The term information technology law refers to an ever-growing field of law that focuses on those legal issues that arise from the emerging information society, which is driven by certain technologies like computers, wireless communications and the Internet. Topics encompassed within information technology law include: the protection of computer software and databases, information access and controls, privacy and security, Internet law, and electronic commerce.
Information technologies are extremely powerful tools. Therefore, the stakes of identifying the best laws and policies for their use are very high. These stakes fall into three general categories: 1) economic, 2) social and personal, and 3) political.
Information technologies and information-based products and services are becoming central to the economy as a whole. The new technologies and the information they embody can be used to improve efficiency, increase productivity, and thus engender economic growth. Information is reusable, and unlike capital resources, such as steel or iron, it can be produced and distributed using few physical resources.
Not only is information an efficient substitute for labor, it can also be used to improve the overall efficiency of the production process. Businesses, for example, are now applying information technology to almost all of their activities: from recruiting to laying off workers, from ordering raw materials to manufacturing products, from analyzing markets to performing strategic planning, and from inventing new technologies to designing applications for their use. To serve these needs, whole new industries have been spawned.
One of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, the information industry is spearheading national and international economic growth and enhancing every country's competitive position in the international marketplace. The economic stakes raised by the new technologies are particularly high for the copyright industries — publishing and other industries that rely on the legal protections provided by copyright law. The amount of financial damage that these industries suffer due to infringements of intellectual property rights is extremely hard to estimate.
Social and Personal
Information is a dominant force in our lives. In the United States, an enormous amount of information is communicated in the form of words through electronic media. In the 1970s, for example, it was estimated that the American population was exposed to about 8.7 trillion words each day through electronic media such as radio, television. and print media such as newspapers, books, and magazines. This figure has risen each year; the number of words communicated increases at an average rate of 1.2% per year. And the fastest growing media for transmitting and receiving information today is the Internet.
Information, in all forms, is essential to all facets of our lives. It is the principal resource we use to meet our personal needs: coping with day-to-day problems; dealing with life’s traumas and crises; supporting religion, family life, and cultural heritage; and accommodating our recreation, entertainment, and leisure time needs. Never in history have we had the opportunity to be so fully and currently informed about world, national, and local affairs.
Given the central importance of information, the public has high stakes in decisions about the protection of and access to that information. Moreover, the public has high expectations about how technology can serve its information needs.
In democratic societies, citizens must be well informed about issues, candidates for office, and local affairs. Similarly, a democratic polity requires a well-informed citizenry. Increasingly, information and communications technologies serve these information needs. The government regularly needs huge amounts of information to make complex legal and policy decisions. Many government agencies would find it impossible to conduct their daily business without resorting to customized information on demand. The Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration, for example, require large automated information systems to handle the accounts of hundreds of millions of clients. And the operation of national defense depends on the use of complex communication systems both for day-to-day management of the military establishment and for the command and control of sophisticated weaponry.
Citizens’ groups and political parties are also relying more heavily on the new technologies to achieve their aims. Technology, for example, is being used to target voters and potential supporters, communicate with voters, manage information, and even to design campaign strategies. Computers are also being used as lobbying tools.
In each of these realms — economic, social, and political — the stakes in the information technology law debate are rising as fast as the technologies are becoming more technically sophisticated and widely used.
- ↑ The term is a successor to the term computer law, which was used to describe the field for its first 40 years.