Monthly Archives: July 2017

No, the internet is not actually stealing kids’ innocence

Child with phone

In this guest post, Professor Sonia Livingstone, (London School of Economics and Political Science), assesses the evidence behind claims in the media that the internet is harming children and young people. Her article is relevant to the Information Law and Policy Centre’s annual conference coming up in November – Children and Digital Rights: Regulating Freedoms and Safeguards.

The news is constantly awash with stories reporting on – and arguably amplifying – public anxieties over youth and media. The anxieties concern violence and video games, gaming addiction, internet and mental health, and teen suicide.

For example, child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg recently linked the sexualisation of children and their easy access to online pornography to an increase in sexual and indecent assault allegations at school.

His argument reprised some familiar problems that are common in media panic stories about the supposed loss of childhood innocence.

Problems with the evidence

There are four common steps that are neatly illustrated by Carr-Gregg’s argument: the claim of a media cause, an outcome harmful to youth, evidence that these are causally linked, and a mediating factor that can make or break the causal link.

  1. Children are increasingly immersed in pervasive and damaging messages from the media (online, social and mainstream) that objectify women and legitimate sexual assault. The existence of such messages is not in doubt. But children’s immersion in them and their implied lack of critical media literacy is.
  2. Sexual assaults among school students are increasing. The increased reporting of such assaults is also not in doubt. However, it’s unclear whether this is a genuine increase in assaults or an increase in their reporting due to greater awareness.
  3. Exposure to pornography is causally responsible for the increase in sexual assaults among children. This is often the crucial missing link in such media accounts; there is simply no evidence cited to support this claim.
  4. Parents (and society) are unaware of and should be better prepared for the pervasive influence of sexualised media on their children. Again this is likely exaggerated, although not greatly in doubt. But whether it makes a difference to children’s vulnerability to damaging messages or to actual assault has not been established.

But, for each step, the evidence for media harm is insufficient.

Research on children’s exposure to pornography

The conclusions of a recent detailed 20-year review of the research on children’s exposure to pornography were:

  • Some adolescents – more often boys, “sensation seekers” and those with troubled family relations – tend to use pornography. This in turn is weakly linked to gender-stereotypical sexual beliefs that can be pejorative to women.
  • There is a link between exposure to pornography and sexually aggressive behaviours in boys. But, for girls, pornography use is related to experiences of sexual victimisation.
  • However, because of various “methodological and theoretical shortcomings”, the claim of causality cannot be considered conclusive.

These findings echo those from a recent meta-analysis, which found that sexting behaviour was positively related to sexual activity, unprotected sex and one’s number of sexual partners. However, the relationship was weak to moderate.

In general, research is clearer that online pornography can be problematic as an experience for adolescents rather than as a cause of sexually violent behaviour.

For instance, a 2016 UK study found that children report a range of negative emotions after watching pornography. On first exposure, children express shock, upset and confusion. They seem to become desensitised to the content over time.

Also complicating matters is the importance of allowing for adolescents’ right to express and explore their sexuality both online and offline, as well as the finding that one reason they seek out pornography is that society provides little else in terms of needed materials for sexual education. But some have made a great start.

What, then, should be done?

The evidence in support of effective public interventions is as limited as evidence of the harm these are designed to alleviate.

Still, the precautionary principle provides some legitimation for intervention – and there are solutions to be tried. For example:

  • In a recent report, my colleagues and I proposed a series of possible legislative and industry strategies. Several have potential to reduce harm without unduly restricting either adults’ or children’s online freedoms.
  • In another report, we focused on the importance of better digital literacy and sexual education in schools, as well as constructive awareness-raising and support for parents.
  • In the 2017 report by the House of Lords, the focus was on improving the co-ordination of strategies across society, along with learning from the evaluation of what works and, more radically, introducing ethics-by-design into the processes of content and technological production to improve children’s online experiences in the first place.

But if a mix of thoughtful strategies is to be implemented, tested, refined and co-ordinated, we need an open environment in which policy is led by evidence rather than media panic. We must also become critical readers of popular claims about media harm.

In terms of identifying causes, we should ask why the finger of blame is always pointed at the media rather than other likely causes (including violence against women, or problems linked to growing inequality or precarity).

