April 01, 2019

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Will Tech Law Become Central To The Legal Ecosystem?

- Subramaniam Vutha, Advocate [ Founder-Member Technology Law Forum ]


With several things that were on technology “slow burners” having come to a boil in recent times, it is possibly the right time to ponder over corresponding changes needed in the legal ecosystem...

In 2003, a few lawyers met in Mumbai to discuss the impact of the Internet and other advances in technology [most of them based upon the Internet] on the legal framework. They also discussed the ways in which they could help shape the legal framework to cope with advances in technology. The Technology Law Forum was an outcome of that meeting.

Since then, there have been significant advances in technology [and, to a lesser extent, corresponding changes in regulations, statutes, contracts and intellectual property rights]. But, several things that were on technology “slow burners” appear to have come to the boil in recent times. And some more are on the verge of doing so. Technology gurus provide us valuable insights into the implications of contemporary/emerging technologies – listed in the table below. Perhaps it is the right time to ponder over the corresponding changes needed in the legal ecosystem:

1. What does this mean for us?

While all implications are not fully clear even to experts, these technologies are sure to have a profound impact on the way we:

a. Work
b. Play, or entertain ourselves
c. Interact socially

Each of the aforesaid technologies, has several businesses underlying or associated with them. For instance, entertainment is now big business. And so is social interaction.

2. Which areas of law are likely to be impacted? Or have already been impacted?

Apart from the Information Technology Act, there are many other laws that have been impacted by advances in technology. Besides, the implementation and enforcement of law has also changed significantly. And this is just the beginning.

Here are some of the laws that have an “Internet dimension” [that is to say, these laws have amendments related to the internet; or their implementation has been impacted by the Internet]

1. Contract law
2. The law relating to sale of goods
3. The law relating to negotiable instruments
4. The law relating to crimes
5. Various laws related to taxation – and the rules thereunder
6. Various laws related to labor and personnel – and their rules
7. Various laws and regulations related to banking
8. The law related to evidence
9. Intellectual property rights
10. Laws related to corporate governance

In some cases, the changes have been dramatic. For instance, the media and broadcasting industries has experienced a major change in the number of options open for licensing content and its monetization.

Big changes are ahead of us. The Government of India wants to make India 5G ready. For business too, there will be a digital transformation that will be unlike any previous “revolution” that we have witnessed or read about. A digitally empowered India can [and should] contribute more to a digitally empowered world, drawing upon ancient wisdom, to address the ethical and moral challenges ahead.

3. What are the key characteristics of a “digitally empowered society” and how will this impact the legal framework?

A digitally empowered India would be characterized [among other things] by the following:

a. A high [and accelerating] velocity of business.
b. Lower costs of transactions and huge increases in micro-transactions
c. Many new business models. Some of them likely to disrupt old ones
d. New challenges to national security, personal privacy and internal law and order

4. What issues, concerns and options must we consider in this context?

Each of the contemporary technologies and emerging technologies presents issues, concerns and options that we must ponder about. Some of these issues have profound and far reaching legal and societal implications.

Here are a few examples:

a. Will autonomous cars raise new concerns regarding product liability? Also of allocation of legal responsibility – as between the different providers of various technologies that go into the making of an autonomous car? Will streets, road surfaces, lighting systems, kerbs, signalling systems and other paraphernalia associated with motoring need to adhere to new standards for autonomous cars? Will adherence to such standards need new legislation? How will risks be allocated as between the various vendors who contribute to the making and operations of autonomous cars? And of the new infrastructure that will need to be put in place?

b. Will shared vehicles increase risks of personal conflicts? And of harassment? How will people and the legal system cope with these risks? What norms for passenger behavior should we develop? How should we enforce such norms? How do we address a wide spectrum of issues that may arise from such shared use of vehicles?

c. How reliable should information systems be to ensure the safety and security of IOT systems in industry, infrastructure and transportation? What about information security risks? What circumstances will trigger human interventions?

d. All of the above will be based on an “electronic nervous system” that could be susceptible to cyber attacks. What new standards should be created to ensure failsafe operation of 5G based systems that will become increasingly mission-critical? What standards will we need to ensure that such mission-critical systems remain safe from cyber threats?

e. As IOT and 5G systems are established and become the basis for a digital economy, what new internal and external threats can we anticipate? What care can we take to develop and integrate crucial technologies within our country to mitigate tisks of espionage? What care can we take to ensure that we have enough knowledge and capabilities to analyze crucial components of digital systems that we acquire from vendors in India or abroad –from the perspective of national security?

5. How should we go about developing appropriate legal frameworks to address new concerns, issues and options from emerging technologies?

Some initial thoughts on this –

a. Given the complexity of the new technologies and their visible and subtle impacts on the workplace, business, entertainment and social interaction, these issues need wider consultation in law-making than ever before. For example, law makers will need to consult with [and indeed, engage with] technology visionaries, technologists, researchers, product developers, information security experts, hackers, law enforcement officers, academic researchers, a wide spectrum of legal specialists, judicial officers, environmental experts, social scientists, data experts ...

b. Rapid changes in technologies will trigger changes in law making, law enforcement and adjudication. Application of new technologies such as AI, ML and DL could make the task easier. The velocity of law making and enforcement must be enhanced to cope with the rising velocity of business transactions!

c. Multi-disciplinary platforms and forums could make for better laws and superior administration of the legal ecosystem. The Technology Law Forum is one such attempt to bring together various stakeholders in the technology law domain so as to demystify technology law issues for technologists, researchers, IT specialists, managers and other non-lawyers.

This brings us to the question: Will technology law become central to the legal ecosystem? As technology pervades our lives, this could well happen. But we do not know when!

Disclaimer – The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author and are purely informative in nature.


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