Category Archives: Access to information

Conference: The Commonwealth and Challenges to Media Freedom

Media freedom 250pxDate
4 Apr 2017, 10:00 to 5 Apr 2017, 18:00

Venue
Institute of Advanced Legal Studies
17 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DR

Book Online: SAS Events Calendar

Description: Convenor: Sue Onslow, ICwS Senior Lecturer and Co-Investigator, The Oral History of the Commonwealth Project

This conference will draw together members of the Commonwealth Journalists Association, the Commonwealth Lawyers and Magistrates and Judges Association, as well as journalists and policy makers. The two day meeting will address government channels and information flows (looking at the examples of government interference and restrictions in Malaysia, South Africa, Botswana and Sri Lanka); media, elections and post-election contests (with East and Central African case studies of Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda); and the particular challenges facing journalists, bloggers and social media in low-intensity conflict zones (Kashmir, Pakistan and Bangladesh).  The Institute feels strongly there is no room for complacency in the UK in the post-Leveson environment, nor should the Indian government and society feel itself immune from regional manifestations of threats and personal violence. Therefore these aspects will also be included in the discussion.

Confirmed Speakers:

Kishali Pinto Jayawardena
Gwen Lister, Executive Chair: Namibia Media Trust (NMT)
Irene Ovonji Odida, Exec. Director, Uganda Assoc. of Women Lawyers
Dan Branch, University of Warwick
William Crawley, ICwS
Kiran Hassan, SOAS
Kayode Samuel
Nupur Basu

Kindly sponsored by SAS, the Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust, The Round Table and Asian Affairs

Registration Fee: Standard – £40, Concessions – £15

Further Information: Speaker BiosConference Outline

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

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

Freedom of Information at 250: now on Storify

Last week, Article 19 held the ‘Freedom of Information at 250‘ event at the Free Word Centre. The aim of the event was to commemorate, celebrate and scrutinise the adoption of the first freedom of information law in Sweden and Finland in 1766.

Participants also discussed the relevance and significance of the law today and the future of freedom of information, in a national and global context.

There was a range of speakers on the day including Maurice Frankel and Des Wilson from the Campaign for Freedom of Information (CFOI), the new Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, and Lord James Wallace of Tankerness, former member of Scottish Government, who piloted the Freedom of Information Act through the Scottish Parliament.

We have collected a number of tweets from participants at the event using #FOI250 and published them on Storify to help capture the flavour of the discussions which took place.

The collection documents the two moderated discussions and the evening panel. There is also a list of resources and reaction at the end of the collection. Click here or on the image below to view the Storify collection.

foi250-event-storify

Freedom of Information at 250 was an Article 19 event held at the Free Word Centre with the support of the Information Law and Policy Centre at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, and the Embassies of Sweden and Finland.

Access to information should not be an after-thought in plans for ‘transforming our justice system’

In this post, Sussex University lecturer Judith Townend argues that access to information should be at the heart of plans to reform the justice system. She summarises the key points from her submission to the Ministry of Justice in response to the consultation on the proposed reforms. The post first appeared on the Transparency Project website. 

Transforming justice - access to justiceOn 15th September 2016 the Ministry of Justice opened its consultation into “Transforming Our Justice System”. The 36 page document, accompanied by a statement by the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals, sets out a “vision” for a radical overhaul and major financial investment in courts and tribunals in England and Wales. The plans for reform include more use of case officers for routine tasks, more decisions made “on the papers” (where a judge can consider representations without a physical hearing), more virtual hearings, and more cases resolved out of court.

The consultation document concentrated on some specific areas of reform including its “assisted digital” strategy (to help users access services), and online conviction and statutory fixed fine plans. The latter would allow for certain routine, low-level summary, non-imprisonable offences with no identifiable victim to be resolved entirely online, whereby a defendant would enter their plea to an online system. If that’s a guilty plea they would be able to view the penalty, accept the conviction and penalty, and pay their fine.

