Friday, 27 September 2019

On Governing Information in a Globalised World

Lecturer in Information Management Dr Jonathan Foster responds to the recent news story about the historic 'Right to be Forgotten' ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union in favour of search engine giant Google.

The Ruling by the European Court of Justice earlier this week raises two important issues. First the issue of how democratic societies strike a balance between the privacy rights of the individual on the one hand, and the public interest on the other. Second, the limits of legal jurisdiction and of institutional obligation.

The ‘Right to be Forgotten’ - or ‘Right to Erasure’ as it is now known - is a provision under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This provision provides individuals with the right to request organisations, search engine operators for example, to remove specific personally-identifying information about them. A number of reasons can be given by the user to justify their request: that processing of the data is no longer necessary in relation to the original purposes for which the data was collected, that data processing relies on the user’s or ‘data subject’s’ consent and the user now withdraws their consent, or that data processing is considered unlawful. For their part the Right to Erasure also places a number of obligations on organizations: to respond to the user’s request and if not acceding to it, to provide their reasons for not complying with it. Again, a number of reasons can be given including freedom of expression and of information, legal necessity, or considering the user’s request to be unfounded or excessive.

What the ruling does this week is re-visit the question of absoluteness. That a user’s right to erasure is not absolute, and indeed that there are limits to jurisdiction and to the extent to which one country or group of countries can impose their values and laws on those of others. To quote the ruling the “operator of a search engine is not required to carry out a de-referencing on all versions of its search engine”. In other words, should an EU citizen submit a request for erasure, the search engine operator is only obliged to erase a person’s name from versions of that search engine that correspond to the Member States of the EU, e.g. Google.fr, Google.de etc. The search engine is not necessarily required to remove information from versions of its search engine that correspond to non-Member States of the EU. For example, if an act of data processing has made the personal data accessible from within the US, that information will in principle still be accessible to a user within that jurisdiction(s).

In short, the European Court of Justice has determined that a user’s right to privacy is limited by geography, national boundaries, and therefore a specific public - as are the obligations of data controllers’ e.g. those of search engine operators. What in turn the ruling alo raises is the perennial issue of whether the Internet is a place for universal access to information or a differentiated landscape of interacting parts.

NB: It is worth bearing in mind that the above ruling is not affected by Brexit. The UK has its own version of the GDPR!

Dr Jonathan Foster

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

My Year as a Student Ambassador

I’ve been a Student Ambassador for the Information School this academic year, which mostly involved talking to prospective students for my course, MA Librarianship, during Open Days. As well as (hopefully) helping them make a decision about where to study, I also found this really useful for myself; I got to talk to other people working, or wanting to work, in the same profession as me, and it also gave me a chance to reflect on my own experiences so far.

I also really enjoyed getting to know other Student Ambassadors from other courses in the Information School – it was good to check in with them throughout the year, particularly when the dissertation period rolled around!

With fellow student ambassador, MSc Data Science student Na Li
I had the chance to try out some other skills when I took on a special project for the School. I filmed myself on a day out around Sheffield where I tried out as many free activities as I could (find out what I got up to here). This was a great opportunity to explore the city I’d moved to, and I got to try out some filmmaking and editing skills. 

The experience I gained on the Open Days also helped me when I applied for bursaries to attend library conferences this year, and as a result I got to attend the LILAC and CILIP conferences.

Overall, I’ve had a great experience as a Student Ambassador this year. Not only was it a handy way to fit in some paid, flexible work around my studies, it also gave me some useful experiences and skills that I can take forward into my future career – including networking, communication, and video making. I also met some lovely people along the way, which was a great plus! I would advise anyone considering becoming an ambassador for their department to apply and give it a go.

Elle Codling
MA Librarianship student

Monday, 2 September 2019

Digital solutions in the field of cultural heritage: Mozambique-Sheffield research collaboration

Last month (5-10 August) Dr Jorge Martins visited the Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique, to meet with Professor Solange Macamo at the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology.


The research visit, sponsored by the QR Grand Challenges Research Fund, enabled the development of a partnership to scope out a research project focused on the opportunities created through digital technologies for the promotion and presentation of cultural heritage in Mozambique.


During the visit, Jorge met with research students working on information and communication technologies and heritage management projects and gave a research seminar on ‘Creative Industries and Digitalisation’ at the Faculty of Letters and Social Sciences.