Law and technology

Impedance mismatch

Talk by Michael Cordover at on 4 February 2016



The law doesn't get technology. Laws drafted with technical input end up too technical: the Telecommunications Act govnerns "the carriage of communications by means of guided and/or unguided electromagnetic energy". Laws drafted without technial input end up too broad: nobody really knows what metadata falls within the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act. Some laws, like the Privacy Act, completely ignore the impact they might have on tech. And that's before we get to the time it takes for law reform, or the incredibly complex jurisdictional issues...

One of the great moments in the free software movement was the development of copyleft: a way of using existing legal structures to promote a free software purpose. Surprisng as it might seem, EULAs have had a similar impact, providing "just enough" legal protection for a lot of online commercial activities. The only people who don't have some protection now are users: consumers who lack protection, individuals subject to invasive tracking and activists denied access to information.

There are no purely technical solutions to social problems. This talk will look at some ways individuals, F/LOSS projects and socially responsible enterprises can position themselves to maximise good outcomes. It will also consider areas where legal or policy change could have the greatest impact.