Responses were sought on online convictions and the “assisted digital” strategy by 10th November (extended after an administrative error). It is likely that many of the responses will focus on the access to justice issues and the risks of an online plea system; research by the charity Transform Justice, for example, indicates that “many unrepresented defendants do not understand whether they are guilty or innocent in legal terms – whether they have a valid defence – and certainly don’t understand the full implications of each option”.

However, there’s another major issue which is overlooked in the consultation, that of access to courts and tribunals by members of the public who are not necessarily directly involved with proceedings — this includes members of the media, NGOs and universities, but also ordinary people who wish to observe proceedings and access the information to which they are legitimately entitled.

Although the consultation document contains a pledge that the judiciary and government will “continue to ensure open justice”, access to proceedings and materials is not explored in any detail in relation to the specific reforms outlines on online convictions and “assisted digital”. It states the “principle of open justice will be upheld and the public will still be able to see and hear real-time hearings, whilst we continue to protect the privacy of the vulnerable” (p.5). This sentence points to a very important tension in complex digital environments, and one that needs overt recognition and detailed consideration when designing new access systems for online court procedures in both civil and criminal contexts.

There is mention of “transparency” in the joint statement (p.10) but only in relation to general data about proceedings (i.e. statistics) rather than with regard to access to proceedings. The Impact Assessment on Online Convictions mentions that “Listings and results would be published” (p.5, para 23) with no indication of whether this means to the open web (indefinitely?), or in a physical courtroom. If they intend to publish the full listings for all these summary only non-imprisonable offences to the open web, it is very important that the judiciary and MoJ consider the legal and societal implication of this — it is not something that has previously been done so systematically by the court.

Given that many major criminal convictions are unreported by the media owing to a lack of resource or interest, we could end up in a strange situation where there is greater access via online search for far less serious offences and this must be considered in the context of issues such as equal opportunities and potential barriers to work, as well as open justice and transparency. The MoJ, HMCTS and Judiciary should investigate a range of technological options for sharing data from courts and tribunals and should open these proposals to scrutiny through stakeholder research and official consultation.

In the annual University of Sussex Draper Lecture 2016 in London this week (8 November), Lord Justice Fulford* said that one option being considered was to provide viewing centres in public buildings, but these were early days and they were still looking for imaginative solutions. It would seem perverse, given the overall agenda of the reforms, for the courts not to consider digital access options that do not require physical travel to court.  

On behalf of the Transparency Project I have written a submission to the consultation, raising our overall concern about the lack of attention given to open justice and access to information in these initial documents. Our submission urges the Ministry of Justice and Judiciary to provide more detail on their specific plans for physical and digital access to virtual proceedings and to open these plans to further consultation. Too often, public access to courts information is an afterthought, which leads to mistakes such as the inadvertent release of sensitive and confidential data, or insufficient information and access being made available.

*Unfortunately I was unable to attend the lecture but it was reported by TP member Paul Magrath here and the Law Society Gazette here.

Judith Townend is a lecturer in media and information law at the University of Sussex and a member of the Transparency Project Core Group. She is the former Director of the Information Law and Policy Centre. 

Photo: Steph GrayCC BY-SA 2.0

Article 19 event: 250 years of freedom of information

Freedom of Information Act Sweden and Finland 1766

On 2 December 1766, the world’s first-ever freedom of information law was signed into law. It had been promulgated by the Riksdag – Parliament – of Sweden and Finland, which at the time was one country.

The 1766 Law is the oldest constitution to regulate freedom of information in the world and is thus celebrating its 250th anniversary in 2016.

It pioneered public access to state information, making what was then Sweden and Finland the first country in the world to officially instigate a Right to Information law.

The aim of this event is to commemorate, celebrate and scrutinise the adoption of this law as well as to discuss its relevance and significance today, in a national as well as in a global context.

The Article 19 event will be held at the Free Word Centre with the support of the Information Law and Policy Centre at the IALS on Thursday 8th December, 2.30pm – 8.30pm.

