I have been thinking about legislation and innovation recently, triggered in part by a conversation over Twitter that I had with Phillip Sheldrake over Twitter whilst he was at the Intellect conference.
In western countries such as the UK, France, Sweden and the US we have seen legislation and authorities act out of fear and the fear of disruption. There are precedents that we can look at to see the relative benefits or otherwise of this approach.
For instance Steven Levy documents in his book Crypto how a few geeks with the necessary foresight realised how important encryption would be for online communications and business. The US government considered encryption to be a munition and consequently something that should not be known about by consumers, nor in their possession.
Fortunately, the geeks persisted and now thanks to their efforts you can now shop safely online as your credit card details are sent via an encrypted channel (that’s what the little padlock which appears in the edge of your browser means.)
I think we are at a similar point now with other technologies and the law. Lawrence Lessig in his work Code has talked about how the way we create law to keep up with, and facilitate innovation. The approach the west seems to be taking is one of trying to hold back disruptive innovation.
Contrast this with the standpoint that the Brazilian president took against online practices which challenge our current thinking on copyright and innovation. Brazil is a developing world country, but has had biofuel-powered cars since I was a kid, has its own successful aviation industry, award winning architects and designers.
Contrast this with South Africa which hasn’t legislated around privacy and is now a world leader in areas like mobile marketing.