be held on Thursday 15 and Friday 16 September at the offices of Herbert Smith LLP, London.

The 6th SCL Annual Policy Forum Programme can be viewed here