The Information Age has truly arrived…

This piece is thematically linked to Fergal Crehan’s excellent treatise on on-line libel. In it I hope to map out how the Information Age is truly upon us and the days of ‘it will be alright on the night’ management of websites or other information are long behind us.

A barrister talks openly about ‘cornering the market in IT Law’…

Granted, Fergal was possibly at least partly jesting when he said he wants to corner the market in IT Law. However, given the arrival of the PIAB and the increasingly competive nature of the Irish legal profession (lots of sharks, small ocean), it is inevitable that those wishing to carve out a successful practice will need to establish themselves as niche players. The same is true of any industry where there are lots of people chasing business and a limited market in which to do it. A recent survey of Irish and UK business managers by IT industry think-tank the IDC revealed that 64% of them believed that the manner in which electronic information was captured, stored and managed would be at the heart of much litigation in the coming years.

Well done Fergal for spotting a cash-cow niche and trying to fill it. But once the lawyers start licking their lips about something you know it has matured to the level where people will start suing over it and people need to start understanding the real rules of the game.

Statutory Regulation Increasing

Since the collapse of Enron there has been a massive increase in the efforts of legislatures to prevent loss to investors arising from misstatements in financial accounts. Examples of this include the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the US and our own Companies Act 2003. Also the additional powers granted to the Data Protection Commissioner under the Data Protection Amendment Act 2003 would fall under this banner.

When governments (or the EU) start enacting legislation to protect the little guy from bad data, then there is a key indicator that the way we conduct our commercial lives has changed utterly and the standards of care that are to be expected will increase over time. Which will keep our legal colleagues busy for many years to come (remember 64% of respondents in a survey said that they felt the management of electronic information would be at the heart of a lot of litigation moving forward).

So what if there is push back from industry (the start date for Sarbanes-Oxley has been pushed back 4 times, and there is talk of ‘watering down’ the Compliance provisions in the Companies Acts because they are ‘too hard’ for businesses to meet)! Regulation of Information Quality and Information Mangement is here to stay.

Media coverage of ‘Information issues’ is increasing…

From financial services overcharging to students libelling teachers on the Internet, the coverage of Information Management issues in the media is increasing. Granted, they are not pulled together into the neat little bundle our sound-bite age might like but they are there. As awareness of the potential for these issues increases, so to will the identification of actual occurences, which will prompt further litigation, legislation and investigations. Ka-ching for the lawyers.

Legal Regulation of IT now a Masters subject…

A leading Irish University has already sensed the way the wind is blowing and has included a practically oriented module on Legal Regulation of IT Services as part of a Masters course… because the market (jobs market that is) requires more people with an understanding of that area.

Thankfully that isn’t a ka-ching for the lawyers as it requires some practical experience of Information Systems Project management as well as some legal skills. That’s a market that I’ve cornered (for now)

Wrap up

Lawyers, legislators, lobbyists and lecturers all agree that the Information Age is well and truly upon us. We have moved out of the ‘early adopter’ wild-west days and regulatory frameworks in both statute law and legal precedent are catching up as the Information Age moves from its dawn to its elevenses. The trick now for businesses and private individuals is to ensure that they learn how the law has evolved by analogy to avoid putting themselves in the position where they have to call on Mr Crehan to help sort it all out. The trick for me is to make sure that I corner the market on expert testimony in this area….

Daragh O’Brien, Convenor IQ Network, Charter member of the IAIDQ (

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