Thursday 26 February 2015

Centre for Law & Information Policy #CLIP Launch!

These notes make up the first part of the IALS Centre for Law & Information Policy on Tuesday 24th February. The theme was ‘Information flows and dams’. The Centre itself is looking to advance research across the area of data access and ownership rights, data privacy and confidentiality, freedom of information, legal publishing (both free-to-internet and commercial), preservation and management of legal information, internet and social media regulation (in terms of content, access, and ownership) and the malicious use and misuse of data. It aims to build networks and encourage collaboration. 

The first panel had more of a UK focus than the second later one. Daithí MacSíthigh set the domestic legal scene with ‘Computers and the coalition’. He looked - forward and back - at the legislative impact of the current government. Although they had fulfilled aspects of their Manifesto with the repeal of certain legislation, we have seen re-regulation in certain areas; surveillance and RIPA, data retention provisions, 'On demand' media regulation, as well as the latest legislation around revenge porn.

There has not been much legislation, reflecting their determination not to legislate unnecessarily but there have been projects, policy papers, law commission research, and legislative amendments.. Looking to the future he flagged up EU law, the nuisance call consultations, the data sharing project , Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014, and the future of FOI. He noted the infrastructure act, as well as the legal aspects of the sharing Economy, and ended by stating that the Communications Act was a mess.

Richard Danbury presented an academic piece about copyright and the flow of news. The history of news sales has created a model which continues to cause headaches for proprietors today. News has always been a commercial activity, funded by subs or sales, and then later by advertising. Advertising may have taken newspapers out of the government's pocket but as we’ve seen recently with the HSBC/Telegraph scandal, it doesn’t guarantee independence.

From mid-2000 advertising revenue fell off a cliff. Online has had a massive impact on newspapers and resultant EU wide case law reflects the struggle. Part of the problem has been legislation and case law which was designed to protect news gathering, rather than distribution. Just as Kodak was instrumental in its own creative destruction, are newspapers also destroying themselves?

Marion Oswald took us straight into the privacy arms race. She outlined the various ways which individuals can protect themselves from powerful corporations/governments; ICO, right to be forgotten ruling, anonymisation. She suggested these were inadequate and explored how individuals could regain control through privacy vigilantism, personal data stores, blocking technologies, as well as obfuscation like providing false data. Are controlling, lying and blocking enough and what are the legal implications? PDSs may have issues around contract formation; blocking technologies may contravene Computer Misuse Act; and obfuscation could have legal consequences on official data sites.

David Goldberg’s personal obsession is the ‘drone’. After a discussion about the definition, he settled on ‘remotely piloted aircraft’. These are hot news and ‘CNN has entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRDA) with the Federal Aviation Administration to advance efforts to integrate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) into newsgathering and reporting’. This has implications for journalists who may have to familiarise themselves with new laws and a new regulator – aviation legislation and the CAA. A new phrase has already been coined, ‘dronalism’.

He suggests that the panic about flying cameras is overstated. Just as there was moral and tech panic around Kodak in the 1890s, it is the same technophobia now. He says that commercial drone operators aren't interested in nefarious activity or invading privacy and data collection. He outlined the uses such as traffic alerts, crop surveying etc. He also suggested that any ban on the them falls foul of the freedom of press, and Art 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) 'freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas'.

There are health and safety benefits too. Journalists in dangerous areas of the world can capture images with less risk, and other camera people who use helicopters to produce images, eg cinematographers. He talked about responsible journalism and that it should be a legal defence. It seemed to me that in his view no one will make use of drones to capture images which invade people’s privacy. He stated that drones can be pre-programmed to limit where they can fly, eg government buildings, the White House etc.

Watch out for part 2 where I will get utterly confused about cloud computing regulation...

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