In terms of identifying outcomes, are we so sure that problems among the young are really rising? Or that the internet can engender addiction in the sense that drugs or gambling can?

The ConversationWhile such doubts have validity, it would also seem implausible to claim that the unprecedented advent of internet and social media use on a mass scale in Western cultures has had no consequences for children, positive or negative. The challenge is to ensure these consequences benefit children and the wider society.

Sonia Livingstone, Professor of Social Psychology, London School of Economics and Political Science

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

Job opportunity at the ILPC: Early Career Researcher (Part-Time)

The Information Law and Policy Centre (ILPC) is looking for an early career researcher to play a pivotal role in the development of the Centre’s research and teaching.

The post holder will work collaboratively with the Director of the Centre on projects focusing on the promotion and facilitation of research on Law and Policy, from identifying research opportunities to preparing applications for research grants. The successful candidate will also provide teaching support by mentoring or co-supervising MPhil/PhD students in Law and cognate areas.

To be considered for this role you will have completed your PhD (or have submitted when commencing this post) in a relevant discipline (e.g. law, sociology, political science) and have a keen research interest in legal and policy issues. You will be expected to demonstrate well-developed academic writing and editing skills, paired with excellent verbal communication skills to suit a range of audiences. It is essential that you have the ability to work independently as well as collaborate with colleagues across the Institute and University.

This role is 17.5 hours per week on a fixed term contract for 12 months in the first instance.

Please see the full job description on jobs.ac.uk for further details on the role and to apply.

Exploring the challenges of the new transnational cyber policing

hacking imageThe development of the Internet has facilitated global communications, new online spaces for the exchange of goods and information, new currencies and online marketplaces, and unprecedented access to information. These new possibilities in ‘cyberspace’ have been exploited for criminal activity and the rising challenge of various forms of ‘cybercrime’ in recent years has been well-documented.

As part of our cyber security and cybercrime seminar series at the Information Law and Policy Centre (ILPC) for 2017, lead speaker Dr Monique Mann explored the new challenges posed for policing and law enforcement by cybercrime and dissected the legal conundrums and human rights considerations raised by criminal activity which crosses international jurisdictions. The panel was also comprised of expert discussant, Professor Ian Walden (Queen Mary University of London), and was chaired by the ILPC’s Director, Dr Nóra Ni Loideain.

Mann’s current research – alongside her colleagues at the Queensland University of Technology and Deakin University – concerns the ‘legal geographies of digital technologies’. Her talk considered three case studies which formed the basis of broader conclusions in relation to the use of extraterritorial legal powers by states (particularly the United States) and the issues raised by extradition processes which have become prominent in several high profile hacking cases.

The Silk Road

Mann’s talk began with an analysis of the FBI’s investigation into the Silk Road – an illicit online marketplace trading drugs and other illegal items operated through the anonymity afforded by the Tor network. Mann stated that the equivalent of $1.2 billion in the cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, was exchanged by Silk Road users during the site’s operation between 2011 and 2013. She highlighted that the FBI’s investigation and attempts to prosecute the leaders of the site were dependent on a range of extraterritorial legal activities.

First, warrants to investigate the online activities of the suspects were issued only after the FBI had already managed to access information from a server in Iceland. It is not clear from public documents how the FBI gained access to this server. Moreover, the warrants – which were also relevant to individual citizens based outside the United States – were granted on the authority of a single US judge.

Secondly, in order to demonstrate conspiracy under the Continuing Criminal Enterprise Act, the FBI sought to access communications between the chief suspect in the case, Ross William Ulbricht, and co-offenders based in Ireland and Australia. This included an attempt by the FBI to access email content from Microsoft servers based in Ireland using a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) request. Microsoft fought the request and the most recent ruling on this issue has designated the request as an impermissible extraterritorial search.

Finally, the FBI sought to extradite Irish-based suspect, Gary Davis, to the United States in order to face trial for his involvement in the Silk Road site. Taken together, the FBI’s investigative techniques in relation to the Silk Road site raise significant questions around the processes and outcomes of extraterritorial legal activities.