It is comprised of two moderated discussions and a panel discussion in the format of a conversation, and will end with a drinks and canapés reception for all participants after the panel discussion.

BOOKING

Please note: You will need to book for each event separately.
Please visit this page to book the afternoon moderated discussions.
Please visit this page to book the evening panel discussion.

AFTERNOON MODERATED DISCUSSIONS
2.30pm – 5.15pm

Session 1: Freedom of Information Act (FOI) in the UK and Europe

In the first session the current challenges as well as possibilities of the Freedom of Information Act, both in a UK and European context, will be discussed with:

Maurice Frankel, Director, and Des Wilson, Founder, of Campaign for Freedom of Information (CFOI) – the organisation that, in 1984, was founded to secure a legal right to public-held information.

Helen Darbishire Director of Access Info Europe – dedicated to promoting and protecting the right of access to information particularly in European countries and institutions.

The session will be moderated by James Michael, Chair of the Advisory Board at the Information Law and Policy Centre (IALS) and Special Adviser to the House of Lords Committee considering the Freedom of Information Bill pre-2000.

Session 2: Freedom of Information Law – The Swedish/Finnish history

In the second session the history, development and legacy of the Freedom of Information Act in Sweden and Finland, will be discussed with:

Jonas Nordin from the Royal National Library, Stockholm – a Historian and Senior Lecturer who, earlier this year, published a history of the Swedish/Finnish Freedom of Information Act.

Peter Hogg, former Head of the Scandinavian Section at the British Library and translator of the first ever translation of the TF Law into English in 2006.

Ian Giles from the Scandinavian Studies Department at the University of Edinburgh, one of the translators of the second translation into English of the 1766 Law (October 2016).

Toby Mendel, Executive Director of the Center for Law and Democracy, Halifax, Canada and author of a range of books on freedom of information, including comparative and analytical studies on the right to information and international FOI consultant.

The session will be moderated by Ben Worthy from Birkbeck College, University of London. Ben is a lecturer in politics who has authored many works on freedom of information.

EVENING PANEL DISCUSSION
6.00pm – 8.30pm

The evening panel discussion will be presented in the format of a conversation. It will be moderated by the BBC’s Nicola Cain and will include the UK’s new Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, who will cover the contemporary issues, challenges and opportunities presented by living with FOI laws – and what the future may hold.

Speakers

Nicola Cain, BBC Head of Legal – Freedom of Information & Contentious Data Protection who deals with FOI requests and appeals.

Elizabeth Denham, UK Information Commissioner – independent regulatory office dealing with the UK Freedom of Information law.

Lord James Wallace of Tankerness, former member of the Scottish Government who piloted the Freedom of Information Act through the Scottish Parliament.

With thanks to the Information Law and Policy Centre, the Embassy of Sweden and the Embassy of Finland.

Full Programme: Annual Workshop and Evening Lecture

Restricted and Redacted: Where now for human rights and digital information control?

The full programme for the Information Law and Policy Centre’s annual workshop and lecture on Wednesday 9th November 2016 is now available (see below).

For both events, attendance will be free of charge thanks to the support of the IALS and our sponsor, Bloomsbury’s Communications Law journal.

To register for the afternoon workshop please visit this Eventbrite page.
To register for the evening lecture please visit this Eventbrite Page.

Please note that for administrative purposes you will need to book separate tickets for the afternoon and evening events if you would like to come to both events.

