Conference: The Power Switch; How Power is Changing in a Networked World

Cripps Court auditorium, Magdalene College, 1-3 Chesterton Road, Cambridge
31 March 2017, 09:00 – 18:15

Registration for this conference is now open, please register here.
The full programme is available here.
Full fee £20 (includes refreshments and lunch)
Student and ECF fee £10 (includes refreshments and lunch)

Recent decades have seen the rise of a number of large US technology companies – Alphabet (Google’s holding company), Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple – which have achieved global dominance in their original fields (digital technology) and are now moving into other markets (healthcare, mobility, hotels, media, to name just four).

The scale and reach—as well as the wealth—of these corporations revives old concerns about corporate power and its regulation (for example in relation to monopoly and data protection). But their dominance also raises new questions deriving from the distinctive affordances of digital technology and the companies’ mastery of it.

In what ways is the power that they wield different from older kinds of corporate power? How should the power flowing from mastery of the technology be conceptualised? What kinds of regulatory approaches are viable in this new environment? Where does corporate responsibility begin and end in applications of Artificial Intelligence? And can the nation-state effectively regulate these new global entities?

This symposium, which is hosted by the Technology and Democracy project at CRASSH, will consider these and related issues. Continue reading

Trump is right: stories will dry up if the press can’t use anonymous sources

By Judith Townend, University of Sussex and Richard Danbury, De Montfort University

Donald Trump has declared war on anonymous sources and wants to ban their use by journalists. In a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on February 24, he said: “You will see stories dry up like you have never seen before.” The Conversation

He’s right. If such a restriction is imposed then stories would dry up. He is very wrong to demand it though. Such a restriction on journalism would have devastating effects for democracy and the flow of information in the public interest, as courts have repeatedly recognised.

But in his first few weeks as president, Trump has shown himself to be no friend to press freedom. Hours after his CPAC speech, the White House barred several news organisations, including the Guardian, the New York Times, Politico, CNN, BuzzFeed, the BBC, the Daily Mail and others from an off-camera press briefing, or “gaggle” conducted by press secretary Sean Spicer. Additionally, he announced that he will not attend the White House correspondents’ dinner in April. Building relationships with the press is not a priority for this new administration.

Banning the use of confidential sources denies a core principle reflected in media ethics codes from around the world and flies in the face of the First Amendment to the United States constitution and rights to free speech. Protecting journalists’ confidential sources is deemed essential to freedom of expression, public interest journalism and holding power to account. It is held as sacred, to be interpreted rigidly – even in the face of criminal prosecution. Continue reading

Two Research Associate Posts at Hertie School of Governance

For the project ‘Evolving Internet Interfaces: Content Control and Privacy Protection’ within the Deutsche Foschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation) research group on ‘Overlapping Spheres of Authority and Interface Conflicts in the Global Order’ (www.osaic.eu), the Hertie School is looking to hire:

2 Research Associates (m/f)
26 hours/week

The contract duration is 36 months. The envisaged start date is 1 June 2017. Salary is in accordance with TV-L Berlin. Continue reading

ILPC launches new report: ‘Protecting Sources and Whistleblowers in a Digital Age’

front-page-snippet-download-the-reportThe emergence of an everyday digital culture and the increasing use of legal instruments by state actors to collect and access communications data has led to growing concern about the protection of journalistic sources and whistleblowers.

With the support of Guardian News and Media, the Information Law and Policy Centre has published a new report to consider these developments entitled ‘Protecting Sources and Whistleblowers in a Digital Age’. The report is open access and available for download.

Authored by Dr Judith Townend and Dr Richard Danbury, the report analyses how technological advances expose journalists and their sources to interference by state actors, corporate entities or individuals.

The report also looks at how journalists can reduce threats to whistleblowing; examines the rights and responsibilities of journalists, whistleblowers and lawmakers; and makes a number of positive recommendations for policymakers, journalists, NGOs and researchers.

The report’s findings are based on discussions with 25 investigative journalists, representatives from relevant NGOs and media organisations, media lawyers and specialist researchers in September 2016.

Protecting Sources and Whistleblowers in a Digital Age was officially launched on 22 February 2017 at the House of Lords.

Alongside the report, the Information Policy Law and Policy Centre has also published a range of open access resources on journalistic sources and whistleblowing which are available here.

CFP: Bytes, Bodies and Souls: Interrogating Human Digitalisation

conference-imageKent Law School, in conjunction with the Eastern Academic Research Consortium, invites early career academics and postgraduate research students to participate in the “Bytes, Bodies and Souls: Interrogating Human Digitalisation” workshop to be held on 30th May, 2017.

