SCL 7th Annual Policy Forum: “Brave New Worlds: Computer and Communications Law Reform”

April 11, 2012

The SCL Policy Forum brings together practitioners, policy makers and academic experts to discuss the medium and long range needs of computer law. The intensive discussion of topical interests takes place in an interactive and intimate venue provided by our host Mark Turner at Herbert Smith. Since the third edition in 2008, it has led to a special issue of Computers & Law the following spring, in which speakers share their insights with the wider SCL membership. Its seventh edition will build on both the intensive discussions and the broader sharing of insights with the Computers & Law readership. The seventh Policy Forum marks a new departure for the event, with a keynote speaker on the evening of the first day – a special event which all SCL members can attend.

In 2012’s Forum, the theme will be the revision of European electronic commerce law, and its incorporation in the UK. Ever since the 2002 adoption of Regulations in the UK incorporating the E-Commerce Directive, and the 1998 Data Protection Act’s claim to incorporate the 1995 Data Protection Directive, it has been clear that the law is not as clear or coherent as it should be (which is, not coincidentally, the subject of long-time Policy Forum supporter, chair and speaker Chris Reed’s new book, ‘Making Laws for Cyberspace’). In 2012, in both Brussels and London, there is the opportunity to correct and update several aspects of the law – or to make it even more incoherent and opaque. We will focus on the electronic commerce (notably contracting and e-money) and data protection reform proposals in Brussels, and the prospects for UK law reform. As the data protection reform is proposed as a Regulation, it will of course take immediate effect once approved.

UK law is also changing from within, with the long-discussed Green Paper on a new Communications Bill to be published in the summer. The many issues outstanding from the previous Digital Economy Act 2010 and Communications Act 2003 provide interesting benchmarks for this new and hopefully more coherent legislative process. Some of the controversies strike at the very root of communications law in the UK, notably in the rights and responsibilities of Internet users and their access providers, as well as their regulation by government and Ofcom. Our discussions in 2008’s Policy Forum illuminated for participants the 2009 Digital Economy Bill, and we are hopeful that the 2012 Forum will provide another occasion for a penetrating insight into the legislative process, and its outcomes for citizens – and clients!

The Policy Forum always features invited speakers from other jurisdictions and a comparative approach. This year, we are delighted to welcome back to the Policy Forum both Andrea Matsyshwyn from the Wharton Business School, an expert in information security law, and Nico van Eijk from the University of Amsterdam, an expert in competition and citizen rights issues notably in cloud computing and neutrality (both search and net) issues. They are sure to provide new insights into our domestic concerns. We also have long-standing commitments to ensuring both European and UK regulators participate, and anticipate a high level European Commission official and a director at Ofcom. In previous years, we have had such luminaries as Herbert Ungerer, the ‘father’ of European telecoms reform. It hardly needs adding that this is a US election year, and 2013 may produce a very different administration and a degree of divergence from previous policy – on which, we wait to hear our US experts’ views.

The most popular feature of the SCL web site has for several years been its Annual Predictions feature, giving time in December to pause for perspective. The Policy Forum will now have such a session for more extensive consideration of these issues in September (the academic year starts in October!), to work into predictions for December.  It also provides a fitting endnote to the Policy Forum in which the session chairs – and participants – can summarise their lessons learnt from the discussions and arguments of the two days.

Attending the Forum is not like other practitioner or academic law conferences – it is a participative experience in which the discussion following formal presentations is the most important element, and from which all speakers and attendees benefit. We hope you can join us this year to continue and extend the tradition.

The SCL Policy Forum will be held on Thursday 13 September (full day) and Friday 14 September (half day). Please add these dates to your diary.  More details about the programme for this year’s Forum will be published here shortly.