Book Review: Courts, Privacy and Data Protection in the Digital Environment

June 28, 2017

As technology continues to advance at an unprecedented rate,
we must wonder whether the law can keep up. In an age where it’s disturbingly
easy to collect information on any living person, the courts are required to
safeguard the data and privacy of citizens – and to prevent the exploitation of
people for nefarious means. Privacy, of course, being a fundamental human right
enshrined in the ECHR. This crusade is, unfortunately, further hampered by the
insistence of domestic governments on threatening these very rights in the name
of ‘security’.

In Courts, Privacy and
Data Protection in the Digital Environment
, Maja Brkan and Evangelia
Psychogiopoulou edit a whistle-stop tour of how these issues are dealt with in
national courts across Europe, how countries utilise jurisprudence from the
central European courts,the weightings that different societies place over the
privacy of their citizens, and the freedom that others have for their
information. At just over 200 pages, it’s a lofty goal; and one that is mostly
achieved by eschewing undue complexity and getting straight to the point: an
admirable feat certainly.

The book is structured in the most logical manner: starting
with chapters on the CJEU and ECtHR, then proceeding to sections on nine
European countries from the UK to Slovakia. Each country’s feature is written
by a different academic – lending the finished product a varied and diverse
feel. However, the same basic layout is used for each section in order to give
the best impression of the spread of law across the continent. This essentially
consists of the constitutional arrangements vis a vis privacy in the country,
followed by the impact of the central European courts on domestic
jurisprudence, and then a section on the history of cases of strategic litigation.
Perhaps there’s an explanation, but the section on strategic litigation seemed
a tad out of place and over-specific to include on every country section
(especially given that a large number of countries don’t have any cases of
strategic litigation in this sector).

Although this strategy leads to the benefits outlined above,
it also leads to an unfortunately high level of repetition. Of the nine
countries discussed, many share the same characteristics in a number of
categories – to the point where it feels on occasion as if one is reading the
same passage as before. For the sake of thoroughness, this doesn’t make too
much of an adverse impact – but, from a stylistic point of view, it makes the
work very hard to read in sequence. Instead, dipping in and out of different
chapters as a reference seems to be the best policy.

This is most definitely an academic work – with no stylistic
or rhetorical flourish in sight. However, what it lacks in engagement, it makes
up for in eschewing the pretentious trappings of many academic works. There is
never a need to overcomplicate an article – and none of the writers that Brkan
or Psychogiopoulou have chosen make their chapters unreadable. Throughout the
book, there is a reasonably high level of legal terminology but, given the
subject, one imagines that only law students and academics will be interested
in the product so this isn’t a particular problem.

In the introduction to the book, the editors’ motivation is
said to be the non-existence of a comprehensive overview of data protection law
in the EU; and the rapid progression of technology in this area. The problem
that Courts, Privacy and Data Protection
in the Digital Environment
faces is the constantly evolving technological
landscape – which will, presumably rather presently, make its information
outdated and inaccurate. For a book with this little longevity, the price seems
a little high – and perhaps this explains why this sort of volume hasn’t been
created before now. But, for the present moment,  it provides a transparent picture of what
court decisions are likely to yield in certain EU countries vis a vis privacy.

Courts, Privacy and
Data Protection in the Digital Environment
is a book that was presumably
made for students and academics of EU-wide law. It’s a convenient, largely
readable, and concise summary – and to that extent, it is a success. As an
overview which comes prefaced with two explanatory chapters, it could be said
to be suitable for a wide range of readers. However, the fact remains that its
specific content, and its occasional repetition lead to it being a very niche
object of interest; and its dry writing suggests its more about providing
information than engaging readers.

James Witherspoon is a UCL Law Student, Scottish Government
Digital Directorate employee and freelancing film critic on the side.