Since my departure from the world of full-time academia, I have dedicated noticeably less time to writing new content for this site – however, not for want of subject matter. In the course of my recent work on AML (Anti-Money Laundering) and CFT (Countering the Financing of Terrorism) I have been deeply engaged with an old favourite topic of mine – digital payment methods. Specifically, both e-money and virtual currencies have cropped up on numerous occasions as innovative, though oft ill-understood, developments, which are raising a number of issues for AML/CFT and regulation more broadly. In this post, I will attempt to give a quick overview of virtual currencies from a prospective regulatory angle, focusing on the importance of clear and logical definitions (where possible), but leaving any more technical analysis of individual virtual currencies or underlying blockchain or distributed ledger technologies to another day. Continue reading The Virtual Currency Gold Rush and the Regulatory Wild West
Things on the website have been rather quiet of late, though not for lack of interesting science and tech news. But rather I have been tied up with work projects for the last while, and am endeavoring to find some time to take a more in depth look at some recent developments. I do have some new reading material however for anyone with the dubious interest in human-animal genetic research; my piece entitled “Human-Animal Hybrids and Chimeras: What’s in a Name?”, was recently published by JAHR – the European Journal of Bioethics. You will find the abstract below: Continue reading Human-Animal Hybrids and Chimeras: What’s in a Name?
So far 2015 had been looking like a good year for proponents of net neutrality, with the somewhat unexpected victory in the US that came with the FCC passing new regulations, strictly enforcing net neutrality on a 3-2 vote. However, there was a bit of an upset last week in the European battle over net neutrality when some of the widely-praised and popular proposals for telecommunications reforms were back-tracked upon by the European Commission and the majority of the national representatives of the Member States in the European Council. As WIRED UK puts it;
Less than a year after the European Parliament voted to enshrine net neutrality in law, the principle has come under attack by the European Commission.
I was recently lucky enough to be asked to give a short presentation at the 2014 Edinburgh Postgraduate Law Conference, entitled “Innovation in the Law: New Challenges, New Perspectives“. The organising committee, in conjunction with the Edinburgh Law School and the Institute for Academic Development put on a great two-day event, creating a brilliant opportunity for PhD students, early career researchers, established academics and interested parties to swap ideas, talk at length about their personal obsessions, bemoan the constant struggles that are funding, exercising the power to say “no”, and engage in ample usage of the term “interdisciplinary”. I’d like to thank again all involved in the organisation of a thoroughly enjoyable event, and of course the Forschungsstelle für Verbraucherrecht for continuing to finance my wanderings around Europe in the name of digital consumer protection.
The talk I gave in the panel on “Technology and Law: Confronting Uncertainty, Testing Promises“, was entitled “2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back: The Problematic Protection of Consumers of Digital Content“, the article and slideshow for which you can find below. Rather than the traditional (and oft beset by delays) practice of publishing conference proceedings in a printed version, the conference chose the novel approach of asking the speakers to present their ideas in a 1,000-word blog post, which was then made available on the conference website for anyone who wanted to read up on the topics in advance on the talks. I thought this was a particularly useful tool in preparing for the panels I attended. Continue reading 2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back: The Problematic Protection of Consumers of Digital Content
Once again, this subject choice is brought to you courtesy of Coursera, this time spurred on by an assignment in the course I’m currently undertaking on Philosophy and The Sciences, given in conjunction with the University of Edinburgh and EIDYN: The Edinburgh Centre for Epistemology, Mind and Normativity. Perhaps one of the key contributions which modern philosophy and philosophical thinking (I use this distinction, as our current understanding of physical sciences can be understood as having evolved from “natural philosophy” in the first place) can make to the physical sciences is a better and more rigorous understanding of the underpinnings of scientific paradigms by way of falsifiability, and the use of such criteria to better differentiate “real” science from pseudo-science. Many consider this differentiation a key factor in the difficulties facing science education, particularly in the US, regarding the inability of students, as well as the population at large, to differentiate between popular pseudo-scientific ideas and accepted scientific theories. Continue reading Natural Philosophy: Falsifiability and Pseudo-science
