Saturday, 3 January 2015

Cyberlaw memes and themes for 2015

(And see Internet legal developments to look out for in 2015.)

It is tempting just to change 2014 to 2015 in last year’s piece and recirculate.  Nudging and Bludgeoning, Magic wand politics, Politicians not understanding the internet, the Internet as Wild West, Cory Doctorow’s warning of the Coming War on General Purpose Computing, Technological neutrality, Copyright wars, Site blocking and Privacy are as topical as they were a year ago.

But that would be a cop out. So here are a few more memes and themes for 2015.

The War on the Internet. A cynic might say that a politician loves nothing more than an unwinnable war against an intangible enemy. Each setback demonstrates the resourcefulness and cunning of the opponent. Stronger measures are urgently required. Tough action plays to the electoral audience. Another setback feeds the cycle. 

Look out for War on the Internet slogans - ‘Social Responsibility’’, ‘Must Do More', ‘Internet Wild West’, ‘No Ungoverned Space’ - while tech businesses are demonised, scorned and blamed for the ill of the moment.

The Internet as security zone.  We know the rules when we pass through airport security: double-checked IDs, no risky items, unlimited inspection and above all no jokes. Will the internet come to resemble a security zone or be the poster child for freedom under the law?  Internet laws and quasi-laws challenging anonymity, demanding removal of undesirable content, empowering suspicionless state interception and criminalising badly judged tweets are with us already.

Berlin Walls in cyberspace. In the pre-internet world only the most repressive states attempted to erect impermeable borders, shielding their citizenry from noxious foreign influences and imposing a monopoly of national law on the state’s subjects.  In its most extreme form this was manifested in sealed physical borders, bans on external travel, import bans on books and jamming of foreign broadcasts.  

There are signs that, fearful of the inherent global nature of the internet, even liberal democratic states may be tempted to try to erect borders in cyberspace that are less permeable than their pre-internet physical equivalents. For more discussion see slides and video from my presentation at the Aberystwyth University Internet Jurisdiction Symposium, September 2014.

Fantasy Internet Ministers praise the liberating qualities of search engines and social media platforms.  Politicians of all stripes demand more freedom for internet users.  National border walls in cyberspace are torn down. MPs repeal restrictive internet laws and rein back intrusive state powers. Free flow of information across frontiers becomes sacrosanct.


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