Extradition

Gary Davis’ case was the catalyst for the team to investigate extradition in greater detail as it is has become a central, if exceptional, feature of transnational justice cooperation. Mann and her colleagues have reviewed a number of high profile cases of citizens facing extradition including Davis, Gary McKinnon and Laurie Love. In the past, extradition has primarily been used as a tool to return a suspected criminal to his or her home country after he or she has fled. In the digital age, however, extradition is increasingly being used in cyber crime cases to extradite suspected criminals to a country they may never have even visited as the nature of transnational online offending means their crime effectively takes place in a different location to where they are physically based.

Courts have three options on being presented with an extradition request from another jurisdiction: accept the request and relocate the offender to face trial in the prosecuting country; deny the request altogether; or shift the prosecution to the ‘source of harm’ – i.e. the offender’s location.

Mann pointed out that in the cases of Gary McKinnon and Laurie Love, extradition requests from the United States have triggered protracted legal cases lasting many years as the defendants have (variously) argued that the extradition request infringes their Article 3, 6 and/or 8 rights under the European Convention of Human Rights. The cases have also hinged on the defendants’ physical and mental well-being, particularly in relation to Autistic Spectrum Disorders (emerging research suggests there is a link between online offending and ASDs).

The difficulties and legal complexities of these extradition cases, as well as a concern for the human rights of those involved, led the researchers to question whether it would not be better to shift the legal forum to the source – i.e. to the defendant’s home country.

Attendees at the ILPC seminar, however, highlighted that there are significant obstacles both in terms of cost and willingness to share evidence. It was argued, for example, that the UK was probably not willing to finance McKinnon’s trial here, nor would the US be interested in sharing sensitive information relating to the 73,000 US government computers – including NASA and military facilities – that McKinnon had hacked from his home computer.

Bulk Hacking and Child Exploitation Material

The final feature of extraterritorial law enforcement that Mann highlighted was the use of bulk hacking. These ‘watering hole’ or ‘honeypot’ operations have involved the FBI taking over an illegal website, moving it to a government server, continuing to operate the site, and then using it as a base to hack unsuspecting users.

In the Playpen example which Mann cited, the US government infected more than 8,000 computers in over 120 countries with a single warrant making it the largest known extraterritorial hacking operation. The investigation into Playpen – a site for the exchange of child exploitation material – has sparked 124 cases involving 17 defendants. One of the central legal questions here has been whether such activities constitute a “search” of the site’s users or whether they constitute online tracking.

Defendants have also attempted to argue that the US government has engaged in outrageous conduct in continuing to operate the Playpen website pointing out that during 2 weeks of operation the US government will have distributed 22,000 images of child exploitation material. Although the court in the case argued that the US government did not create the crimes committed, Mann nevertheless raised the question as to whether the ends do justify these means.

Implications and Issues

For Mann, the Silk Road, extradition and bulk hacking case studies focus attention on the role of the United States in the transnational jurisdictional sphere. How far has policing in the context of cybercrime become ‘Americanised’ and at the behest of US agendas (such as the war on drugs)? And what does US law enforcement activity mean for understandings of ‘ownership’ of the internet?

Addressing these points, the panel’s discussant, Professor Ian Walden, a leading expert in information and communications law, stated that the United States’ access to investigative and legal resources will continue to mean it is ‘an important player’ in the prosecution of transnational cybercrime. He also argued that greater efforts at resolving legal conflict and a focus on international cooperation will be required as crime increasingly traverses international boundaries and as jurisdictional claims of countries concurrently expands.

Walden was hopeful that international cooperation could be improved through international aid to raise standards of criminal and procedural law, and he acknowledged that in particularly serious cyber crime offences, such as child exploitation material, there is some harmonisation.

He was not convinced, however, that in the near future there would be any advance in international agreements on cooperation beyond the Council of Europe’s 2001 Convention on Cybercrime. Differing national agendas and legal standards, he said, also create difficulties for international cooperation and legal harmonisation. Walden noted that Kenyan parliamentarians, for example, regard the main ‘cybercrime’ issue as the use of Facebook to accuse them of corruption – an issue which is of little concern in other parts of the world; while in Nigeria, cybercrimes can lead to the death penalty – a sanction that would be unacceptable to many other legal jurisdictions and not a solid foundation for cooperation.

