Understanding Cryptocurrencies as Political Devices – Pablo Velasco (University of Warwick)

We are delighted to announce another discussion group event, taking place on Monday 14 November 2016 at 2pm in Room 11.01 of the David Hume Tower. Our speaker will be Pablo Velasco (University of Warwick), who will present on the following topic:

Understanding Cryptocurrencies as Political Devices

My dissertation project is concerned to understand Bitcoin (and hence Blockchain technology) from a critical perspective. I seek to identify the particular power dynamics performed by and through this technology. In order to do this, I systematically question what and where is Bitcoin, and how and which entities are involved in its transformations. I broadly refer to these transformations as the morphology of Bitcoin, and I consistently observe this morphology through a political and ontological prism. Each chapter of the dissertation adopts a different methodology and approach to answer the following broad questions:

1. Which politics were involved in the emergence of blockchains as new ‘organisms’ (and what is Bitcoin as a specific instance)? Why is bitcoin associated with money? What kind of knowledges, discourses and practices molded it as an economic instrument?

In the first part of the dissertation I argue that the emergence of Bitcoin was made possible by an assemblage of 1. An interest in secure communications through technology, 2. A subsequent addendum of political concerns to new comm tech, and 3. An intention to produce natively digital financial assets.

2. Which politics define the (material but elusive) space where this organism evolved? Which are the geopolitics of Bitcoin? In what kind of territorial or non-territorial space Bitcoin dwells?

In my second chapter I argue against the strong notions of immateriality and universality associated with the device by empirically describing the geographical distribution of its infrastructural network. However, I also claim that the political notion of territory is unfitting for a theoretical and critical approach to the object.

3. How these political changes take place, specifically in the socio-technical order shaping the technology? Is it possible to locate authority entities within it?

The third chapter observes decision making processes in the current configuration of Bitcoin, and identifies opposing vectors of action with their respective rationales. In this chapter I argue that its money properties challenge the traditional and key open source characteristic of forking. I also claim that due to its particular open, distributed, and headless (unlike other OSS projects) nature, there is an authority void that atypically transforms power performance among open projects.

4. How do forces in this non-territorial space claim control, or enact power, if authority is elusive? How are parties benefited by the enactment of device-specific power relations?

The fourth chapter is a work in progress. In it I expect to frame the Bitcoin blockchain within a political economy framework. The chapter will locate and reflect on the generation of native actors of this contested and non-territorial space, and how power is exercised between its stakeholers despite the lack of traditional authoritarian structures. It will observe the practices of production and regulation of money (practices traditionally managed by the state institutions) in Bitcoin, with the open question of how power is enacted in them and their contexts.

In this chapter I argue that even though the Bitcoin system is populated with an empowerment discourse, it’s unique affordance is not to restructure balance in relations of domination, but to grasp a much desired accountability and control in an inherently fluid and open system. Following the work of Michel Foucault, Scott Lash, Hardt and Negri, and the recent work of Benjamin Bratton I follow the shift from sovereign, institutional authority, and other forms of performance of power (both in state and corporation-like institutions), into non-territorial, open, and controlled communications systems.

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.

A Bridge Too Far? The Investigatory Powers Bill, Oversight and Human Rights – upcoming talk by Dr Nóra Ni Loideain (University of Cambridge)

We are delighted to announce our third event of the Semester will take place on 11 November 2016 at 5pm in the Neil MacCormick Room (Room 9.01) in David Hume Tower. Our speaker will be Dr Nóra Ni Loideain (Cambridge University), who will present on the following topic:

A Bridge Too Far? The Investigatory Powers Bill, Oversight and Human Rights

Unquestionably, the depth and breath of information concerning an individual’s private life that modern communications reveal has made its monitoring an essential and important tool for national security and law enforcement authorities around the world. One striking example of this fact has been provided by General Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and CIA, when he confirmed the high value placed on communications surveillance by such public authorities with the following statement: “We kill people based on metadata”.

