Computer Law, Whatever that May Be


I posted the following to the Stanford Cyberlaw blog:

The first thing that must be understood is that there is nothing really new, legally speaking, with computers.

A computer is just fancy paper with a fancy pen.

The paper has the ability to be erased and re-written many times.

The pen has the ability to do calculations, including calculating the next place on the paper to write. 

Both have the ability to work at high speeds, much faster than un-aided humans.

The combination has the ability to perform repetitive tasks with a much greater reliability than un-aided humans, to the extent that the procedure instructions actually match the intended application. 

But the combination also has a much lower ability, compared to humans, to recover from a mismatch between the procedure specification and the intended application.

That's basically it. Nothing really new relative to the law.

Law which expects magic from computers will always fail, just as law that expects magic from humans will always fail.

In particular, remote enforcement is always a fail, and any law that is based on the assumption of remote enforcement fails. 

Witness the amount of tolerance for credit card fraud built into the credit card system. Without that tolerance, laws about credit cards would be causing the same sorts of problems that the laws about computer crime cause.

The real problem is the assumption that one person has a right to control another because of money or whatever, and computers are forcing us to face that question more directly.
I'm not sure they'll appreciate it.

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