Professor Spotlight: Molly Land

By Adam Colorado

In a hybridization of human rights law and intellectual property, Professor Molly Land’s research sheds light on the technologies that can provide mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights.

Among Land’s current research projects is a concept known as the right to be forgotten. This term is used to describe the right of people to be free from present or future harm that could result from past personal history, accessed through online search engines for example. In other words, the question presented is whether a person should be free to live his or her current life without having their past held against them. “That I have a privacy or dignitary right to be able to control the information or picture of me they see on the internet,” explained Land.

This concept “raises the larger questions about, should we think about privacy in that way?,” said Land.

In one example, Land noted that the European Court of Justice found that the petitioner had the right to ask Google to de-index certain information that was no longer relevant to whom the petitioner was as a person today.

The case raised concerns about the burden on search engines to remove that type of content; Google has received many requests to remove similar content that people do not like or do not want posted. Land also noted there was a concern with accountability because there would be private companies making decisions about free speech.

While this issue is the immediate focus of Land’s research, she has previously studied other matters regarding the intersection of technology and human rights. This fusion of technology and human rights stems from Land’s own background; she formerly worked in IP litigation, but was trained as human rights lawyer. Land found a way to unite these distinct areas and carve out a specialty within human rights law.

“People are experimenting with all sorts of different technologies to document human rights violations”, stated Land. This has included research on the use of GPS devices to map terrain that would protect economic, cultural and social rights including the right to water.

Additionally, a smart phone app with a “panic button” was developed with the idea that, when activated, it would send a rapid message reporting a human rights violation, such as in cases of detention.

Land notes that there is a crucial 48-hour timeframe after the initial detention, where it is most vital to respond. These types of technologies would allow for rapid responses that allow for more openness, and importantly, more local information. The disadvantages would be that there are security concerns with using these devices in particular geographic locations.

“Even in the US we should have technology that protects our rights, rather than makes it easier for the government for violate our rights,” said Land.