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Category ArchiveRandom Ramblings

The Truth About Privacy

Article 8 European Convention on Human Rights – Right to respect for private and family life

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

This week in Cardiff a man has taken legal action in response to his facial image being recorded by South Wales Police using automatic facial capture technology. It’s not that your face is simply videoed, as it is in CCTV etc, but your facial features are mapped using computer software. “It is just like taking people’s DNA or fingerprints, without their knowledge or their consent,” said Megan Goulding, a lawyer from the civil liberties group Liberty.

How much privacy do we have/expect anyway?

You’re doing your weekly shop in Tesco and someone takes a photograph of you. Do you have a right to privacy? You’re sitting in your car in a traffic jam and someone records you on their phone. Do you have a right to privacy? Ultimately, the answer is no. Once in a public space (and your car, what with the windows and all, counts), you have no right or expectation of privacy.

You may have surmised that there is protection from the state and protection from individuals built into Article 8 quoted above. You’d be largely right. But what sort of expectation can we have for privacy when everyone has a camera in their pocket and there is a security camera on every corner? There is no right to privacy in public but this legal theory was developed before the prevalence of technology made it possible for people to record and store your appearance, actions, and speech with ease.

So with individuals now able to surreptitiously record us what about the state? A man was recently fined for covering his face from the police facial recognition camera in London. Other than cost/ineffectiveness it’s hard to imagine anything but a wider rollout of this technology.

So you’d be forgiven for thinking in your home (or should that be a smartphone), “I’m sure to be protected there right?” Not necessarily. Theresa May’s crowning achievement as Home Secretary was to introduce the Snoopers Charter. This allows state agencies from the police to the Scottish Ambulance Service Board to get warrants for access to your communications and other personal data. And what happens that data once the agencies have it? Only ten years ago, the police were found to be holding onto innocent peoples DNA indefinitely.

That says nothing of scandals at the corporations that are the size of states. I’m looking at you Facebook, here, here and here. And you Google (who’s company motto once upon a time was “Don’t be evil.”), here, here, and here.

So what to do? Sorry I’ve no happy ending here, just assume you’re always being watched. Because you probably are. It’s not 1984, it’s not modern day China. BUT if you ever have to ask if you have an expectation of privacy in a situation – you probably don’t.

The Long-Awaited Second Munger Post

This is the second post in a series of posts on the wit and wisdom of Charlie Munger, a former lawyer and investing savant. Part 1, in which we covered his maxim that the most important marketing a solicitor can do is the current work on his desk, can be found here.

“A great business at a fair price is superior to a fair business at a great price.” Charlie Munger

In this quote, Munger is able to distill into a sentence one of his investing maxims. First, focus on the product you are buying, then see whether the price is fair. It’s better to pay a fair price for the product that is good and fit for purpose than pay a cheaper price for an inferior product. Some may call it being cheap.

Of course, if you’re buying plastic cups where one product is indistinguishable from the next (i.e. a commodity) then the price can become the differentiating factor with little to no downside.

When you’re purchasing something that isn’t a commodity (e.g. a service like legal advice) the product or service offered needs to be of sufficient quality to get the job done. Otherwise, potential disaster awaits. And it follows if potential disaster awaits, then what price savings you gained are lost in the ensuing problems.

Of course, some may suggest that legal advice IS a commodity, something you’ll be shocked (SHOCKED I TELL YOU) to hear I disagree with. Given the disparity in backgrounds, offices, and personnel it would be foolish to suggest “one size fits all” legal advice will be sufficient.

So when next deciding between products and services decide whether you want a great product at a fair price or a great price for a fair product.

Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be legal advice or research but if you do wish to receive advice on any of the content discussed please contact us on 028 3752 5400 and we will be happy to help you. Please note that whilst we will aim to provide accurate information the world changes at a fast pace so always follow up with your solicitor to ensure you are fully up to date with same. For complete Terms and Conditions please see the relevant section of our website.

It’s The Work On Your Desk

“It’s the work on your desk…It’s the work on your desk. Do well with what you already have and more will come in.”

Charlie Munger

The above is a quote from Charlie Munger, Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and a one-time lawyer. You may not have heard of Charlie Munger, who prefers to shine the limelight on his partner in Berkshire, Warren Buffet. Whilst Buffett draws the plaudits as one of the greatest investors to ever live, Munger is equally extraordinary, a unique thinker. A polymath who has had considerable success both with and without Buffett, to whom Warren attributes a lot of his success, and the reason for close avoidance of many nearly-mistakes.

