Cyber law fellowship mooted

InternetNZ is considering the establishment of a research fellowship at Victoria University to help it get a head start on the next big internet-related legal issue.

InternetNZ is considering the establishment of a research fellowship at Victoria University to help it get a head start on the next big internet-related legal issue.

Society president Keith Davidson says InternetNZ will be taking a more pro-active stance on many issues (see InternetNZ grows fangs) and that as part of that process the society is looking at establishing the fellowship.

"We're lucky to have the likes of [former vice president] Rick Shera heavily involved in the society, and I don't see any reason why that won't continue, but expecting volunteers to do that is a big ask and I think it's time we moved beyond that."

Davidson says the society has had "fairly clear direction" from members, ISPs in particular, that they want InternetNZ to take a stance on these sorts of issues.

"Generally the community is crying out for it at the moment and we think it will be a useful thing to do."

The fellowship would enable InternetNZ to call on a full-time researcher to look into issues like spam, domain name scam artists, copyright issues and other areas of internet law and to do so in a timely manner.

"In the past we've reacted to various new pieces of legislation, sometimes on the hop. Quite often it's been at the 11th hour. It's either that or totally inappropriately reacting on the fly to something that's been announced."

Davidson hopes the fellowship would allow InternetNZ to smooth out the process and avoid the sort of embarrassment the society encountered when it had to ask for an extension to public submissions on the Crimes Amendment Bill in 2001 after failing to meet the deadline.

Already the proposal is causing a furore within InternetNZ. The council-only document was published on the InternetNZ site and picked up by former councillor Steven Heath who questions whether the council has a mandate to put together such a deal without discussing it first with the members.

In his blog Heath says, "One would think that before agreeing to spend $255,000 that membership would be at least consulted on this especially as it seems numerous InternetNZ councillors ... have been working on this proposal."

Davidson says no decision will be made on proceeding with the fellowship until it has been mandated by the membership, however at this stage InternetNZ council is still discussing the issue with Victoria University and there is nothing concrete to present to members.

"We've had a dozen similar cases in the past where nothing has come of it. If we went to the members with every idea that we look at they'd be inundated with emails from us."

The proposal calls for InternetNZ to pay $85,000 a year for three years to Victoria University towards the ongoing costs of supporting the fellowship. Davidson says both parties would be able to "pull the plug" on the fellowship or extend it as the situation develops.

Victoria University faculty of law staff were unavailable for comment at deadline.

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