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Musings on the Global Status of Tech Regulation

Updated: Aug 15, 2020

Post World Legal Summit Aug 1st Event

Part One of the inaugural World Legal Summit (WLS) just completed on Aug 1st, 2019. It was the summit portion of the world wide initiative that occurred in 30+ cities, across 20+ countries simultaneously in respective time zones. This first part was designed to curate a global community around topics dealing with the legislative and regulatory structures for emerging technologies. It is to be followed by initiatives designed to put these insights into action by making them accessible and palatable to technologists. The central drive behind all of it, is to support the further development of technologies in a way that is globally sustainable.

Given the massive mandate of the WLS, this first year had a narrowed scope focused on just three core topics driving much of the legal dialogue around new technologies: Identity and Personal Governance, Autonomous Machines, and Cyber Security and Personal Data. The intent being to provide context for having discussions surrounding core legal concepts dealing with new technologies and related systems like blockchain, artificial intelligence, or decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), all of which have substance in each of those three core categories.

The primary outcome of the WLS is a global publication that is being co-created along with the hosting organizations and individuals that participated in the Aug 1st summit. Their local discussions are partnered with a global framework designed to create the foundation for a thorough analysis of these topics in a globally relevant schema. While this publication is being compiled, there are some early insights surfacing and this article is meant to highlight a handful of those early musings.

It’s not Just a Gap in Knowledge for Technologists

Much of the work of the World Legal Summit is based on the premise that the law is not accessible nor is it practical for the demands of developing and adopting new technologies. However, this gap between law and technology is not as one sided as one might expect. Given that many of these bodies of legislation dealing with emerging technologies are quite new in the jurisdictions where they exist (if they exist at all), lawyers too are ill informed and not well equipped to translate and apply that law in their work with clients. Further, many technologies are developed and active in markets in ways that are preexisting any current or soon to be enacted legislative standards, and are now being rendered illegal. While these standards are certainly well overdue, we must also consider the difficulties this creates for the legal departments of these technologies as it’s proven highly difficult for them to adopt as well. It seems that rather than the issue being one of professional qualifications, that it is instead endemic of the way in which these frameworks are being established and executed altogether.

For example, many nations now have variants of the GDPR in effect or at least being proposed. Following the GDPR’s enactment, there was a global blundering of companies trying to figure out how to establish compliancies. Many companies were in effect guinea pigs for the legislation and massive penalties are still emerging, for example Marriott’s $124 million fine or British Airways record setting $230 million fine, and the pattern will surely continue as we move into the second full year of its adoption.

Concepts of Data Insecurity Nod Toward Global Standards Concepts of data security and the drive toward origin ownership (users owning and controlling their data) are seemingly global. Even in places like Algeria, where there is little indication of a well known and robust data market (companies selling user data), there is still a trend toward obtaining personal data ownership and control; efforts are being made to reduce the exposure and use of personal data online for example.

The prevalence of these concepts lends well to the ideology of global standards for governing these core areas of new technology adoption. Many nations are looking at the application of these legal concepts within their own borders, however this does not address the demand for a solution that goes beyond borders. It is unclear for many jurisdictions what happens when their citizens data is breached beyond their borders, for example with platforms like Facebook or other social media channels that are by their very nature globally dispersed.

For these exact reasons there are bodies of legislation that are, perhaps unwittingly, acting as a basis for global models. For example, it probably goes without surprise that the GDPR was a recurring reference on Aug 1st as a body of legislation for which many nations are modeling their privacy protection laws. While this is not necessarily a truly global framework, as it is yet each nations interpretation and unique application of central tenants, it does show an indication that global collaboration and acceptance is perhaps possible. For example, there are several key themes of GDPR compliance that are replicated in other proposals, such as:

  • Consent to storing user’s data

  • Source and identity anonymization

  • User can ask for removal or modification

  • Right to know where and how data is being stored

Legal Sci-Fi a Near Non-Fiction?

Many host locations of the World Legal Summit dedicated a portion of their day to exploring something unique to their jurisdiction or otherwise something they were passionate about that didn’t have a home in the core categories. While this was an opportunity to go outside the box, there were a couple similar themes that surfaced in multiple locations.

Robot Rights: A discussion and insights building around whether or not, and in what capacity, robot or automated systems should have rights similar to human beings. The discussion was particularly reinforced in conversations about the ethical frameworks for the adoption of autonomous vehicles. A variant of the following scenario is consistently reviewed:

What happens when an autonomous vehicle is programmed to make ethical decisions, for example, if there’s a scenario in which there is a choice to be made between ensuring the safety of the passenger or the safety of others beyond the vehicle. If the answer is “always do what is safest for the most amount of people”, then would passengers willingly make autonomous vehicles their primary mode of transportation? And is such a conclusion the right way forward for adopting autonomous transportation in real world scenarios? Computational Law: A discussion about the desirability from an ethical standpoint, and the practicality of making law computer programmable and with automated systems of enforcement. While this is not an overall new topic, it has traditionally sat in somewhat nascent circles where it has a difficult time finding grounding beyond academic rhetoric. It’s clear this topic is gaining more and more momentum, and perhaps finding a basis for real world exploration and development.

While there is much work to be done in reviewing the insights submitted from the Aug 1st multi nation summit, the above is a set of (perhaps provocative) themes and trends that are surfacing. These insights are indicative of an energetic global environment ripe for continued dialogue around these, and additional, core topics toward the improvement of technology from a legal standpoint. If we can also successfully pair discussions like these with true activity in the development of the technology itself, we are likely to find ourselves much better equipped to deal with the ever increasing speed of innovation.


About the Author

Aileen Schultz is Senior Manager, Labs Programs at Thomson Reuters; Founder & President, World Legal Summit.; Fmr. Co Founder & Global Organizer, Global Legal Hackathon.

Aileen is a Toronto based award winning growth and innovation strategist with a global footprint, and a passion for creating better exponential systems. She works with SME's across several sectors with a focus in legal and blockchain technology.

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