[For what it’s worth, Munger was unable to talk Buffett out of a large share purchase in Anglo Irish Bank shortly before it’s nationalisation, but nobody’s perfect]

I’ve  been reading a book on Munger, Poor Charlie’s Almanac, and Munger’s wit and ability to turn a phrase has been striking to someone working in the legal profession. The above quote can be correlated to another “Mungerism” which I will cover in a later post, but this quote is worthy on its own.

“It’s the work on your desk.”

To pull the curtain back on the legal profession today, the average lawyer has less and less time to think about the work on their desk. Between external considerations like money laundering, cyber-crime and a cacophony of other noise, a newly graduated solicitor may find that a job in the legal profession is less about digging into statute and precedents and more about managing their clients’ expectations, their bosses’ fee targets, social media on behalf of the firm, presentations and research papers. The list of jobs on top of the work on the desk can seem endless.

For those in upper management, competition is fierce for work and a firms’ ability to stand out, therefore raising their profile to attract more and more clients is a constant pressure. Which brings me back to Munger’s quote;

It’s the work on your desk. Do well with what you already have and more will come in.”

Sometimes that means other issues can arise, such as not renegotiating a utility supplier or not getting your completed files to storage fast enough but for the success of the firm, the focus must be the work on your desk.

Most importantly, by focusing on the work on your desk, not prospective work, not tangential matters, we can deliver the best quality of work to you. If we do the work with diligence and full use of our expertise more will come in. Our own John Taylor has his own phrase for this; “Focus on what you’re getting paid for, not what you hope to be paid for.”

I hope you will forgive me for leaving it there for today. I would highly recommend people read further on Charlie Munger but in the meantime, I must get back to…you get the idea.

[You may wonder how writing blog posts and Facebook updates can assist in completing the work on our desk. The wonders of modern technology, most of which I’m still working out, make it possible to generate blog and social media posts and publish them at different times so work on our desks isn’t being superseded. Secondly, I feel the blog will make me a better communicator, which will ultimately benefit clients. Our social media posts, I hope, are less about self-aggrandisement and more about informing people of useful information, not just clients whom we are in direct contact with. Let me hear your thoughts! – William]

 

Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be legal advice or research but if you do wish to receive advice on any of the content discussed please contact us on 028 3752 5400 and we will be happy to help you. Please note that whilst we will aim to provide accurate information the world changes at a fast pace so always follow up with your solicitor to ensure you are fully up to date with same. For complete Terms and Conditions please see the relevant section of our website.

Jumping on the Royal Wedding Bandwagon.

I’ve got a confession to make. At about half 12 yesterday, instead of keeping my nose to the grindstone, I was thinking about lunch. I had a hunger a regular sandwich wasn’t going to satisfy. I was weighing up The Galley chippy, maybe a Bagel Bean bagel (so much more than just a bagel) or Dominoes.

Then it hit me, I’ll go on O2 Priority and see if I can get a meal deal. Cheap and filling. Once I got there however, there were no meal deals to be found. I appeared to have forgotten about an event this weekend.

So, no meal deal for me but a premise for a blog post.

Now that Harry and Megan are going to be married what advantages will they receive (I’m going to use the term married here but it also applies to civil partnerships which are like marriages in every way but not called marriages. Hmm.) Anyway, steering away from that one

1. Dying without a Will.

If a person dies intestate (without leaving a will), the Administration of Estates Act (NI) 1955 sets out the order in which their family should benefit (i.e. receive property etc). If you die without a will, being survived by your spouse with no kids, your husband/wife will receive all of your estate. If you die leaving behind a spouse and kids your estate will be split between them with your spouse taking the larger portion.

If you are not married, your long-term partner will not have any immediate claim against any assets in your estate which are in your sole name, regardless of how long you have been living like a married couple. There is no legal standing for a Common Law Spouse.

A will is therefore essential to prevent your partner having to claim against your estate (in other words the claim would be against your beneficiaries under the Administration of Estates Act, most likely your children or your parents).

2. Inheritance Tax.

When you die your estate may be liable for inheritance tax. The current nil-rate band up to which you don’t pay inheritance tax is £325,000. [There is another £125,000 (and rising) residential nil-rate band but let’s keep this simple]

Every penny above £325,000 will be taxable at 40%. There is, however, an unlimited exemption of spousal gifts. So, if Harry leaves everything to Megan and pre-deceases her there will be no inheritance tax payable.

