Technology is everywhere and transcends all boundaries in our globalised society, including legal ones. Therefore, it is important to think about the legal issues caused and opportunities created by its rapid evolution.
Technology permeates our daily lives. We wake up with a smart alarm clock, we enter into smart contracts, we pay with cryptocurrencies when shopping online, and so on. The use of technology also forms an integral part of our contact with the government, of the sports world, of the fight against terrorism and of armed conflicts. Technology is omnipresent, crossing boundaries. Legal boundaries are no exception. Furthermore, in today’s information age, the so-called digital era, technology is developing at breakneck speed. What role is there for the law in this technology-driven setting?
Legal challenges and opportunities…
The greatest challenge for the legal system is to regulate an ever-changing society and beyond that, to anticipate societal evolutions. When changes in society collide with the boundaries of the regulatory framework, legal uncertainty arises. Adjustments in legislation or case law then become necessary. New technologies also have an impact on the way in which law is practised. Although a comprehensive digitalisation of the Belgian legal system is still a long way off, ad hoc examples can be perceived. For instance, the use of digital powers of attorney for notarial deeds has been introduced during the COVID-19 crisis. Court hearings have started taking place by video conference as well, although this does not yet take the form of institutionalised internet courts as is the case in some other countries (such as China). In addition, technologies create opportunities for legal scholarship. For example, algorithms can better identify trends in case law and facilitate access to legal sources.
…scrutinized at a conference and a book
During the 9th edition of the ‘Assistentenconferentie/Conférence des Assistants’ (ACCA2020), with the overarching theme of ‘Technology and society: the evolution of the legal landscape’, legal scholars from all Belgian universities and all branches of law reflected upon these legal issues and new opportunities. This conference culminated in a book, honing in on the evolution of the legal landscape due to the effect of technology on our society in eleven contributions, ranging from counter-terrorism to sports law. In a new blog post series building on the book contributions, four posts focus particularly on the impact of technology in the public law (broadly construed) landscape.
Technology and public law
Firstly, technology has an impact on the relationship between the government and its citizens, as public institutions have to adapt to the evolution of society. In her blogpost, Marie DeCock shows how this takes place for local authorities. She distinguishes different ways in which intermunicipalities (‘intercommunales’) incorporate technologies into their activities. She further focuses on the questions raised by these new practices, for example that of the compatibility of new technological services with the ‘municipal interest’, which is at the core of local government.
Challenges are not only present at a local level. In a democratic society, ensuring the proper functioning of public institutions is of paramount importance. This is made possible by, amongst other things, freedom of expression. However, technology influences the way we exercise this right, as Anne Oloo argues in her blogpost about algorithmic accountability, the right to information and social media.
Another important policy domain upon which technology has an increasing impact is security. New technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) in particular, can for example be used to facilitate law enforcement. In his post, Thomas Marquenie discusses the legal and ethical challenges in algorithmic policing and law enforcement AI.
The final post focuses on potential malicious or harmful applications of new technologies. Some technologies, when they fall into the wrong hands can seriously threaten the national security of the country where they were developed. In his post, Kwinten Dewaele addresses this so-called ‘dual use dilemma’.
Each in their specific context, these blogposts make clear that it is extremely important to reflect on the role of technology in our society, more specifically on the way technology influences the relationship between institutions and citizens, and how the legal system should (re)act. The book offers a contribution to this reflection.
Marie Bourguignon is a doctoral researcher at the Leuven Centre for Public Law (LCPL), KU Leuven.
Tom Hick is a doctoral researcher at the Institute for the Law of Obligations, KU Leuven.
Sofie Royer is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for IT and IP law (CiTiP) and an affiliated researcher at the Institute of Criminal Law, both KU Leuven.
Ward Yperman is a doctoral researcher at the Institute for Criminal Law, KU Leuven.
The authors wish to thank the conference speakers and the authors of the book contributions and blogposts, as well as law firm Quinz, the Leuven Faculty of Law and the Doctoral School of Humanities of the KU Leuven, whose logistical and financial support made the ACCA2020 conference and the book possible. They are looking forward to the 10th edition of ACCA, which will take place at the Université Saint-Louis on the 17th of September 2021.
Marie BOURGUIGNON, Tom HICK, Sofie ROYER & Ward YPERMAN, "Technology and society: the evolution of the legal landscape A conference, a book and now a series of blogposts", Leuven Blog for Public Law, 17 September 2021, https://www.leuvenpubliclaw.com/technology-and-society-the-evolution-of-the-legal-landscape-a-conference-a-book-and-now-a-series-of-blogposts (geraadpleegd op 25 October 2021)
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