Where Did Technology Neutral Go?

Remember when legislation was supposed to be “technology neutral”? We used to hear this a lot in the 2010s when policies like digital single market and copyright were discussed. Technology neutral was more important than anything else. Never mind the result long as the legislation is technology neutral.

Fast forward to 2023 and EU has the Metaverse Regulation and AI Act. In fact, EU brags about making the first AI legislation. Those are not technology neutral. In fact, they are the opposite. They are technology specific. So… are we meant to have specific legislation for each new technology now? The list of technologies is long and growing but at least there will be a great job market for eurocrats and lobbyists.

I’m sure there are reasons, but when did they sunset the technology neutral-principle? I didn’t get the memo.

Don’t want to look for conspiracies, but I can’t shake the feeling that maybe technology neutral was not the real reason back then. But if not that, then what was the real principle? And why was that not brought forward as the reason for those policies? And is that real principle the same real principle now that we’re talking technology-specific? Or did that change and why? I would really, really like to think that the European policy-makers know what they’re doing and just don’t make things up as they go. Do these questions have answers?

I always thought technology-neutral was sort of a pipedream. Every technology is different and by pretending it is possible to make legislation neutral, it shifts the power to other stakeholders. The idea has some merits though, by looking at principles rather than specific applications, policy-makers can focus on the long game and say things like “illegal offline is illegal online”. That’s not possible with technology-specific legislation. Also, technology changes and it is often said that legislation struggles to keep up.

When did the EU policy-makers let go of technology-neutral?