Similarly, any of the ‘unused’ portion of Harry’s nil-rate band that wasn’t required on his decease can be transferred to Megan so in the example above her estate on her death would have two £325,000 nil-rate bands or £650,000 before inheritance tax would need to be paid.

If you are a couple and not married, then you receive neither the spousal exemption nor the transfer of unused nil-rate band. This can have a drastic effect on the amount of inheritance tax your estate may have to play. Even if you have lived together for 50 years and have a grown-up family and grandchildren, but never married, you will still not receive the transfer of nil-rate band or the spousal exemption.

This obviously provides an extra incentive to conduct thorough estate planning.

3. Other tax reliefs:

  1. Capital Gains allowance can be shared by giving a share to your spouse on disposal.
  2. You inherit your spouses ISA allowance (allowing the cash to go to someone else if necessary).
  3. Marriage Tax Allowance if only one of the couple works.
  4. The surviving spouse may take a portion of their deceased spouse’s state pension, but this will depend on the circumstances.

As you can see social engineering at the state level has built some substantial benefits into being married. It doesn’t matter if you’re living unmarried with the same person for 40 years and have 8 kids. You will not receive the benefits.

Never wanted to marry? Married before and don’t fancy it again? Simply don’t see what all the fuss is about?

Then you absolutely MUST make a will and take steps to protect your estate from exposure to inheritance tax. By doing these things you will make dealing with your estate that much easier, at a time when things will be difficult enough for your loved ones.

Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be legal advice or research but if you do wish to receive advice on any of the content discussed please contact us on 028 3752 5400 and we will be happy to help you. Please note that whilst we will aim to provide accurate information the world changes at a fast pace so always follow up with your solicitor to ensure you are fully up to date with same. For complete Terms and Conditions please see the relevant section of our website.

Don’t Fear the Robots

As we move more and more into a digital world the data we share about ourselves online, from personal information to personality traits, will continue to grow. News stories recently have made it more and more tempting to fear technology.

Data Protection regulations or no, unscrupulous firms will use our data, collected legally in some cases [Just check out the terms and conditions on some websites & apps. Who’s going to read all of that?] to sell us things, to sell our details to other firms who will sell us things etc.

Seriously Twitter, no more Vodaphone ads. But I don’t want to tell you I don’t like them either.

 

Cambridge Analytica, the firm at the centre of the Facebook data scandal, have suspended boss Alexander Nix in the wake of allegations of manipulating personal data and using it to target voters in the 2016 American Presidential Election.

[Bringing to mind the phrase: If you don’t pay for a product; YOU are the product.]

Which is to say nothing of the information collected by cookies on the web, your phone on what apps you use, and for how long, Google Maps on our locations. The list is endless. We even have a robot in our kitchen tracking our every word waiting to hear “Alexa, play Cool FM” for Pete’s sake.

All of which is pretty scary.

There was supposed to be a ‘but’ here highlighting all the obvious advantages of tech, but I am struggling to be enthused by it. I just take the technology for granted. I’m also spending too much time watching Boston Dynamics pre-apocalypse videos.

 

I guess what I’m trying to say is we have to accept the rough with the smooth. Instead of worrying about the worst-case scenarios it is up to us, Citizens Of Early 21st Century, to educate ourselves on the pitfalls of tech and avoid them. Navigating things like Dark Patterns is part of the curriculum for the modern age.

Much more interesting to me, are the tech advancements which will help you the customer. One example would be the chatbot Do Not Pay which has been successfully fighting car parking tickets (and more recently getting flight refunds) for years FOR FREE. Technology which automates simple procedure will provide the lowest costs to end users and therefore benefit everyone.

Robot Financial Advisers are already making waves in the investment world and in the next few years, there will be an expansion of potentially similar technology in law firms [hint: in the biggest firms it’s already well afoot]. Whether this is client facing or not doesn’t matter, the revolution is coming. Deloitte forecasts that around 114,000 UK legal jobs are likely to be automated in the next 20 years, ‘most of them junior jobs, with many more at high risk of elimination through technology’.

All of which means you have to educate yourself or risk being left behind. After all, a robot is just a difference engine, it’s the humans programming it that we have to watch out for.

 

Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be legal advice or research but if you do wish to receive advice on any of the content discussed please contact us on 028 3752 5400 and we will be happy to help you. Please note that whilst we will aim to provide accurate information the world changes at a fast pace so always follow up with your solicitor to ensure you are fully up to date with same. For complete Terms and Conditions please see the relevant section of our website.