Henry Ford’s baby was a technological leap that passed by outdated laws. With the arrival of the automobile, speed limits, divided lanes and stop lights were created, legislated and installed so that the law would keep up with technology.
An almost direct descendant of the early auto problem is the development of driverless cars. The technology is in place, but the law hasn’t addressed the question of, “If a driverless car is in an accident, who pays?”
Ever since personal computers starting showing up in homes in the early 1980s, technology has advanced and the law has struggled to keep up. With technological know-how doubling, on average, every six months, the law may never keep up.
Here are three examples of how the law is playing catch up when it comes to technology.
Before the popularity of the camera phone, women were generally safe from perverts who wanted to grab images up their skirt. It did happen occasionally, but the culprit was pretty easy to notice as he stood at the bottom of the stairs and aimed his camera and lens upwards. Since it’s kind of hard to be a pervert with a bulky image maker in plain site, many of the perverts were caught in the action and shooed away by bystanders. There wasn’t anything the courts could do. No law on the books made it illegal for someone to take photographs “upskirt.”
Recently a man in Boston was accused of taking photos up the dresses and skirts of female subway riders. His case was dismissed by Massachusetts highest court in March. The public went wild and the court explained his actions by saying there was no law against the behavior. That was on March 5. On March 6, new legislation entitled, “An Act Relative to Unlawful Sexual Surveillance” was placed on Governor Patrick’s desk and he signed it into law on March 7.
The problem was created when the former voyeurism law was created. At the time there were no camera phones and the law said that riders on the subway were not in a place with a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” “We will need to revisit this law again as technology continues to evolve,” said state Senate President Therese Murray.
Who Is The Parent?
Today a village is needed for more than raising a child, that same village can help make a child. Technological advances mean a woman who never dreamed of being able to conceive can use a sperm donor, an egg donor and a surrogate. It is another aspect of life where the law fallen behind technology. Advances in technology which have outpaced the law are leaving some legal experts to ask the question, “Who is the mom or dad?”
For eons, it wasn’t something that was doubted. A woman gave birth and she was the child’s mother. Her husband was assumed to be the father. Simple. Twenty-five years ago, a dispute to this simplicity erupted and transfixed the country.
A young couple in New Jersey contracted with a woman to have a child for them. After delivering the child, the surrogate mom changed her mind. A drawn out legal fight was next and in 1988 the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled surrogacy contacts to be invalid.
The “Baby M” was the first open debate about surrogacy. The court’s decision had a huge effect with many states following up and passing laws restricting surrogacy. Still, the practice has rocketed. In 2010, the last year for which figures are available, there were over 1,400 babies born to surrogates in the US alone. More surrogate births probably went unrecorded.
Steve Snyder, with the American Bar Association, says that many family laws were written decades ago before the advance in technology. Apparently, even basic legal terms like “biological mother” are now unclear.
“If one woman can give birth,” Snyder says, “and another can provide the egg, what is meant by ‘biological?’”
The latest technological advancement to be challenging laws is Google Glass. As if the idea that the National Security Agency was intrusive into personal privacy, what will it be like when many people start wearing Google Glass. Currently being tested by “Glass Explorers,” Google Glass is expected to be on sale in April.
Even though it’s still being tested, Google Glass has raised the eyebrows of academics and advocacy groups. Legal experts are also wondering what will the impact be on intellectual property and personal privacy when someone can take your photo literally with the blink of an eye.
It’s bad enough to see what stupid things people post when using one hand with a cellphone, what will happen when they’re wearing glasses that make it possible for them to do stupider things with two hands.
Seeing potential problems ahead, some bars, restaurants and movie theaters are already banning the wearable technology. Legal experts are discussion the options available to corporations to enable them to keep employees from photographing trade secrets contained in documents.
Other law experts are focusing on the “reasonable expectation of privacy” doctrine. If Google Glass is everywhere, how can anyone have an expectation of privacy.
The law is still being kicked around on Google Glass. If history is any indication, the law will be playing catch-up to technology for years to come.