Can our legal system cope with the next drone?

Pat Chapman-Pincher posted this on

I am giving a talk at a compliance conference next month and looking at whether our legal system can cope with the speed of technology over-turning the world as we know it.

A story this week has beautifully illustrated some of the challenges.  The celebrity couple, Richard and Judy, apparently spotted a drone flying over their house.  Richard Madeley took to Twitter about the ‘creeps’ and according to a later tweet a young man ‘called himself in to police with babbled excuses and apologies’.

Richard Madeley image

Now I don’t want to write about the incident itself, but the issues raised.  Apparently one of the teenagers is now saying he and his friend “were just testing [the drone] out in the sunshine after his friend was given it for Christmas”.

Police say they are checking out if the drone was used legally.  But I don’t think our laws have yet got to grips with drones. Yes we have privacy laws but if you have amateurs flying drones across an area, how do you define if you were intending to film specific items or people – such as the Madeleys – as opposed to playing with your new toy?

To date, legislation has been written on how we understand the world now.  While legislators often try to anticipate the future, those are baby steps compared to the leaps that technology is making every year.  As the world changes, our current legislation struggles to keep up.

The tax “scandals” of Google, Facebook, Starbucks and the rest are another area where the law has struggled to keep up with the speed of change of technology in business practice.

Google and others have been criticized for paying paltry amounts of tax.  But this is partly because our tax laws were designed for old-fashioned businesses.

The FT explained “Big royalty payments — €10bn in 2013 — are paid to Bermuda.  The royalty payments underline the importance of intellectual property, rather than other activities such as sales, to digital companies.”

Bermuda-map

When tax law was created, legislators could not have begun to imagine the business structures we have today.  And if you look at the public outrage going on, this is based on the media and ordinary people still thinking if you make a sale on a product in one country, you pay the tax on those sales in that country?

Going back to the drones, they can move at more than 60mph.  What legal problems are they raising?  Who is responsible for any damage a drone might do?  Where can they fly? How do you find out who owns them? How do you stop them falling into the wrong hands?

Not everyone has the following of Richard Madeley to identify the owner of a drone so quickly!

So what does this mean for legislators?  It is easy to say ‘we need a new system’, but I honestly think it is time for us to rethink our legal process.  On the one hand, the way laws are created now give plenty of time for input and better shaping (or destructive lobbying depending on your view) and that ensures democracy is operating.

But it is slow.  And speed in every area of our life is something we need new processes and systems to deal with.

I have written in other blogs about how artificial intelligence is developing faster than even the experts expected – driverless cars and the thinking computer that learnt the game, GO are YEARS ahead of what was predicted.

Artificial intelligence is starting to raise all sorts of ethical questions.  I will add my own prediction to all this – our legal system is going to be found completely inadequate within the next decade.  And probably very much quicker than that.

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