University centre hopes to fill the gaps in IT legislation

A pioneering research centre at Bristol University, which aims to take a cross-disciplinary approach to law and IT was launched...

A pioneering research centre at Bristol University, which aims to take a cross-disciplinary approach to law and IT was launched last week.

The Bristol centre will research key areas involving law and IT, such as data privacy, in a bid to improve legislation and increase the number of legal professionals with specialist knowledge of IT law.

It will then advise the government and policy makers on how to improve the quality of existing ITlegislation.

It will address gaps such as the absence of denial of service attack provisions in the Computer Misuse Act - one of the key planks of Computer Weekly's recent Lock Down the Law campaign.

The opening of the Centre for IT and the Law marks a concerted attempt to bring the fields of IT and computer science together, said its director Andrew Charlesworth.

"We've always been very reactive in the UK and it's time to get proactive," he said.

Another aim is to increase the number of lawyers trained in specialist IT areas like intellectual property, as well as the number of legally-aware IT professionals.

The centre has received backing from Vodafone, Barclays, Hewlett-Packard, law firm Herbert Smith and the Law Society Charitable Foundation, which have each pledged £75,000.

"A key problem is that the IT industry has moved a lot quicker than the law," said Andrew Ward, deputy general counsel at Barclays Private Clients, the firm's private banking division.

Legislation drafted in the pre-Internet era is still being used to address current problems, Ward said.

"There has always been a shortage of IT-literate lawyers who know the industry," said Chris Rees, a partner in law firm Herbert Smith, who applauded the centre's cross-disciplinary approach.

Stephen Deadman, a solicitor in the group legal department at Vodafone, said, "This is a very big issue for us."

The firm wanted "someone to bounce ideas off," Deadman said, and to ensure that the legal environment being created for the telecommunications industry does not create barriers to growth.

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