Category Archives: Government policy

British government’s new ‘anti-fake news’ unit has been tried before – and it got out of hand

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In this guest post, Dan Lomas, Programme Leader, MA Intelligence and Security Studies, University of Salford, explores the British government’s new ‘anti-fake news’ unit.

The decision to set up a new National Security Communications Unit to counter the growth of “fake news” is not the first time the UK government has devoted resources to exploit the defensive and offensive capabilities of information. A similar thing was tried in the Cold War era, with mixed results.

The planned unit has emerged as part of a wider review of defence capabilities. It will reportedly be dedicated to “combating disinformation by state actors and others” and was agreed at a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC).

As a spokesperson for UK prime minister Theresa May told journalists:

We are living in an era of fake news and competing narratives. The government will respond with more and better use of national security communications to tackle these interconnected, complex challenges.

 

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On Internet Intermediaries – from Defamation to Directive to Data Protection

In this guest post,  Professor of Law and Innovation at Queen’s University Belfast Daithí Mac Síthigh reviews the recent Information Law and Policy Centre seminar that explored Internet intermediaries and their legal role and obligations.

Taking stock of recent developments concerning the liability and duties associated with being an Internet intermediary (especially the provision of hosting and social media services) was the theme of a recent event at the Information Law and Policy Centre. In my presentation, starting from about 20 years ago, I reviewed the early statutory interventions, including the broad protection against liability contained in US law (and the narrower shield in respect of intellectual property!), and the conditional provisions adopted by the European Union in Directive 2000/31/EC (E-Commerce Directive), alongside developments in specific areas, such as defamation. The most recent 10 years, though, have seen a trend towards specific solutions for one area of law or another (what I called ‘fragmentation’ in 2013), as well as a growing body of caselaw on liability, injunctions, and the like (both from the Court of Justice of the EU and the domestic courts).

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Social media genie won’t go back in the bottle, so we must teach youngsters to use it wisely

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In this guest post, Vladlena Benson, Kingston Universityassesses the need to encourage conscious social media use among the young. 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.

Teenagers in Britain are fortunate to have access to computers, laptops and smartphones from an early age. A child in the UK receives a smartphone at around the age of 12 – among the earliest in Europe. The natural consequence of this is that children spend a significant amount of their time on the internet. Nearly 20 years or so since the first social networks appeared on the internet, there has been considerable research into their psychological, societal, and health effects. While these have often been seen as largely negative over the years, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

A recent report from the Education Policy Institute, for example, studied children’s use of the internet and their mental health. The report found that teenagers value social networks as a way of connecting with friends and family, maintaining their networks of friends, and long distance connections. Teenagers see social networking as a comfortable medium for sharing their issues and finding solutions to problems such as social isolation and loneliness. They are also more likely to seek help in areas such as health advice, unknown experiences, and help with exams and study techniques.

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Fellowship opportunity at Parliament: Investigating the impact of Parliament on legislation

Legal researchers might be interested in the following fellowship opportunity at UK Parliament…

The UK Parliament is currently piloting an academic fellowship scheme that offers academic researchers, from different subject areas and at every stage of their career, the opportunity to work on specific projects from inside Westminster’s walls.

We are now in the second phase of this scheme. This involves an ‘Open call’ which offers academics the opportunity to come and work in Parliament on a project of their own choosing, as long as they can demonstrate that it is relevant, and will contribute, to the work of Parliament.

One area of interest to Parliament is the impact of Parliament on legislation. We are interested in working with academics with knowledge and/or experience in identifying, tracking and assessing impact to help us to understand better, and identify empirically, the influence of MPs and Peers’ scrutiny on legislation.

As a bill passes through parliament, MPs and Peers examine the proposals contained within it at both a general (debating the general principles and themes of the Bill) and detailed level (examining the specific proposals put forward in the bill, line-by-line). More information about the different stages in the passing of a bill is provided on the parliamentary website. In so doing, MPs and Peers debate the key principles and main purpose/s of a bill and flag up any concerns or specific areas where they think amendments (changes) are needed.

We are interested in developing a series of case studies that examine how Peers’ scrutiny of legislation has shaped the focus, content or tone of legislation as it becomes an Act (given Royal Assent). This can include:

  • Direct influence, for example an amendment tabled by a Peer is successful and is agreed to by the government and incorporated directly into the bill.
  • Indirect influence, for instance when an amendment tabled by a Peer is not successful but the substance of it is subsequently introduced by the government itself (and when the role of the Peer that tabled it in the first instance is not acknowledged).

We envisage that the case studies will look at a government bill scrutinized by the House of Lords and trace the outcome/s of amendments tabled and debated at each stage of the bill’s scrutiny.

The choice of bills to focus on will be decided in conjunction with the academic. This will require the Fellow to:

  • understand the intentions of the amendments tabled
  • understand how the amendment related to, and interacted with the bill as drafted
  • produce an explanation of the outcome in each case
  • draft a concise written account of the House’s impact on the bill.

The Scheme is open to academics (researchers with PhDs) employed at any of the 33 universities holding Impact Acceleration Award funding from either the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) or the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). There are opportunities for flexible working including both part-time and remote working.

The deadline for submitting an expression of interest to the Scheme is midnight on 4th September 2017.

For more information about the Academic Fellowship Scheme see: http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/offices/bicameral/post/fellowships/parliamentary-academic-fellowship-scheme/

If you would like to know more about this opportunity, please get in touch with Dr Caroline Kenny (kennyc@parliament.uk), at The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.

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.)

Submissions to the Law Commission’s consultation on ‘Official Data Protection’: British Computer Society

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 thirteenth submission in our series is the response submitted by the British Computer Society.

Download (PDF, 829KB)

(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, and Global Witness.)

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)