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Mark Grossman

Predicting Trends for the New Year

26 December 2002

As we approach the New Year, I'm going to take my stab at what I predict will be the two hot buttons in technology law for 2003. (There is no top 10 list here. I'll be happy if I can get two right.) In the past, my crystal ball has had it right more often than not, but I've had my share of clunkers too.

Before we begin the predications for 2003, let's take a quick look at three predictions that exemplify my track record.

Electronic Signatures

In December 1996, I posed the question, "Does the law recognize the validity of digital signatures?" (A "digital signature" is a type of electronic "signature.") This one I got right when I said, "The best answer that I can give today is that courts should, and I believe will, recognize the validity of digital signatures. The problem is the absence of meaningful judicial precedent."

What the future brought was then-President Clinton signing the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act on June 30, 2000. The Act established the validity of digital and other types of electronic signatures. Now, they mostly have the same effect as an ole fashioned John Hancock created with pen on paper.

Internet Access at the Office

It might seem like the deep dark distant Stone Age, but in 1997, most of us didn't have Internet access at the office. Early that year I wrote, "I think that we can probably all agree that Internet access at work will soon be as common as access to a telephone.

Whether "soon" means two, five or 25 years isn't relevant. The point is that it will happen. (My personal bet is five years.) If you don't think this will happen soon, you're missing the boat big time."

It turns out that survey results in January 2002 showed that 55 million Americans go online from work. Further, on any typical workday in 2001, 55 percent of those with Net access at work went online.

With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, my prediction was solid.


For the sake of balance, I think it's time to highlight a clunker prediction. In early 1997, I talked about micropayments. (A "micropayment" is an extremely small electronic payment made while you surf. The idea is that while you may not be willing to pay 25 cents for every story you read, you might be willing to pay a half penny, especially if the process were invisible to you.)

Well, in 1997, I thought that by 1999, micropayments would rule. "Once they build true micropayment ability into the browsers, I think that micropayments will quickly begin churning billions of dollars through the world's economy."

The reality is that micropayments are an almost non-existent part of the Internet economy. They don't churn billion of pennies much less dollars through any economy.

Oh well, I can't always be right.

Predictions for 2003

Time will tell how these predictions play out, so here we go.

I predict that the hottest area in technology law in the next year will be privacy. What's interesting about this is how it's being tugged in two different directions simultaneously.

On one side is our universal distaste for spam (unsolicited commercial e-mail) and how we distrust websites we visit with our personal information. We hate when they ask for our mother's maiden name, we don't like telling them how much money we make, and we don't even want to give them our e-mail address.

Yet, we're in a war against terrorism and may soon be at war with Iraq. In a time when many of us are yearning for legislation limiting the buying and selling of personal information by businesses, the government is passing legislation limiting our privacy when it's the government doing the intruding.

Interestingly, because we're at war, people don't seem as uncomfortable as they were pre-9/11 with the government collecting information about us. Still, people want their personal information protected from private companies.

I think that these debates will continue in 2003. I don't expect any groundbreaking new legislation in 2003 on spam or other privacy issues as they arise between people and businesses.

As between people and government, when and if we have the "spectacular" terrorist event that we've been warned may happen at any time, I expect the Bush Administration to push for even more power to compile master databases about everything that they can get their hands on. In the post-"spectacular" world, they will get what they ask for and not many of us will be in the mood to deny them what they want.

Another fascinating area will be "nano technology." This was the stuff of science fiction, but now it's real. Nano-sized materials are billionths of a meter and have unimagined electrical, physical and chemical properties.

My prediction is that nano technology will advance quickly and then we're going to begin wrestling with the many legal issues this technology raises. We'll start seeing debates on laws requiring that nano-particles be contained and issues like required insurance in case of unintended consequences. Earth, please meet the world of Star Trek.

Predicting Trends for the New Year is republished from
Mark Grossman
Mark Grossman