A process is currently underway in the UK to reform the libel law. Before people outside the UK click their "back" button thniking this is just a piece of local trivia, I'd like to suggest that the procedure highlights some more general symptoms of how the Internet may be understood (or not) by those involved in the lawmaking process which are probably applicable in many countries.
In this session, various members of the science community who have in one way or another been on the receiving end of libel cases (notably Simon Singh and Ben Goldacre for their attempts to alert the public to instances of bogus medicine) give their opinion on changes that they believe should be included in the reform. Very telling are several instances where they appear to be educating the panel on some basic concepts about the Internet, blogs and ISPs. Some key points to look out for:
- at 17'50, where Simon Singh is practically describing what the Internet is
- at 18'10, where Ben Goldacre is pretty much explaining what a blog is, and making some very fundamental statements about how basic and prevalent they are to the Internet
- at 18'27, where it is asked what the witnesses think of a "Prior system whereby a claimant could write to a web host ... and the web host would be under the obligation to put up a notice alongside the story", and Ben is forced to explain some extremely basic information about the relationship between ISPs and their clients.
Now on the one hand, I should emphasise that I don't begrudge this level of transparency in a world where not all citizens are so fortunate in seeing their lawmaking process in action. On the other hand... I worry about how this demonstration of an apparent oblivion to basic technology and "social infrastructure" is going to be translated into a new law that truly fulfils the wishes of those calling for reform.