Monthly Archives: June 2017

Any reform to the law on Official Secrets must provide robust protection for public interest disclosures and open justice

Lorna Woods, Lawrence McNamara and Judith Townend – affiliated members of the Information Law and Policy Centre – comment on the Law Commission’s proposals to reform ‘Protection of Official Data’. This blog post accompanies their submission to the Law Commission’s consultation, and is part of our series documenting the submissions.  

With the election now in the past, the wheels of government are beginning to grind again. While most eyes are on Brussels, it is important that the bright lights of Brexit do not draw attention away from other work that is resuming and ongoing. Among it, the Law Commission will continue its project that considers the revision of the laws on Official Secrets, with its final proposals expected later this year.

The initiative to consider existing law on the ‘Protection of Official Data’ – primarily the Official Secrets Acts 1911-1989 – began with the Cabinet Office when it referred the project to the Commission in 2015. A 315-page consultation paper with provisional recommendations was published by the Commission in spring 2017. It will be the Government that will decide how to proceed, and whether to introduce new draft legislation, once the final recommendations are made.  (No reference to Official Data or Official Secrets was made in the Queen’s Speech).

The Law Commission, which came under – perhaps unanticipated – fire from the media and NGOs for the nature of the proposed reform plans and a perceived lack of consultation before the first report was published, has since been engaging with a wider range of groups and individuals through in-person meetings. It has also published a ‘myth-buster’ on Twitter in response to some of the reports, and shared more explanatory material ahead of meetings.

However, this has not assuaged concerns, with strong reservations about the proposals expressed in a range of written industry and third sector written submissions, a number of which are available online.

We are among those who have met with the Law Commission since publication of its report, and in our written submission we focus on aspects of the consultation that relate to freedom of expression and the public interest: the public interest defence; the Independent Statutory Commissioner model; and access to court proceedings. We also address the related issue of the conduct of trials.

In important respects our position on these issues is often substantially at odds with the Law Commission’s provisional views. In summary:

  • We reject the Commission’s view that the difficulties surrounding a public interest defence outweigh its benefits. We recommend that there should be a public interest defence in official secrets offences for all those engaged in journalism in the public interest, including sources;
  • We recommend that any reformed system should not rely solely on an independent Statutory Commissioner (as the Commission suggests). It should instead adopt the Canadian model of an Independent Commissioner in addition to a public interest defence for official secrets offences;
  • We agree that the Commission’s proposed test of necessity for closing public access to proceedings is an improvement on the current law, but we argue that the proposed change alone falls short of what is required to adhere to the rule of law;
  • We disagree with the Commission’s tentative suggestion that the availability of closed material procedures in civil cases, now permitted under the Justice and Security Act 2013, should prompt a wider review of the ways that fair trial rights and safeguarding of secrets is balanced in criminal cases. On the contrary, there is no good reason at this point in time to embark on a wider review of criminal process and national security issues.

Our full submission can be read at this link.

As a research exercise, independent from the official consultation, the Information Law and Policy Centre at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies is continuing to publish submissions on this topic: if you or your organisation would like to share yours in this way, please contact Dr Daniel Bennett at daniel.bennett@sas.ac.uk.

Professor Lorna Woods is professor in law, University of Essex; Dr Lawrence McNamara is a reader in law, University of York and senior research fellow at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law; and Dr Judith Townend, is a lecturer in media and information law at the University of Sussex.

They are also affiliated to the Information Law and Policy Centre (ILPC) at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. The views expressed by the authors in this report are made in a personal capacity and do not represent the views of the ILPC.

Submissions to the Law Commission’s consultation on ‘Official Data Protection’: Lorna Woods, Lawrence McNamara and Judith Townend

The Law Commission has invited interested parties to write submissions commenting on the proposals outlined in a consultation report on ‘official data protection’. The consultation period closed for submissions on 3 May, although some organisations have been given an extended deadline. (For more detailed background on the Law Commission’s work please see the first post in this series). 

The Information Law and Policy Centre is re-publishing some of the submissions written by stakeholders and interested parties in response to the Law Commission’s consultation report (pdf) to our blog. In due course, we will collate the submissions on a single resource page. If you have written a submission for the consultation you would like (re)-published please contact us

Please note that none of the published submissions reflect the views of the Information Law and Policy Centre which aims to promote and facilitate cross-disciplinary law and policy research, in collaboration with a variety of national and international institutions.

