The Rule of Lawl

lawl (n.) –

1. What “LOL” sounds like when it is pronounced.

2. The laughable state of affairs produced when external rules are applied to an Internet community that does not accept them.

Paul Bernal has a wonderful piece where he succinctly lists the various failings of the British government (and by extension, Western governments) in adapting to the Internet.

Professor Chris Reed gave a compelling keynote about how even legal theorists often end up getting laws badly wrong as they still conceive of it under a kind of ‘command and control’ model: a law commands, then people obey. It doesn’t really work like that – even more so, perhaps, on the internet than in the ‘real’ world.

If people don’t believe that piracy is ‘wrong’, they won’t want to obey.

Well said. I’ve been noting for years that people neglect this fundamental aspect of law in favor of yelling, “But everyone SHOULD do things my way!”  Of course, I’ve been observing it specifically in the futile arguments over intellectual property in Japanese animation, but it’s interesting to note that this is part of a larger breakdown of the law with respect to the consent of the governed.

Most directly, they don’t understand that people want privacy on the internet – because, as I said at the start, they don’t understand the internet. If they don’t ‘get’ the fact that people use the net in so many interesting and interactive ways, for personal, intimate, social and community purposes, then they’ll never understand why people do care about things like privacy, and do care about being under constant surveillance. After all, if the net is just an online shopping mall, and shopping malls have CCTV, then why would people on the net mind being under surveillance?

I’d argue that this is a problem with the systems of feedback in place: for the ones writing the laws, it’s actually advantageous to ignore the core issues of the situation, because what really matters in modern elections is the ability to outspend your opponent. Career politicians care about their ability to be re-elected, which is supposed to be a function of how well they serve, but is instead largely a function of playing nice with industries. It’s a short circuit. Lobbyists control large sums of money, and since this is a new field, we haven’t culturally developed the moral sense that would make some of these comparisons obvious – such as CCTV in malls vs. CCTV in one’s yard or home being like monitoring in a store vs. monitoring on the Internet.  That moral sense, if we had taken the time to develop it, would cause politicians to instinctively realize that many proposed measures go too far.

But the blame can’t be put only on the government.  After all, is privacy something that most people think deeply about?  Theoretical discussions about the implications of an expectation to privacy are in most peoples’ minds the purview of an overenthusiastic fringe group like the ACLU (not overenthusiastic to my mind, but to many, they are seen as such.)  So the only real reaction the average person can be counted to have is to a well-developed scenario, like a hidden camera in your bedroom, that we all agree is intrusive because it defies expectation.  Perhaps the real problem is that many of us have no expectations of rights online, and lobbyists and politicians are quick to exploit our hesitation.

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Published in: on April 2, 2012 at 2:22 PM  Leave a Comment  
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