understanding the importance and impact of anonymity and authentication in a networked society
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Elizabeth Judge 

 

 

 

 

 


Elizabeth Judge
Assistant Professor, University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law

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ANON Interview with Dr. Elizabeth Judge
April 2004

ANON: How has your Ph.D research in literature affected your work has a legal scholar?

ELIZABETH JUDGE: It is helpful in terms of giving me a varied background of critical readings and theoretical frameworks. My Ph.D research is on credibility, character and testimony in 18th Century English literature, law and philosophy. In relation to my graduate work, I have studied how privacy and anonymity were conceptualized in different time periods in architecture, literature and epistemology. Privacy and anonymity were not always valued in the same way and some of the procedural protections in trials that we think of as “inalienable rights” only developed in the 18th and 19th centuries. A historical and comparative legal perspective brings out the different relationships that can be drawn between values of privacy and anonymity and legal rights. For example, sometimes the law responds with rules like PIPEDA and sometimes it responds with principles such as the reasonable expectation of privacy.

ANON: As someone located in the law & policy track, why do you think that interdisciplinary collaboration is especially important to the study of anonymity?

ELIZABETH JUDGE: Anonymity and privacy are not concepts that belong exclusively to law. Anonymity and privacy have been studied intensively by other disciplines such as philosophy, literature, anthropology and sociology. Law typically looks towards philosophy to try to define a legal right. One of the reasons that law has had difficulty in positively regulating privacy is because privacy is culturally specific and changes over time, which exacerbates the problem of agreeing on international approaches to safeguarding privacy. Anonymity and privacy are dynamic human rights, which makes it particularly hard for the law to keep responding with an adequate or reasonable level of protection and to determine what adequate and reasonable mean in this context. Changing technology also affects how the law evolves. These are some reasons why an interdisciplinary approach is especially important to the study of anonymity.

ANON: What protections exist to keep court records private? How can government balance the right to privacy (in court records) with access to information laws?

ELIZABETH JUDGE: Existing protections to keep court records confidential include sealing orders. One of the concerns is that available protection mechanisms raise equity issues due to the time, money and knowledge it takes to obtain sealing orders. Court records are a difficult policy issue to balance the need for personal information to be protected with the need to allow the public to access records and for the courts to be transparent. There is a long standing tradition of open courts: generally the public, including the media can attend and report on cases and physical court records are open. Traditionally a sort of privacy protection was built in because of the “practical obscurity” of court records. It was difficult to get these records because individuals had to go to the different court houses and collate information from different sources, which was time consuming and expensive. With the internet, the time and resource obstacles for accessing information were dramatically lowered. Information in electronic court records made available over the Internet could be easily searched and there could be 24-hour access online, but with those gains in efficiency comes a loss of privacy.

ANON: How do you see the networked society changing these fundamental aspects of our justice system?

ELIZABETH JUDGE: When we look at legal remedies for anonymity and privacy, the traditional recourse was to sue for privacy protection. But litigation comes with a strange bargain: people whose privacy had been invaded had to disclose whatever it was that you initially wanted to keep private. Litigants had to give up some privacy in order to pursue a remedy in court. The issue of personal information in court records is particularly critical because it has implications for how the law is able to protect and remedy privacy and anonymity injuries. There is some indication, though the research is limited thus far, that people may be less likely to use courts as a dispute resolution mechanism because of the risk that personal information will be disclosed and disseminated widely. The ways that the law protects personal information in public records and the rules for public institutions collecting, using and protecting the information collected for public record-keeping may affect how people access civil rights such as voting and jury duty.

ANON: You are supervising work on an ANONPEDIA. What exactly is this and how can it be helpful to internet users who don’t know much about privacy?

ELIZABETH JUDGE: It is the first resource of its kind specifically devoted to exploring terms related to anonymity, identity and authentication and the philosophical concepts behind those terms and the norms that inform those concepts. We are trying to balance a scholarly resource with a resource that would be accessible and useful for privacy advocates, consumers and the general public to inform them of ways to protect their privacy rights. It will provide a lexicon for these groups to speak to policy makers and public interest advocates and legal decision makers. The thought behind the Anonpedia is to structure the resource around “key words.” Key words are words or phrases that are commonly used in conversations about privacy. People have a general sense of what they mean colloquially but it is important to figure out what the nuances are and how these key words may be generally defined and clarified. The Anonpedia will also show how these terms are defined by different constituencies and different disciplines and help point to ways that we might work collaboratively to come to a consensus about what these words mean

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