The eleventh submission in our series is the response submitted by Professor Lorna Woods (professor in law, University of Essex); Dr Lawrence McNamara (reader in law, University of York and senior research fellow at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law); and Dr Judith Townend, (lecturer in media and information law at the University of Sussex). They are all affiliated members of the Information Law and Policy Centre. The views expressed by the authors in this report are made in a personal capacity and do not represent the views of the ILPC. Their submission was accompanied by a blog post

(Previous submissions published in this series: Open Rights Group, CFOI and Article 19, The Courage FoundationLibertyPublic Concern at WorkThe Institute of Employment RightsTransparency International UKNational Union of Journalists, and English Pen, Reporters Without Borders and Index on Censorship, and the Open Government Network.)

Download (PDF, 718KB)

Submissions to the Law Commission’s consultation on ‘Official Data Protection’: The Open Government Network

The Law Commission has invited interested parties to write submissions commenting on the proposals outlined in a consultation report on ‘official data protection’. The consultation period closed for submissions on 3 May, although some organisations have been given an extended deadline. (For more detailed background on the Law Commission’s work please see the first post in this series). 

The Information Law and Policy Centre is re-publishing some of the submissions written by stakeholders and interested parties in response to the Law Commission’s consultation report (pdf) to our blog. In due course, we will collate the submissions on a single resource page. If you have written a submission for the consultation you would like (re)-published please contact us

Please note that none of the published submissions reflect the views of the Information Law and Policy Centre which aims to promote and facilitate cross-disciplinary law and policy research, in collaboration with a variety of national and international institutions.

The tenth submission in our series is the response submitted by Involve on behalf of the Open Government Network.    

(Previous submissions published in this series: Open Rights Group, CFOI and Article 19, The Courage FoundationLibertyPublic Concern at WorkThe Institute of Employment RightsTransparency International UKNational Union of Journalists, and English Pen, Reporters Without Borders and Index on Censorship)

Download (PDF, 501KB)

Submissions to the Law Commission’s consultation on ‘Official Data Protection’: English Pen, Reporters Without Borders and Index on Censorship

The Law Commission has invited interested parties to write submissions commenting on the proposals outlined in a consultation report on ‘official data protection’. The consultation period closed for submissions on 3 May, although some organisations have been given an extended deadline. (For more detailed background on the Law Commission’s work please see the first post in this series). 

The Information Law and Policy Centre is re-publishing some of the submissions written by stakeholders and interested parties in response to the Law Commission’s consultation report (pdf) to our blog. In due course, we will collate the submissions on a single resource page. If you have written a submission for the consultation you would like (re)-published please contact us

Please note that none of the published submissions reflect the views of the Information Law and Policy Centre which aims to promote and facilitate cross-disciplinary law and policy research, in collaboration with a variety of national and international institutions.

The ninth submission in our series is the joint response submitted by English Pen, Reporters Without Borders and Index on Censorship. Their joint submission was accompanied by a press release calling for the inclusion of a ‘public interest defence’ as part of the reforms.   

(Previous submissions published in this series: Open Rights Group, CFOI and Article 19, The Courage FoundationLibertyPublic Concern at WorkThe Institute of Employment RightsTransparency International UK and the National Union of Journalists.)

Download (PDF, 462KB)

Social media is nothing like drugs, despite all the horror stories

File 20170615 23574 1yaztx7
Nothing like Instagram. (cliplab.pro/Shutterstock

 

In this guest post, Andy Przybylski (University of Oxford) and Amy C Orben (University of Oxford), consider the impact of social media use on children and associated media coverage. Their article is relevant to the theme of the Information Law and Policy Centre’s annual workshop, Children and Digital Rights, to be held in November.

Letting your child use social media is like giving them cocaine, alcohol and cigarettes – all at once, or so we’re told. If you have been following recent press reports about the effects of social media on young people, you may well believe this. But there is no scientific evidence to support such extreme claims.

The real story is far more complex. It is very difficult to predict how social media will affect any specific individual – the effect depends on things like their personality, type of social media use and social surroundings. In reality, social media can have both positive and negative outcomes.

