Category Archives: Freedom of Information

Submissions to the Law Commission’s consultation on ‘Official Data Protection’: Guardian News and Media

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 fourteenth submission in our series is the response submitted by Guardian News and Media. The executive summary outlines that Guardian News and Media is “very concerned that the effect of the measures set out in the consultation paper (‘CP’) would be to make it easier for the government to severely limit the reporting of public interest stories”.

Download (PDF, 912KB)

(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 NetworkLorna Woods, Lawrence McNamara and Judith Townend, Global Witness, and the British Computer Society.)

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.

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.

Download (PDF, 332KB)

(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.)

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)

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)