Laws Threaten Innovation in 2007

All things considered, from a strict technology aspect, 2007 was a pretty good year. We saw the launch of several very good products and technologies and, while there were some negatives, they were outweighed by the positives. However, there were still plenty of negative forces out there trying to slow or even stop some technology innovations. And, unfortunately, as usual one of the biggest threats are the poorly thought out and overbroad technology laws that seem to get continually proposed by legislators both in the U.S. and around the world. So let's take a look at a few of the bad laws that have been proposed, and in some cases passed, in 2007. One potentially killer law that has passed the U.S. House of Representatives is the SPY Act (also known as the Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass Act). On first read the SPY Act sounds like a good thing, as it looks like it will take a very hard line against Internet spyware. But like lots of bad bills, the SPY Act is so broad that it brings in lots of other legitimate areas of Internet marketing. And even worse, the law actually prevents states and individuals from taking action against spyware vendors and even legitimizes some forms of corporate spyware.

LawsAll things considered, from a strict technology aspect, 2007 was a pretty good year. We saw the launch of several very good products and technologies and, while there were some negatives, they were outweighed by the positives.

However, there were still plenty of negative forces out there trying to slow or even stop some technology innovations. And, unfortunately, as usual one of the biggest threats are the poorly thought out and overbroad technology laws that seem to get continually proposed by legislators both in the U.S. and around the world.

So let's take a look at a few of the bad laws that have been proposed, and in some cases passed, in 2007.

One potentially killer law that has passed the U.S. House of Representatives is the SPY Act (also known as the Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass Act). On first read the SPY Act sounds like a good thing, as it looks like it will take a very hard line against Internet spyware. But like lots of bad bills, the SPY Act is so broad that it brings in lots of other legitimate areas of Internet marketing. And even worse, the law actually prevents states and individuals from taking action against spyware vendors and even legitimizes some forms of corporate spyware.

As several pundits have pointed out, if the SPY Act had been around during the Sony rootkit fiasco, not only would Sony have been protected, it would have actually been illegal to remove their rootkit. While the SPY Act has passed the House, it is still in doubt in the Senate.

Of course, the U.S. doesn't have a monopoly on bad tech laws. This year Germany actually passed something called the Hacker Tool Law that makes it illegal to own, use, create or distribute a "hacker tool." But the law is so vague on this point that it looks as if most standard security and network analysis tools fit under the definition of hacker tool. This has already led several leading security researchers to move out of Germany.

And just recently the Canadian government was planning to pass a copyright control bill that would have made the U.S. DMCA (which is generally considered the law that has had the biggest negative effect on technology to date) look tame in its restrictions on technology. In this case, it looks like an outcry from Canadian citizens has led to this bill being pulled back but given the clout of the entertainment industry, copyright bills never go away.

As proof, one need only look at a new bill introduced in the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. Called the PRO IP Act (Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property) this bill on the surface appears to be about strengthening piracy fighting against large international media pirates. But the bill is worded so that it also increases the penalties against regular people. And it also includes asset seizure without finding of guilt meaning that home computers or even corporate IT resources could be seized even with just a claim of copyright piracy (think the Business Software Alliance's tactics are rough now, just wait if this law passes).

So as usual, we in the technology community must stay vigilant and active to help protect innovation from misguided legislators.