Conference Contribution Details
Mandatory Fields
Rónán Kennedy
Big Data and Environmental Prosecutions
Optional Fields
 Environmental regulation presents a particularly appropriate context within which to explore the issues raised by the forensic use of 'big data', as it is so closely tied to developments in both science and technology. The challenges of properly managing the quality of the environment are complex and difficult, particularly as carbon emissions threaten to cause rapid and catastrophic climate change. It requires bringing together locations, events and processes through various scales of time and space, from epochal to immediate and from local to global and somehow considering them together. As information and communications technology has the capacity to compress time (by storing information, facilitating modelling, and enabling asynchronous communication), space (by enabling long-distance communication and transportation) and complexity (by augmenting memory, performing cumbersome calculations and streamlining cooperation), it has important applications for this task.  Although prosecution is often a last resort for environmental regulators, growing awareness of the devastating and long-lasting consequences of pollution has led to increasingly stringent fines for related offences. A loss in a civil case may result in large awards of damages. Environmental cases are therefore significant and often hard-fought. Environmental law and science have long been linked in a way that is distinctive, something which can be traced through the development of classification and statistical analysis in the 18th and 19th centuries and into the modern focus on standard setting.  In the courts, the two have an uneasy relationship but science is often key to determining legal liability. This paper explores the resulting questions, highlighting how regulators are using big data in practice, the extent to which they are opening their systems to input from citizen science and allowing NGOs and the general public to have access to their datasets. It also summarises the issues that have arisen around the use of science in environmental prosecutions and considers what problems may arise if regulators rely on big data in court. Finally, it considers the challenges of designing 'information infrastructures' that take proper account of the requirements of the law, the rules of evidence and the need for flexibility in accommodating legal change. It focuses on how software code and databases are becoming the invisible 'glue' that interconnects the various actors in the regulatory system and weave an implicit web of control between decision-makers, regulated entities and ordinary citizens, and raises questions about what happens when the 'glue' hardens and installed technology makes policy change difficult or impossible.
Publication Themes