The Next Frontier: New Laws to Regulate Technology

I often come across collections of laws, and I can’t help but take a peak through whatever list has been compiled. Of course, I’m not interested in useful laws which are relevant to my life and the lives of those around me- instead I am fascinated by laws that seem to serve no legitimate purpose.

We’ve all heard about silly regulations which were cooked up 200 years ago and never seem to disappear, or ordinances which are so random and ridiculous that no one can understand how they ended up in the books at all. There are entire websites dedicated to identifying and then ostracizing “dumb laws.” According to, in Devon CT it is “unlawful to walk backwards after sunset,” in West Virginia one may not walk a lion, tiger or leopard (even on a leash), and in Oklahoma it is illegal to take a bite out of another person’s hamburger. Beware hamburglers!

As our ancient legal systems grapple with distinctly modern challenges, a new crop of amusing and mildly unsettling laws has sprung up: laws to regulate technology. Here are a few laws that would never have existed just a few years ago…

1.) Share your netflix password in Tennessee and spend a year in jail:

Actually this law applies to any subscription site, including Hulu plus and Rhapsody. While the sentiment behind this law, meant to protect against identity theft as well as defend the rights of the companies themselves, seems to make sense, the actual execution is questionable. Not only are subscription holders forbidden from sharing their privileges with strangers, but also family members. Netflix seemed rather irritated by the attempt to regulate its users, explaining that their terms of use already legally protect them from theft. According to these terms, users are allowed to share passwords within the same household.

To see the company’s actual quote, go to MediaBeat

2.) Invite your audience to become your facebook fan and violate French law:

The French government has determined that news outlets cannot invite their viewers to follow them on Twitter or become their fans on Facebook, because this endorses a private company and gives the preeminent social networking sites an unfair advantage over their competitors. Instead, newscasters looking to expand their presence via the web must ask their audience to visit their website and follow links to unspecified social networking sites. According to the one spokesperson, it was only a matter of time until other less popular sites called ‘foul!’ and asked to be named in each broadcast as well. If you say so. Reactions to the law have been mixed.

See blogger Emil Protalinski’s take on the subject.

3.) And everyone knows not to text and drive…right? Face the consequences if you do not:

Honestly, those consequences vary depending on state, but according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, 33 states ban texting for all drivers. However worthwhile this law is, it does seem difficult to detect and enforce. Nonetheless, numerous studies have found that texting while driving is actually more dangerous than driving under the influence of marijuana or at the legal limit for alcohol consumption. Car and Driver found this out for themselves in their own amusing, if less than scientific test, during which they compared the skills of two employees while texting and while enjoying the effects of several screwdrivers.

In Closing:

Technology causes us to question our traditional assumptions, and even makes the enforcement of previous laws more difficult. Just ask officials attempting to enforce a gag order in Britain while the information in question was being circulated on the internet, or judges who are being asked to approach social media outlets with caution, lest they be influenced by or unintentionally release information which might affect their work.

Similarly, lawmakers are hoping to target copyright and privacy violators with their proposed bills, but it is difficult to effectively target some publishers and not others, which One Per Cent claims “could mean jail time for ordinary users.”

What do you think? Are these laws necessary for our legal systems to adapt to the challenges presented by the modern day, or do some of them seem unfeasible?




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