On the pulse of evening

In January 2016 these were the digital law issues on my mind:

  1. VATMOSS
  2. GDPR
  3. Accessibility law dramas

These are the digital law issues I am worried about one year later:

  1. Brexit and the threat to freedom of movement of data and digital professionals
  2. Trumpism, state-sanctioned racism, and authoritarianism
  3. Post-Brexit UK state surveillance working hand in glove with no. 2.

The position, as lawyers would say, has changed.

The bigger question, as ever, is what we as an industry are going to do about these things.

But who would have thought, at this time last year, that Donald Trump and Theresa May would do more to get the makers of the web really thinking about that question than any amount of blogging and begging I ever could have done?

In my first abortive attempt to kickstart the dialogue on professionalism within the web industry, I called my manifesto “the perfect storm in digital law“. I did this for two reasons.

The first reason is that I’m generally shit with titles.

The second reason, a view I still hold, is that we are indeed on the brink of an unprecedented, and possibly fatal, age of disruption to our industry.

If it is a perfect storm, it is a storm made of many moving parts – the threat to the freedom of movement of data, the threat to the free movement of tech talent, growing authoritarian and racist currents in mainstream politics, and the ever-fading boundaries between cybersecurity and personal security – all coming together at once.

And I still maintain that as an industry – a sector that powers 10% of the economy yet cannot count our own numbers or work in the same room together without a code of conduct – we are standing outside without a raincoat, looking for someone else to blame when we get soaked.

Over the past year, though, I have come to realise that I got something very wrong about the storm.

I was listening to a podcast about a notorious American crime, the opportunistic kidnapping of a child in 1989 which was not solved until last year. For the twenty-six years that the boy remained missing, his kidnapping came to be known as “the perfect crime.” All of the circumstances, it seemed, had simply fallen into place in the kidnapper’s favour.

We know now that Jacob had been raped, murdered, dismembered, and buried in a shallow grave just thirty miles from home within hours of being abducted. In the “golden hour” – the first sixty minutes after a child has been taken – the police could have located and rescued him. They failed to act on the information they had in a fast and effective way. The boy’s killer, as it has now emerged, had a track record of targeting and molesting young boys in the same community; in the hours and years that followed, the police missed that too.

Jacob’s murder wasn’t “the perfect crime.” It never was. A litany of law enforcement failures let it happen. Writing off his disappearance as “the perfect crime”, as if his removal from this earth was an unstoppable act of nature, allowed the police, and the killer, to get away with it.

As the podcast put it, “there are no perfect crimes, just failed investigations.”

There are no perfect crimes and there are no perfect storms. There are only ever failures to prepare, to communicate, to create accountable structures, and to act responsibly.

I was wrong about that perfect storm. We are not standing in it by choice. We’re causing it.

Our industry is on the brink of challenges which will be very disruptive and very unpleasant and which will test us as we’ve never been challenged. Those things don’t make it a perfect storm, though. Our failures to show up to fight them will.

Watch the theatrics from Capitol Hill this afternoon. Read Whitehall’s twelve-step process plans. Take time to make sense of things, to heal, to create your own map of the road ahead.

But then, I beg you, get to work on creating an industry strong enough to survive this. That means all of us. It means now.
You can join me on 23 February at Fanduel’s offices in Glasgow to hear more.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.
-Maya Angelou, 20 January 1993

About the author
Heather Burns is a digital law specialist in Glasgow, Scotland. She researches, writes, publishes, consults, and speaks extensively on internet laws and policies which affect the crafts of web design and development. She has been designing and developing web sites since 1997 and has been a professional web site designer since 2007. She holds a postgraduate certification in internet law and policy from the University of Strathclyde. Learn about hiring Heather to write, speak, or consult.