The workshop aims to bring together researchers across the social sciences, humanities, sciences and other relevant disciplines who are interested in examining the consequences, possibilities, and limitations of human digitalisation.

Papers and Posters are welcomed on any aspect of the conference theme. This may include, although is not restricted to:

  • Big Data and its challenges
  • The role and impact of the Internet of Things
  • Digital ownership and appropriation processes
  • Privacy, surveillance, and control
  • The role of algorithms in the governance of human digitalisation
  • Politics of digital humans from cyber activism to post-truth
  • Digital human aesthetics; the forging of a digital soul

Abstracts for papers are invited for consideration. Abstracts should be no more than 300 words in length. Successful applicants will be allocated 15 minutes for the presentation of their paper plus time for questions and discussion.

Abstracts for posters are invited for consideration. Abstracts should be no more than 300 words in length. Accepted poster presenters will need to deliver the hard copy of their poster to the venue no later than 9 am on the day of the workshop to allow it to be displayed throughout the day.

Submissions should be sent in a Word document format to a.m.holmes@kent.ac.uk. Please include name, title, institution, and email correspondence address and whether you wish to be considered for a paper or poster presentation. The deadline for submission is Friday 3rd March 2017. Successful applicants will be notified by the 19th March 2017.

Reflections on ‘Freedom of Information’ at 250

Freedom of Information Act Sweden and Finland 1766

In December 2016, the Information Law and Policy Centre co-organised an event celebrating the 250th anniversary of the world’s first law providing a right to information. It was hosted by free expression NGO, Article 19 at the Free Word Centre and supported by the Embassies of Sweden and Finland. A full programme of the event and the audio files are available on the Campaign for Freedom of Information website. In this post, Judith Townend and Daniel Bennett reflect on a few of the key themes discussed at the event. 

Accessing information may no longer feel like a pressing problem. We live in an age of global telecommunications, the internet and the smartphone with access to ubiquitous 24/7 media coverage on demand. Our data is collected, tracked, mapped and analysed by social media networks, search engines, commercial enterprises, governments and public authorities around the world. And yet, 250 years after the first law providing for a right to information was passed, the right for us – the public – to access information relating to the administration of state power remains a struggle.

Our ‘Freedom of Information at 250’ event sought to put this struggle into its historical context. The event celebrated and commemorated the signing into law of ‘His Majesty’s Gracious Ordinance Relating to Freedom of Writing and of the Press’ on 2nd December 1766.¹ Enacted by the Riksdag (parliament) of Sweden – which then also included Finland – this was the world’s first law to promise public access to governmental information. Continue reading

Your next social network could pay you for posting

In this guest post, Jelena Dzakula from the London School of Economics and Political Science considers what blockchain technology might mean for the future of social networking. 

You may well have found this article through Facebook. An algorithm programmed by one of the world’s biggest companies now partially controls what news reaches 1.8 billion people. And this algorithm has come under attack for censorship, political bias and for creating bubbles that prevent people from encountering ideas they don’t already agree with.

blockchainNow a new kind of social network is emerging that has no centralised control like Facebook does. It’s based on blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and promises a more democratic and secure way to share content. But a closer look at how these networks operate suggests they could be far less empowering than they first appear.

Blockchain has received an enormous amount of hype thanks to its use in online-only cryptocurrencies. It is essentially a ledger or a database where information is stored in “blocks” that are linked historically to form a chain, saved on every computer that uses it. What is revolutionary about it is that this ledger is built using cryptography by a network of users rather than a central authority such as a bank or government.

Every computer in the network has access to all the blocks and the information they contain, making the blockchain system more transparent, accurate and also robust since it does not have a single point of failure. The absence of a central authority controlling blockchain means it can be used to create more democratic organisations owned and controlled by their users. Very importantly, it also enables the use of smart contracts for payments. These are codes that automatically implement and execute the terms of a legal contract.

Industry and governments are developing other uses for blockchain aside from digital currencies, from streamlining back office functions to managing health data. One of the most recent ideas is to use blockchain to create alternative social networks that avoid many of the problems the likes of Facebook are sometimes criticised for, such as censorship, privacy, manipulating what content users see and exploiting those users.

Continue reading

The Bubble Reputation: Protecting, Inflating, Deflating and Preserving It

james-michael-ialsVenue:  Institute of Advanced Legal Studies
Charles Clore House
17 Russell Square
London, WC1B 5DR
6pm – 8pm, 8 March 2017

Booking: This event is free but advanced registration is required using the IALS Events Calendar.  

