Section: Overall Objectives


The main objective of Licit is to undertake new research activities on the interactions between ICT and the law. The motivations for this new initiative are manifold. First and foremost, the rapid evolution of the technological landscape and the impact of ICT on the everyday life of citizens (including their private lives) raise new challenges which cannot be tackled by a purely technological approach  [17] . For example, the protection of privacy rights on the Internet or in pervasive computing environments is by definition multidimensional and requires expertise from disciplines such as social sciences, economics, ethics, law and computer science  [19] . Other examples of the ever-growing intermingling of ICT and law include electronic commerce, digital rights management (DRM), social networks, forensics, cybercrime, e-government, and e-justice. As far as research is concerned however, there are still very few links between the ICT and law communities. This situation is unfortunate considering the importance of the interests (both societal and economical) at stake. In addition, at a time of growing mistrust of citizens towards technology, more attention should be paid to the implications of research results on society.

Starting from this observation, the goal of Licit is to contribute, in partnership with research groups in law, to the development of new approaches and methods for a better integration of technical and legal instruments [7] .

In practice, the interactions between ICT and law take various forms and go in both directions  [14] :

  • The ICT “objects” are, as any other objects, “objects of law”: on one hand, there is no reason why new technologies and services should escape the realm of law; on the other hand, it may be the case that existing regulations need to be adapted to take into account the advent of new, unforeseen technological developments (e.g. certain provisions of privacy regulations become inapplicable in a pervasive computing context, intellectual property laws are challenged by the new distribution modes of electronic contents). Understanding precisely when this is the case and how regulations should evolve to cope with the new reality may be a complex “technico-legal” issue with potential impacts on both disciplines.

  • ICT can also provide new enforcement mechanisms and tools for the benefit of the law. For example, DRM technologies are supposed to “implement” legal provisions and contractual commitments, Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PET) help reduce privacy threats, certified tools can be provided to support electronic signature, computer logs can be used as evidence in courts, etc. At a different level, data mining or knowledge management systems can be applied to the extraction of relevant legal cases or the formalization of legal reasoning.

Generally speaking, legal and technical means should complement each other to reduce risks and to increase citizens' and consumers' trust in ICT: on one side, laws (or contracts) can provide assurances which are out of reach of technical means (or cope with situations where technical means would be defeated); on the other side, technology can help enforce legal and contractual commitments. This synergy should not be taken for granted however, and if legal issues (and more generally, the consequences of the technologies on society) are not considered from the outset, technological decisions made during the design phase may very well hamper or make impossible the enforcement of legal rights.

In the longer term, further thought needs to be devoted to the potential conflicts between, on one side, rapidly evolving technologies and, on the other side, bodies of regulations which, in essence and for the sake of “legal security”, require a form of stability. This complex issue is related to the problem of finding the right level of abstraction in regulations - or strike the right balance between very general principles (which remain stable but offer little indication as far as practical application is concerned, and can thus lead to another form of legal insecurity) and precise provisions whose application may be less prone to interpretation but are bound to become quickly outdated.

The means used by Licit to reach its objectives are twofold:

  1. Research actions: to investigate specific research topics following an interdisciplinary approach in order to better integrate legal and technical instruments. This research work emphasizes the use of formal methods as a link between the ICT and regulations.

  2. Networking actions: to favour the emergence of an “ICT and law” research community and to enhance the interest of ICT researchers in this emerging field.

The outputs of the first line of actions are research results whereas the networking actions take the form of joint events (seminars, conferences), joint projects and position papers.