Media reports that compare social media to drug use are ignoring evidence of positive effects, while exaggerating and generalising the evidence of negative effects. This is scaremongering – and it does not promote healthy social media use. We would not liken giving children sweets to giving children drugs, even though having sweets for every meal could have serious health consequences. We should therefore not liken social media to drugs either.

For a claim to be proved scientifically it needs to be thoroughly tested. To fully confirm The Independent’s headline that: “Giving your child a smartphone is like giving them a gram of cocaine, says top addiction expert”, you would need to give children both a gram of cocaine and a smartphone and then compare the effects. Similarly, you would need to provide millennials with social media, drugs and alcohol to test The Conversation’s headline that: “Social media is as harmful as alcohol and drugs for millennials”. But ethical guidelines at universities were put in place so that such studies will never be done.

The diversity of social media

But maybe news headlines should be discounted – as exaggerations are often used to grab the readers’ attention. But even when ignoring these grand claims, the media coverage of social media is still misleading. For example, reports that talk about the effects of social media are often oversimplifying reality. Social media is incredibly diverse – different sites providing a host of different features. This makes it extremely difficult to generalise about social media’s effects.

A recent review of past research concluded that the effect of Facebook depends on which of the platform’s features you use. A dialog with friends over Facebook messenger can improve your mood, while comparing your life to other people’s photos on the Newsfeed can do the opposite. By treating all social media sites and features as one concept, the media is oversimplifying something that is very complex.

Focusing on the negative

Past media coverage has not only oversimplified social media, but has often only focused on social media’s negative aspects. But scientific research demonstrates that there are both positive and negative outcomes of social media use. Research has shown that Facebook increases self-esteem and promotes feeling connected to others. People’s physiological reactions also indicate they react positively to Facebook use.

By contrast, it has also been found that social media can decrease well-being and increases social anxiety. An analysis of 57 scientific studies found that social media is associated with slightly higher levels of narcissism. This array of conflicting evidence suggests that social media has both negative and positive effects. Not just one or the other.

The amount matters

The effect of social media also depends on the amount of time you spend using it. In a recent study we conducted of more than 120,000 UK teenagers, we found that moderate social media use is not harmful to mental health.

We compared the relationship between screen time and well-being. We found that those who used screens a moderate amount – between one and three hours each day – reported higher well-being compared with those who didn’t use social media at all and those who used it more than three hours a day. So, unlike drugs, those who practise abstinence do not appear to fare better.

The ConversationRecent media reports may have made parents unnecessarily anxious about their child’s use of social media. A flashy quote or headline can often distract from the real challenges of parenting. It’s time the media covered not only the bad, but also the beneficial and complex sides of social media. The effects of social media cannot be summarised by comparing social media to drugs. It is just not that simple.

Andy Przybylski, Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow, University of Oxford and Amy C Orben, College Lecturer and DPhil Candidate, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Submissions to the Law Commission’s consultation on ‘Official Data Protection’: National Union of Journalists (NUJ)

The Law Commission has invited interested parties to write submissions commenting on the proposals outlined in a consultation report on ‘official data protection’. The consultation period closed for submissions on 3 May, although some organisations have been given an extended deadline. (For more detailed background on the Law Commission’s work please see the first post in this series). 

The Information Law and Policy Centre is re-publishing some of the submissions written by stakeholders and interested parties in response to the Law Commission’s consultation report (pdf) to our blog. In due course, we will collate the submissions on a single resource page. If you have written a submission for the consultation you would like (re)-published please contact us

Please note that none of the published submissions reflect the views of the Information Law and Policy Centre which aims to promote and facilitate cross-disciplinary law and policy research, in collaboration with a variety of national and international institutions.

The eighth submission in our series is the response submitted by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). The NUJ’s submission was accompanied by a press release arguing “that editorial matters relating to national security, official secrets and the public interest are decisions best left to journalists.”

(Previous submissions published in this series: Open Rights Group, CFOI and Article 19, The Courage FoundationLibertyPublic Concern at WorkThe Institute of Employment Rights and Transparency International UK)

Download (PDF, 281KB)

Submissions to the Law Commission’s consultation on ‘Official Data Protection’: Transparency International UK

The Law Commission has invited interested parties to write submissions commenting on the proposals outlined in a consultation report on ‘official data protection’. The consultation period closed for submissions on 3 May, although some organisations have been given an extended deadline. (For more detailed background on the Law Commission’s work please see the first post in this series). 

