Tech legal eagles’ Society for Computers and Law launches Irish group

22 May 2014

The 40-year-old Society for Computers in Law (SCL) is to open an Irish division aimed at tackling the myriad of tech-related legal issues ranging from hacking and privacy to the “right to be forgotten”.

The purpose of the SCL is to provide a platform for discussion amongst its primary audience – in-house lawyers/counsel working in technology companies.

The Irish division will be launched at Matheson’s Dublin offices on 28 May.

It will be chaired by John O’Connor, head of Technology and Commercial Contracts at Matheson.

Yvonne Cunnane of Facebook, Nick Haworth from AIB plc and Denise Farnsworth of Microsoft will also join O’Connor on the committee.

SCL membership extends across the globe. Its mission is to establish a community for lawyers who understand IT and the related legal and business practice issues and provides thought leadership, best practice, education and standards in these areas. SCL provides a forum for exchanging information about the challenges facing lawyers working in the IT sector.

The tech legal profession in Ireland

Despite the size of the tech industry in Ireland and its track record going back many decades, is it not curious that an SCL chapter is only being established now?

O’Connor said only now the time is right.

“The Irish market has only for the past 10 years or so generated enough work for a body of dedicated technology, outsourcing and data-protection lawyers to become firmly established in Ireland – both in law firms and in-house within corporates and banks.

“There are several multi-national companies with operations in Ireland, as well as domestic technology companies who have only relatively recently hired in-house lawyers.

“These in-house lawyers find it difficult to stay up to date with legal developments that can affect the businesses they operate in and (based on previous Matheson technology, cloud and data protection seminars) we know (from feedback) they could benefit from (and would welcome) an organisation of similar professionals where they can exchange ideas and have a wider network or community of colleagues for professional as well as social reasons.”

O’Connor added that the SCL does not merely cover hot topics, such as recent prominent cases on data protection and data retention, but also deals with day-to-day issues that technology lawyers are faced with, such as how to approach a cloud services agreement involving hosting sensitive customer data or how to advise a business on the pros and cons of licensing open-source software.

From data scandals to the ‘right to be forgotten’

Ireland has been rocked in the past year by a series of privacy and security issues, from the Loyaltybuild security breach to alleged Wi-Fi snooping on the Garda Ombudsman.

And now that the “right to be forgotten” is a reality in Europe following the European Court of Justice decision, it will be interesting to see what kind of challenges will emerge for the legal profession in Ireland.

“The principal challenge is probably the volume of novel issues that need to be considered – often applying laws that were written for a world where technology was not ubiquitous and the internet did not exist,” O’Connor said.

“No single lawyer can approach the broad range of issues facing technology lawyers alone.

“We need an organisation such as the SCL to help bring the relevant know-how and data together and to separate the need to know data from the nice-to-know data, and sometimes to ask and facilitate debate of key questions relating to technology and data protection before an urgent response is required in practice.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years