PROGRAMME

10.45am: REGISTRATION AND COFFEE 

11.15am: Welcome

  • Judith Townend, University of Sussex
  • Paul Wragg, University of Leeds
  • Julian Harris, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London

11.30am-1pm: PANEL 1 – choice between A and B

Panel A: Social media, online privacy and shaming

Chair: Asma Vranaki, Queen Mary University of London

  1. David Mangan, City, University of London, Dissecting Social Media: Audience and Authorship
  2. Marion Oswald, Helen James, Emma Nottingham, University of Winchester, The not-so-secret life of five year olds: Legal and ethical issues relating to disclosure of information and the depiction of children on broadcast and social media
  3. Maria Run Bjarnadottir, Ministry of the Interior in Iceland, University of Sussex, Does the internet limit human rights protection? The case of revenge porn
  4. Tara Beattie, University of Durham, Censoring online sexuality – A non-heteronormative, feminist perspective

Panel B: Access to Information and protecting the public interest

Chair: Judith Townend, University of Sussex

  1. Ellen P. Goodman, Rutgers University, Obstacles to Using Freedom of Information Laws to Unpack Public/Private Deployments of Algorithmic Reasoning in the Public Sphere
  2. Felipe Romero-Moreno, University of Hertfordshire, ‘Notice and staydown’, the use of content identification and filtering technology posing a fundamental threat to human rights
  3. Vigjilenca Abazi, Maastricht University, Mapping Whistleblowing Protection in Europe: Information Flows in the Public Interest

1-2pm: LUNCH 

2-3.30pm: PANEL 2 – choice between A and B

Panel A: Data protection and surveillance

Chair: Nora Ni Loideain, University of Cambridge

  1. Jiahong Chen, University of Edinburgh, How the Best Laid Plans Go Awry: The (Unsolved) Issues of Applicable Law in the General Data Protection Regulation
  2. Jessica Cruzatti-Flavius, University of Massachusetts, The Human Hard Drive: Name Erasure and the Rebranding of Human Beings
  3. Wenlong Li, University of Edinburgh, Right to Data Portability (RDP)
  4. Ewan Sutherland, Wits University, Wire-tapping in the regulatory state – changing times, changing mores

Panel B: Technology, power and governance

Chair: Chris Marsden, University of Sussex

  1. Monica Horten, London School of Economics, How Internet structures create closure for freedom of expression – an exploration of human rights online in the context of structural power theory
  2. Perry Keller, King’s College, London, Bringing algorithmic governance to the smart city
  3. Marion Oswald, University of Winchester and Jamie Grace, Sheffield Hallam University, Intelligence, policing and the use of algorithmic analysis – initial conclusions from a survey of UK police forces using freedom of information requests as a research methodology
  4. Allison Holmes, Kent University, Private Actor or Public Authority? How the Status of Communications Service Providers affects Human Rights

3.30-5pm: PANEL 3 – choice between A and B

Panel A: Intermediary Liability

Chair: Christina Angelopoulos, University of Cambridge

  1. Judit Bayer, Miskolc University, Freedom and Diversity on the Internet: Liability of Intermediaries for Third Party Content
  2. Mélanie Dulong de Rosnay, Félix Tréguer, CNRS-Sorbonne Institute for Communication Sciences and Federica Giovanella, University of Trento, Intermediary Liability and Community Wireless Networks Design Shaping
  3. David Rolph, University of Sydney, Liability of Search Engines for Publication of Defamatory Matter: An Australian Perspective

Panel B: Privacy and anonymity online

Chair: Paul Wragg, University of Leeds

  1. Gavin Phillipson, University of Durham, Threesome injuncted: has the Supreme Court turned the tide against the media in online privacy cases?
  2. Fiona Brimblecombe, University of Durham, European Privacy Law
  3. James Griffin, University of Exeter and Annika Jones, University of Durham, The future of privacy in a world of 3D printing

5-6pm: TEA BREAK / STRETCH YOUR LEGS

6-8pm: EVENING LECTURE AND DRINKS

Lecture Title: Heads and shoulders, knees and toes (and eyes and ears and mouth and nose…): The impact of the General Data Protection Regulation on use of biometrics.

Biometrics are touted as one of the next big things in the connected world. Specific reference to biometrics and genetic data has been included for the first time in the General Data Protection Regulation. How does this affect existing provisions? Will the impact of the Regulation be to encourage or to restrict the development of biometric technology?

