Articles filed under Understanding the internet

Hacker Firewall by Christoph Scholz

Encryption is a way of making data secure, so that it can only be accessed by authorised parties. Cryptographic techniques are used to render information unintelligible to any third parties whilst it is being stored on an electronic device such as a laptop or smartphone, or during its transit from sender to recipient over the internet or other types of computer network.

There are many techniques of encryption but the main principles are as follows:

  • Unencrypted data is referred to as “plaintext”.
  • Plaintext is encrypted using an algorithm known as a “cipher”.
  • The algorithm also generates a pseudo-random encryption “key”.
  • Once plaintext has been encrypted it is known as “ciphertext”.
  • The ciphertext is unreadable and can only be deciphered (ie converted back to plaintext) with the symmetric (private) or asymmetric (public) key which was previously generated by the algorithm.
  • End to end encryption means that data which passes through a company’s servers (eg WhatsApp) can only be read by the sender and recipient and cannot be accessed or interfered with by the company handling the data.


The origin of the term “smart contract” has been attributed to Nick Szabo who wrote a paper in the late 90s in which he described them as combining “protocols with user interfaces to formalize and secure relationships over computer networks.” However, the more popular meaning of “smart contract” in current parlance, and for purposes of this article, is an agreement which is monitored, executed and enforced by blockchain technology.

Code by Michael Himbeault

Predictive coding is a form of technology assisted review (TAR) used to assess the relevance of high volumes of documents for purposes of electronic disclosure (e-disclosure). E-disclosure refers to the disclosure of all electronically stored information (ESI) – as opposed to any hard copy documents – as part of the litigation process.


Net neutrality is the idea that all data sent across the internet should be treated equally, without the application of any discriminatory filtering based on specific criteria. To better understand the concept, it helps to view the internet as a “dumb” network of pipes merely facilitating the flow of data from one location (eg a website) to another (eg a user’s laptop). Since the inception of the internet, a variety of techniques have been used for commercial or law enforcement purposes to restrict this data flow, either by preventing certain data from reaching users or conditionally slowing down the speed of data.

Namecoin party fever

A blockchain is literally a chain of blocks of data recording transactions, connected using digital, cryptographic signatures. Confusingly, blockchain technology is often referred to simply as “Blockchain” (with cap B) or as “the blockchain” (with the definite article prepended). No doubt this usage stems from its initially unique and most widely-known application as the technology behind Bitcoin which was the inspiration for subsequent implementations (which are sometimes known as altchains).

big data for law

The term “big data” essentially refers to very large sets of data, as well as the processes used for capturing, analysing and extracting value from these data sets. An often-quoted definition of big data is Gartner’s 3 Vs: “Big data is high-volume, high-velocity and/or high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing that enable enhanced insight, decision making, and process automation.” Discussions around big data often focus on public benefits (such as crime prevention or health research) or its value to business (such as upselling and recommendations engines). Big data techniques can help people to spot general patterns or trends (often with the use of visual displays) but can also be applied on an individual targeted level.

Open access logoOpen access (OA), in its simplest form, means unrestricted online access to research outputs. These outputs cover all forms of research including journal articles, conference papers, book chapters, monographs and more. In its wider sense any kind of digital content can be open access, from texts and data to software, audio, video and multi-media.

But what do we mean by unrestricted access?

Open v free

There is a common misconception that free access is open access. Much of the content of the internet is free to access – newspaper websites, YouTube videos, the BBC etc. However, whilst your access to this content is free, the publisher retains all the intellectual property rights to the content and controls what you can or can’t do with it. You can’t just copy or reuse content as you please. Clearly this kind of free access, while reserving all rights, is a perfectly acceptable publishing model, but it is not open access.

Much of the free content we enjoy on the web is supported by the advertising publishers sell on those pages. Until recently we have readily accepted this bargain. However, as advertising methods have become ever more distracting and intrusive, users have in increasing numbers taken to installing ad blockers to mitigate the effects: they facilitate a faster and cleaner browsing experience, enhance privacy, reduce the chances of picking up malware and save data.

According to a recent report by “anti-ad blocking” company PageFair, ad blocking has grown by over 40 per cent globally over the past year, taking the worldwide numbers of ad blocking users to almost 200 million. However, UK ad blocking users rose at a far greater rate over the same period, by 82 per cent to 12 million.

Web by Ryan DickeyThe term “Deep Web” was coined in 2001 by Computer scientist Mike Bergman in his white paper “The Deep Web: Surfacing Hidden Value”. He used the term to describe the parts of the web containing content which was not indexed by traditional search engines, claiming that it was “400 to 550 times larger than the commonly defined World Wide Web” (or “surface web”). In effect, this means that a Google search which produces millions of results only reveals the tip of an iceberg of data, the majority of which is hidden below the surface.

Susan Mclean has written an excellent article in the May issue of Computers & Law on The Rise of the Sharing Economy, its challenges and the legal issues concerned. I’d recommend you read it!

The purpose of this article is to point to some useful further resources and alternative perspectives that may help in our understanding of this phenomenon and how it affects lawyers.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is, literally, the network of all the physical things connected to the internet. (Generally we now refer to things capable of connecting to the internet as “smart” things.)

We started with just computer terminals connected to the internet and that remained the way it was for 15 years or so. To that network of billions of connected computers we have now added billions of smart phones and tablet computers which have added many new ways in which we can interact with others on the network, whether it’s ordering a product just by scanning in its QR code, requesting a cab based on our location tracked via GPS, or finding out more about where we are or what we are looking at just by pointing at it. We’re also now purchasing smart TVs in large numbers, combining our thirst for broadcast TV with our thirst for on demand TV and social media services in particular. Our cars are increasingly smarter and we are also venturing into smart home automation: remotely controlling our central heating, security systems and other devices which can also automatically communicate with our suppliers.

So far so mundane you may say in 2015, but – and this is what really gets the media excited – what about smart fridges?! What delights and perils are in store when everything can be connected to the internet?