25 April 2012

My new Kernel column

Following my departure from Pinsent Masons, I've agreed to start writing an occasional column in new online technology magazine, The Kernel.

My first column is called "Why I left the law".

05 April 2012

My comment in today's Guardian

The Guardian newspaper has just broken a story which confirms that Anne Darwin, the wife of the "missing canoeist", had her emailed hacked by Sky News, and some of the emails discovered had incriminating materials in them which were passed to the police and used in her trial for assisting in her husband's fraud.

Sky News is claiming that it acted in the public interest and therefore should not face any consequences for the hacking, which is, of course, an offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

The report in the Guardian quotes me as follows:

Danvers Baillieu, a specialist internet lawyer with Pinsent Masons, said that while there was no public interest defence "it doesn't mean that a jury would convict a person, or a judge would punish them, because there is usually a discretion in such cases". However, he added that "the difficulty for news organisations is the question of where do you draw the line: would it be legitimate to break into somebody's house who is suspected of committing a crime? The issue with computer offences is that people can do it from their offices, and believe it is a lesser offence than any other type of intrusion."
Sky News likened the case to the occassions where reporters have had to break the law (in one case buying an Uzi and in another, breaching security at Heathrow) "in the public interest" for the purposes of their investigation.

Before I gave my comments to Dan Sabbagh at the Guardian, I read the statement from Sky News.  It struck me that the cases cited and the hacking of Anne Darwin's email are very different cases. Given that the reporters at Sky News became aware that she had a Yahoo email account, they could have passed that information onto the police, who could have lawfully accessed her emails (i.e. with a warrant) and discovered the incriminating materials themselves.

That's why I made the analogy of breaking into someone's house - just because a reporter suspects a person might have incriminating evidence locked in their safe, does not mean it would be "in the public interest" for that reporter to burgle that person's house to retreive it.

Why is it any different online?

UPDATE: Following this post, I did some TV interviews, first with Al Jazeera (of course) and then later with the BBC (here - 10 o'clock News - picture below).  I did a live interview with both (4pm news for Al Jazeera and then 5pm on the BBC News Channel) and some pre-recorded bits as well (see further below). Turned out to be a rather exciting afternoon.

04 April 2012

Al Jazeera - take 3

This week I was back on my favourite Middle Eastern television channel, talking about the UK government's plan to monitor the internet. I'm against it.

29 January 2012

#TwitterCensored - back on Al Jazeera

 I've been fairly quiet on the media front lately, but the nice people at Al Jazeera English TV decided to get me back last week to discuss the news that Twitter has announced it now has the capability to delete tweets on a country by country basis.

 In fact, it dedicated an entire edition of its show, Inside Story, to a discussion of this issue.  I was in great company, up against Egyptian blogger and human rights activist, Wael Abbas and Computer Active Editor, Tom Royal.

The debate centred around whether this development was a blow for freedom of speech.  I expressed my view that it was just part of Twitter "growing up" and most other major content providers have similar tools.  Tom Royal pointed out that all countries see a filtered internet and explained how these were easily circumvented using VPN tunnels and IP Proxy services.

Wael Abbas, understandably, took a more purist view and expressed his unhappiness at the development.  His concern was that activists would have their ability to communicate through Twitter, in the way that he did during the Arab Spring, curtailed.

We shall see how Twitter use this tool. My prediction is that it will be difficult to get them to remove anything - as it is now - and since removal will be on a country by country basis, there will be less censorship, than would have been the case with the previous system of removing the post altogether.

The experience of recording the programme was interesting as well. I was sitting by myself in the Al Jazeera studios in Knightbridge. Tom Royal was in Westminster and Wael Abbas in Cairo. The host, James Bays, was in Doha. As it was not being filmed live, there was no facility to see the other participants and so I was facing a dark camera and had a bright light shining at me.  Previously when on TV, I have been told not to look at the camera - this time I was asked to look down the lens as much as possible, even when not talking.  You can see from the video, that I did not always succeed - it is probably harder to stare at a camera than it is to ignore it. I also blinked too much.  Anyway, watch and tell me what you think

PS As I was writing this post, up popped this tweet:

 It shows the brilliance of Twitter, how it gives the right of reply to everyone. Now, how to get it deleted...?
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