Thursday, 26 March 2015

From Jerusalem to Bethlehem: or Wo ist...?

There are a number of reasons why a few days in Berlin is a Good Thing. The least important one, despite it being the main event, is the rather large Renaissance Society of America 2015 conference which stretches over three packed days. More of that anon, if I ever navigate the 500 page programme guide. And once I have chosen lectures, will I find the right place out of the 100s of seminar rooms dotted around Humbolt University campus. 

Another other reason is the marvellous podcast which the British Museum published last year to accompany their Memories of a Nation exhibition. It reawoke a long distant memory in me as I listened. So much of my German language class had been spent looking at the City of Berlin, I felt I'd already visited it in dreams. 

The podcast opened by looking east, towards Poland, from the Brandenburg Gate; I began walking west into the sun, which was setting behind the monument. As I strolled down Unter den Linden towards the light, memories of parent pestering appeared. I had wanted to go to Berlin so much when I was studying but it had never happened. In some ways I'm glad because my current visit is imbued with both a deeper knowledge and appreciable symbolism of what it means to come here. 

And the link with parents is desperately required at this moment. February and March contain too many father anniversaries for my already tenuous grip on reality. From his birthday in early February, to early March when he had his stroke, and the final weekend where he gave us all up... I wrote last year that I felt I was becoming more accustomed to this huge loss; on the contrary, it seems to be worsening. So to be here, thinking about the constant 'have you done your German homework' 'you'll never be able to converse if you don't practice' 'to understand the language is the key to the culture', on this weekend, seems apt. The fact his Spanish when he lived in northern Spain consisted of pantomime and loud slow English, just makes me grin.

He appreciated my dogged determination when it came to study, no matter how poor my marks for languages. He would be fascinated by my travails with Croatian and more than amused at my teenage 'enthusiasm' for learning verbs. Still, my passion for learning which he encouraged, has in my view, turned into an unhealthy obsession. Another reason I'm here is to find my way into a better PhD proposal. It turns out I need more focus and direction. To be honest, this applies to more than just this impossible 2000 word summary; it would be great if St Chrisopher would turn up with a map and compass and point me in the right direction. 

Given my fraught state of mind recently, where some distance from my life, City, job, loved ones, is what is needed, I'm glad I came here. There was minimal prior knowledge. I arrived, lost at the airport looking for signs. I had no paper map, no signal on my phone, and only the haziest recollection of the location of the hotel. So with some hasty texting and terrible 'entschuldigung, wo ist Axel-Springer-stra├če?', I found myself unpanickingly lost, heading down Jerusalemstra├če. Tears pricked through when I finally arrived, my iffy back having given up, footweary, and bagheavy. 

This afternoon, once I'd registered for the conference and safely in possession of a city map, I set out on a meander down unmemory lane. I sobbed at the senseless loss of life looking for freedom an der Spree, as I followed the line of the Wall. Destruction and death again, always being my point of dissolution. I wandered far and wide, heading back via the destroyed church of Bethlehemplatz. All that is left is coloured cobbles to mark the foundations, and an incredible lit structure which soars above you. I tiptoed in feeling reverential in this skeletal house of worship. I may even have thought a prayer as I looked towards the apse. 

As I turned from Bethlehem back towards Jersusalem, and home, I thought about the ways in which I'm currently lost. Mentally, intellectually, physically, emotionally; it's interesting to consider all these, almost dispassionately from a place which is at once familiar, yet completely new to me.  

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Richard Susskind Lecture: The Future of Litigation and Dispute Resolution

Richard Susskind has been making predictions about the legal profession for some years now. However when you’re closely involved with the practice of law on a day to day basis, as many of us are, it is hard to see the dramatic changes that have taken place. This is especially true if you’re in one of the middling sort of law firms. The firms in the extreme size brackets have probably seen the most change; high street firms with funding issues and larger firms with the push for outsourcing, diversification and international growth. All of this has been well covered in the legal press so Susskind has turned his thoughts to the future of litigation, specifically.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Musings on #3DPrinting

Art? Furniture? Protected?
There is no doubt that 3D printing will become ubiquitous as the technology improves and associated costs come down. It has the potential to change the world in many ways; from medical supplies and delivery, technology and repairs, fashion and wearables, to the protection of the environmental through resource efficient manufacturing. However if we were to use children as a gauge for future trends, then the present incorporation of 3D printing into the toy industry will ensure that even the youngest will be aware of 3D printing’s creative possibilities.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Part 2: Centre for Law & Information Policy #CLIP Launch!

