Universiteit Leiden

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eLaw - Center for Law and Digital Technologies

Focus areas

Within a multidisciplinary research team, cooperation takes place on the following focus areas:

Cybersecurity and cybercrime

IT and the internet are an increasingly essential and integrated part of modern life. With the rise of the Internet of Things, wearables and widespread datafication, security and safety gain further importance. The focus is not merely on physical safety and information security, but also in a broad sense on safeguards regarding fundamental rights and freedoms. Internet governance and the responsibilities of stakeholders involved play an important role in this respect.

In this focus area, special attention is given to cybercrime issues, in which new digital technologies can be used to commit (new types of) crimes. Typical examples are the developments regarding drones (for instance, criminals using drones for smuggling, terrorists using drones for attacks), malware (for instance, ransomware that demands ransom payments of computer users) and bitcoins (cryptocurrencies that can be used to launder the profits of cybercrime).

At the same time, technology can also contribute to the prevention, criminal investigation and prosecution of crime. Typical examples of such law enforcement technologies are Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), wiretapping, fingerprints, forensic DNA research, coupling of databases, nanotechnology, data mining and profiling, camera surveillance, network analyses and the use of drones.

Privacy and the protection of personal data

Digital technologies, such as big data and profiling, offer corporations and governments many opportunities, but there are also risks in relation to moral values and fundamental rights. Moral values may get under pressure when people are judged on their data (human dignity) or as part of a group (de-individualisation). Big data can also put privacy under pressure, for instance, when data from different contexts is combined (decontextualisation, identity collapse). Profiling can also involve risks for discrimination (e.g., racial profiling), justice (non-transparent, Kafka-like decision-making) and freedom (chilling effects).

With the rise of social media and big data technology, privacy remains a prominent research area. From a legal perspective, online privacy and the protection of personal data (particularly the EU General Data Protection Regulation – GDPR) and property rights regarding personal data (for instance in the context of cloud computing) are relevant. Instruments like Privacy by Design and Privacy Impact Assessments require further development.

Also other human rights, including non-discrimination, human dignity and freedom of expression are particularly relevant in this context. New technologies that may be subject of research are big data, the Internet of Things (IoT), the Internet of Bodies (IoB), Artificial Intelligence, drones, blockchain technology, bitcoins, wearables and serious gaming. From an ethical and philosophical perspective, special attention is given to data ethics.

Ethical and societal implications of digital technologies

Personal relations are increasingly formed and maintained via social media (for instance, via Facebook, Snapchat, Grindr). The platform economy, with prominent examples like Airbnb and Uber put traditional business models under pressure. Technology itself becomes more proactive and more autonomous. Tasks that were previously performed by humans are increasingly transferred to technological agents (algorithmic and data-driven decision making, Artificial Intelligence). The ubiquitous use of digital technologies results in fundamental changes in the way society is organized.

In this focus area, the ethical-philosophical and societal implications of these changes are investigated. What does the use of these technologies mean for the human condition? How do democratic values like freedom, justice, trust, autonomy and dignity evolve? To what extent does technology influence power structures? To what extent does technology exclude particular groups or offer specific opportunities? How does technology influence the role of citizens and their opportunities to act? Which moral principles should be taken into account when developing and implementing new technologies?

Research in this focus area contributes to responsible research and innovation, for instance, via:

  • The development of ethical frameworks for the design and implementation of new technologies.
  • Conceptual analysis of (legal) terminology and principles and social values of which the meaning may change due to new technologies
  • The mapping and analysing of moral agency of stakeholders involved.
  • The development of guidelines for ethical data use.

Telecommunications law and media law

The rise and dissemination of digital technologies has fundamentally changed the regulatory landscape of several legal domains. Typical examples are telecommunications law, intellectual property law and media law. This has raised fundamental questions regarding the effectiveness, scope and reach of traditional legal instruments.

For telecommunications law, important factors in this regard are the dynamics of digital technology developments and the economic consequences for investments in infrastructure. New legislation and the enforcement of existing legislation in telecommunications law offer challenges with regard to safeguards of an effective and technology neutral legal framework. Legislation touches upon the interests of legal subjects that communicate with each other from all continents via different networks (mobile, cable, satellite, IP). This requires an international focus. In research and education, we focus on the following subareas: the interaction with (European) competition law and privacy law, the starting points for market regulation, interoperability and standardisation, distribution of scarce resources like frequency spectrum, sharing of networks and sites, stimulating network and services innovation, protection of societal and end user interests, like net neutrality and consumer protection, and the influence of sector specific regulation for contracting.

Furthermore, the rise and dissemination of these technologies yields new ideas and concepts for regulatory and legal mechanisms. Within eLaw, research is focused on broader and fundamental understanding of the ways in which the development of digital technologies influences society and the regulatory and legal frameworks within society. The research in this focus area concentrates on the development of new concepts and perspectives within the changing regulatory framework in a world of digital and converging technologies, the role of legislation and regulation in such a world and the available mechanisms for legislators, regulators and policy makers to channel these developments. The goal is to shape the application, the use and the access to platforms and technologies in such a way that the rule of law is enforced.

Focus areas in this respect are democracy, freedom of expression, media law, smart infrastructure and data services regulation, smart contracts, intellectual property, market regulation, telecommunications and e-privacy law, and responsible innovation.

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