To launch a new edition of a legal textbook in the very month that the UK is about to leave the EU – let alone a book focused on the internet at the height of the techlash – may seem a little reckless.

Or perhaps not. Internet law stays still for hardly a moment anyway. The couple of months since the 5th edition of Internet Law and Regulation went to press have already seen two domestic High Court decisions, one CJEU judgment and an Advocate General Opinion all on copyright communication to the public; not to mention three CJEU Advocate General Opinions on government powers to mandate communications data retention for law enforcement and security. As I write, regulations have been laid to implement the UK-US Agreement facilitating cross border data and interception requests direct to online service providers. A textbook in this field is inevitably a snapshot of a rapidly changing landscape.

Public Information Online (PIO) at publicinformationonline.com is an online database provided by Dandy Booksellers, who are well established suppliers of official government print publications. The PIO database collects and provides access to digitised parliamentary papers going back for more than a century.

“I read it on the internet” has become a phrase which often generates mockery and epitomises gullibility or naivety about the online world. In the 1950s science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon proclaimed that “ninety percent of everything is crud” which came to be known as Sturgeon’s Law. One can only speculate as to how Sturgeon may have adapted the percentage value of his law had he lived in the age of cat memes and online trolls.

In August 2015, a British journalist and cameraman were travelling in Turkey, making a documentary for Vice News. As is often the case, they were working with a local agent, a “fixer” who was responsible for getting them access to the locations and subjects they wanted to include in their documentary. All three were arrested and, in September 2015, charged with deliberately aiding an armed organisation. The primary justification for the charge was reported to be the presence of sophisticated encryption software on the devices of the fixer, of a type alleged to be commonly used by terrorists.

Since the internet was in its infancy, the rights of users to use it to express their opinions was sacrosanct. When the first laws of the internet were being forged by legislature and in the courts, internet service providers (ISPs) were the focus of these sacred rights and they avoided liability by claiming they were “mere conduits” of these views and not “publishers” of them (and the ECommerce Directive of 2000 confirmed this). This felt like the right approach; by not making the “engineering back office” of the internet liable for the content on it, the internet could flourish. It would remain free thinking and free to use, and freedom of speech would be preserved.

The most significant recent development at ICLR has been the launch, in March 2019, of our legal information lab, ICLR&D.

This was conceived as a space where ICLR, whose traditional role has been publishing legal information built around primary source materials such as case law and legislation, could experiment with case law data in fundamentally different ways. The launch of ICLR&D was to some extent itself a form of experiment. The results have been interesting.

Nick Holmes discovers SeeYouOutOfCourt; considers the demise of elexica.com and the continued survival and prospering of Out-Law; calendarises Law Via the Internet 2020; and surveys developments in online divorce.

As part of an investigation by the European Commission into the effect of data collection practices by Facebook and Google upon competition, news publishers have been sent detailed questionnaires regarding data sharing agreements with Google. In particular, the questionnaires seek details from publishers on ways in which the search engine behemoth uses data collected from their websites to track user activity.

Social media companies have traditionally argued that they are merely internet platforms as opposed to publishers with the ensuing editorial responsibilities (despite the odd court case where it has been to their advantage to hold themselves out as publishers). But in the face of increasing public controversy about malicious content plaguing social media sites, the Silicon Valley giants are being forced to take action to minimise reputation damage. Facebook claimed that it had removed 1.5 million copies of the video of the New Zealand terrorist attack in the first 24 hours alone – which provides some idea of the scale of the challenge involved with content moderation.

Risky once-in-a-generation skills shortage poses existential threat to firms

Legal employers are now facing a skills shortage. UK unemployment has fallen to a 44-year low of 3.8% and employees, armed with more options than ever, are constantly on the move to greener pastures. The inability to replace a good employee can pose a severe threat to your business.

Rather than push existing employees to work longer hours, technology can help law firms undertake more work with the same number of people. Technology achieves this by automating administrative tasks, helping lawyers to work more effectively and get home on time.

Legal support roles like legal secretaries and bookkeepers are no longer as popular because people seek high-prestige employment with the promise of strong wage growth. Junior lawyers currently undertake this work but this solution is costly and the work menial, which means technology can be better, faster and cheaper than an employee.

Competition for staff is also coming from new entrants to the legal market, including the alternative legal services market and the Big 4 accounting firms who economies of scale to offer a full suite of professional services – essentially, a one-stop shop. Both are becoming attractive career options for lawyers, particularly mid-career or senior lawyers.

One could be forgiven for thinking that knowing how to comply with a legal obligation that has been in place for nearly a decade would be clear cut. However, widespread practice tells us that this is far from the truth. In November 2009, as part of wider reforms to the European telecommunications regulatory framework, the European Union introduced various amendments to the existing Directive 2002/58/EC (e-Privacy Directive), including to the provisions regulating the use of cookies.

Since then the e-Privacy Directive has required obtaining the consent of users in order to store or access information (typically cookies or similar tracking technologies) on their devices. The only exemptions to this requirement are where this is for the sole purpose of transmitting a communication or where it is strictly necessary to provide an internet service explicitly requested by the user.

Four years on and Professor Richard Susskind has written the same book he wrote last time, so he says. He jests, yet again. The message and the underlying arguments remain constant; the same analogies are deployed (you know, the drill); but tech has moved on, more is feasible and the vision is developed and refined accordingly. His previous works have covered wide ground: law, lawyers, professions. The narrower focus of this work enables him to treat us to a more extensive, deeper consideration of the subject.

This is not a book about legal technology but an argument for repurposing the justice system to serve more people, employing technologies that are already well established and replacing cumbersome procedures that leave too many denied the justice they deserve.