Information | Process | Technology

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Isle of Where?

It feels to me as though 2018 has taken a few weeks to get into its stride, at least as far as IT and Data matters are concerned, but it’s taken off in February with the first and second readings of the Isle of Man’s attempt to frame legislation which will achieve EU GDPR “adequacy”, the appalling and shocking UK disclosure that all of the two hundred NHS Trusts assessed so far have failed to meet official NHS cyber security and resilience requirements, the big-brother UK proposal to review its laws governing online behaviour and to impose a code of practice upon Social Media companies, etc. etc. Each of these will affect us as residents or businesses on the Isle of Man - the environment and expectations imposed upon us from outside of our little island are unstable and changing quickly as bigger jurisdictions play regulatory catch-up with the rapid rate of change which technology is bringing to the world. 



The huge majority of this technology-driven global regulatory turmoil is reactive and restrictive - it is about preventing bad behaviours or harmful actions against citizens (which is good) but has little to do with enabling and exploiting the opportunities which new technologies bring to us (I guess the regulators would say that when they permit an activity their granting of permission is an enabling act, but from my perspective the removal of restriction is not an enablement, it is merely the reduction of a disablement). Governments and regulators seem to make little contribution to mankind’s development through the exploitation of technologies other than policing and restricting the environment to protect the weak - which is a little sad given that if Governments put their mind to promoting the exploitation of technology to improve lives the pace of human development would accelerate. 


Anyway, enough waffle. There is considerable regulatory turmoil in the world of IT and Data, and sadly this turmoil will continue for many years to come - perhaps until Generation Y finally holds the reins of political power and the world start to be governed by people who have grown up with a more innate understanding of the impacts of IT, Data, Globalisation and the inadequacies of parochial national approaches to regulating global Internet services. In the meantime we little people have to cope with the fall-out while the politicians of the big nations in the world continue to take, like King Canute, futile parochial stances to the regulation of global technology mechanisms. 


One of the aspects which has long been affected is “Intellectual Property Rights” - the licensing regimes determining in which nations specific technology and data may be used. Here in the Isle of Man we are massively disadvantaged because parochial decisions taken by governments and corporations around the world omit to take into account that we exist. Consequently the majority of us on the island are prevented from enjoying many online services and applications unless we have the knowledge to circumvent geographical licensing restrictions - many of which have been arbitrarily imposed. 


Examples include the very popular music streaming service Spotify - it works fine in the UK but if you attempt to use it from an Isle of Man internet connection the likelihood is that you will see the message “Spotify is currently not available in your country”. Netflix was in our news earlier this year because whilst UK customers can view the popular Friends TV show, we in the Isle of Man cannot - allegedly due to licensing restrictions. Similarly there are some online services from Google which Manx residents cannot access - unless they provide a UK address in the sign-up forms, and some Android apps which are not available to us - they simply don’t show in the Android Play app store if your phone or tablet appears to be based in the Isle of Man. There are thousands of internet apps and services denied to Isle of Man residents.


Pretty much all of these discriminatory restrictions can be circumvented - either by providing a false address or telephone number from the UK, or by setting up a VPN (virtual private network) connection so that the computer or tablet or phone appears to be in the UK instead of here, but the frustration is that in most cases there is no need for the Isle of Man to be disenfranchised - our disablement is simply because the online service provider has not added our island to their permitted list, even though the island is a signatory to most of the relevant intellectual property treaties and has enacted laws which provide IP owners with rights and protections equivalent to other jurisdictions which the service providers are happy to serve. Rather than being disabled by our own regulations, we are suffering from a lack of enablement merely because we are too small for global providers to bother thinking about - and this harms us.


This topic was pushed to the forefront of my mind recently when trying to sign up for a new “disruptive” Merchant Services provider (credit and debit card acceptor).  Licensed in the UK by the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the provider initially refused to deal with our Isle of Man charity by claiming that “it was not licensed to provide services to the Isle of Man”. That statement may technically be true, the UK FCA has no remit to license the provision of such services to Isle of Man customers - but equally the Isle of Man regulator, the Financial Supervision Authority, does not prohibit the provision of such services by UK companies to Isle of Man customers - no specific licence was needed. The situation was analogous to me claiming that I can’t save the environment by cycling to work because I’m not licensed to ride my pushbike on Manx roads - when clearly no pedal-powered bicycle license is required.


Fortunately the situation was resolved with an exchange of emails and the charity now hopes to save on its credit card payment commissions - otherwise it would have been deprived of of the opportunity to save several thousand pounds each year when compared with similar UK charities - simply for being  based on the Isle of Man. However that’s not quite the end of the saga - the new credit card service is accessed using an app on a smartphone or tablet and, you’ve probably guessed it, the required app cannot be downloaded to devices on the Isle of Man due to arbitrary licensing restrictions so it had to be downloaded using a VPN to fool the Android Play store into believing that the device is in the UK.


Obviously owners of intellectual property need protection from theft and copyright abuse, and inhibiting access to their valuable IP in jurisdictions which do not have robust IP protection legislation is a sensible thing for them to do - but perhaps our Government needs to promote to the major Internet-based companies that we in the Isle of Man are civilised folk, and should be included by default amongst the good guys. Whilst restrictive legislation is an important part of Government business, perhaps the Cabinet Office should take on responsibility for reaching out to the rest of the world to help ensure that the Isle of Man is opted-in by default. 


One of the panel sessions at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos was titled “Enabling eCommerce: Small Enterprises, Global Players“ and was focused on the benefits of enabling smaller businesses, in particular in smaller jurisdictions, to participate more in eCommerce to contribute to their local economies. Another panel session was titled “Beyond the Paradise Papers: Can Global Tax Avoidance Be Stopped?“ - predictably focusing on the problem of global corporates and the mega-wealthy establishing tax shelters in small jurisdictions like ours. I can’t help but marvel at the contradiction - the global elite whinging on about “tax havens” whilst simultaneously doing next to nothing to support economic diversification, and in some instances impeding it, in those small nations which have found the provision of offshore finance services to be a useful source of income in raising their peoples out of penury. 


The next ten to fifteen years are going to see pretty much continual global legislative and regulatory turmoil in many aspects of IT and Data - including the policing of the Internet, digital citizen IDs, ethical regulation controlling the use of both artificial intelligence and robots / robotic devices, taxation of worker-replacement technologies, and the world’s major nations and global companies are not going to take our needs into account unless we kick up a bit more of a fuss. It is an inevitable consequence of Globalisation that the “Isle of Where?” will become another piece of detritus discarded at the roadside of the Internet superhighway unless we start making more noise about their unconscious discrimination against us. Nobody else is going to speak up for us, certainly not the UK, and the longer that we are disadvantaged and disenfranchised in the digital world the longer we will have, as an economic necessity, to remain a thorn in the side of the world’s major tax consumers because they are excluding us from some of the economic benefits of Internet technology and Globalisation by omission.


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