The Information Law and Policy Centre is re-publishing some of the submissions written by stakeholders and interested parties in response to the Law Commission’s consultation report (pdf) to our blog. In due course, we will collate the submissions on a single resource page. If you have written a submission for the consultation you would like (re)-published please contact us

Please note that none of the published submissions reflect the views of the Information Law and Policy Centre which aims to promote and facilitate cross-disciplinary law and policy research, in collaboration with a variety of national and international institutions.

The seventh submission in our series is the response submitted by Transparency International UK

(Previous submissions published in this series: Open Rights Group, CFOI and Article 19, The Courage FoundationLibertyPublic Concern at Work and The Institute of Employment Rights)

Download (PDF, 249KB)

Submissions to the Law Commission’s consultation on ‘Official Data Protection’: The Institute of Employment Rights

The Law Commission has invited interested parties to write submissions commenting on the proposals outlined in a consultation report on ‘official data protection’. The consultation period closed for submissions on 3 May, although some organisations have been given an extended deadline. (For more detailed background on the Law Commission’s work please see the first post in this series). 

The Information Law and Policy Centre is re-publishing some of the submissions written by stakeholders and interested parties in response to the Law Commission’s consultation report (pdf) to our blog. In due course, we will collate the submissions on a single resource page. If you have written a submission for the consultation you would like (re)-published please contact us

Please note that none of the published submissions reflect the views of the Information Law and Policy Centre which aims to promote and facilitate cross-disciplinary law and policy research, in collaboration with a variety of national and international institutions.

The sixth submission in our series is the response submitted by The Institute of Employment Rights. The IER’s submission was written by Catherine Hobby, Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of East London, and was first published here on their website.

(Previous submissions published in this series: Open Rights Group, CFOI and Article 19, The Courage FoundationLiberty and Public Concern at Work)

Download (PDF, 829KB)

Submissions to the Law Commission’s consultation on ‘Official Data Protection’: Public Concern at Work

The Law Commission has invited interested parties to write submissions commenting on the proposals outlined in a consultation report on ‘official data protection’. The consultation period closed for submissions on 3 May, although some organisations have been given an extended deadline. (For more detailed background on the Law Commission’s work please see the first post in this series). 

The Information Law and Policy Centre is re-publishing some of the submissions written by stakeholders and interested parties in response to the Law Commission’s consultation report (pdf) to our blog. In due course, we will collate the submissions on a single resource page. If you have written a submission for the consultation you would like (re)-published please contact us

Please note that none of the published submissions reflect the views of the Information Law and Policy Centre which aims to promote and facilitate cross-disciplinary law and policy research, in collaboration with a variety of national and international institutions.

The fifth submission in our series is the response submitted by Public Concern at Work. PCAW also wrote a blog post on the Commission’s suggestion that the government should not enact a ‘public interest defence’ for prosecutions under the Official Secrets Act.

(Previous submissions published in this series: Open Rights Group, CFOI and Article 19, The Courage Foundation and Liberty)

Download (PDF, 636KB)

Submissions to the Law Commission’s consultation on ‘Official Data Protection’: Liberty

The Law Commission has invited interested parties to write submissions commenting on the proposals outlined in a consultation report on ‘official data protection’. The consultation period closed for submissions on 3 May, although some organisations have been given an extended deadline. (For more detailed background on the Law Commission’s work please see the first post in this series). 

The Information Law and Policy Centre is re-publishing some of the submissions written by stakeholders and interested parties in response to the Law Commission’s consultation report (pdf) to our blog. In due course, we will collate the submissions on a single resource page. If you have written a submission for the consultation you would like (re)-published please contact us

Please note that none of the published submissions reflect the views of the Information Law and Policy Centre which aims to promote and facilitate cross-disciplinary law and policy research, in collaboration with a variety of national and international institutions.

The fourth submission in our series is the response submitted by Liberty. It was accompanied by this press release

(Previous submissions published in this series: Open Rights Group, CFOI and Article 19, The Courage Foundation.)

Download (PDF, 440KB)