When I first started working on legal issues relating to electronic data, we were back in the dark ages of the 1980s. This was well before Bill Clinton talked about the coming "information superhighway" when he was running for president in the early 1990s. We were living in a world where document production in legal cases meant the production of actual hard copy pieces of paper and nothing else. There was no "e" when it came to "discovery."
As we all know, the technological communications age started to grow exponentially in the late 1990s and early 2000s. During this time, people began communicating more and more by email, cell phones, Internet chats, and website postings.
Of course, where people flock, legal issues emerge.
When the Internet really started to flourish as a commercial and personal communications medium, the legal rules of the game were unclear and were fairly wide open. In some respects, these were the early "Wild, Wild West" days of the Internet, during which people were gobbling up domain names, for example, akin to the Oklahoma land rush of days of yore.
I have participated as a speaker and a moderator at the annual Stanford E-Commerce Best Practices Conference since its inception 11 years ago. It feels like those 11 years have been like a century in terms of the maturation of the field of Internet law. Truly, when the conference first kicked off, there was a feeling that together the speakers and participants were at the beginning of something important yet relatively amorphous.
Since then, so many high-tech legal issues have arisen and have been dealt with in terms of policies and practices adopted by companies, and by legislation and court decisions that have been of vital interest. But information technology keeps exploding out of the box at warp speed, and further new and different legal issues must be addressed.
Nevertheless, a true legal framework has developed over the past decade to address legal matters that arise in cyberspace.
At the most recent Stanford E-Commerce Best Practices Conference that took place last week, speakers provided significant legal guidance with respect to the following issues, among others: digital copyright, cybersecurity, new content distribution models, patents in the high-tech arena and global IP protection, privacy protection and litigating privacy policies, virtual currencies and mobile payments, Web development, social media, geo-location tracking, cloud service and transactional issues, big data, domain name system expansion, data collection and retention (yours truly was the moderator and a speaker on this topic), as well as general counsel perspectives.
Interestingly, the most recent conference showed that there is a new generation of lawyers coming up -- those who essentially have known the Internet for their entire adult lives. To them, the current robust nature of Internet law probably comes as no surprise. But to some of us older warhorses, we remember a day, frankly not that long ago in real time (while eons ago in Internet time), when we really felt like we were mapping out the law in cyberspace on a fairly constant basis.