Podcast: Those Golden Eggs Come From Somewhere: Internet Regulation at a Crossroads - 17 November 2009

A recording of a recent lecture given by Professor Michael Froomkin

This lecture is part of a series organised in collaboration with the The Oxford Internet Institute 

To download the podcast please click here

The related online CPD questions are available

Michael Froomkin, Professor of Law, University of Miami School of Law

From its inception, many have recognized the Internet’s potential as a liberating, decentralizing, and, yes, destabilizing technology but also its counter-potential as a controlling and centralizing technology.

Over the last two decades, predictions about the social effects of the Internet have ranged from cybernetic anarchy (both utopian and dystopian) to the instantiation of a fascistic regime of surveillance that makes Orwell seem like a cautious optimist. Some see a winner-take-all economy of massive new monopolies emerging on the back of network effects, others see the growth of a new economy in which intermediaries are replaced by huge open networks of buyers and sellers trading with e-cash on anonymous electronic exchanges – and evading their taxes. Meanwhile enthusiasts of electronic democracy and popular empowerment offer a vision sharply at odds with that of Cassandras of globalization for whom the Internet provides yet another occasion for decision-making authority to seep away towards relatively undemocratic trans-national bodies.

One would think that such contrasting predictions could not possibly all be correct.  Yet, for the last decade, to a surprising extent both sets of trends have manifested themselves simultaneously. The question is whether those two trends can continue, or if instead we are witnessing the start of a collision between them.

At present, ‘the Internet’ is neither ‘fraud’s playground’ nor ‘democracy’s’. (Indeed, there is more than one ‘Internet’.) Rather, different groups of people doing different things with different objectives have moved down independent paths. Now, however, these trends find themselves meeting at a crossroads: Largely well-intentioned political and legal reactions to the highest-profile risks of communications technology create a danger of at least wounding and perhaps in some areas even killing the goose that is giving us golden eggs of innovation, decentralization, and personal empowerment.

Advances in medical records technology might give patients greater control over their treatment, but could also further disempower them, and (in the US at least) seem even more likely to become another target for data mining and marketing. E-government holds out the promise of more involved and better informed citizens. The same technologies may, however, also empower nosey neighbors, or the nanny state’s evil sibling Big Sister, who knows what is best for you and has honed predictive profiling to the point where many find their liberty practically encumbered without being formally curtailed.

Most immediately, technologies, practices, and technical standards that may appear benign in a democracy – may take on a more sinister cast when adopted in more repressive regimes faced with indigenous pressure for reform. For example, the world witnessed via YouTube as Iranian demonstrators marched to protest the theft of an election. The communicative freedom making the sending of those images possible is a fragile thing, and could fall before the creation of standards and practices intended to foil digital piracy half a world away.

Speakers details:
Michael Froomkin is a Professor at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Florida, specializing in Internet Law and Administrative Law.  He is a founder-editor of ICANNWatch, and serves on the Editorial Board of Information, Communication & Society and of   I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society. He is on the Advisory Boards of several organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  Prof. Froomkin is a member of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. He is also active in several technology related projects in the greater Miami area.

Professor Froomkin writes primarily about Internet governance, electronic democracy, and privacy.  Other subjects include e-commerce, electronic cash, the regulation of cryptography, and U.S. constitutional law.  Before entering teaching, Prof. Froomkin practiced international arbitration law in the London office of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering.  He clerked for Judge Stephen F. Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, and Chief Judge John F. Grady of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois.  Prof. Froomkin received his J.D. from Yale Law School, where he served as Articles Editor of both the Yale Law Journal and the Yale Journal of International Law.  He has an M.Phil in History of International Relations from Cambridge University in England, which he obtained while on a Mellon Fellowship.  His B.A. from Yale was in Economics and History, summa cum laude, phi beta kappa with Distinction in History.

The Internet, Society and Law Seminar Series. 
This lecture is part of a series organised in collaboration with the Oxford Internet Institute to provide a platform for leading international scholars to address emerging legal issues concerning the Internet: its use, governance and regulation.

The Internet is raising new questions about legal principles, their implementation and enforcement in cyberspace. Does an understanding of law and the Internet simply require a more technologically sophisticated analysis of traditional legal principles, or is the Internet creating a need for new perspectives on law and regulation?

Each seminar will focus on a different emerging legal issue concerning the Internet.  A moderated audience discussion will follow. 

Published: 2009-12-07T12:19:37

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