11 August 2018


It's perhaps difficult for some undergraduate law students to recognise that the world predates Jusdtin Bieber. A corrective is provided in 'The information infrastructures of 1985 and 2018: The sociotechnical context of computer law and; security' by Roger Clarke and Marcus Wigan in (2018) Computer Law and Security Review.

Their incisive analysis states
This article identifies key features of the sociotechnical contexts of computer law and security at the times of this journal’s establishment in 1985, and of its 200th Issue in 2018. The infrastructural elements of devices, communications, data and actuator technologies are considered first. Social actors as individuals, and in groups, communities, societies and polities, together with organisations and economies, are then interleaved with those technical elements. This provides a basis for appreciation of the very different challenges that confront us now in comparison with the early years of post-industrialism.
 The authors comment
The field addressed by Computer Law and Security Review (CLSR) during its first 34 volumes, 1985–2018, has developed within an evolving sociotechnical context. A multi-linear trace of that context over a 35-year period would, however, be far too large a topic to address in a journal article. This article instead compares and contrasts the circumstances that applied at the beginning and at the end of the period, without any systematic attempt either to track the evolution from prior to current state or to identify each of the disruptive shifts that have occurred. This sacrifices developmental insights, but it enables key aspects of contemporary challenges to be identified in a concise manner. 
The article commences by identifying what the authors mean by ‘sociotechnical context’. The two main sections then address the circumstances of 1985 and 2018. In each case, consideration is first given to the information infrastructure whose features and affordances are central to the field of view, and then to the activities of the people and organisations that use and are used by information technologies. Implications of the present context are drawn, for CLSR, its contributors and its readers, but more critically for society. 
The text can of course be read in linear fashion. Alternatively, readers interested specifically in assessment of con- temporary IT can skip the review of the state in 1985 and go directly to the section dealing with 2018. It is also feasible to read about the implications in Section 5 first, and then return to earlier sections in order to identify the elements of the sociotechnical context that have led the authors to those inferences. 
The focus of this article is not on specific issues or incre- mental changes, because these are identified and addressed on a continuing basis by CLSR’s authors. The concern here is with common factors and particularly with discontinuities – the sweeping changes that are very easily overlooked, and that only emerge when time is taken to step back and consider the broader picture. The emphasis is primarily on social impacts and public policy issues, because the interests of business and government organisations are already strongly represented in this journal and elsewhere.