Category Archives: Information law and policy

New Special Issue of Communications Law: Information control in an ominous global environment

Communications Law JournalThe Information Law and Policy Centre is pleased to announce the publication of a special issue of the Communications Law journal based on papers submitted for our annual workshop last November. The journal articles are available via direct subscription, through the Lexis Library (IALS member link) and (coming soon) Westlaw.

In the following editorial for the special issue, Dr Judith Townend, Lecturer in Media and Information Law, University of Sussex, (the outgoing Director of the ILPC, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies) and Dr Paul Wragg, Associate Professor of Law, University of Leeds discuss the challenges of information control in an ominous global environment.

This special issue of Communications Law celebrates the first anniversary of the Information Law and Policy Centre (ILPC) at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. It features three contributions from leading commentators who participated in the ILPC’s annual conference ‘Restricted and redacted: where now for human rights and digital information control?‘, which was held on 9 November 2016 and sponsored by Bloomsbury Professional.

The workshop considered the myriad ways in which data protection laws touch upon fundamental rights, from internet intermediary liability, investigatory and surveillance powers, media regulation, whistle-blower protection, to ‘anti-extremism’ policy. We were delighted with the response to our call for papers. The conference benefited from a number of provocative and insightful papers, from academics including Professor Gavin Phillipson, Professor Ellen P Goodman, Professor Perry Keller and Professor David Rolph as well as Rosemary Jay, Mélanie Dulong de Rosnay, Federica Giovanella and Allison Holmes, whose papers are published in this edition.

The date of the conference, by happenstance, gave extra piquancy to the significance of our theme. News of Donald J Trump’s election triumph spoke to (and continues to speak to) an ominous and radically changed global environment in which fundamental rights protection takes centre stage. But as Trump’s presidency already shows, those rights have become impoverished in the rush to promote nationalism in all its ugly forms.

In the UK, the popularism that threatens to rise above all other domestic values marks a similar threat, in which executive decision-making is not only championed but also provokes popular dissent when threatened by judicial oversight. The Daily Mail’s claim that High Court justices were ‘enemies of the people’ when they sought to restrict the exercise of unvarnished executive power reminds us that fundamental rights are seriously undervalued.

Perhaps we should not be surprised at these events and their potential impact on communication law. In February 2015, at the ILPC’s inaugural conference Dr Daithí Mac Síthigh delivered a powerful paper in which he noted the rise of this phenomena in the government’s thinking on information law and policy under the Coalition Government 2010-15. In his view, following an ‘initial urgency’ of libertarianism, the mood changed to one of internet regulation or re-regulation. Such a response to perceived disorder, though not unusual, was ‘remarkable’ given how the measures in this field adopted during these final stages of the last government had been ‘characterised by the extension of State power in a whole range of areas.’ We should also note the demise of liberalism in popular thought. That much criticised notion which underpins all fundamental rights seems universally disclaimed as something weak and sinister. All of this speaks to a worrisome future in which the fate of the Human Rights Act remains undecided.

Concerns like these animate the papers in this special issue. The contribution from leading data protection practitioner Rosemary Jay, Senior Consultant Attorney at Hunton & Williams and author of Sweet & Maxwell’s Data Protection Law & Practice, is entitled ‘Heads and shoulders, knees and toes (and eyes and ears and mouth and nose…)’. Her paper discusses the rise of biometric data and restrictions on its use generated by the General Data Protection Regulation. As she notes, sensitive personal data arising from biometric data might be more easily shared, leading to loss of individual autonomy. It is not hard to imagine the impact unrestricted data access would have – the prospective employer who offers the job to someone else because of concerns about an applicant’s cholesterol levels; the partner who leaves after discovering a family history of mental ill heath; the bank that refuses a mortgage because of drinking habits. As Jay concludes, consent will play a major role in regulating this area.

In their paper, Federica Giovanella and Mélanie Dulong de Rosnay discuss community networks, a grassroots alternative to commercial internet service providers. They discuss the liability issues arising from open wireless local access networks after the landmark Court of Justice of the EU decision in McFadden v Sony Music Entertainment Germany GmbH. As they conclude, the decision could prompt greater regulation of, and political involvement in, the distribution of materials through these networks which may well represent another threat to fundamental rights.

Finally, Allison M Holmes reflects on the impact of fundamental rights caused by the status imposed on communication service providers. As Holmes argues, privacy and other human rights are threatened because CSPs are not treated as public actors when retaining communications data. As she says, this status ought to change and she argues convincingly on how that may be achieved.

Call for papers: Critical Research in Information Law

Deadline 15 March 2017

The Information Law Group at the University of Sussex is pleased to announce its annual PhD and Work in Progress Workshop on 3 May 2017. The workshop, chaired by Professor Chris Marsden, will provide doctoral students with an opportunity to discuss current research and receive feedback from senior scholars in a highly focused, informal environment. The event will be held in conjunction with the Work in Progress Workshop on digital intermediary law.

We encourage original contributions critically approaching current information law and policy issues, with particular attention on the peculiarities of information law as a field of research. Topics of interest include:

  • internet intermediary liability
  • net neutrality and media regulation
  • surveillance and data regulation
  • 3D printing
  • the EU General Data Protection Regulation
  • blockchain technology
  • algorithmic/AI/robotic regulation
  • Platform neutrality, ‘fake news’ and ‘anti-extremism’ policy.

How to apply: Please send an abstract of 500 words and brief biographical information to Dr Nicolo Zingales  by 15 March 2017. Applicants will be informed by 30 March 2017 if selected. Submission of draft papers by selected applicants is encouraged, but not required.

