Editorial June/July 2018

June 24, 2018

This issue focuses on two contrasting themes: the
misreported and over-hyped introduction of GDPR and the misreported and
overhyped applications of artificial intelligence. I am at a loss to think what
they have in common.


The truth is that GDPR is important and challenging
but, like a Christmas puppy, it is not just a one-week or one-month wonder.
Those of you with real expertise and good planning skills will have got your
clients to take all the appropriate steps well before the 25 May crunch and
will by now be able to get them to do tricks that would make Pudsey, the dog
that won Britain’s Got Talent, green with envy. I think I might leave the dog
metaphors there – you get my point.

What depressed me about the prelude to the GDPR’s
implementation, other than being shunned by most when I mentioned the
importance of the topic and refused to accept the ‘bloody EU’ reaction, was
that so many cared so much – but for such a short time. It is already thought
by some to be something that happened – a one-off, box ticked. Indeed, very
often it was literally a box ticked. As I mentioned in my last editorial, the
challenge was to build on the increased awareness and convince the wider public
and wider business that data protection matters and will continue to matter for
the foreseeable future.

For our part, my hope is that we will continue to
cover developments in data protection and will make a special effort to
highlight its relevance to so many varied areas of activity. Nicola Cain and
Rupert Cowper-Coles exemplify this with their analysis of the effects on
publishers of the new regime. But, of course, we will not neglect the analysis
that is so desperately needed of the new Data Protection Act 2018. I would love
to hear from volunteers who have something to say about the varied parts of the
new Act.


Like data protection, artificial intelligence is
not going away in a hurry. The trouble with AI is that it is a term applied
willy nilly. Sometimes it’s software that was around 20 years ago and is just
software; sometimes it is automated form completion, albeit in a jazzed up
version and I am convinced sometimes it is a product labelled AI simply because
its claim to intelligence is so obviously artificial. So it is not altogether
surprising when claims of AI advantages and breakthroughs are treated with the
sort of scepticism directed at the boasts of sexual experience made by teenage
boys – a sort of communal ‘yeah, right’. But there is a danger there. Sometimes
AI is genuinely present and making a very real difference and it is crucial
that the law is ready for its more general application.

AI is readily adaptable for malevolent purposes and
history shows that it certainly will be. A law that merely reacts to the
ill-effects will be bad law. We need to have strong legal bases in place soon –
starting, as is pointed out in this issue by Lord Clement-Jones, with strong
ethical principles that can stand up to a rate of technological change that is
unimaginably accelerated by the exploitation of true AI.


I am pleased that this issue hosts Richard
Susskind’s tribute to Sir Henry Brooke. It moved me to tears but also led me to
happy recollections of the few occasions that I had the pleasure of Sir Henry’s
company – in person or electronically. Whether it was Bailii or Dove Cottage,
court technology or the use of language, I was never anything other than
enlightened, often amused and even sometimes inspired. There was something
about his openness of mind that was unique in one from a background of such
privilege working in a field that, almost by definition, is hidebound and

It is sad that SCL has lost both Sir Henry and Sir
Brian Neill in such a short time. I find myself in awe of what they achieved
and Richard’s tributes, in this issue and the earlier issue, serve to remind us
all of what extraordinary men can do.