I’m sure many of you by now might have heard about the most recent flare-up, a twitter controversy no less, regarding comments made by the ever-controversial Richard Dawkins – comments which, depending on who you ask either a) suggested violent rape or abuse is worse than “milder” versions, or that b) making such an distinction (for example) does not automatically mean that the comment is tacitly endorsing the “less bad” of the two. I’m of the opinion that this was more an example of an unfortunate misunderstanding of the point Dawkins was trying to make rather than him trying to make any particularly controversial statement about either rape or child abuse, but I certainly think that this debate has raised the serious issue of whether certain subjects should be so taboo that they should not be objectively analysed or discussed. Continue reading Twitter and Taboos: The Land Where Logic and Objective Discussion Dare Not Tread
This will be another post based on work I did during my time at the University of Edinburgh last year – this time covering the weird and wonderful topic of “augmented reality”. While it may sound like a rather sci-fi idea, augmented reality is posed to become more and more a part of our everyday life, especially in our interactions as consumers. I’d like to thank the excellently titled “Professor of Computational Legal Theory” Professor Burkhard Schafer for his fascinating, and at times bizarre, course on AI, Risk and the Law, in which we discussed sex robots, virtual reality courtrooms, penguins living on landmines and many other “you-had-to-be-there-to-understand-why-it’s-relevant” topics, and for giving me the chance to research this emerging and most likely problematic area of law.
Continue reading An Introduction to Augmented Reality and the Law
I read a very nice summary of the problems with undervaluing the importance of freedom of information and communication in the Google v Spain decision by Professor Niko Härting. Here’s just a snippet of the argument;
“Privacy by default” will encourage politicians, celebrities and other public figures to put their lawyers on track when they find inconvenient information online. And as the use of a search engine like Google is essential for finding information, the elimination from the results of search engines will provide a convenient and essential tool to suppress information.
I recommend you read the full article at;
Much rejoicing was had this week amongst fans of Data Privacy and Data Protection, as the European Court of Justice (ECJ – though officially now just the Court of Justice) in its capacity as one wing of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU; I know, the distinction is a bit confusing, and varies depending on who reports it) implied a “right to be forgotten” into European Data Protection Law. For example, the EU justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, welcomed the decision, saying it was a victory for the protection of personal data in the EU; “The ruling confirms the need to bring today’s data protection rules from the ‘digital stone age’ into today’s modern computing world”. Whilst the idea of giving citizens more rights to control the processing and dissemination of their personal information is a commendable one, this already exists in the form of the Data Protection Directive which was found to be applicable in this case.
What really happened here is that the court extended, in my opinion rather widely unclearly, who can be designated as controllers or processors of personal data and what sorts of information should be considered objectionable personal information and remain completely within the control of the citizen. Continue reading Europe and The Right to Be Forgotten: A Memorable Victory for Privacy or Defeat for Free Speech?
I have blatantly stolen the phrase “Something from Nothing” from Lawrence Krauss’ discussion of the origins of the universe to in his brilliant book “A Universe from Nothing“, to describe a somewhat less significant, but similarly mysterious aspect of Irish Constitutional Law. As I have been a bit busy lately, and am lagging behind in writing new content for the site, I decided once again to go back to some of my previous work, this time as a fresh-faced (actually, at age 19 I was probably still struggling with teenage-years skin, closer to acne than fresh-faced) first-year student in Trinity College. The doctrine of unenumerated rights is one of the more controversial, and possibly for that very reason, interesting areas of constitutional law. It is a central part of both the arguments between judicial activism and separation of powers, and natural law versus positive law; Continue reading Something from Nothing: The Irish Unenumerated Rights Doctrine
I was recently asked by my boss to prepare a short paper on the functioning of “Super Complaints” as a form of consumer protection enforcement in the UK. This was of particular interest as many regulatory systems, as well as many academics (particularly in Germany), primarily see private law as the main vehicle for consumer protection. Continue reading Is It a Bird? Is It a Plane? No, It’s a Super-Complaint!
