Old and New

Old and New

© Joe Casad, Editor in Chief

© Joe Casad, Editor in Chief

Article from Issue 190/2016
Author(s):

I have put in my time as the news writer for this magazine at various moments over the last 11 years, and one way or another, the European Commission has always been part of the big stories. I don’t even live in Europe, but I’ve penned many stories on the European Commission rulings on privacy, patent reform, and antitrust issues. The European Commission is very interested in high-tech policy; the official website lists topics for “Cybersecurity and Digital Privacy,” “Online Trust,” and “Content and Media” in the highest level of its directory.

Dear Linux Magazine Reader,

I have put in my time as the news writer for this magazine at various moments over the last 11 years, and one way or another, the European Commission has always been part of the big stories. I don't even live in Europe, but I've penned many stories on the European Commission rulings on privacy, patent reform, and antitrust issues. The European Commission is very interested in high-tech policy; the official website lists topics for "Cybersecurity and Digital Privacy," "Online Trust," and "Content and Media" in the highest level of its directory.

People who complain about consumer security in the European Union (EU) shouldn't even bother moving to the US. The US has almost no protections from data mining, cookie tracking, mailing list rental, and other excesses of the digital age. The US also has fewer restrictions on software patents and more protections for digital copyright holders. Although most of the Free Software crowd still has some issues with privacy, patents, and corporate overreach in the EU, most observers believe the US and EU have very different viewpoints on digital matters.

Now that the UK has voted to exit the EU, it is interesting to consider where they might emerge on this digital spectrum once they become masters of their own national destiny. Will they continue with policies similar to the EU, or will they drift somewhere closer to the US? Many people believe the UK has always been a little more like the US than the rest of Europe. Will it come to occupy some kind of middle ground on these high-tech, hot-button issues? The UK definitely takes the business of business very seriously, but at the same time, they aren't as much under the influence of the colossal high-tech companies that throw their weight around in the US.

It is hard for me to speculate on how things will turn out for the UK tech scene, but it is interesting to consider that, whatever the people of the UK do, they will be designing a solution for the world we know right now. The European Union dates back to the Maastricht treaty in 1993, which is well in the "recent events" space for most endeavors but is ancient history in tech. Issues like cyberprivacy, software patents, and bandwidth throttling weren't on anyone's mind 23 years ago, and many of the problems we face stem from the fact that our legal institutions weren't designed to cope with these kinds of issues.

Most observers say the Brexit transition will be gradual, with any major changes still a few years away, but by the time any changes actually happen, the framework for those changes will already be in place. The discussions are probably already beginning for what the new system will look like. And to the extent that these hot-button, high-tech political issues boil down to business interests versus the interests of everyday people, you can be confident the business interests are already working on them. For instance, the EU has been moving toward a two-tiered, unitary patent system for years, which the UK will presumably be released from, unless they negotiate some form of further participation as part of an exit strategy. Any company in the UK that would benefit from the lax, pro-business, US-style software patents, for instance, has probably already held some strategy sessions on how they are going to make this happen. And that means, of course, that anyone who opposes such measures had better get busy now and not wait for three years to join a protest march.

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