Wed 14 June, 2pm: Silvia De Conca (Tilburg) – There is no place like home, Alexa: Intelligent Robotics, the house, and the protection of the private sphere

We are delighted to announce another discussion group event which will take place on Wednesday 14 June at 2pm in room 9.18 of David Hume Tower. Our speaker is Silvia de Conca, PhD researcher at Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society.

There is no place like home, Alexa: Intelligent Robotics, the house, and the protection of the private sphere  

Amazon Echo, Google Home, Buddy, Jibo, Cubic: home and personal assistant robots are a new type of service Robots for personal or consumer use. They embed the idea of a digital personal assistant to ease the daily life of individuals or families. To perform, the assistant must know its owners: their voices, their faces, their schedule, their friends. To perform efficiently, the assistant must also understand those information, learn, elaborate them, and extract the habits and tastes of its owners. In other words, the assistant must be provided with (artificial) intelligence. In this version of the future there is no humanoid robot with wheels and arms carrying out chores around the house, like Rosie from The Jetsons. In this version of the future there are decorative desk units which interact with the owners through voice command (“Alexa, play the morning playlist”, or “OK Google, increase the room temperature of…”) and complete their tasks by means of other devices connected to them (in the examples before, a speaker and Google Nest). How will the presence of this new kind of intelligent robots inside the home influence the very concept of private sphere? What role will the household environment play, for the protection and development of the private sphere?

After dissecting the main technological features common to this category of intelligent robots, the speaker will introduce three hypotheses of modalities in which the above mentioned technological features can influence the private sphere: with their ever-scanning presence, with the aggregation of data in the Cloud, and with the conversational interface.

The hypotheses, identified as passive sharing, aggregated privateness and conversational privacy, can deeply influence individual contextualization of what is private, and what belongs to the private sphere. The shift in the perception and definition of the private sphere can in turn influence significantly the implementation of the rules created to protect it. In conclusion, the connection will be traced between the way intelligent robotics in the house affect the very definition of private sphere and possible new criticalities that can be expected in the application of the European GDPR.

The talk will be followed by a Q&A section and refreshments will be provided. All students and staff are welcome and no registration is required.

Fri 12th May, 2pm: Judith Townend (Sussex) – Legal and technological vulnerabilities for journalistic sources and whistleblowers in a pre/post Brexit UK

We are delighted to announce another discussion group event which will take place on Friday 12th May at 2pm in Room 9.01 (the Neil MacCormick Room) of David Hume Tower. Our speaker is Judith Townend, lecturer in media and information law at the University of Sussex. Judith was previously director of the Information Law and Policy Centre at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, to which she remains affiliated, as an associate research fellow. Her research is broadly concerned with freedom of expression and access to information, and current interests include source/whistleblower protection, as well as access to courts and open justice.

Legal and technological vulnerabilities for journalistic sources and whistleblowers in a pre/post Brexit UK  

Disclosing information to the media or an NGO is often a last resort for a confidential source: an action taken when concerns have been ignored internally within organisations, or where there seems to be no other avenue open to them. It is not a decision taken lightly and, depending on the nature of the disclosure and the individual’s position, could risk their employment and have a knock-on impact on their finances, health and personal life. The weaker the legal and technological protection for communication between journalists and other relevant actors (such as NGOs), the less likely it is that an individual will come forward, and this has worrying consequences for protecting the public interest in a functioning democracy. 

Recent research at the IALS’ Information Law and Policy Centre, supported by Guardian News and Media, brought to the fore practical issues faced by journalists/NGOs working on important topics in the public interest. We identified a hybrid of legal and technological vulnerabilities threatening source confidentiality and secure communication. In light of these threats, we made a number of recommendations to practitioners and policymakers with view to improving the protections for sources in the UK; we raised particular concern with the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 and the Digital Economy Bill 2016-17. The same month we launched our report in Parliament, another issue sprang up: the possibility of new legislation to reform the law on Official Secrets, as proposed by the Law Commission in its consultation closing in May.  

This presentation offers some of our key findings and discusses them in the context of a politically uncertain environment: Brexit ‘unknowns’, the shadow of Donald Trump (who has declared ‘war’ on anonymous sources), and ahead of the UK General Election on 8th June 2017.

The talk will be followed by a Q&A section and refreshments will be provided. All students and staff are welcome and no registration is required.