Law 2.0: an updated European legal framework for the digital society?

By Patrick Van Eecke and Antoon Dierick

Bill Gates once said that ‘(t)he day is quickly coming when every knee will bow down to a silicon fist, and you will all beg your binary gods for mercy’. Although this may be somewhat of a witticism, no one doubts that technological evolution plays a substantial role in everyday life. Just to name a few, the rise of social media, smartphones and tablets and the apps that are designed for them indeed creates new possibilities on an almost daily basis while simultaneously posing social, economic and political questions. At least as important are the legal issues related to this evolution.

With the changeover to the new millennium, and in the aftermath of the dot-com hype, a legal framework was created on European (and subsequently national) level in order to allow governments, civilians and undertakings to act within the virtual environment. Examples are the legislation on electronic commerce, electronic invoicing, e-privacy, e-money and electronic signatures. As it turned out that the proposed measures were soon outdated by new technological evolutions, the EU legislator was necessitated to frequently adapt the existing framework on a case-by-case basis, resulting in a patchy legal framework.

Recent technological evolutions and trends bring along new legal concerns that are not yet addressed and do not fit within the legal framework currently in force. The EU legislator tries to tackle some of these issues on an ad hoc basis, e.g. the recent legislative requirements on the use of cookies on computers or other devices, but a global policy did not exist until recently. As such, there was an element of truth in Gates’s quote as the EU legislator now seems to be huffing and puffing to catch up with and to regulate trends, often existing already for quite some time…

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