Regulating Code: Good Governance and Better Regulation in the Information Age

Ian Brown and Christopher T Marsden

Published by

MIT Press





Reviewed by

Jeremy Crump FBCS, Director, Cisco Consulting Services


9 out of 10

At a time when issues such as the availability of pornography on the internet and the NSA’s access to data collected by corporate platforms are front page news, this is a timely book.

The authors - respectively senior research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute and professor of law at Essex University - address the questions of the effectiveness of regulation of the internet, and what is the role of code itself in regulation.

The first chapter surveys the big issues in internet regulation over the last 20 years, themes which are then examined in greater detail through a series of what the authors describe as ‘hard cases’ - privacy and data protection, copyright, censorship, social networking services and net neutrality.

In each case, the authors examine the commercial, social and technological forces that determine the regulatory environment and set its challenges, and evaluate how successful regulation has been hitherto and what prospects for the future are.

The book is an excellent introduction to the subject for specialists and general readers alike and is very well documented. The bibliography (45 pages long) will be invaluable for researchers in the field. The approach combines an authoritative survey of major case law with a clearly articulated underpinning in the technology issues. 

The authors bring to the study a distinctive political perspective. They marshal copious evidence for the systemic inability of governments in most cases to regulate in a sufficiently agile and well-informed way to cope with rapidly changing technological and commercial environments.

At the same time, major corporations cannot be trusted to prioritise user interests in systems that are dependent on self regulation. Worse, regulators are all too prone to be captured by commercial interests through processes of ‘lobbynomics’. There are exceptions - the EU’s data protection regime is described as ‘ a gold standard’. 

The authors put their faith in the continuing ability of users, acting as ‘prosumers’ and informed by expert ‘netizens’ operating outside either government or the corporate world, to make informed choices in markets that control the worst of commercial behaviours. Government regulation, whether at a national or multilateral level, still has a role to play, for example in requiring interoperability from service providers and in promoting multi-stakeholders. Let’s hope there are indeed grounds for such optimism.

Further information: MIT Press

July 2013