“The law can’t be right if it’s 50 years old. Like, it’s before the internet.” The quote is from a speech Larry Page made at a Google developers conference in 2013, and it’s a fair summary of how technology companies have traditionally viewed the legal system. Regulations can’t keep pace with technological change, so opt for forgiveness over permission. If your idea is successful, you’ll be able to defend it by the time authorities tell you to stop.
“If you look at the relationship between innovation and how society interacts with it, the emphasis has been on ‘code as law,’ ” says Urs Gasser, the executive director for Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. That means relying mostly on software to govern online interactions—blocking spam or Twitter trolls, even trying to identify copyright infringement. Gradually, that approach is starting to change. “Post-Snowden,” Gasser says, “there’s a renewed emphasis on ‘law as law,’ to regulate code.”