UK citizens risk losing their online rights once the UK leaves the European Union after the recent referendum.
Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said that people in the UK will lack a clear idea of their digital rights in the future because nearly all the relevant law today emanates from the EU.
For now the laws remain relevant to the UK, as Killock said in a blog post.
"Nothing changes in the short term. The UK must abide by legislation and incorporate new regulations and directives as they come along. Decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union [CJEU] must be implemented," he said.
These include laws covering data protection, e-privacy, net neutrality, telecoms and copyright. This is because the EU directives require national parliaments to pass equivalent legislation, and they are therefore a full part of UK law.
However, after the recent vote, this could all change. "EU legislation ... has to abide by fundamental rights, defined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and interpreted and enforced through the CJEU. Outside the EU, the direct influence of the CJEU on UK law will be much lessened," wrote Killock.
"In the longer term the CJEU and European Court of Human Rights [ECHR] should work to the same privacy standards, so in theory the UK's legislation will still be subject to the same considerations.
"However, the ECHR does not make instructions to UK legislators, but sets principles which must be taken into account when looking at laws. This leaves a lot of flexibility in the hands of legislators.
"In contrast, the CJEU as an EU court makes direct instructions to EU institutions about laws and decisions, which has been demonstrably effective."
Leaving the EU will lessen the UK's influence on EU laws that may still have an impact on the UK, argued Killock, and that influence may depend on the Brexit model that is followed, such as the 'Norwegian model' or European Economic Area (EEA) membership.
The EEA has its own court, but it is largely for trade disputes and does not consider human rights issues.
Even worse would be a full Brexit and a bonfire of EU regulations, warned Killock.
"For UK digital rights, this would be the most concerning. The pressure to deregulate in order to compensate for the loss of single market access would be very high. The changes could be made very swiftly, with little democratic oversight," he said.
"We would need to be confident that the UK develops much stronger constitutional protections for human rights to be fully supportive of a solution along these lines.
"We would need to be convinced that parliament would be in control of the changes and would be given sufficient time to consider the changes it would be making."
There will also be privacy concerns about initiatives such as the Passenger Name Record legislation, and UK companies trading with EU citizens would almost certainly be obliged to maintain EU data protection standards, i.e. comply with the EU General Data Protection Regulation.
"The digital environment is already international. There are good reasons for laws to become more consistent, rather than less. Whatever solution is adopted, this pressure will exist," added Killock.
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