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Mass Surveillance, Artificial Intelligence and New Legal Challenges

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[This is the text of a talk I gave to the Irish Law Reform Commission Annual Conference in Dublin on the 13th of November 2018]In the mid-19th century, a set of laws were created to address the menace that newly-invented automobiles and locomotives posed to other road users. One of the first such laws was the English The Locomotive Act 1865, which subsequently became known as the ‘Red Flag Act’. Under this act, any user of a self-propelled vehicle had to ensure that at least two people were employed to manage the vehicle and that one of these persons:“while any locomotive is in motion, shall precede such locomotive on foot by not less than sixty yards, and shall carry a red flag constantly displayed, and shall warn the riders and drivers of horses of the approach of such locomotives…”The motive behind this law was commendable. Automobiles did pose a new threat to other, more vulnerable, road users. But to modern eyes the law was also, clearly, ridiculous. To suggest that every car should be preceded by a pedestrian waving a red flag would seem to defeat the point of having a car: the whole idea is that it is faster and more efficient than walking. The ridiculous nature of the law eventually became apparent to its creators and all such laws were repealed in the 1890s, approximately 30 years after their introduction.[1]The story of the Red Flag laws shows that legal systems often get new and emerging technologies badly wrong. By focusing on the obvious or immediate risks, the law can neglect the long-term benefits and costs.I mention all this by way of warning. As I understand it, it has been over 20 years since the Law Reform Commission considered the legal challenges around privacy and surveillance. A lot has happened in the intervening decades. My goal in this talk is to give some sense of where we are now and what issues may need to be addressed over the coming years. In doing this, I hope not to forget the lesson of the Red Flag laws.1. What’s. . .

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News source: Philosophical Disquisitions

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