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Regulating technology is like holding back the tides, says Justice Kirby

27 February, 2008
By Allison Orr

In a speech at the Internet Industry Awards last week, High Court Judge Justice Michael Kirby has warned the new Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy that he will face difficulties in trying to regulate new technology, likening it to King Canute’s attempt to stop the tide.

He also used the speech to highlight some of the problems that still need to be worked out between new technologies and the law, saying that technology has outpaced the legal system’s ability to regulate its use in matters of privacy and fair use rights.

"But in the end with technology as energetic, as dynamic and as changing as that of the people in this room, there will be limits because the technology will outspan in its capacity the imagination of even the most clever lawmakers."

"The important point for us never to forget in the context of the internet is that asserting our values is often quite difficult, technically, and in reality, in a world of global technology that does not always answer to the democratic voice of individual countries.”

"We have to be modest in our appreciation of what we can do."

You can see Justice Kirby's speech at YouTube.


In a recent example of how technology and the law can be at odds is the ruling of Victorian Supreme Court Judge Betty King regarding channel Nine’s gangland drama Underbelly.  Justice King ruled that the program could not be broadcast on TV in Victoria because it could prejudice the trial of a man accused of murdering a Melbourne gangland figure.  The ruling also required all Internet material of the program be removed. 

However, as was predicted, within 30 minutes of being screened in other states, Underbelly was being downloaded illegally from the Internet, leaving the court ruling in the dust for the tech-savvy.

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