April 11, 2016


Among the updates, case analysis, further focus on GDPR and valuable insights on outsourcing, the main feature of this issue is the articles on blockchain. The focus on blockchain arises from a combination of (i) a recognition on my part that blockchain was a hot topic, with many people I respected emphasising, and clearly excited about, its immense potential and (ii) my total failure to grasp how it worked or why it was important.

Thanks to our authors, I have now a much better understanding of blockchain. I hope you will feel the same. I hope you will not share my continuing, albeit reduced, bemusement over blockchain mechanics but I console myself with the thought that I don’t really understand the mechanics of the Internet or the internal combustion engine either – there is a limit to the amount of technical grasp one actually needs. However, I do feel much more confident in my understanding of blockchain’s effects and potential. Which brings me to an awful confession: I am not really convinced that blockchain is A Good Thing.

I worry about regulatory issues and blockchain’s potential to engrave ‘computer says no’ deep into every aspect of commercial life but my fundamental doubt relates to security. Is decryption really impossible? It was only last month that we were told that the FBI couldn’t crack one i-phone. Turned out that they could. Is there any real barrier, with quantum computing and AI here or just around the corner, to a crunching exercise that could break a blockchain system? And, while I am aware that I am edging towards imagining a Bond villain, is everybody really going to be put off ‘capture’? There are some strange people out there (including the deviser of the blockchain) and no limit to the incentives if blockchain technology were to be widely implemented.

Implementing the GDPR

In my last editorial, I was bemoaning the late amendments made to the GDPR during the trilogue. But, prior to publication of that issue, which contained 10 articles on aspects of the GDPR, I was secretly most concerned that the official version of the Regulation might publish before we did. All the references to article numbers in the carefully crafted articles would be outdated. I needn’t have worried. Here we are in April and the official version is still awaited.* I appreciate that the creation of matching versions in all the necessary languages is a very considerable task. But does it really have to take quite so long?

If, as some suggest, the publication of the GDPR is delayed until July, its deadline for implementation will be July 2018. Past history suggests that some Member States will drag their feet and may implement at an even later date. Bearing in mind that the need for updated data protection legislation is not a lawyer’s meal-ticket but a real world need, I really hope that the governments of the Member States can be encouraged to a rapid agreement to implement at the earliest possible time – and all at the same time. An 18-month lead-in from June or July should surely be ample when all but the most minor aspects of the GDPR were fully determined back in December.

IFCLA Conference and SCL Lecture 2016

With the final speaker line-up for SCL’s main event of 2016 now available, the IFCLA Conference in June looks like sure-fire success. I am looking forward to the special issue that we will be publishing to coincide with the start of the Conference that will reflect some of the contributions. The aim is to get short articles from a number of speakers so that everyone gets a flavour of this major event. I will be very pleased if we do capture the flavour accurately but I suspect that there is no substitute for getting the flavour, texture and intellectual nutrition (and drinks) that attendance will bring. I know that two of the speakers that I especially look forward to, Professors Roger Brownsword and Mischa Dohler, will be unable to contribute to our special magazine issue, so I have to go! There is still time to book your place.

I shall also be booking a place to listen to Professor Richard Susskind OBE give the SCL Annual Lecture on 6 October. This will be Richard’s third SCL Lecture but he is the Cleopatra of SCL lecturers – custom cannot stale his infinite variety. His topic, Upgrading Justice, reflects an exciting time for those interested in the application of technology to the justice ‘system’. I place ‘system’ in quotes because it is so important to remember that the processes involved in the administration of justice can mangle lives just as factory machines can mangle limbs and, in a world where (despite the rhetoric) there are dwindling resources available to administer justice fairly (my deliberate tautology), getting the technology that can support the provision of justice is absolutely crucial. I greatly look forward to hearing Richard on this topic.


*This editorial was signed off for print the day before the revised text became available. I was grumpy about that fact too.