In the first of what will be regular tech and techlaw book reviews - of both practitioner and academic works - by our newly-instituted panel, Rónán Kennedy cast his eye over some scholarly thoughts on IT and public authorities.
Although much of the focus of information technology lawyers is on commercial aspects —such as intellectual property, online commerce, and service provider liability — governments have also been enthusiastic and early adopters of computers and data processors, and some prescient scholars have been asking questions about what this might mean for the state and the citizen as far back as the 1960s. However, the focus has tended to be on privacy and surveillance, and many constitutional and public lawyers do not pay any particular attention to the restructuring of the day-to-day (and often mundane) work of government around digital technology, although the changes wrought have been significant.
This collection goes some way towards rectifying that gap. The introduction stakes out a bold claim. Drawing connections between long-past technological revolutions, in agriculture, weapons, industry, and money and the ‘deep roots of our societies’, it frames the ‘ongoing information and technology revolution’ as ‘profoundly changing the very essence of our moral, human and social pillars’. The rest of the book explores some aspects of these changes, lucidly and thoroughly.
This is a scholarly work, aimed at a specialist audience. All of the contributors are academics based on the European continent and although they have education and experience in common law jurisdictions, they are largely grounded in a civil law tradition. However, the discussions are generally at a relatively high level, although there are a few chapters that are very much located in the jurisdiction of the author.
The book is divided into six parts, dealing respectively with constitutionalism, democracy, courts, finance (including, of course, cryptocurrency), privacy, and health. There are sixteen chapters, which explore issues such as the role of the state, monetary sovereignty, the limits of digital justice, and gene editing in detail.
There is a great deal here which is interesting and stimulating, with discussion of algorithmic constitutionalism, direct digital democracy, the shifting and porous boundaries between the state and the private sector as a tool of public policy, how cryptocurrencies challenge the state’s control over finance, how courts should engage with social media, and the legality of gene editing. Of course, with any good academic exercise, there is scope for disagreement: for example, Colapietro concludes that European constitutions generally ‘appear adequately structured to consider and protect those areas where AI will have the greatest impact’, while Jonason argues for strengthening the right to privacy, at least in France and Sweden. Individual readers will doubtless have their own responses to the views put forward.
This is not a volume with a single perspective or an overarching narrative of the present and future of digitalisation. There is a need for attempts to make broader sense of what changes to the nature and role of the state are enabled and hastened by information technology but this volume serves a different purpose. The individual chapters are very useful snapshots of the literature and challenges in specific areas, and would be an excellent starting point for further research or for a classroom discussion, particularly in a graduate programme. Practitioners working in the areas covered may also find food for thought in specific aspects of the book.
Rónán Kennedy, School of Law, National University of Ireland Galway
ABOUT THE BOOK
The IT Revolution and its Impact on State, Constitutionalism, and Public Law