Marc Rotenberg delivers 12th Annual Dave Ellis Memorial Lecture
13 December 2018
International Digital Privacy Expert highlights Ireland’s role as a powerful ‘social media influencer’
Ireland has the potential to be a critical ‘influencer’ in the behaviours and approaches taken by global social media companies, particularly in areas concerning privacy and hate speech. That’s according to Marc Rotenberg, President of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) who will deliver the 12th annual Dave Ellis Memorial Lecture. The annual lecture, organised by the legal rights organisation FLAC, will take place in the Pillar Room, Rotunda Hospital at 6pm today (13.12.18).
As President of EPIC, Marc Rotenberg advocates on privacy and transparency through the US federal courts, pursues open-government cases, defends consumer privacy and appears before Congress and judicial organisations. In 2016, the Irish High Court appointed EPIC to act as a “friend of the court” (amicus curiae) in the case of Data Protection Commissioner V Facebook Ireland & Schrems to give a counterbalancing perspective to that of the US government. FLAC has continued to represent EPIC in this litigation as part of its strategic litigation work. EPIC maintains one of the most popular privacy websites in the world – www.epic.org.
According to Mr Rotenberg: “As home to the European headquarters of the world’s biggest social media corporations, Ireland now has a critical responsibility to safeguard fundamental rights in the digital age. Enforcement under the GDPR and new laws to address the challenges of fake news and hate crimes in cyber space should be top priorities for the Irish Government.”
“It’s easy to criticise Facebook for their business practices and their disregard for the rights of internet users. However, the real responsibility lies with those who have the authority to regulate internet companies and protect basic rights. We must expect more of those who are responsible for safeguarding the public interest.
“Ireland’s role as a key regulator of the internet giants is being watched worldwide, particularly by organisations that advocate for human rights and privacy. This is a big responsibility for any country, but a responsibility that cannot be shirked.”
Mr Rotenberg’s lecture will also address some of the pioneering work being undertaken by EPIC in holding the US administration to account: “EPIC has worked to hold successive US administrations to account. We are a non-partisan organisation focused on holding government to account. We have taken challenges against the Obama administration, and are have pursued cases concerning the 2016 US presidential election in relation to Russian cybersecurity, hacking and the release of President Trump’s tax returns because this is an important public interest issue.
“This year we have repreatedly urged the US Federal Trade Commisison to take action against Facebook. Our demand follows a successful settlement EPIC and other US consumer privacy organisations obtained against the Internet firm in 2011. But the FTC has failed to enforce the rights established in the Consent Order. And so we have asked the US Congress to monitor the developments of the Federal Trade Commission,” said Mr Rotenberg.
When EPIC was appointed as an amicus to the High Court in 2016, as an NGO with limited resources it experienced difficulty finding legal representation. Ultimately, the representation was provided by FLAC. FLAC was pleased to support an NGO seeking to uphold fundamental rights.
Speaking ahead of tonight’s lecture, Chief Executive of FLAC, Eilis Barry said: “Accessing legal representation can be a barrier for individuals and NGOs who wish to litigate on public interest matters. There is an inequality in the legal capacity of an individual, or NGO, to challenge the law, compared with the resources potentially available to social media operators or the State.”
“A reform of our courts system is needed to enable greater legal advocacy and litigation on public interest issues, not only in relation to the digital space. Such reform should include an expansion of the provision of legal aid, changes in court rules and procedures in relation to multi-party actions, protective cost orders and the rules on standing and also the role of amicus curiae.”
Ms Barry said that FLAC recognised the growing policy and political consensus around the need for regulating social media. “The objective of regulation should be one which makes the online space one that is civil, safe and democratic. In framing regulation, there has to be a commitment to the principles of transparency, accountability and the protection of representative democracy in the online space. Any regulation introduced also needs to tackle the rise of online hate speech which is widespread against groups such as Travellers and asylum seekers.”
“In Ireland, these principles need to go beyond the revenues and returns to our economy from the social media organisations who have a presence here. Above all, in delivering effective regulation, regardless of who the regulator will be, it needs to be effectively resourced to ensure effective monitoring and effective remedies,” she added.
FLAC’s decision to dedicate the 12th Annual Dave Ellis Lecture to privacy and access to justice in an online context is based on the organisation’s increasing concern over the increased threats Ireland’s unregulated digital space presents in terms of fundamental rights.
The speech delivered by Marc Rotenberg is available here.
* FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is a human rights organisation which exists to promote equal access to justice for all. As an NGO, FLAC relies on a combination of statutory funding, contributions from the legal professions and donations from individuals and grant-making foundations to support its work.
* FLAC offers basic legal information through its telephone information line (1890 350 250). Free legal advice is available through a network of volunteer evening advice centres – more at www.flac.ie/help/. FLAC also campaigns and does policy & law reform work on a range of issues including consumer credit, personal debt, fairness in social welfare law, public interest law and civil legal aid.
Note on Dave Ellis:
* The late Dave Ellis was a community activist who dedicated his career to working with community groups on issues including welfare rights, legal aid, legal education and legal entitlements generally. He was Community Law Officer at Coolock Community Law Centre (now Community Law & Mediation) for more than 20 years. Dave Ellis subsequently established Community Legal Resource to provide information, training and support for the not-for-profit and community sector.
Note on Data Protection Commissioner V Facebook and Max Schrems:
* As part of its strategic litigation programme, FLAC continues to represent EPIC a small independent privacy rights NGO in Data Protection Commissioner V Facebook Ireland and Schrems. The case concerns a complaint to the Data Protection Commissioner that an individual’s personal data is being transferred to the US by Facebook in the absence of adequate protections as required by EU law. The case is about the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals in Europe, in particular the rights to
privacy and protection of personal data, and raises issues as to the implementation of the EU Directive on Data protection and the application of the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights.
* EPIC was appointed as an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) on the basis that it could offer a counterbalancing perspective from the US government on privacy safeguards in that jurisdiction. The US government is also appearing as an amicus in the case.