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Law for Computer Scientists and Other Folk$

Mireille Hildebrandt

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780198860877

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198860877.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 28 November 2021

(p.vii) Acknowledgements

(p.vii) Acknowledgements

Law for Computer Scientists and Other Folk

Mireille Hildebrandt

Oxford University Press

In 2003, Bart Jacobs held his Inaugural Lecture as Professor of Digital Security under the heading ‘Computers under the Rule of Law’. Since then, the institute of Computing and Information Sciences (iCIS) at Radboud University in Nijmegen (the Netherlands) has taken a leading role in integrating legal education in the computer science curriculum. I have had the privilege of teaching law to master students of computer science since 2011, when I was appointed as Professor of ‘Smart Environments, Data Protection and the Rule of Law’.

This has been a very productive experience, and I have found computer science students remarkably open to the foundational grammar and vocabulary of law, and to the architecture of the rule of law. I am deeply grateful for the excellence I encountered, the interesting questions that were raised, and the high quality of the assignments and papers my students submitted. I wrote the draft chapters in the Fall of 2018, during the 2018–19 course (adding some updates during the copy edits at the end of 2019). Two of the students, Aniek den Teuling and Ruben Eijkelenberg, provided salient and extensive feedback.

This book is the consolidation of eight years of teaching law to master students of computer science and I am sure that my new colleague Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius will find similar intellectual pleasure in teaching. Since I have been awarded an Advanced Grant by the European Research Council for my research project on ‘Counting as a Human Being in the Era of Computational Law’ (COHUBICOL),1 I am withdrawing from teaching to focus on the research. I am happy to have somehow found the time to turn the course into a book that combines the formats of textbook and scholarly inquiry, very much in line with the core tenets of the COHUBICOL project that has enabled me to publish this work in open access with Oxford University Press (OUP).

COHUBICOL also brought me the pleasure of working with our coordinator Irina Baraliuc, who has performed miracles in the process of getting a draft manuscript online with MIT’s pubpub software for the open review.2

(p.viii) I want to applaud Alex Flach of OUP, who proposed to put this draft online in collaboration with MIT for open review, enabling me to reach out to a more extensive community than the excellent anonymous reviewers that endorsed the book for publication (hoping they will be happy with the final chapter, which deals with some of their comments).

The open review has brought out incisive and detailed comments (online, via email, and over coffee), allowing me to read the text from non-EU perspectives (reminding me of different terminologies, e.g. that of ‘legal power’ in US discourse, instead of ‘legal competence’ in continental European discourse), showing gaps (pointing out that I did not discuss the concept of rights, or that I did not explicitly include the Constitution as a source of law), mistakes (one of my students saliently highlighting an ‘and’ that should be an ‘or’, thus pinpointing a cumulative legal condition that is actually an alternative legal condition), and common misunderstandings amongst non-lawyers who read only one specific chapter (e.g. confusing cybercrime with cybersecurity or private law liability for copyright infringements with cybercrime). Many heart-warming responses also came in via twitter, where the online version has been applauded as a much needed and long-awaited resource, filling a gap that will hopefully contribute to a better understanding between law and computer science. Especially the final chapter on closure, comparing law and ethics, while discussing their relationship and interaction, seems to stir the imagination.

Many thanks are due to my home base in the research group on Law, Science, Technology and Society (LSTS) at Vrije Universiteit Brussels (my main affiliation), with its unique focus on the study of both positive law and legal theory. My long time colleagues Serge Gutwirth and Paul de Hert have steered this research group in myriad ways that foster intellectual independence while acknowledging that research is a practice that is always done in collaboration with others, whether in person or through reading (which generates what Montaigne called a ‘monologue interieur’, though a ‘dialogue’ or even a ‘plurilogue interieur’ seem more on-the-spot).

The intellectual shoulders that have carried me this far could fill a universe, if not Borges’ library: lawyers, philosophers of law, philosophers of technology, and computer scientists. To really understand the law, and its foundational relationship with the technologies of written and printed text, one should, however, ‘simply’ read case law. Merely immersing oneself in the intricate reasoning of, for example, the Court of Justice of the European Union or the European Court of Human Rights will generate admiration for those who must think across national jurisdictions, while resolving highly complex (p.ix) interactions between fundamental rights and freedoms, public interest, private interests, legal certainty, justice, and the instrumentality of the law. I hope this work will contribute to a better appreciation of the role of law in the realm of data- and code-driven environments, based on a proper understanding of the goals, the operations and the limits of the law.

This work is dedicated, however, to Don Ihde, founding father of philosophy of technology in the United States, whose understanding of how technologies reinvent us as we invent them is of critical importance to better grasp the assumptions and implications of our new code- and data-driven lifeworld—even if that may not be his primary focus. Don has deeply inspired my appreciation of the systems that computer scientists develop, and the need to inquire how they affect both law and the rule of law.

Mireille Hildebrandt

September 2019

Brussels (p.x)


(1) Funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 788734). See http://www.cohubicol.com.