Book Review: E-Mail, The Internet and the Law

August 31, 2001

Mark Owens reviews E-Mail, The Internet and the Law by T. Kevan and P. McGrath, EMIS Professional Publishing Ltd, 223pp ISBN 1-85811-268-0

E-Mail, the Internet and the Law is written by Tim Kevan and Paul McGrath, both barristers at 1 Temple Gardens with expertise in IT law. The analysis is mainly of English and EU law, though occasionally other legislation (mostly American) is considered. The book claims a broad audience of lawyers and non-lawyers, of consumers and businesses (large and small), of professional specialists and anyone taking an interest in the area. Indeed, the compendious nature of its self-proclaimed audience puts one in mind of the promises on a bottle of Dr. Hook’s.

On first reading, this reviewer’s original conclusion was that the book was highly accessible both in layout and content and that a beginner (new to either law or the new technology) would find it a useful introduction to this complex area. But on closer inspection, it proved necessary to moderate that opinion somewhat and conclude that it was all those things, but also that a smattering of legal knowledge was beneficial.

Indeed, if there is a fault with this excellent book it lies, I think, in failing always to bear in mind that part of the intended audience will have no understanding of the law. There is a reasonable amount of legal terminology and, of course, it is difficult to avoid in any legal analysis. But, for example, ideas such as precedence and equity and words such as ratio and obiter (which never, I think, appear in italics) are unlikely to have much meaning for a lay person. It would be useful for Joe Public if these terms were properly highlighted in a future edition and included, perhaps, in a small glossary. This might also usefully include some technical definitions although the writers tend to take more care to explain these and the ubiquitous IT acronyms within the body of the text.

Throughout the book there are a number of practical examples which conclude with questions illustrating the difficulties arising from an application of existing law to new, technology-driven fact situations, and although these do serve to bring the issues into sharper focus, this reviewer couldn’t help feeling (probably because of his inveterate, anorakish noseyness and perhaps irrationally) a tinge of disappointment not to see the writers attempt to work through the current position to these thought-provoking little scenarios even though they made it quite clear in the introduction that their purpose was merely to illustrate the problem.

I read with particular interest of the government’s proposals for an e-infrastructure for the courts. Given the numerous, previous failures of public IT projects (the Post Office, the Passport Office, Chief (Customs & Excise), DVLA, DSS – the strand is littered with their bones), one shudders to think what a mess could be made of work of this complexity with the current relaxed approach to time-scales. Indeed, it may be that some of the proposed functionality could be achieved by using existing document management Web sites, provided always that pertinent security issues, such as encryption and repository access, are properly addressed.

However, my critical comments are mere quibbles – I very much enjoyed the book. It opened up a complex area and it did it clearly and entertainingly. I look forward to subsequent editions which will no doubt tidy up the many typos and occasional solecisms of grammar which mar the first edition and make it look as if it has been rather rushed to press. An example (on p131) could be either. ‘At first blush, this seems incredulous.’ It certainly does.