Speaker: James Michael, Senior Associate Research Fellow, IALS; Chair, IALS Information Law and Policy Centre

The Bubble Reputation: Protecting, Inflating, Deflating and Preserving It (or a Right to be Known, Unknown and Remembered?)

Does, or should, everyone have a right to a reputation, and if so, should that be the reputation that is desired, deserved, or created? If there is a right to a reputation, should it be malleable to the point of infinity, to be extended, amended, or deleted? And is a posthumous reputation the property of the dead, the next of kin, or a larger community? Cases and statutes from various jurisdictions give varying answers, sometimes reflecting national and regional cultural and historical differences, but the contrasts may point the way for international standards.

Information Law and Policy Centre appoints new director

n__ni_loideain new director of the Information Law and Policy CentreDr Nora Ni Loideain, a scholar in governance, human rights and technology, has been appointed director of the Information Law and Policy Centre (ILPC) at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS), one of nine research institutes of the School of Advanced Study, University of London.

Currently a postdoctoral research associate for the technology and democracy project at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), Dr Ni Loideain takes up her new role at IALS in May.

The Information Law and Policy Centre opened in 2015. Its mission is to extend the institute’s research into how law both restricts and enables the sharing and dissemination of different types of information and provide a physical and virtual meeting place for those active in the area.

Issues the Centre will look at include data access and ownership rights, privacy and confidentiality, the malicious use and misuse of data, freedom of information and legal publishing (both commercial and free-to-internet). It is also interested in trends in scholarly communication relating to legal studies.

Dr Ni Loideain was awarded her PhD in law from the University of Cambridge. Her doctoral research examined the impact of the ‘right to privacy’ on the EU Data Retention Directive which mandated the mass retention of EU citizens’ communications metadata for national security and law enforcement purposes.

Previously she clerked for the Irish Supreme Court and was a legal and policy officer for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions of Ireland. Her research interests and publications focus on governance, human rights and technology, particularly in the fields of digital privacy, data protection and state surveillance.

She is also an affiliated lecturer at the Cambridge Faculty of Law, a visiting lecturer for the LL.M. Privacy and Information Law module at King’s College London and a senior research fellow at the University of Johannesburg’s Faculty of Humanities.

‘The institute welcomes Dr Ni Loideain to contribute to this dynamic area of interdisciplinary research on information law and policy which affects everyone’s daily life,’ says Jules Winterton, director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.

‘Under Dr Ni Loideain’s leadership the Centre will provide a base for important and timely academic activity in this area, pursuing its own research and also aligning with the institute’s mission to promote and facilitate the research of others in the UK and beyond.’

Commenting on her new role, Dr Ni Loideain confirms she is ‘delighted to have been appointed as the director of the Information Law and Policy Centre. I look forward to continuing to contribute to the excellent work of the Centre and to carry on the successes of the previous director, Dr Judith Townend.’

Book launch: ‘Private Power, Online Information Flows and EU Law: Mind The Gap’

angela-daly-eu-bookBook launch at: The Conservatory, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 
50 Bedford Square
London
WC1B 3DP
6pm – 8pm, 31 January 2017

This event is FREE but registration is required on Eventbrite.

Speaker: Angela Daly

With guest speakers: Professor Chris Marsden, University of Sussex; Dr Orla Lynskey, London School of Economics and Political Science

About the Book

This monograph examines how European Union law and regulation address concentrations of private economic power which impede free information flows on the Internet to the detriment of Internet users’ autonomy. In particular, competition law, sector specific regulation (if it exists), data protection and human rights law are considered and assessed to the extent they can tackle such concentrations of power for the benefit of users.

Using a series of illustrative case studies, of Internet provision (including the net neutrality debate), search, mobile devices and app stores, and the cloud, the work demonstrates the gaps that currently exist in EU law and regulation. It is argued that these gaps exist due, in part, to current overarching trends guiding the regulation of economic power, namely neoliberalism, by which only the situation of market failure can invite ex ante rules, buoyed by the lobbying of regulators and legislators by those in possession of such economic power to achieve outcomes which favour their businesses. Given this systemic, and extra-legal, nature of the reasons as to why the gaps exist, solutions from outside the system are proposed at the end of each case study.

Praise for the Book

‘This is a richly textured, critically argued work, shedding new light on case studies in information law which require critical thinking. It is both an interesting series of case studies (notably cloud computing, app stores and search) that displays original and deeply researched scholarship and a framework for critiquing neoliberal competition policy from a prosumerist and citizen-oriented perspective.’ – Professor Chris Marsden, University of Sussex.