In this column, I explore the various means by which lawyers can be helped by computer scientists to stop the (inevitable) collateral damage to innovation when the unstoppable force of legislation hits the irresistible innovation of the Internet.1 I will explore some current controversies (fake news, Net neutrality, platform regulation) from an international perspective. The conclusion is familiar: lawyers and computer scientists need each other to prevent a disastrous retrenchment toward splintered national-regional intranets. To avoid that, we need to be intellectually pragmatic in pursuing what may be a mutually disagreeable aim: minimal legislative reform to achieve co-regulation using the most independent expert advice. The alternatives are to allow libertarian advocates to so enrage politicians that severe overregulation results.
Regulation should first do no harm. That is easy to state, difficult to achieve, when legislation is the clumsiest version of the engineering principle of the 'Birmingham Screwdriver': to a legislator, every problem looks like a new bill will solve it, and worse, to an international lawyer every problem looks like a new Convention or Treaty is needed. Yet in reality, all that law can achieve is to enforce against a few bad actors to prevent the most egregious overreaching by companies and users. More negatively, the worst law can do is overlegislate in the interests of monopolies old and new to prevent technological progress (one example: a man carrying a red flag in front of the first motor vehicles, which protected stagecoaches and railways from innovative competition).2,a
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