- Robert Stines
Cyberlaw: From the Printing Press to the Internet
In general, Cyberlaw is considered to be a new field of law dealing with the Internet. It encompasses cases, statutes, regulations and disputes that affect people and business interacting through computers and mobile devices. Cyberlaw covers e-commerce, intellectual property, privacy, security, etc.
There are others that define Cyberlaw differently and view it as an area of the law that encompasses all technology.
I recently read a law review article written by Meg Leta Jones titled, "Does Technology Drive the Law: The Dilemma Of Technological Exceptionalism In Cyberlaw.” In her article, she defined Cyberlaw as the intersection of law and technology. In her view, law’s relationship to technology is central to the field of Cyberlaw. Ms. Jones’ definition of Cyberlaw challenges the notion that Cyberlaw would not have existed without the creation of the Internet. Under Ms. Jones’ definition, Cyberlaw existed long before the Internet.
I respectfully disagree with Ms. Jones' thoughts.
Let us explore
If technology is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, we have to accept that technology dates as far back as the discovery of fire.
The concept of “law” has existed since the earliest civilizations. For example, the earliest written law is the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, which dates back to about 1754 BC. I’m no legal scholar, but it seems silly to suggest that the earliest hints of Cyberlaw existed when people were writing words on stone.
But what if we fast forward from a time when people were writing words on stone to a time when people were mass producing words on paper i.e., the printing press.
The printing press is one of the most important technological innovations. It led to the scientific revolution, the Renaissance, and Protestant Reformation. Without the printing press, Martin Luther may not have been successful in the mass distribution of the 95 Theses.
The printing press changed the ideas behind mass propaganda, the newspaper, and revolutions. It had a major impact on the ideas of freedom of speech and the press.
Without a doubt, the printing press affected the law, but the intersection of law and the printing press still was not Cyberlaw.
Let’s fast forward a little more to when images were captured on photographic paper. The instant camera invented by George Eastman (namely the Kodak camera), caused society to worry that technology was negatively affecting the individual’s right to control access to private information – namely one’s own image.
Just imagine, early paparazzi used the technology to sensationalize the life of socialites (and still do). It was during this time that Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis penned “The Right to Privacy” in 1890.
Anyone practicing in Cyberlaw understands how the Internet has impacted privacy laws, but privacy law was a concern far before computers and the internet.
Yes, the camera affected the law, mainly in the area of privacy rights, but again, this was not Cyberlaw.
Some might find it surprising that the development of computers and automation did not really impact the law, at least not at the outset. Computers have been around since the early 1900s. It was not until the 1970s that we see the first laws that were enacted as a result of computers. Namely, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare issued the Records, Computers and Rights of Citizens.
Before the Internet, computing technologies found their way into businesses, governments and homes (with calculators, tabulators, code-breakers, etc.). The computer may have inspired many scholars to envision a future where technology would have a profound impact on society and the laws that govern society. While the Internet is a byproduct of computers, the computer itself was not the catalyst for the development of Cyberlaw.
I love the Internet!
The Internet revolutionized communications, and commerce. It changed how we exchange and consume information.
We buy, sell, and provide goods and services over the Internet. It has opened the door to such technology as blockchain, the Internet of Things, big data, machine learning and cryptocurrency.
In almost everything we do in commerce, we use the Internet.
The Internet has affected laws in intellectual property, contracts, torts, etc. The Court system and our rules of evidence and procedure have been affected by the Internet.
Yes, this is “Cyberlaw” as we know it today. I’m sorry, but while it’s nice to think Cyberlaw is an old field of law – it isn’t.
The Internet created Cyberlaw. I look forward to discussing with anyone who can convince me otherwise.
~ Florida Cyber Lawyer, Robert Stines, Esq., CIPP