Sunday, January 11, 2009

An Irish "Digital Legal Services Centre"?

The Irish Institute of European Affairs has a strong track record of hosting and promoting debate on issues around technology and law. Recent speakers have included Jonathan Zittrain, Bruce Schneier, Viviane Reding, Peter Fleischer, and Larry Sanger.

Now the IIEA has launched a report - The Next Leap: Competitive Ireland in the Digital Era (PDF) - which is full of interesting ideas aimed towards promoting Ireland as a "software and services hub".

One that struck me was the notion of establishing an Irish Digital Legal Services Centre. This, so the suggestion goes, would be:
an IFSC type development from which services such as intellectual property, rights clearance, payments, data protection, retention & privacy etc. could be provided for digital firms operating within the EMEA region.
This is a particularly good idea and in many ways is the next logical step from the early approach which the Irish government took towards promoting Ireland as an e-commerce location (particularly in the run up to the adoption of the Electronic Commerce Act 2000). It would also build on the expertise which is already developing here in servicing the Irish branches of firms such as PayPal, Ebay, Google and Microsoft.

So what could be done to promote this idea?

For a start, we would need government recognition of the importance of the Data Protection Commissioner. If Ireland is to be a credible location for online businesses it needs a data protection system which is capable of being the de facto lead regulator for multinational operations. Recent government moves (by decentralising the office to Portarlington resulting in the loss of staff and expertise and by the abortive proposals to merge the office with entirely dissimilar agencies) suggest that the government has little understanding of the importance of this role.

We would also need to see a reversal of policy in relation to data retention. The Department of Communications has repeatedly warned that government policy here will mean imposing increased costs on Irish business and reducing competitiveness - particularly where there are no provisions for cost reimbursement - but the Department of Justice has ploughed on regardless to achieve the largely mythical benefits of data retention.

Conversely, the Department of Justice has also ignored areas of Irish law where change is essential and could be achieved at relatively low cost. As I've said for a while now, Irish law on computer crime is badly in need of reform. Areas such as interception of online communications, access to stored communications and denial of service attacks are essentially unregulated - giving little protection to online businesses. Legislation in this area is long overdue and would help to promote Irish attractiveness for online business.

Another area which would benefit from (relatively cheap and easy) reform is Internet gaming. Ireland is already a hub of internet gaming sites, but still operates on the basis of laws which are obscure and outdated. The Department of Justice has already - to its credit - dealt with some of the issues involved in the report "Regulating Gaming in Ireland", but more needs to be done. It would be undesirable if the political dispute in relation to fixed odds betting terminals were to hold up reform of online gaming.

Reforming the possible liability of online intermediaries generally should also be a priority. Ireland has adopted a barebones implementation of the Electronic Commerce Directive, creating only the mandatory exemptions from liability in respect of hosting, mere conduits and caching. This compares with other jurisdictions which have created immunities for e.g. search engines and content aggregators. This narrow approach is something which worries intermediaries (UK link but Irish law is very similar) and there is a strong argument to be made for extending the hosting notice and takedown model to other intermediaries also. Failure to do so will undermine the desirability of Ireland as a location for such services.

Neil Leyden has some interesting comments / proposals in a similar vein here and here.

1 comment:

  1. This new service sounds like it might be just what I'm looking for. I am a web designer and I'm searching for an answer to a specific issue in relation to data protection but don't have time to wade through legal documents. Can you recommend an online discussion forum that is moderated by legal professionals?

    Thank you.