All posts by danielbennett

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

Information Law and Policy Centre’s annual workshop highlights new challenges in balancing competing human rights

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Our annual workshop and lecture – held earlier this month – brought together a wide range of legal academics, lawyers, policy-makers and interested parties to discuss the future of human rights and digital information control.

A number of key themes emerged in our panel sessions including the tensions present in balancing Article 8 and Article 10 rights; the new algorithmic and informational power of commercial actors; the challenges for law enforcement; the liability of online intermediaries; and future technological developments.

The following write up of the event offers a very brief summary report of each panel and of Rosemary Jay’s evening lecture.

Morning Session

Panel A: Social media, online privacy and shaming

Helen James and Emma Nottingham (University of Winchester) began the panel by presenting their research (with Marion Oswald) into the legal and ethical issues raised by the depiction of young children in broadcast TV programmes such as The Secret Life of 4, 5 and 6 Year Olds. They were also concerned with the live-tweeting which accompanied these programmes, noting that very abusive tweets could be directed towards children taking part in the programmes.

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The socio-legal aspects of 3D printing: Between “chaos” and “control”

Socio-legal aspects bookNot so long ago 3D printing was being discussed alongside the internet, file sharing and digital currencies as a sign of the beginning of an era of post-control and post-scarcity.

There were fears that governments would struggle to regulate the activities of a new generation of “prosumers” (producer-consumers) and that economic and legal certainties would be challenged by an increase in the decentralised “free” supply of goods.

Last night, at the Information Law and Policy Centre, Dr Angela Daly and Dr Dinusha Mendis presented a more nuanced view of the prospects of 3D printing as a “disruptive” technology to mark the launch of Daly’s new book, Socio-Legal Aspects of the 3D Printing Revolution.

Daly, a research fellow at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Law, shared findings from postdoctoral research at the Swinburne University of Technology considering the legal aspects of 3D printing from the standpoint of the US, UK-EU and Australian legal systems.

s200_angela.dalyDaly’s transnational lens enabled her to identify a number of divergent legal approaches to 3D printing in relation to exceptions to infringement, intermediary liability, copyright and DMCA takedowns.

She found that the legal implications of 3D printing were hard to generalise despite attempts at the harmonisation of international law. More often the legal status of 3D printing was both nationally and scenario specific. To this end, Daly noted that it would also be interesting to research how legal jurisdictions in emerging economies were tackling 3D printing.

Focussing particularly on the potential problems created for Intellectual Property law by 3D printing, Daly concluded that the technology was neither leading to “total chaos” nor “total control”.

She highlighted that 3D printing has not yet become a mainstream practice – despite entry level 3D printers selling for around £500, far fewer people own one than they do a smartphone or computer. Daly also emphasised that incumbent businesses and companies are incorporating 3D printing into their business models.

She stated, therefore, that although there was some chaos around the edges – such as the ability for people to print 3D guns – the overall picture was that from a socio-legal perspective the technology was not currently particularly ‘disruptive’.

Dinusha MendisDaly’s position was reinforced by a presentation from Dr Dinusha Mendis, Co-Director of the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy and Management (CIPPM) at Bournemouth University. Mendis has conducted research on the Intellectual Property and Copyright implications of 3D printing including work which was commissioned by the UK government’s Intellectual Property Office.

Of fundamental concern here is the potential illegal copying and use of the computer-aided design (CAD) files required to print objects in 3D. Her research identified hundreds of online platforms for the distribution of 3D printing files which were providing access to hundreds of thousands of designs.

Mendis’ research into online platforms reveals that interest in 3D printing has grown immensely between 2008 and 2014, but she identified limitations to the spread of the practice.

Potential users do not always have access to the right materials, funds to be able to purchase more sophisticated printers or the legal knowledge to license their work. Moreover, companies and businesses in this field informed her that there was currently little commercial impact on either automotive or domestic products. They predicted that 3D printing would remain limited for the next five to ten years.

For both Mendis and Daly, then, 3D printing has not yet lived up to initial hype over its ‘disruptive’ potential. Mendis recommended a ‘wait and see’ approach to UK government, concerned that legislating too hastily in this area might stifle creativity.

Nevertheless, as 3D printing technology improves and becomes cheaper, it might become the focus of increasing interest for legal scholars in the future.

