NZ: a digital laboratory for the world?

by Toby Manhire / 07 October, 2013
American writer hails New Zealand as a model for good, progressive digital law-making.
New Zealand has long held a reputation, often reluctantly, as a global laboratory for social and economic experimentation. Most recently, according to a post at Tech President, an American site devoted to technology and government, as “the world’s laboratory for progressive digital legislation”.

New Zealand is gaining a reputation for intelligent law-making, most recently in the prohibition on software patents, writes David Eaves.

It is “the place I’d send a public servant or politician wanting to know more about how to do technology policy right”.

Eaves – who concedes that many New Zealanders might not share his enthusiasm – says this along with an embrace of the open-source approach and the appearance, after the Kim Dotcom fiasco, of “a political climate that may be more (healthily) distrustful of government intelligence services”, sets an example in the world.

While Eaves notes the Kitteridge Report findings on the GCSB, he makes no mention of the law changes which followed.

The GCSB bill, now made law, and the TICS bill, which is going through the parliamentary process currently, are regarded by few internet specialists in New Zealand as a progressive initiative. And the success on software patents, welcome though it is, showed up in the debate widespread ignorance in the field by parliamentarians – an ignorance that surprised no one who watched the passage of the three-strikes law or the discussions around the Winz kiosk data breach.

But for all that, it can be refreshing to hear an outside point of view. From Eaves’ concluding paragraphs:

This is clearly a place where something is happening in a way that may not be possible in other OECD countries. The small size of its economy (and so relative lack of importance to the major proprietary software vendors) combined with a sufficient policy agreement both among the public and elites enables the country to overcome both internal and external lobbying and pressure that would likely sink similar initiatives elsewhere. And while New Zealand's influence may be limited, don't underestimate the power of example ...

If a policy maker, public servant or politician comes to me and asks me who to talk to around digital policy, I increasingly find myself looking at New Zealand as the place that is the most compelling. I have similar advice for PhD students. Indeed, if what I'm arguing is true, we need research to describe, better than I have, the conditions that lead to this outcome as well as the impact these policies are having on the economy, government and society. Sadly, I have no names to give to those I suggest this idea to, but I figure they'll find someone in the government to talk to, since, as a bonus to all this, I've always found New Zealanders to be exceedingly friendly.

So keep an eye on New Zealand, it could be the place where some of the most progressive technology policies first get experimented with. It would be a shame if no one noticed.

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