This morning’s Observer column.
Watching the legal system deal with the internet is like watching somebody trying to drive a car by looking only in the rear-view mirror. The results are amusing and predictable but not really interesting. On the other hand, watching the efforts of regulators – whether national ones such as Ofcom, or multinational, such as the European Commission – is more instructive.
At the moment, the commission is wrestling with the problem of how to protect the data of European citizens in a world dominated by Google, Facebook and co. The windscreen of the metaphorical car that the commission is trying to drive has been cracked so extensively that it’s difficult to see anything clearly through it.
So in her desperation, the driver (Viviane Reding, the commission’s vice-president) oscillates between consulting the rear-view mirror and asking passers-by (who may or may not be impartial) for tips about what lies ahead. And just to make matters worse, she also has to deal with outbreaks of fighting between the other occupants of the car, who just happen to be sovereign states and are a quarrelsome bunch at the best of times…