I’m sure the title of this post will strike many of you as a bit controversial, as I do tend to try to keep my views on religion out of my academic arguments, unless of course they are particularly relevant or particularly amusing given the topic at hand. And this topic is one I find myself explaining to non-Irish jurists time and time again, with mixed feelings of frustration, shame and bemusement. The following are a few of the more surprising facts about Irish law, both historical and current, which seem to shock, anger or amuse my colleagues who didn’t grow up in such starkly conservative or Catholic nations, and even some of those who did. While it is true that many of these laws cannot be blamed on religion alone, one cannot deny the huge, at times mind-boggling and perplexing, impact which cultural, moral and religious conservatism, and the Catholic Church in particular, have had on the law in Ireland. Some of these peculiarities are uniquely religious, even Catholic, others are simply symptomatic of cultural and moral conservatism in Ireland and Europe over the last Century. For ease of both writing and reading, I have decided to break this post up into a series of shorter pieces on specific issues. We’ll start today with an introduction and the wonderful story of illegal condoms: Continue reading Catholicism, Moral Conservatism and Crazy Irish Laws: Part 1 – Introduction and Condoms
The recent “findings” that casual marijuana use causes brain abnormalities lit up my Facebook news feed over the last few days. I had to admit, I was suspicious, but didn’t look into it any further. Lion Pachter has written a great critical analysis of this study, and how warped its findings have been by the researchers and the media. This is fairly ridiculous, and a bit scary in how quickly bad science can be reported by the media. Pachter goes on to say:
“I believe that scientists should be sanctioned for making public statements that directly contradict the content of their papers, as appears to be the case here. There is precedent for this.”
In reading the news yesterday I came across multiple reports claiming that even casually smoking marijuana can change your brain. I usually don’t pay much attention to such articles; I’ve never smoked a joint in my life. In fact, I’ve never even smoked a cigarette. So even though as a scientist I’ve been interested in cannabis from the molecular biology point of view, and as a citizen from a legal point of view, the issues have not been personal. However reading a USA Today article about the paper, I noticed that the principal investigator Hans Breiter was claiming to be a psychiatrist and mathematician. That is an unusual combination so I decided to take a closer look. I immediately found out the claim was a lie. In fact, the totality of math credentials of Hans Breiter consist of some logic/philosophy courses during a year abroad at St. Andrews while he was a pre-med student…
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Slippery Slopes and Euthanasia
A ‘slippery slope argument’ (SSA) is a particular style of argument which particularly raises my ire (a phrase I’ve always wanted an excuse to employ) as they are so often raised against points I am trying to make, but also worries me in the frequency and potency of its use. These arguments are used to disrupt or even halt debate on some particularly controversial and important themes, and – tragically – are often simply accepted at face value, as they seem powerful at first glance, but perhaps do not stand up to logical scrutiny. In its most basic form, the Slippery Slope Argument suggests that if we allow position A to come about then it is highly likely, even certain, that, through some direct or indirect connection, position Z will eventually also come about. However, the validity of many of these arguments is questionable at best; David Enoch goes as far as to point out that they are often referred to as ‘slippery slope fallacies’. Nonetheless, these types of argument have been used in the legal, philosophical and political spheres for many years and in debates ranging from conspiracy theories about a One World Government to the question of stricter firearms control in the US to discussion about abortion law reform. A key aspect of SSAs is that position A is often regarded as not inherently wrong, or at least not nearly as wrong as Z, and yet it is argued that A should not be allowed happen because it may lead to Z – the primary reason for prohibiting A itself in fact has very little to do with the characteristics of A alone. Continue reading Bioethics and Bad Reasoning: The Slippery Slope of Using Slippery Slope Arguments