However, while the major opportunities provided by technological advances for public safety are welcome, they should not be adopted without the fundamental human rights principles and oversight requirements that exist to prevent measures that pose to destroy democracy on the ground of defending it. Accordingly, the need to ensure that the role played by human rights law in the oversight of covert surveillance and data processing frameworks by the State will only grow with the rise of datadriven and artificial intelligence systems that will underpin our future smart cars, homes and cities. This paper examines the compliance of the imminent reform to the current oversight regime governing the use of covert investigatory powers by public authorities within the UK under the Investigatory Powers Bill with the rights to respect for private life and data protection. In particular, the reform of this increasingly complex area of law and technology is examined in light of the bold commitment made by the then Home Secretary, Rt Hon Theresa May MP, that the Bill will establish a “world-leading oversight regime”.

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.

The Logical Space of Algocracy: A Guide to the Territory – upcoming talk by Dr John Danaher (NUI Galway)

We are delighted to announce another November event, taking place on 25 November 2016 at 4pm in Room 1.18 of the David Hume Tower. Our speaker will be Dr John Danaher (NUI Galway), who will present on the following topic:

The Logical Space of Algocracy: A Guide to the Territory

An ‘algocracy’ can be defined as any governance system in which computer-coded algorithms structure, nudge, influence, constrain, control (etc.) the behaviour of its human subjects. In recent years, several authors have expressed concerns about the rise of such algocratic governance systems, suggesting that they have important repercussions for the future transparency, fairness and efficiency of governance. Although I agree with many of these authors, I argue that the extant discussions of this phenomenon are lacking in nuance. There are many different types of algocratic system. Some are unexceptional, some are welcome, and some are worrisome. To date, authors have tended to only distinguish between 2-3 or three different types. To get a clearer picture of the landscape of possibilities, I take Christian List’s framework for mapping out the logical space of democratic decision-procedures and apply it to the algocracy debate. I argue that for any given system there are at least 4^4 different types of algocracy. I then provide a quick guide to some of the more significant possibilities within that logical space, highlighting the legal, ethical and political issues they may raise.

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.

Surveillance and the Common Good – upcoming talk by Dr Eric Stoddart (St Andrews)

We are delighted to announce that our first event of the IP/IT/Media Law Discussion Group seminar series this semester will take place on Monday 31 October at 2pm in Neil MacCormick Room (Room 9.01), David Hume TowerDr Eric Stoddart from University of St Andrews will present on the following topic:

Surveillance and the Common Good: Why Privacy Concerns Are Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Privacy concerns are important but whilst they address individuals’ rights they tend not to open up questions around the impact of surveillance upon groups in particular contexts. The Common Good offers a multi-dimensional critique of surveillance and has possibilities for promoting an optics of hope for surveillance that might contribute to human flourishing.
 
This paper explores synoptic surveillance (the many ‘us’ watching the few ‘them’). It places contemporary surveillance within the context of media (mis-)representations of already marginalised groups, e.g. welfare claimants, people who ‘look Muslim’, and immigrants.
 
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.
 
 

A warm welcome to our new and returning students!

As the new academic year begins, we would like to extend our warmest welcome to all our new students joining us at Edinburgh Law School, as well as those who will continue their studies in the coming year.

We are delighted to announce that the IP/IT/Media Law Discussion Group will go on to present a series of events this semester. We are still working on finalising the details, but here is a glimpse of what we are going to offer in the next couple of months:

  • Surveillance and the Common Good: Why Privacy Concerns Are Just the Tip of the Iceberg
    Dr Eric Stoddart (St Andrews) – 31 Oct 2016 (2pm, Neil MacCormick Room (Room 9.01), David Hume Tower)
  • How Does Article 102 TFEU Regulate the IT Industries? The Microsoft Case, the Intel Case, and Recent Developments
    Dr Kuo-lien Hsieh(National University of Kaohsiung, Taiwan) – 8 Nov 2016 (2pm, Room 1.203, 7 Bristo Square)
  • A Bridge Too Far? The Investigatory Powers Bill, Oversight and Human Rights
    Dr Nora Ni Loideain (Cambridge) – 11 Nov 2016 (5pm, Neil MacCormick Room (Room 9.01), David Hume Tower)
  • Understanding Cryptocurrencies as Political Devices
    Pablo Velasco (Warwick) – 14 Nov 2016 (2pm, Room 11.01, David Hume Tower)
  • The Logical Space of Algocracy: A Guide to the Territory
    Dr John Danaher (NUI Galway) – 25 Nov 2016 (4pm, Room 1.18, David Hume Tower)

All venues and times will be confirmed very soon. A handful of more speakers are also in touch and we will provide further updates once they are available. So stay tuned, and subscribe to our mailing list (if you haven’t):
http://tinyurl.com/ip-it-media-law

This year, our fellow PhDs Laurence Diver, Matthew Jewell and Wenlong Li have joined the team as co-convenors.

We hope to see many of you soon in our events!

Exploring the efficiency of blocking injunctions in online copyright enforcement

Coming close to the end of this semester, our next IP/IT/Media Law Discussion Group event will take place on Thursday 19 May 2016 at 2pm in Room B1.09, Outreach Centre (Holyrood Road). Bianca Hanuz from University of Liverpool will be presenting on the following topic:

Exploring the efficiency of blocking injunctions in online copyright enforcement

Internet service providers intermediaries are central to the enforcement system as they are considered the ‘gatekeepers’ of the internet, therefore considered to in the best position to manage the flooding copyright infringing traffic.[1] As such, the three directives[2] that govern the use copyright protected material online allow right holders to seek a remedy against the intermediary service provider where their service is used by third parties to infringe.[3] In the situation where it is impossible for right holders to identify the managers of infringing websites and it is unpopular to pursue individual infringers, right holders ask courts to order injunctions against online intermediaries which require the intermediaries to block user access to illegal sites. This method of copyright enforcement is now mainstream, which results from the fact that blocking orders are relatively easy to obtain as internet service providers (ISP) do not oppose applications and the blocking measures are relatively cheap to implement.[4]

Questions of efficiency arise as the injunction remedy provides only a post factum solution. Injunctions therefore do not address the root of the problem, which still remains after the block is put in place. This presentation will discuss the effectiveness of the injunctions in online copyright enforcement and present some solutions.

As always, this event is non-ticketed and everyone is welcome. The presentation will be followed by an informal discussion with refreshments provided.

 

Notes:
[1] Recital 59 Directive 2004/48 on the enforcement of intellectual property rights [2004] OJ L157/45
[2] ’Directive 2000/31 on certain legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market [2000] OJ L178/1; Directive 2001/29 on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society [2001] OJ L167/10 (thereinafter InfoSoc Directive); Directive 2004/48 on the enforcement of intellectual property rights [2004] OJ L157/45
[3] art 8(3)
[4] Cartier International and Others vs BSkyB and others [2014] EWHC 3354 (Ch) at para 4, 239-253

Powerful platforms, liberty in cyber space and regulatory approach – Upcoming talk by Dr Orla Lynskey (LSE)

We are delighted to announce that the next IP/IT/Media Law Discussion Group event will take place on Monday 25 April at 2pm in Neil MacCormick RoomDr Orla Lynskey from London School of Economics will present her latest research on:

‘Platform Power’: A Regulatory Riddle

‘Some online platforms have evolved to become players competing in many sectors of the economy and the way they use their market power raises a number of issues that warrant further analysis beyond the application of competition law in specific cases’.
Increasing regulatory and doctrinal attention is focused on the problem of so-called ‘platform power’. Yet calls for regulation of online platforms fail to identify the precise problems such regulation would target, and as a result appear to lack merit. In this paper, two claims are advanced. First, that the concept of ‘platform power’ is an unhelpful starting point for this discussion and will stunt desirable debate on this issue. It is suggested that gatekeeper theory provides a preferable point of departure for this discussion. Secondly, it claims that the concerns attributed to ‘platform power’ are diffuse. Moreover, these issues will fall in the blind spots of the purely economic analysis increasingly favoured by competition law and regulatory analysis. The debate on ‘platform power’ should therefore not be captured by economic discourse. It should seek instead to identify and describe a distinct form of power evident in the digital sphere, not yet falling within existing legal and regulatory frameworks.
 
