We are living in a litigious society. People are no longer afraid of the law and are far more willing to engage through the courts than ever before. But this is not just a trend in the private sector. Countries and trading blocks are defending their citizens through the courts as well, and governments around the world would do well to take note.

The recent announcement that the European Commission is suing the UK government over the authorities’ failure to take any action in response to BT’s secret trials of Phorm’s behavioural advertising technology is a good case in point.

The Commission claims the UK is failing to meet its obligations under the Data Protection Directive and the ePrivacy Directive.

BT admitted in 2008 that it had secretly used customer data to test Phorm’s advertising targeting technology, and that it had covered it up when customers and journalists raised questions over the suspicious redirects.

The case has subsequently moved back and forth between parties, but the latest move by the European Commission is a warning bell to governments that if they don’t apply their data protections laws – however well they may have been written – they too may face the wrath of courts.

The ubiquitous nature of the Internet has certainly added a level of complexity to our domestic laws. Companies are trading in a real-time, borderless environment and they have to ensure they comply with global best practices. South Africa is fortunate that our electronic laws are fairly robust, but we are still far behind when it comes to testing our laws in court.

Privacy and protection of personal information have been high on our local legal agenda of late, and companies are, by in large, taking these issues fairly seriously as part of their governance issues. This latest court case, however, sends a serious warning to our government. Electronic and IT laws are no laughing matter, and if your house is not in order, even a government could find itself in court defending both its laws and its ability to enforce them.