Logistics: 11am-1pm 3 May in the Moot Room, Freeman Building, University of Sussex.

Afternoon Workshop: all PhD attendees are registered to attend the afternoon workshop 2pm-5.30pm F22 without charge (programme here).

Financial Support: Information Law Group can repay economy class rail fares within the UK. Please inform the organizers if you need financial assistance.

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.

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.

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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.

Case Preview: PNM v Times Newspapers, Open justice and the privacy of suspects – Hugh Tomlinson QC

In this guest post, Hugh Tomlinson QC previews an appeal to the Supreme Court in a case that considers where the balance lies between rights to privacy and the principle of open justice. The post was first published on the Inforrm blog

On 17 and 18 January 2017, a seven judge Supreme Court will hear the claimant’s appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of PNM v Times Newspapers ([2014] EWCA Civ 1132).

That Court had upheld the judge’s view that, on the basis of the “open justice principle”, information mentioned in open court concerning a person who was arrested but not charged could be reported.  

Background

The claimant was one of a number of men arrested in March 2012 in connection with a Thames Valley Police investigation into allegations of child sex grooming and prostitution.  The claimant was released on bail and was subsequently notified that he was to be released without charge.

Nine men were charged and a criminal trial took place at the Central Criminal Court between January and May 2013.  The claimant was not a party or witness at the criminal trial.  On 25 January 2013 order under section 4(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 was made prohibiting publication of any report which referred to evidence which may identify or tend to identify him.

On 14 May 2013, seven of the defendants were convicted of numerous serious sexual offences.  A further order under section 4(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 was made on the claimant’s application.  It prohibited disclosure of details of applications made to the Court by Thames Valley Police (which concerned certain of the claimant’s property).

The claimant’s full name was mentioned in open court when a police officer said that a witness had failed to pick him out on an identification parade.  He was also mentioned in the course of cross-examination, in speeches and in the summing up.

At the conclusion of the criminal trial the Judge declined to discharge the section 4(2) order until the decision was made as to whether the claimant would be charged.  In July 2013 the police notified the claimant that he was not going to be charged.   The Times and the Oxford Mail applied to discharge the section 4(2) but, before he had handed down his ruling, the claimant applied to the High Court for an injunction.

By an application made on 15 October 2013 against the Times, the Oxford Mail and two journalists, the claimant sought an order to prevent publication of the fact of his arrest on suspicion of committing serious sexual offences against children and associated information because of the fear of the damage such publications may cause to him and his family, including his children.

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Call for Papers: Deadline 27/1: 4th Winchester Conference on Trust, Risk, Information and the Law

Date: Wednesday 3 May 2017
Venue: West Downs Campus, University of Winchester, Hampshire, UK
Book Online at University of Winchester Events

The Fourth Interdisciplinary Winchester Conference on Trust, Risk, Information and the Law (#TRILCon17) will be held on Wednesday 3 May 2017 at the West Downs Campus, University of Winchester, UK.  The overall theme for this conference will be:

Artificial and De-Personalised Decision-Making: Machine-Learning, A.I. and Drones

The keynote speakers will be Professor Katie Atkinson, Head of Computer Science, University of Liverpool, an expert in Artificial Intelligence and its application to legal reasoning, and John McNamara, IBM Senior Inventor, who will speak on ‘Protecting trust in a world disrupted by machine learning’.

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

  • Machine learning and processing of personal information;
  • Artificial intelligence and its application to law enforcement, legal reasoning or judicial decisions;
  • Big Data and the algorithmic analysis of information;
  • Implications of the Internet of Things;
  • Machine based decision-making and fairness;
  • Drone law and policy;
  • Trust and the machine;
  • Risks of removing the human from – or leaving the human in – the process;
  • Responsibility, accountability and liability for machine-made decisions.

The conference offers a best poster prize judged against the following criteria: 1) quality, relevance and potential impact of research presented 2) visual impact 3) effectiveness of the poster as a way of communicating the research.

Proposals for workshops are also welcome.  Workshops offer organisers the opportunity to curate panels or research/scholarship activities on an aspect of the conference theme in order to facilitate interdisciplinary discussion.

This call for papers/posters/workshops is open to academics, postgraduate students, policy-makers and practitioners, and in particular those working in law, computer science & technology, data science, information rights, privacy, compliance, statistics, probability, law enforcement & justice, behavioural science and health and social care.

Abstracts for papers are invited for consideration.  Abstracts should be no more than 300 words in length.  Successful applicants will be allocated 15-20 minutes for 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.  Please note that accepted poster presenters will be required to email an electronic copy of their poster no later than a week before the conference.  Accepted poster presenters will also need to deliver the hard copy of their poster to the venue no later than 9am on the date of the conference to enable it to be displayed during the day.

Workshop proposals should summarise the workshop theme and goals, organising committee and schedule of speakers, panels and/or talks.  Proposals should be no more than 500 words.  Workshops should be timed to be 1.5-2 hours in length.

Abstracts and proposals, contained in a Word document, should be emailed to trilcon17@winchester.ac.uk.  Please include name, title, institution/organisation details and email correspondence address.  The deadline for submission of abstracts/proposals is Friday 27 January 2017.  Successful applicants will be notified by 17 February 2017.  Speakers/poster presenters/workshop organisers will be entitled to the early registration discounted conference fee of £80 and will be required to book a place at the conference by 28 February in order to guarantee inclusion of their paper/poster/workshop.

Speakers will be invited to submit their paper for inclusion in a special edition of the open access eJournal, Information Rights, Policy & Practice.

To book a place at the conference, please click here to visit the Winchester University Store and click on academic conferences.

For more information, please contact the conference team at trilcon17@winchester.ac.uk