One of the great claims for web technologies is that they enable greater transparency and scrutiny of the powerful, by open access to data. This transparency is in itself, it is often argued, an unalloyed public good. This is why the arguments over Wikileaks are so profound and will shape the balance between the individual and the state and how the citizen will hold the state to account in the future.

Every Monday, in offices all over the country, one of the topics of conversation about the weekend will be the weekend’s football. Arguments over penalties and offsides given or missed by the officials will bore some to death while generating passion amongst the devotees.

Football, the biggest sport in the world has stood alone against the developments in technology. Cricket, Rugby and Tennis all use technology to assist decision making. So each week cheats prosper and results are skewed by flawed decisions. Importantly, we know it and see it all the time.

The arguments among FIFA and the rule makers is that football stands alone in that a game played in a park by children with jumpers for goal posts and the world cup final are played to the same rules. In a world of hard-headed, financially driven sport, there is a romantic edge to this attitude which can be admired.

So, in the long run will transparency win, aided by the technology, or will the ‘purity’ of the rules triumph?

In the 1990s the Bosman ruling led to massive changes in player contracts, where European law overturned the laws of the professional world of football.

Now, it seems to me that if the rules of the game deliberately ignore evidence that has consequential damage to the financial status of a player or team, then there is a good case for negligence against the authorities of the game. I wonder what would happen if a player went to court having been denied a goal in a cup semi final that would have been worth millions personally and his team? Indeed would a fan be able to make such a claim?

If you care at all, which way would you want the judgement to go? In the words of the late Bill Shankly:

‘Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.'

Now, if you or I are caught on closed circuit cameras on the street that footage can be used in evidence against us if we are suspected of a crime. If the quality of the video is poor then the benefit of the doubt lies with the accused. It is an important principle in our law that we are innocent until proven guilty.

Now if that video evidence is of poor quality and your argument is that if the equipment were better maintained then it would have supported your defence, are the authorities negligent in their duty of care?

The discussions about privacy, the surveillance society and transparency are complex and multi faceted aspects of the rule of law. How we resolve them will affect our daily lives at levels from global politics to crime and football, just to name three.

A balance of rights and responsibilities, reciprocity between the individual and the state are central to democratic citizenship. Living in a world where legal precedent is used in subsequent decisions, it is not just the big battles like that over Wikileaks that will have consequences for our society. There are all sorts of unintended consequences that may trip us up in time.

Now is that a yellow card, or should it be a straight red?

About the author

Chris Yapp is a technology and policy futurologist. Chris has been in the IT industry since 1980. His roles have spanned Honeywell, ICL, HP, Microsoft and Capgemini. He is a Fellow of the BCS and a Fellow of the RSA.