Daithí Mac Síthigh reports on the recent SCL Policy Forum, sponsored by SCL and Herbert Smith and held on 17 and 18 September in London.
Lawyers, legal academics, programmers, business persons, media makers and the occasional stray PhD researcher (like this author) gathered in sponsor Herbert Smith's London offices on a bright Monday morning this September. The purpose? Facing an ambitious challenge - discussing ‘Law 2.0 ‘, under the patronage of the Society for Computers and Law and the careful watch of conference chair Professor Lilian Edwards (Southampton University).
Much has been written about ‘Web 2.0 ‘ during the past 18 months. Some has been critical, but the usual wave of enthusiasm and euphoria, familiar to veterans of previous moments in 'new media', is in full swing. The challenge posed to the contributors was to reflect on how law is taking shape in what one wry speaker referred to as ‘Web Thingie‘ - and indeed, defining and elaborating the concepts of Web 2.0, user-generated content and virtual worlds was an important part of the proceedings, taking place over the two days. One focus was a series of sessions on new ideas of identity, property and speech. A particular feature was the blend of speakers - so for example, virtually every session included a mixture of academics and non-academics, lawyers and non-lawyers, and even techies and non-techies! Late on Monday afternoon, attendees were especially intrigued by demonstrations of doing business and law in 'persistent virtual environment' Second Life...with some enthusiastic members of the audience joining in with their virtual selves on screen. Will an avatar be as essential as a business card in the near future?
Current legal controversies were not ignored; Trevor Callaghan (Google) spoke about the challenges faced by YouTube (from governments, from regulators, from copyright industries), and expressed his wish to have the citation of the relevant European directive on e-commerce printed on a t-shirt. Future legislative and regulatory options were discussed by Chris Marsden (formerly of RAND and now of Essex University), while both Nick Gibbins (Southampton University) and Danny Weizner (MIT) addressed the role of the 'semantic web' in current technologies and platforms.
Methods of regulation, of course, ended up being discussed in all sessions, and were a key concern of questioners from the audience. A number of presenters discussed privacy concerns related to social networking, and wondered what level of intervention would be necessary - or desirable. Judith Rauhofer (Liverpool John Moore), among others, highlighted the features (and pitfalls) of Facebook and similar sites that many ordinary users are totally unaware of, underlining the argument with information on how a test account belonging to a fictional frog (created by security firm Sophos) was accepted as a 'friend' (receiving valuable personal information in return) by a significant proportion of Facebook users.
Control in other ways was considered by Casper Bowden (Microsoft), in a detailed presentation on Kim Cameron's Laws of Identity and the various technological systems under development for authentication and identity protection. New challenges that could demand regulation or attention were present in the contributions of a number of speakers, such as Andrew Charlesworth (Bristol University), who spoke about the increasing interest in 'attention data' collected by Web site owners. The duties responsibilities of those same owners towards users were probed by Lilian Edwards, who wondered whether it is time to seek mandatory code standards, and how contract law could continue to protect consumer and user rights in the Web 2.0 environment.
Towards the end of the second day, a wide-ranging discussion on blogs and wikis took in everything from the ethics and practice of law firm blogging to the ups and downs of legal wikis (Andrea Matwyshyn talking about her fantastic technopolity.org project) and from the potential politically polarising role of new media voices to the relationship between blogging and sex (the pseudonymous Geeklawyer can be blamed for that one). Chris Reed (Queen Mary) issued a compelling ‘Manifesto for Radical Inaction‘, subsequently published on Lilian Edwards' blog (http://blogscript.blogspot.com/)
This seminar is already a key feature of the law and technology scene, and provides an opportunity for what can only be described as 'blue skies' thinking, appealing to both practitioner and academic. The Society for Computers and Law, of course, organises an annual conference and a series of other events, and this seminar is a welcome addition to an ever-expanding diary of events for those interested in computer law and cyberlaw.
Daithí Mac Síthigh is a research assistant and PhD student in Internet Law at Trinity College Dublin: http://www.lexferenda.com/
To view the PowerPoint Slides and PDFs presented please click on the links below