In conclusion, the panel observed that British and European law has also so far held up and blocked the extraditions of Gary McKinnon and Laurie Love to the United States in the ‘interests of justice’. As a consequence of these and similar obstacles to transnational cooperation, it is likely that jurisdictional clashes in these transnational cybercrime cases will become more commonplace – particularly if the scope for cybercrime increases with the ongoing spread of the internet and new communication technologies.

And perhaps, paradoxically, it might be the case that out of these clashes, new methods, techniques and agreements on transnational policing and law enforcement will have to emerge.

Daniel Bennett, Research Assistant, Information Law and Policy Centre

CJEU Decision on Ziggo: The Pirate Bay Communicates Works to the Public

In the following piece, Christina Angelopoulos, Lecturer in Intellectual Property Law at the University of Cambridge and Associate Research Fellow at the Information Law & Policy Centre, analyses the recent decision of the CJEU in case C-610/15, Stichting Brein v Ziggo. The post was originally published on the Kluwer Copyright Blog.

On 14 June 2017, the CJEU handed down its highly anticipated decision in Case C-610/15, Stichting Brein v Ziggo. As was reported on this blog when the Advocate General’s Opinion was released, the case represents the first time that the liability proper (i.e. for damages, as opposed to mere injunctions) of an internet intermediary for copyright infringement has been considered at the European level.

The Court concluded that the intermediary in question – the peer-to-peer file-sharing website The Pirate Bay (TPB) – communicates works to the public. In the process, it has influenced the definition of direct copyright infringement in EU law and the range of actors which may be said to be engaging in it.

Background

The case arose in the Netherlands, where Stichting Brein, an anti-piracy organisation, applied to the Dutch courts for an injunction against internet access providers Ziggo and XS4ALL that would order them to block access to TPB for their customers. When the case came before it, the Dutch Supreme Court noted that the permissibility of injunctions of this kind is dependent on the correct interpretation of Article 8(3) of the InfoSoc Directive. According to this provision, Member States must ensure that copyright holders are in a position to apply for an injunction against intermediaries whose services are used by third parties to infringe copyright.

The Dutch Supreme Court questioned whether the relevant ‘third party’ – in this case TPB – must be found to have committed direct copyright infringement itself before the obligation to ensure that injunctions are available to right holders can apply. As a result, what exactly TPB does became the focus of the case. As the CJEU explained, TPB is an indexer of BitTorrent files. BitTorrent is a protocol through which users can share files. In short, what TPB does is:

“[make available and manage], on the internet, a sharing platform which, by means of indexation of metadata relating to protected works and the provision of a search engine, allows users of that platform to locate those works and to share them in the context of a peer-to-peer network.” [18]

The question before the court was therefore whether this activity amounts to a communication to the public and thus to copyright infringement.

[To continue reading this post on the Kluwer Copyright Blog, click here.]

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

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 twelfth submission in our series is the response submitted by Global Witness.

[gview file=”http://infolawcentre.blogs.sas.ac.uk/files/2017/07/GW-Letter-to-Law-Commission.pdf”]

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

Should robot artists be given copyright protection?

File 20170620 24878 9lzggx
                                                                                                                 Shutterstock

In this guest post, Andres Guadamuz, (University of Sussex) explores whether robots should be awarded copyright for their creative works.

When a group of museums and researchers in the Netherlands unveiled a portrait entitled The Next Rembrandt, it was something of a tease to the art world. It wasn’t a long lost painting but a new artwork generated by a computer that had analysed thousands of works by the 17th-century Dutch artist Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.

The computer used something called machine learning to analyse and reproduce technical and aesthetic elements in Rembrandt’s works, including lighting, colour, brush-strokes and geometric patterns. The result is a portrait produced based on the styles and motifs found in Rembrandt’s art but produced by algorithms.

This is just one example in a growing body of works generated by computers. A short novel written by a Japanese computer program in 2016 reached the second round of a national literary prize. The Google-owned artificial intelligence (AI) firm, Deep Mind, has created software that can generate music by listening to recordings. Other projects have seen computers write poems, edit photographs, and even compose a musical. Continue reading