A confluence is the junction of two rivers, especially rivers of approximately equal width. My session at SAARC Law 2017 is entitled Confluence of Law and Technology. The way I see it, there is no alternative but to relax the requirement that the metaphorical rivers be of equal width. Unless, of course, we define law in the Lessig manner, East Coast Code being old style ink on paper interpreted by judges law and West Coast Code being self-enforcing rules built into hardware and software. So, anyway, I worked up a set of slides being from the tech side of the world.
It’s difficult to understand how Google’s mission could have been achieved, if the US authors’ union had prevailed. But the US Supreme Court has declined to hear the final appeal. The justices did the right thing. The legal fight over Google’s effort to create a digital library of millions of book is finally over. The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a challenge from authors who had argued that the tech giant’s project was “brazen violation of copyright law” — effectively ending the decade-long legal battle in Google’s favor.
I was a little surprised to be invited to a meeting on big data organized by the Institute of Technology and Society of Rio de Janeiro. But then I realized that the event was scheduled back to back with IGF 2015 in Joao Pessoa and that they were basically piggy-backing on the attraction of large numbers of international experts to Brazil in November 2015. With some effort, I was able to find a few people who were not lawyers participating in the event, but it was dominated by those of the legal persuasion. This meant that there was a presumption that laws and regulations were needed to avoid the bad things that could be imagined. Usually, what we have is a battle of imaginations.
I have never been able to understand the satellite fixation some of the decision makers in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have. But Myanmar’s plans for a geostationary satellite for broadcasting makes sense. Myanmar has a population density that is very low (76 people per sq. km, compared with 1,103 for Bangladesh and 309 for Sri Lanka) and it is a vast country (676,577 sq km v 143,998 sq km in Bangladesh and 65,610 sq km in Sri Lanka). A national broadcast satellite may make sense, though they should always compare the costs against the alternative of using channels on regional satellites.
The most current draft of the the Sri Lanka Freedom of Information bill that is about to be presented to Cabinet has removed Parliament and Cabinet from its purview. They were included in the definition of “public authorities” who were bound to respond to information requests by citizens in the previous draft (at that time the Law was called the Right to Information Act). This appears to miss the essence of RTI, as I point out in a guest column in the Daily Mirror today: Freedom of Information (also known as Right to Information or RTI) laws are based on Principal-Agent theory. The public (the Principal) has delegated the task of running the country to the state, comprising officials as well as political authorities (the Agents). But the public (the Principal) cannot adequately monitor the Agents because of a radical information asymmetry.
A few days back, I included the following in a guest column for the Financial Times: Most of the 192 words specifying the Right to Information (RTI) as a fundamental right are superfluous. There is an entire bill in third draft that probably includes the very same language (if it does not, the Constitutional language will override it). All that is needed in the Constitution is one sentence “Subject to law, every person shall have a right of access to official information which is in the possession, custody or control of a public authority.” This was in the context of larger lament on the state of legislative drafting in Sri Lanka. What belongs in subsidiary legislation gets dumped into legislation.
The above is what I have been able to piece together from multiple news reports out of Myanmar. I have not been able to locate the texts of the revised by-law (we have only the draft we commented on) and license (hopefully what the four operators will get is the same). “Rules have been adopted on equal terms. We can now grant a licence because the telecommunications law has been approved. When the by-law comes out, we will issue licences for other services such as internet.
The telecom law has been passed, but it is incomplete and will probably require an amendment or a supplementary law within two years. The rules under the Law have been published for comment, but no information yet on their final form. The critical licences to Telenor and Ooredoo have not yet been issued. The regulatory agency is to be set up in 2015. A lot remains to be done.
It is reported that the law went through yesterday. No copy is yet available. Given need to translate, may take a few days.
Now that the two mobile licenses have been issued, all eyes are on the new Telecom Law, expected to be enacted any time. The version I looked at, supposedly worked with assistance from the ITU Bangkok Office, was so bad that it was withdrawn. It appears the subsequent version is not too good: The Sections 15 and 16 of the proposed bill says the license holders must abide by the rules, regulations, orders and directives issued by the Ministry of Information and its related departments. And the Section 32 stipulates that license holders must provide services in conformity with the price rates approved by the department. According to Section 38 said the license holders are not allowed to share market, buy telecommunication appliances from unapproved suppliers or go against a certain opponent in an improper way.
Vodafone and China Mobile were an odd couple. Now the story has become curiouser. Lack of regulatory certainty has caused them to withdraw from Myanmar. Vodafone said it had withdrawn after seeing the final licence conditions, which were published on 20 May, because “the opportunity does not meet the strict internal investment criteria to which both Vodafone and China Mobile adhere”. A spokeswoman for Vodafone added that among the British company’s concerns were that a promised telecommunications bill overhauling regulation of the sector is now not due to be enacted before Burma finalises its choice of foreign mobile operator on 27 June.
Digicel made its name and fortune in the Caribbean. Then it became a major regional player in the Pacific. Now it is hoping to land a license in Myanmar, a much larger market than the ones its operates in. Interestingly, they are pushing for an enabling framework for mobile money, even ahead of getting the telecom license: “The telecommunications sector offers many opportunities, and companies can provide a variety of services in this industry,” said Lorna J. McPherson, the operations director of the Irish-owned Myanmar Digicel Company.