La Trobe LawTech explores big data, privacy and the law

This year La Trobe Law School’s LawTech team have been at the forefront of debates surrounding artificial technology, social media regulation and the role of big data in government decision making. La Trobe LawTech is a research, educational and consulting network that creates opportunities to explore the multifaceted issues that arise when law, technology and innovation meet.

Lawtech members played a leading role in the inaugural Law and New Technologies International Conference on Big Data and National Security being held in Melbourne from 29 April – 1 May 2019. It was convened with colleagues at UNSW law and Deakin, as part of the Data to Decisions Cooperative Research Centre’s Law and Policy Programme. La Trobe Law School’s Professor Louis de Koker is the national lead of this programme which investigates guiding principles in the design, regulation, implementation, governance and oversight of data-based decision-support technologies for law enforcement and national security. 

The conference brought together experts across the law and technology space from government, industry and academia. On one side was the challenged posed in the opening remarks by Frank McGuire MP, Victorian Parliamentary Secretary for Crime Prevention, who challenged participants to think big and put forward ideas for world leading initiatives that could be hosted locally. Mr McGuire noted the technological edge we have in Australia with wide spread data collection that can be used for the public benefit.

Others, like Mr Stephen Merchant PSM, former Director of the Defence Signals Directorate and co-reviewer of the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review, reflected on government agencies’ need not only for new tools but also for legal clarity on how technology can be used and data shared.

Alongside colleagues from other institutions, a number of La Trobe Law School’s leading experts addressed the conference. These included Professor Pompeu Casanovas, the founding director of the Institute of Law and Technology of the Autonomous University of Barcelona and Professor David Watts, the Professor of Information Law at La Trobe. Professor Watts is a former Privacy and Data Protection Commissioner of Victoria. Associate Professor Sarah Smyth and Dr Andre Oboler of our Masters of Cybersecurity (Law) programme also addressed conference. Their papers addressing the regulation of social media were covered in the media.


Exploring Issues Ahead

Australia is in the process of forming a new National Intelligence Community to create a single point of accountability to the Prime Minister and National Security Committee of Cabinet for the intelligence community. That point of contact will be the Office of National Intelligence, newly created on the 20th of December last year.

Big data creates significant opportunities to increase safety and security, but also significant risks to privacy and other civil liberties. The conference highlighted the need to greater clarity on drones and robotics, bulk data collection and property rights, the accountability of algorithms and questions of acceptability in using black-box algorithms in national security work. It flagged the importance of embedding the protections of rule of law into automated decision making. We thank all participants for contributing their perspectives upon governance and oversight, the web of data, ethics and AI, and high-level principles for the regulation of big data. This platform of work will continue to be developed by our La Trobe LawTech team.

Last year, LawTech welcomed the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, Professor Joe Catannaci, to the State Library of Victoria, where he addressed the theme Privacy, Bid Data & AI. The lecture and discussion can be watched below: 

Darren O’Donovan