What do you do?
I'm a technology lawyer specialising in data privacy and protection, cybersecurity and digital ethics. I also additionally focus on new and emerging technologies, which for me currently covers machine learning systems and privacy enhancing technologies.
Being born to lawyer-technologist parents, in some ways the seeds were sown very early on! Practising technology and data law however was still reasonably serendipitous for me. When I first started focusing on tech law, I was lucky to be at an excellent firm and team that already advised some of the world's biggest tech companies. Many of today's tech unicorns were also really starting to come into their own at the same time, challenging the status quo, and also demanding a new kind of agile, tech-savvy lawyer. I was lucky enough to ride that wave early on. Over the following years, I also found being able to combine a deep academic interest in privacy and digital ethics with the practice of law professionally deeply fulfilling, and that continues to be the case.
What’s keeping you busy?
It continues to be an extremely busy time for tech lawyers, and I've tracked some interesting trends in the work over the past year. In the early days of the pandemic, there was a lot of focus on the pivot to remote working, adopting new platforms, dealing with new security threats, and trying to innovate at speed and scale to help solve some of the pandemic's most pressing challenges. It’s been great to have helped a wide range of clients navigate these challenges in a safe and robust manner.
As the months have rolled on, focus has shifted and evolved towards helping safely and continuously scale data-intensive global businesses, which have in addition to the pandemic, been challenged by things like Brexit, Schrems II and political uncertainty. Alongside this, there's also been a huge uptick in dealmaking, and I've had the opportunity to advise on the data aspects of some truly incredible ones. I'm also really proud of my recent work on children's privacy and online harms, on which the UK has taken a leading position globally. As we emerge from the pandemic, I increasingly have my sights set (once again) on matters like privacy enhancing tech and AI audit.
What mentors or other influential figures have helped you get where you are today?
I've had some amazing professional mentors along the way. Brilliant, kind, and inspirational people who have and continue to open so many doors for me. Lalit Kumar and Shivpriya Nanda at JSA, Rob McCargow at PwC, and last but by no means the least Jonathan Kewley at Clifford Chance have all been incredible friends and mentors.
Academically, Mireille Hildebrandt, Danielle Citron, danah boyd and Frank Pasquale are just some of the amazing scholars who've had a huge impact on my understanding of and love for this field.
If you could change one data-related law, how and why would you change it?
That's a tough one. Here in Europe I think we're very lucky to have what's widely accepted as the gold standard in data laws, and I personally am in the camp that believes the legal guardrails we have are necessary.
It probably won't come as a surprise though when I say the law-regulator-interpreter-implementer ecosystem continues to face teething issues. Lawyers and businesses continue to spend a lot of time trying to unpack and translate a largely principles-based approach to regulating data, and this has had mixed results so far. It's taken many years and countless changes to get to the law we have, and I wouldn't change it just yet per se, but would focus more on effective implementation. I think we could use more helpful granularity through guidance and more nuanced, generally accepted precedent and standards in the industry.
How has covid-19 affected what you do?
It's been a truly surreal year. I think the fact that this month marks my one-year anniversary at Clifford Chance without ever actually having sat in my office says it all. I think the law firm world has been long overdue for adopting a more flexible, informal yet equally (or more) productive work culture, and although the pandemic somewhat forced this on us, we've found that for the most part, it actually works quite well, and I love that. Work-wise, the pandemic driven tech push across the board has also supercharged our practice, and I do expect the steady stream of cutting-edge work to continue for years to come.
What’s the next big thing – what data opportunities are companies now looking at?
It's been interesting to observe the trends in data-intensive businesses and technologies over the last few years. We're seeing global alignment in data laws (largely around the European model), and companies are increasingly starting to (or at least wanting to be being seen to) walk the talk on issues such as trust, transparency and fairness. I think the next big thing is being able to share, use, and dare I say, monetise data while staying true to these tenets and within legal guardrails – not an easy task, but something that holds immense promise.
I think we're likely to see much more by way of new ways of engaging with customers, freedom over what is or isn't done with our data, and using data to fuel environmentally sustainable growth. The best companies will be looking to keep, win, or win back our trust and confidence in the years ahead – there is no other way forward.
What’s keeping companies worried at the moment – what are some key data risks?
I think there's some risks here and now – increasingly complex and large-scale security threats rank very high. A close second is the type of precedent that might be set by the next big regulatory enforcement action; in a field where the current breed of laws is still quite nascent, these can have major ripple effects across the industry and the world. The thing that keeps companies worried the most however, is the unknown unknowns, unexpected issues lurking around the corner that could have major repercussions for consumer trust, the company's reputation, and ultimately their bottom lines. This is partly why we're seeing a lot of investment in better data governance, which goes a long way in helping look ahead and plan for the worst.
What do you do to relax?
Normally it'd be a trip to the theatre or a gig and digging a little deeper into London's limitless culinary trove. I also write/direct stage theatre myself, which has been the invaluable yin to my yang since law school. However, since that’s all been snatched away this past year, I've pivoted more towards things that really let me clear my head and switch off – long walks, cycle rides, and sunny picnics (when we can).