Laurence Eastham explains the origins of this special issue and offers some thoughts on a recent case on the limits of freedom of speech.
The focus of this issue is Smart Cities. We have nine articles taking different stances on the topic. All of this was inspired by an event held in Glasgow at the end of March, Designing Smart Cities - opportunities and regulatory challenges (jointly organised by CREATe, Horizon and Strathclyde University). A full resource website from that conference can be found at http://www.create.ac.uk/smart-cities-resource-page/.
Following an exchange with Professor Lilian Edwards, SCL agreed to run a special focus issue reflecting the contributions to that event. I think that the developments surrounding Smart Cities are important and exciting, with more potential to change ordinary people's everyday lives in the short term than any other new tech development. I hope that this issue will help to give technology lawyers a wider understanding of one of the most important developments of the decade and the decades to come. The aim is to deal not just with the law/regulatory aspects of smart cities but the mechanics and social impact so that the issue can be a point of reference for IT lawyers dealing with this emerging feature of society.
Though I owe a debt of gratitude to Lilian Edwards, my greater debt is to Lachlan Urquhart who has co-ordinated the project and been our guest-editor for the Smart Cities material. The work he has put in has made the project transform seamlessly from pipe-dream to page. Lachlan has even co-authored one of the most compelling pieces, highlighting interesting issues around the interplay between design and regulation that may have a profound impact beyond the Smart Cities field.
For those SCL members who are disappointed by the reduced portion of the magazine's more usual fare, we have a solution: look again at using the epub version of the magazine.
The epub version contains all the articles that we have on paper plus five 'bonus tracks' that cover cases and other developments in IT law. While some of those articles may appear in a later issue, they are in highly readable form now – both in the epub format and on the SCL web site. The sticker that we publish on the contents page that 'half of your magazine is missing' may occasionally be an idle boast but it's a very busy one for this issue.
I write this just after posting Professor Lorna Wood's balanced piece on the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Delfi v Estonia to the SCL web site. But not many of the reactions to that judgment were quite so well balanced. For a moment following the judgment, one might have thought that the death knell had sounded for freedom of speech in Europe. But the Court gets credit from me for grappling with the dilemma of intermediaries' 'get out of jail free' status and the poisoned well that is much BTL comment.
I recently gained insight into the Mo Farah missed tests story thanks to BTL comments so I am aware that they can have value. But, on the increasingly rare occasions that I scroll down on unmoderated sites, I often feel like I need to clean out my brain with bleach and a pumice stone afterwards (moderated comments often leave me despairing for the human race – but that's my problem). If the judgment leads to better filtering systems and an increase in costs through moderation of comments then of course it is private censorship (notwithstanding the Court's assertion to the contrary). But it is a type and level of censorship that would be totally unremarkable in the non-cyber world and not the cause for such extreme alarm. I do not doubt that such censorship may be misused nor that Delfi will be a stick to beat ISPs carrying comments that are, for example, critical of the stance of governments on big issues such as 'terrorism', but that's another fight for another day.
One of the Delfi facts that struck a chord with me was that the item in question had 185 comments, well above the average for the site. It seems inconceivable to me, as a site supervisor myself, that none of the people at Delfi went to look at what all the fuss was about. I suspect that somebody was quietly pleased about the controversy rather than horrified by the hate speech and incitement to violence.
One more lawyerly point on Delfi is that I strongly disagree with the suggestion that the CJEU is the Court that should have settled such an issue not the ECtHR. The CJEU understandably tends to a commercial outlook – it is in its DNA - and this was not a consumer/business clash but a case concerning one of the fundamental human rights. If the ruling does not fit with the eCommerce Directive then the Directive will have to change or be reinterpreted (but see Lorna Woods' analysis on this). Even those who disagree with the decision must surely accept that it was the right forum.