Image by Danilo Bueno from Pixabay

Image by Danilo Bueno from Pixabay

Julian Assange, Meng Wanzhou and Mark Zuckerberg.  What do they all have in common?

All of them are involved in the international tech space and all of them are being charged, or potentially charged for crimes, by foreign countries.

We’ve gotten to where we don’t even think about how international the world is these days, especially in the tech space. It seems to be given that technology and international usage go hand-in-hand. What that means to the legal and accountability side of tech companies and leaders has not been thought about much until recently.

We are coming into a space and time where technology is becoming more and more regulated. And as technology becomes more regulated each of the international powers want to have their say over all creators and purveyors of technology.

As a long time business lawyer these developments are both interesting to watch and concerning. We may be on the verge of massive changes to the global technology market that few are talking about.

Let’s get into what are seeing. We see countries and world powers getting territorial showing that we might be on the eve of deglobalizaiton. What will this mean to company leaders?

Will we hit a time when tech leaders have to stay in their home country?

The US Wants International Reach

Let’s start with the US.  It is clear the US wants it’s laws to apply globally and wants the power to enforce them. The US remains active in its efforts to bring Julian Assange to the US for trial.

Meanwhile US authorities had Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Huawei, intercepted in Canada to potentially face charges in the United States for bank fraud and wire fraud. She remains on house arrest in Vancouver, Canada, as the court system works out if and when she will be moved to the US for charges.

The common denominator here is that international actors have taken actions largely outside of the United States and are potentially being held accountable by US authorities.

And if there is any doubt the US understands the potential of their reach we just need to read the remarks of CTFC Commissioner Brian Quintenz, delivered in Dubai, on programmer liability. It becomes very clear the US wants as much control over what’s going into software used in the US as possible down to potentially bringing charges against programmers whose programs are used to violate US law.

The Europeans Do Too

If we think the desire for international control is a uniquely American thing, it is not. The European Union’s sweeping General Data Protection Regulation (commonly called “GDPR”) purports to cover the use and processing data of EU citizens regardless of where the user or processor is located. Many US companies changed their policies, data usage or ended projects based on the GDPR.

And the Europeans have already levied fines on many international players based on this global reach (more on that later).

Don’t Leave Canada Out

If we think other countries and regions don’t want a say in international tech regulation we’d be sadly mistaken. Canada subpoenaed both Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, of Facebook, to come before parliament for hearings.The face potential contempt charges for not attending.

The comments of Canadian lawmakers made it clear that they thought they have the right to bring in the leaders of Facebook to answer to them despite the international boundaries.

The Fine Games Have Already Started

So if everyone world body wants every tech leader accountable to them, where does it lead? It looks like we are on the eve of an era of lots of international subpoenas.

The other thing we expect to see flying around is a lot of fines. In fact the cross-border fines have already started. The EU has fined Google about $10 Billion in fines over the last few years.

Meanwhile, US based Facebook is being fined by the US as well, but when that fine is compared to Facebook’s revenue and the potential fine it looks tiny.

Is this home town officiating? Are US companies getting big fines in the EU and small fines on home grounds?  We don’t have enough cases to find out, but it looks like hometown referees might be taking care of their local companies.

Are We Starting To Deglobalize?

Which raises the larger question of whether the world is starting to deglobalize. Are we hitting the point where each country and region is starting to flex its muscle and say how they want things done in their part of the world? They also, as the US and Europeans have shown, want to tell others what to do around the world if those people might tangentially impact their markets too.

It appears that we are moving to an era where each country is more concerned about the activities in their borders than the health of international community.

Can Anyone Comply With All Of The Regulations?

As a lawyer I understand the impact of conflicting regulations. Our clients are often faced with this situation – how do we deal with all of these different regulations out here?

The typical answer is to attempt to comply with them all at the same time. And so far that seems to be what most companies are doing with GDPR – making sure they comply with GDPR and other regulations they are su.

But as the regulations get more detailed and complex a problem can arise. How can you answer to multiple regulations, from multiple authorities, when they conflict? It’s hard to do. And I see that day on the horizon.

For now we can change the software and tech to comply with all laws. But the day may come where that may not be practical leading to regional versions of software.

The laws are complex and they are only getting more complex. Companies like Facebook and Google had already made mistakes leading to large fines. It is getting clear that compliance is costly and difficult.

Will It Be Safe For Tech Leaders To Travel?

So in light of all of this will it be safe for tech leaders to travel? It’s certainly looking more risky as international governments are increasingly asking tech leaders in other countries to come to them.

I see a real risk for tech leaders traveling as we move into the future. If current trends continue it will he harder and hard to not violate one of the various conflicting regulations existing worldwide.

And having a tech leader in your country, whether voluntarily or if they are brought there, and bring them up on charges can be a powerful way of making a statement on your country’s laws and powers.

It’s an emerging question but I would be thoughtful about what countries I am visiting if I am a tech leader.

How Can We Fix This?

How do we make it safe for our tech leaders to travel?  How do we make this better?

It’s time for a global conversation. We may even, dare I say, move towards global regulations.

Somehow we need to coordinate things around the world. If we don’t coordinate soon I see the real possibility of our laws technology becoming regional.

And the free travel of tech executives might be one of the first things we lose.

What do you think? What fixes would you apply? Would you be afraid to travel, as a tech leader, in the next several years?

By: The Our Shawn McBride, is the man you call when you want a keynote, training or a consultant to get your business ready for The Future of Business. He’s the host of The Future Done Right(TM) Show and a long-time business attorney. If you want regular content on the future of business subscribe to get new blog posts from us here.

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