Risk taking and social networking in the new broadband era

Part two of Q and A with intellectual property lawyer Rick Shera

In the second part of Computerworld's Q and A interview with intellectual property laywer Rick Shera he discusses privacy and the opportunities that may arise from the Ultra Fast Broadband and Rural Broadband Initiative.

What are your clients telling you about the change in the law, excluding software patents?

I have clients that have software patents and others that are relaxed about it and wouldn’t bother to get a patent if they could. It is a question of horses for courses. I think what really needs changing is the ability to get patents on “innovations” that are not really new.

Are there any other current areas of concern on the nexus of law and ICT?

I think privacy issues are bubbling up now in a way they haven’t in the offline world as data itself becomes such a valuable commodity.

Privacy will rise in people’s concerns, and when people are concerned the law tends to follow. The Law Commission has been conducting a body of work over the past two years on the subject; you’re seeing privacy commissioners, including our own, taking much stronger action against people who have infringed privacy laws or privacy expectations.

You made a point with Google about privacy and IPv6.

Quite a senior person from Google was here [during Privacy Awareness Week] and there was a discussion on Google’s storage of IP addresses. She was saying they only kept part of the address so it didn’t identify an individual; I was saying when we get to [widespread use of] IPv6 and depending on how it is rolled out – whether every device in your household will have its own address — my expectation is that it will be much easier to burrow down to a particular piece of technology and hence identify the person using it. What are the privacy concerns around that?

That’s an issue that both the Privacy Commissioner and the Google representative recognised as something that will need to be dealt with.

Do you have a view on the UFB and RBI broadband arrangements?

The difficulty with these fundamental changes is that you never know until they are bedded in whether there are going to be functional problems and a likelihood of market failure. I had clients in the electricity industry when that was restructured. [The reforms] were supposed to introduce a competitive element and bring lower prices. I think it is still not clear whether that has worked and the transactional costs of the change were substantial.

Now we have Telecom splitting in two, with impact on its shareholders and on the industry; all this is substantial too and we don’t know until it is bedded down whether it is going to work.

But from my point of view, as someone peripherally involved in the industry and as a user, fibre is clearly the gateway to the future, so anything that can get fibre to as many people in New Zealand as possible is a good thing.

Do you think we will know what to do with it when we get it?

It is a question of “build it and they will come”. You won’t know all you can do with it until you can experiment using it.

There are no doubt people out there with bright ideas that will just remain ideas until we have got [broadband] and they can test it. We are used to what we have got. It is hard to think outside the square if you don’t even know what the square is.

But [it means] proper symmetric speeds for voice, video and efficiently working from home; that sounds ho-hum but could have a dramatic impact on the way we work, our transport systems, all of those things. It is hard to see the flow-on effects, but I am sure they will come.

What is the biggest thing holding New Zealand back from being a successful high-tech economy?

Sometimes I wonder whether New Zealanders are sufficient risk-takers. We are very good at creating ideas, but the risks that must be taken in commercialisation are perhaps not so much part of our national psyche – with obvious notable exceptions.

In particular the risk and knowledge to take things overseas seems scarce. We are great travellers but not so good at taking our ideas overseas.

You are a user of social networking tools; do you think we have found the best way for business to use them?

It is another channel; I don’t see any great difference from any other channel in the way people use it, nor do I think there is any one right way for business to use it. It is just a way to disseminate and gain information.

I find Twitter, for example hugely beneficial in terms of finding out what’s going on in the areas I am interested in and being in touch with some of the top people in those fields.

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