  • Speaker: Rosemary Jay, Senior Consultant Attorney at Hunton & Williams and author of Sweet & Maxwell’s Data Protection Law & Practice.
  • Chair: Professor Lorna Woods, University of Essex
  • Respondents: Professor Andrea Matwyshyn, Northeastern University and Mr James Michael, IALS

Addressing the challenge of anonymous sources in the digital age

Dr Aljosha Karim Schapals, research assistant at the Information Law and Policy Centre, reports from the launch of a new book by Eric Barendt, Emeritus Professor of Media Law at UCL, on anonymous speech in the context of literature, law and politics.

On 28 June, Professor Eric Barendt launched his new book ‘Anonymous Speech: Literature, Law and Politics’ at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS). His book critically examines the arguments for and against anonymity, which in the context of online communications draw attention to complex and important moral and legal questions.

It is on this basis that Barendt started outlining the pros and cons of anonymous speech, both online as well as offline: on the one hand, the use of pseudonyms has enabled great writers such as Jane Austen to publish anonymously and to have their privacy protected on the grounds of gender and socio-economic class considerations. Furthermore, anonymity allows writers to have their work considered solely on the basis of its merits rather than the additional ‘baggage’ that comes with being an established writer.

On the other hand, however, anonymity can be used to deceive audiences or inflict harm. Barendt stressed that anonymity on the Internet can encourage more socially disinhibited behaviour leading to hate speech, threats of rape and violence as well as cyberbullying.

Continue reading

Whistleblowers and journalists in the digital age

Snowden

Dr Aljosha Karim Schapals, research assistant at the Information Law and Policy Centre, reports on a research workshop hosted by the University of Cardiff on Digital Citizenship and the ‘Surveillance Society’.

A workshop led by researchers at the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies (JOMEC) on 27th June in London shared the findings of an 18 month ESRC funded research project examining the relationships between the state, the media and citizens in the wake of the Snowden revelations of 2013.

It was the concluding event of a number of conferences, seminars and workshops organised by the five principal researchers: Dr Arne Hintz (Cardiff), Dr Lina Dencik (Cardiff), Prof Karin Wahl-Jorgensen (Cardiff), Prof Ian Brown (Oxford) and Dr Michael Rogers (TU Delft).

Broadly speaking, the Digital Citizenship and the ‘Surveillance Society’ (DCSS) project has investigated the nature, opportunities and challenges of digital citizenship in light of US and UK governmental surveillance as revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Touching on more general themes such as freedom of expression, data privacy and civic transparency, the project aligns with the research activities of the Information Law and Policy Centre, which include developing work on journalism and whistleblower protection, and discussions and analysis of the Investigatory Powers Bill. Continue reading

The Body of Law: An exhibition of drawings by Isobel Williams

Isobel artThe Supreme Court welcomes and informs the public, but how does an artist interpret the coded theatre of the hearings?

Isobel William’s new exhibition of drawings, sketched from the public seats of the Supreme Court with the court’s permission, and other locations, offers an unusual perspective on the workings of open justice.

The exhibition includes her impressions of cases concerning image rights, the extent of the Terrorism Act and the Naked Rambler, for example.

Isobel’s work is being displayed at Senate House in June and July. The exhibition is free to the public and can be found on the 2nd floor.

The exhibition is part of the public engagement programme at the Institute for Advanced Legal Studies exploring and promoting the ‘humanity of law’, that is exploring law’s place in the arts and humanities, and role in shaping society and culture. The Information Law and Policy Centre has been involved in a number of IALS events on this theme exploring the work of judges and barristers.

We have previously featured Isobel’s work on the blog, documenting her 2014 exhibition at Pinsent Masons LLP and her drawings of the Information, Law and Policy Centre launch event.

You can find out more information about Isobel’s drawings on her blog and on her website.

A  guide to the exhibition can be found here (PDF).

Visiting the exhibition:
This exhibition will be on during June and July, Mon-Fri 9am-5.45pm, Sat 9.45am-5.15pm, 2nd floor foyer, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU