Google, Yahoo make lawmakers impotent, says Judge

Google, Yahoo make lawmakers impotent, says Judge

Summary: Australian High Court Judge Justice Kirby has said computer code is more potent than the law -- and legislators are powerless to do anything about it.


Australian High Court Judge Justice Kirby has said computer code is more potent than the law -- and legislators are powerless to do anything about it.

Technology has outpaced the legal system's ability to regulate its use in matters of privacy and fair use rights, said Kirby, speaking last night at an Internet Industry Association (IIA) event yesterday.

Kirby said the judicial system has faced difficulties in coping with changes the Internet and computing have brought.

While the soon to be reviewed Privacy Act has incorporated key privacy principles such as "usage limitation" -- which states that data collected about an individual cannot be used for other purposes, except by the approval of the law or the person's consent -- Google and Yahoo have rendered that principle defunct, said Kirby.

"It was a good moral and ethical principle to keep people's control over the usage that was made of the information ... And then along came Google and Yahoo," said Kirby.

"And when the new technology came, there was a massive capacity to range through vast amounts of information. The notion that you could control this was a conundrum," he said, adding because the technology is considered so useful that privacy concerns have been cast aside.

The challenges that technology present continue to beat even the best legal minds in the world, said Kirby.

Despite this, lawmakers should attempt to implement check and balances. Without them, corporations pose an even graver problem for humanity.

"To do nothing is to make a decision to let others go and take technology where they will. There are even more acute questions arising in biotechnology and informatics, such as the hybridisation of the human species and other species. Points of no return can be reached," he said.

However, technology has already allowed corporations to beat the legal system, said Kirby, citing the case Sony brought against Australian businessman, Eddie Stevens, in 2005 for modifying Sony PlayStations.

Despite the High Court ruling in favour of Stevens, the decision was later overturned by the government after the US government pressed it to make legislative amendments to protect Sony's right to restrict where consumers buy its software from.

"We are moving to a point in the world where more and more law will be expressed in its effective way, not in terms of statutes solidly enacted by the parliament ... but in the technology itself -- code," said Kirby.

Topics: Google, Big Data, Legal, Privacy, Security, Software Development

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • Converting from IT to law - noway!

    I seriously considered doing a law degree to specialise in IT law - but unless you have the muscle of a MicroSoft behind you you will always fail the interpretations of all those abstract concepts we use in IT.

    If only we could focus on the resultant value of the software delivered to the consumer rather than the sum of its technical parts then perhaps it would be a little easier to enforce in a legal sense.