March 20, 2013

The Internet knows no borders. ITC outsourcing is an international business. Data protection giants bestride the oceans. The world is the IT lawyer’s oyster.

If I hadn’t misplaced my book of clichés, I would go on. But despite all the lip-service paid to cross-jurisdictional issues, I find that it is rare indeed for an article on IT law to contemplate issues arising outside the two super-jurisdictions – the EU and the USA – that dominate discussion.

I suspect that if I were editing the equivalent web site for a society of US lawyers, we would be focusing on US jurisdictions only, so perhaps we can take some comfort from that (but I acknowledge that we in the EU often forget the multiple jurisdictions that actually apply in the USA). We are always going to be aware of the EU rules that sit on top of those in our own UK jurisdictions and apply in so many instances – so we get no credit for that. And commercial necessity decrees that we will have some awareness of US issues – so not much credit for that. But time and again I get articles that cover the position on an issue that has clear international impact and find that they cover only the EU and US position (and do not always acknowledge the federal variations within the latter) but claim to cover ‘the international position’ or point up anomalies by comparison only with US law.

I appreciate that it is not possible to cover, say, the data protection laws that apply in every jurisdiction from Afghanistan to Zambia. But, while I have never been to China or India, I gather that they are pretty populous nations and, while I find it hard these days to read any economic prediction for the grains of salt that I have covered them in, I tend to believe that they will be economically important both as consumers and providers in the very near future. Then there’s Brazil. And so on and so on. Ten points if you can look up the population of Vietnam and not be surprised. Oh, and saying ‘Europe’ when you mean the EU is just plain wrong – and that is not just pedantry; you don’t want to make Putin angry.

I worry that we still think like colonials. (And it is not just a British Empire thing, US lawyers are the worst for this and our EU brethren run them close.) We think that there are proper IT laws and that there are quaint jurisdictional quirks that we don’t really have to worry much about. A quick flick through any leading text, should convince you on this. In a world where I still meet people who think Africa is a country (and I mean apparently educated people – they can tie shoelaces and everything), there is little doubt that IT lawyers are far more aware of international issues and jurisdictional limits than most – and I mean most lawyers not most people. But those who have been getting away with just thinking about the UK, EU and US jurisdictions are not likely to prosper in the middle decades of the 21st century. Most of you will still be working then (if only to pay for your children’s education and your parents’ care home), so you need to prosper.

Widen your eyes and look to extend your horizons. If you don’t, somebody will creep up and steal your lunch.