Whenever justifying to myself and others precisely why I spend several hours a week taking part in online classes with Coursera rather than actually working on more pressing responsibilities, such as my job as a research fellow at the German research centre for consumer law or my nascent PhD thesis, I inevitably turn to the excuse that these courses are part of a broader continuing education, as well as being of interdisciplinary (such a useful term) relevance. Imagine my pleasant surprise then recently, at a conference co-organised by our research centre (Forschungsstelle für Verbraucherrecht) on consumer protection and investors, to find that not only once, but at multiple points during the conference my most recent sources of undisciplined distraction were of direct relevance to the talks being given. In a room packed with legal academics, practising lawyers, economists and various consumer protectors it is perhaps not that surprising that my new-found interest in behavioural economics, thanks to Dan Ariely’s fascinating “Beginners Guide to Irrationality” class, became extremely useful; furthermore, and somewhat surprisingly given the reputation of us legal-types for being amoral argumentative robots, my recent experiences of Paul Bloom’s “Moralities of Everyday Life” turned out to be relevant. The latter was discussed in reference to Daniel Kahneman‘s dual process theory of human reasoning – (1) intuition, and (2) reasoning – which I first encountered as a way of judging how and why we initially judge something as moral or immoral, but which of course is also of the utmost relevance when discussing how consumers reach decisions in a behavioural economics world. The former was discussed repeatedly as speakers discussed the failings of current preconceptions about the behaviour of “rational” consumers. Continue reading Homo Irrationalis: Consumer Policy, Information and Irrationality
That’s right ladies and gentlemen! You may now take that cumbersome CD collection you have to carry around everywhere with you and rip the music onto your computer or portable media playing device for your own personal use! I have a feeling these newfangled “Em-Pee-Three-Players” are really going to take off now that the UK has decided to implement reforms to the Copyright Law in this area… What’s that you say? You’ve been ripping CDs onto your computer and playing them of MP3s and phones for years? Well then, you sir or madam have (technically) been a filthy copyright infringer, and will remain so until June of this year.
Continue reading You Can Now Rip CDs And Parody Copyrighted Material! UK Public Confused As To Why This Is News!
As I’m currently in the process of writing something a little more substantial about the ethics of donations, in particular donations connected with incentives, I found the assignment set this week by Dan Ariely in his Coursera class on Irrationality particularly interesting. Dan asked us to come up with a theoretical solution to a real world problem using some of the observations and experimental results regarding people’s irrational behaviour. I found the reading regarding organ donation particularly fascinating, especially the fact that, despite people being sure that they would only reach such an important decision after careful consideration, most of us in fact do make snap decisions about certain big decisions and are heavily influenced by our environment. This opens up interesting policy questions about to what extent we can or should use our understanding of people’s behaviour to influence their decisions. I, for one, have found myself more than once debating whether an “opt-out” or “mandated choice” system should be implemented at national level (incidentally, I think the standard “opt-in” model to be far too ineffective to defend, and in fact, due to its connection to sadly low levels of organ donation, unethical to leave in place). You can read my short suggestion below, keeping in mind I wrote this quickly at the end of the work-day, as I was about to leave the office. Nonetheless I think it might be a point worth exploring.
Below is a slightly adapted version of a final paper I wrote for the course Intellectual Property II during my LLM in Innovation, Technology and the Law at the University of Edinburgh. One of the major drawbacks which both I and the examiner noticed about this work was that I clearly bit off more than I could chew for what should have been a 5,000 word essay, by attempting to cover the far too broad area of “genetics”, rather than focussing on a more specific subset of that field. Nonetheless, though it took away from the paper’s ability to discuss some of the finer legal points in detail, it does mean that the paper remains a fairly good short overview of the entire field of patent law and genetics for any who might be interested. Continue reading Playing God(‘s Patent Lawyer): The Challenges of Patent Law in the Field of Genetics
Last year I found myself immersed (academically – heaven forbid I should do so in any practical manner) in the workings of Medicine and Bioethics in the UK. I was, for the most part, impressed. Particularly in contrast to some positions in the US and Ireland, the UK system seemed to handle many tricky issues remarkably well. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the NHS, the GMC the were all models which, while not perfect, could certainly serve as examples for some of their foreign counterparts. All in all, I found attitudes to healthcare perhaps a bit more progressive in the UK than in Ireland, in certain areas at least. This makes the widespread tacit, and even official, acceptance of homeopathy in the UK all the more surprising. Continue reading Popularity and Placebos: The UK’s Troubling Acceptance of Homeopathy