Comparative internet law

Alan Davidson visited Yale Law School today, speaking to my Internet Law class and to a large lunchtime group.  Key takeaway for me::  the center of gravity of internet policy is not so much in Washington any more.  Discussions of Issues like ISP filtering and data retention are taking place in Europe with enormous energy.  There things we might take for granted here – like avoiding online content regulation, or the undesirability of using ISPs as private police – are actively considered.

At the same time, Alan points out, architectural constraints that we also used to take for granted, like “it’s too difficult to look at the packets that are crossing our networks,” or “we can’t know with any reliability where people are coming from who visit our sites” are melting away.

So it’s a time of tremendous upheaval in internet policy, and storm clouds are gathering over Europe (not to be too bombastic, but it does feel like that from here).

It was absolutely wonderful to have Alan here.  We need more comparative internet/telecommunications experts – I’m hoping that some of these terrific students will take up that challenge.

2 thoughts on “Comparative internet law

  1. With respect Susan, Internet law has never been centered in the US. It has always been centered outside the US, but it is nearly impossible to get anyone in the US to read about developments outside the US. For people like Susan and myself, our entire legal education focused exclusively on the US. When I was a law student, the EU was described as ‘something like the Red Cross, or the UN.’

    Today, as the industrial infrastructure of the US is disassembled and we become more like a colonial plantation state, the most important laws governing commerce and industry are made in the EU, Canada, South America, Mexico, and East Asia.

    The EU is where these issues will be decided, and that is why it is critically important for all US activists and scholars to be involved in EU policy development. But more important, you should understand that the two fields of activity are related: the cablecoms and oligarchs set out on a deliberate path to attempt to establish the proposals they want in the EU, after they were closed down in the US. This is a planned and interrelated effort, and if we do not stop them in the EU, they will be back in a few years to try again here (and in China, Japan, Korea, India, etc.)

  2. Always find it amusing to see what’s occurring in the cocoons of academia and non-profits. In the real world, the U.S. dominates Internet law developments. For example, this past year a British citizen residing in Australia was extradited to the U.S. and currently sits in a federal prison for five years because he violated U.S. spam laws.

    There will always be regional blocs (like the EU) and authoritarian regimes (like China) that attempt to assert control over the Internet. Their ‘developments’ typically are nothing more than bureaucratic attempts to micromanage online economic activities and limit free speech.

    True developments in Internet law are occurring in response to rapidly changing technology and marketing practices within the U.S. By the time laws are passed or regulations implemented, they tend to be obsolete because of the free market alternatives that have evolved in the interim.

    A perfect example is what is transpiring in Cuba. The regime has shut down most cyber cafes and severely curtailed Internet access. At the risk of imprisonment, the people are acquiring the online content that they want from U.S. and Latin American websites and sharing it by copying flash drives to pass around.

    If you really want to see where the action is in the development of Internet law, watch the FTC and the states’ departments of revenue. The former will transition Internet marketing to a regulatory scheme similar to the one now sees for franchises. The latter is wrangling to tax e-commerce to make up for budgetary shortfalls. New York is making great headway in this arena and others will follow.

    Although there is much to learn from law professors and those who work in the public and non-profit sectors, take it with a grain of salt when they prognosticate on the future of how Internet law is actually practiced as opposed to theory.

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