These notes conclude the second half of the IALS Centre for Law & Information Policy launch on Tuesday 24th February. The theme was ‘Information flows and dams’. The first part is here. I didn't catch verbatim the last two presentations, and happily the keynote speech 'Does Privacy Matter?' is available online - I had another engagement!

EU Data Protection

David Erdos took the enormous confusion that is European data protection and asked ‘Is a reconceptualization possible?’. He made the case for the new regulation being bureaucratic, burdensome and illogical. Starting out with the relatively simple definitions of key terms, he said that personal data is any information relating to a person, even their job titles. Sensitive personal data includes racial profile, sexual identity, political affiliation etc. Given the general ban on processing sensitive data, taken to extremes, just by stating ‘David Cameron, Prime Minister and Conservative MP is a questionable breach of data protection.

Because of these broad definitions, effective protection is limited due to widespread non-compliance.' He quoted Bert-Jaap Koops (2014) and I’ve found this to clarify, ‘unless data protection reform starts looking in other directions — going back to basics, playing other regulatory tunes on different instruments in other legal areas, and revitalising the spirit of data protection by stimulating best practices — data protection will remain dead. Or, worse perhaps, a zombie’. He suggested some solutions:

1. There should be better definitions of the mischiefs that data protection counters.
2. There should be narrower scope and it shouldn't try to regulate everything.
3. It should acknowledge rights conflicts. Innovation shouldn’t be stifled
4. It should delineate peremptory rules
5. And it should be effectively enforced. 

He outlined some historic support of narrowing the regulation’s scope. First was the Durant case at 28 ‘.It follows from what I have said that not all information retrieved from a computer search against an individual's name or unique identifier is personal data within the Act.’ And the second was the OECD framework guidelines 1980, which were very clear on definitions and scope. However given that the regulation is the most amended piece of legislation ever, he is pessimistic about any back tracking and/or tightening of definitions. 

Cloud Computing

The second speaker from this panel – and actually the last in my notes – was Asma Vranaki on ‘the rise of cloud investigations by European data protection authorities’. I have made liberal use of her blog post on the same matter because this was an exceptionally technical presentation. We did have a twitter exchange on the complexity of the matter so please excuse any errors; they are mine alone.

Cloud computing is the use of the internet to run applications or store data. Until recently, we kept everything locally on our computers or on a server in our office basement. Cloud computing revolutionises this because programs and data suddenly become accessible from any device and any location. The information is accessed remotely and not stored locally. If you have ever accessed web-based email, this is cloud computing. If you’ve streamed music or videos, this is cloud computing. Apps like Dropbx, MiCoach or Evernote both rely on cloud computing. Facebook? Cloud computing. And these innovative applications and technologies are proliferating and are clearly here to stay.

Cloud computing relies on large quantities of personal data, and scholars, regulators, and lawyers are becoming increasingly concerned about data protection issues. Who owns the data and how secure is it? It is these issues that the new European data protection laws are looking to address. Many global in-house lawyers are struggling with the complex and intricate data protection issues raised by cloud computing. Many organisations, including law firms, are adopting cloud computing technologies and services because it is an efficient, flexible, and cost efficient way to work. So what are the implications and how can we find out what is happening?

Asma’s work involves looking at various data sources:

1. Audits and/or investigations of cloud providers conducted by national data protection authorities;
2. Relevant press releases and opinions;
3. Current and proposed data protection laws, and; 
4. Relevant lawsuits filed against cloud providers on the grounds of breaches of data protection laws.

With this information she can assess the compliance of cloud providers with relevant data protection laws and determine whether cloud providers have breached relevant data protection laws. Her findings suggest that there have been a growing number of data audits and/or investigations of cloud providers, such as Facebook twice, Google and Whatsapp by national data protection authorities. At the same time, there is less litigation being filed against such cloud providers.

This trend in my view isn’t surprising. Firstly, it is inevitable that there would be an increase in audits because there are more cloud computing providers. What is more interesting is that there have been so few reported breaches. Perhaps the complexity and the international nature of the companies providing server space is one reason for the lack of investigations –and limited litigation. So many jurisdictions can be involved, and if there is more than one service provider, who is the data controller, which jurisdictional laws apply?

She warns in-house lawyers about these audits and says that this shift indicates a significant change in the methods and processes and people involved in assessing compliance. Additionally, further research needs to be conducted into the reasons behind the so-called rise of the ‘Audit Age’.

The event raised many interesting questions around subjects which have been in the news over the last week! There was a recent parliamentary report on drones; security around apps; the cloud, bio tech data...