Further Reading

A. Daly (2016) Socio-Legal Aspects of the 3D Printing Revolution, Palgrave MacMillan: UK
D. Mendis (2015) A Legal and Empirical Study into the Intellectual Property Implications of 3D Printing.
D. Mendis (2014) “Clone Wars”: Episode II – The Next Generation: The Copyright Implications relating to 3D Printing and Computer-Aided Design (CAD) Files. Law, Innovation and Technology, 6 (2), 265-281.
D. Mendis (2013) ‘The Clone Wars’ – Episode 1: The Rise of 3D Printing and its Implications for Intellectual Property Law – Learning Lessons from the Past?,  European Intellectual Property Review, 35 (3), 155-169.

What is the impact of the Brexit vote on the Investigatory Powers Bill?

IP bill 2 copyThe Investigatory Powers Bill is currently proceeding through parliament – its second reading in the House of Lords took place on Monday 27 June.

Readers may have missed reports on the Lords debate amidst financial losses, Labour Party resignations, the Conservative Party leadership race and, of course, England’s embarrassing exit from Euro 2016 (among other things).

Given the ongoing political uncertainty and distractions after the Brexit vote, Open Rights Group campaigners have called on the government to halt the passage of the Bill on the basis that it cannot be adequately scrutinised by parliamentarians, the media and the public.

The Open Rights Group suggests that the passage of the Bill could be affected by the political crisis – the Bill could be accelerated or delayed depending on whether a General Election is called.

Ongoing legal cases may also affect its passage – particularly the impending European Court of Justice ruling on a case brought by MPs Tom Watson and David Davis in relation to the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA). In the Lords debate, Lord Butler described the DRIPA ruling as “hanging over the whole issue”.

Elements of DRIPA – emergency legislation passed in 2014 – have been included in the Investigatory Powers Bill. If the ECJ upholds a decision by the High Court in July 2015 that the sections on self-authorised access and bulk retention of data breach fundamental EU Charter rights under Articles 7 and 8, then this could have a significant impact on the IP Bill.

It is likely that any temptation to ignore ECJ rulings relevant to the IP Bill (and more generally) in light of the leave vote will be resisted as any failure to comply with current EU treaty obligations could possibly provide a pretext for greater EU action against the UK to speed up Brexit. Although there is no mechanism to formally expel the UK from the EU, indirect action could be explored which might put pressure on the UK’s control of the exit process through Article 50.

In the Lords debate, there was disagreement over the impact of the leave vote on the Bill. Lord Rosser noted that the vote to leave the EU had “added to the complexity” of the Bill due to uncertainties over European cooperation on security issues, but the Advocate General for Scotland, Lord Keen of Elie did not believe that any changes to the Bill would be required in light of the Brexit vote.

For the time being, the Bill continues its path to Royal Assent – the House of Lords committee stage is due to begin on 11 July.

What is the impact of Brexit on data protection and the GDPR?

A consensus already appears to be emerging among legal commentators that many UK organisations will need to comply with the provisions of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation regardless of the progress of the UK’s path to Brexit.

The GDPR was due to be adopted by the UK in May 2018 after a long process of EU legislative reform. As soon as the UK officially leaves the EU, in theory it is possible that the GDPR could be ignored – data protection is already written into UK law in the Data Protection Act 1998. In practice, however, if the UK continued to be part of the European Economic Area then the UK would have to abide by GDPR.

Moreover, as Andrew Cormack points out, any organisation outside the EU that wishes to process the data of “data subjects who are in the Union” will also have to abide by GDPR (Article 3(2)). This would be relevant to a number of UK organisations who need to process the data of EU clients, customers, students etc.

Further, any EU organisation sending personal data to the UK as a non-member state would no longer be able to guarantee that there was “adequate protection” of data in the UK, unless the UK sought to obtain a declaration to the contrary.

The position of the UK vis-à-vis GDPR was summarised by the ICO in a statement published in response to the referendum result:

“If the UK is not part of the EU, then upcoming EU reforms to data protection law would not directly apply to the UK. But if the UK wants to trade with the Single Market on equal terms we would have to prove ‘adequacy’ – in other words UK data protection standards would have to be equivalent to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation framework starting in 2018.”

It is likely, therefore, that elements of the GDPR will be incorporated into UK law however Brexit progresses. Both Anya Proops QC and Eduardo Ustaran argue that any UK business which provides services into the EU will need to understand and comply with GDPR.