A full paper of this talk is also available. If you are interested, please feel free to ask our co-convenor Jiahong (j.chen@ed.ac.uk) for a copy.
 
The talk will be followed by a Q&A section and refreshments will be provided. All students and staff are welcome.

 

Legal Obstacles for Data Privacy Researchers – SCRIPT, CASCSP and EDSI joint event

On the 21 March., SCRIPT, in conjunction with CASCSP and the Edinburgh Data Science Initiative invites you to a talk and discussion:

“Legal obstacles for data privacy researchers”

Christoph Sorge, Juris Professor of Legal Informatics at the Universität des Saarlandes,
http://www.uni-saarland.de/en/lehrstuhl/sorge/team/christoph-sorge.html

Monday 21 March, Elder Room, Old College (South Side), 3-4PM

The event is free and open to all, but due to space limitations, early registration is recommended, please send an email to b.schafer@ed.ac.uk

 

 

Upcoming talk focusing on Algorithmic Surveillance

The next IP/IT/Media Law Discussion Group event will take place on Thursday 24 March at 2pm in Room B.L03, Old College. Dr Maria Helen Murphy from Maynooth University will give a talk on the following topic:

Algorithmic Surveillance: The Collection Conundrum

A concern with the use of algorithmic surveillance in the investigation of terrorism is the potential for ‘false positives’. Due to the relative rarity of terrorist attacks, pattern searching for terrorist activity is liable to error.[1]  In a climate of heightened fear, false positives can have tremendously negative effects on the targeted individuals and can constitute a significant waste of resources. This may lead us to the troubling conclusion that better data equals more data. Or as famously put by a former Director of the NSA, General Keith Alexander, ‘you need the haystack to find the needle’.[2]
Increased processing power and more finely-tuned algorithms are often portrayed as the solution to the haystack conundrum. While a human may struggle with an overflowing haystack, powerful computers can take a logical and structured approach that will make the haystack eminently more searchable. The many risks of algorithmic profiling have been discussed extensively elsewhere. In her paper, Dr Murphy confronts the problem of initial collection and addresses the contention that well-defined algorithmic search can effectively limit the intrusiveness of surveillance. Evolution in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union will be factored into this analysis.

The talk will be followed by a Q&A section and refreshments will be provided. All students and staff are welcome.

 

Notes:
[1] Bruce Schneier, Data and Goliath (WW Norton & Company, 2015) 135-136.
[2] Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani , ‘NSA collects millions of e-mail address books globally’ Washington Post (14 October 2013) <https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-collects-millions-of-e-mail-address-books-globally/2013/10/14/8e58b5be-34f9-11e3-80c6-7e6dd8d22d8f_story.html>.

An alternative approach to new and emerging technologies – Upcoming event

We are delighted to announce that, in collaboration with and under the auspices of SCRIPT Centre, a joint session will be held on Monday 8 February at 2pm in Neil MacCormick Room, Old College. Andelka Phillips, DPhil candidate from University of Oxford, will present on the following topic:

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee! A FLE5SH approach to past, extant, emerging and new technologies … beyond Responsible Research and Innovation
This is a joint project with Prof I. S. Mian of UCL and Jan Charbonneau of Tasmania.

An abstract is now accessible through this link.

You can now also find a copy of the slides used in the presentation here.

The talk will be followed by a Q&A section and refreshments will be provided. All students and staff welcome.