Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 319–328

Cracking down on autonomy: three challenges to design in IT Law

Original Paper


The paper examines how technology challenges conventional borders of national legal systems, as shown by cases that scholars address as a part of their everyday work in the fields of information technology (IT)-Law, i.e., computer crimes, data protection, digital copyright, and so forth. Information on the internet has in fact a ubiquitous nature that transcends political borders and questions the notion of the law as made of commands enforced through physical sanctions. Whereas many of today’s impasses on jurisdiction, international conflicts of law and diverging interpretations of statutes can be addressed by embedding legal safeguards in ICT and other kinds of technology, to overcome the ineffectiveness of state action by design entails its own risks, e.g., threats of paternalism hinging on the regulatory tools of technology. Rather than modelling people’s behaviour by design, the article suggests that design policies should respect individual and collective autonomy by decreasing the impact of harm-generating behaviour (e.g., security measures and default settings for data protection), or by widening the range of people’s choices (e.g., user friendly interfaces).


Autonomy Data protection Design Digital rights management Information technology Law Jurisdiction Paternalism Privacy by design Self-enforcement technologies 


  1. Bekey, G. A. (2005). Autonomous robots: From biological inspiration to implementation and control. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bingham, T. (2011). The rule of law. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  3. Boyd, D. (2010). Social networks sites as networked publics: affordances, dynamics, and implications. In Z. Papacharissi (Ed.), Networked self: Identity, community, and culture on social networks sites (pp. 39–58). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Butler, J. (2005). Giving an account of oneself. New York: Fordham University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cavoukian, A. (2010). Privacy by design: The definitive workshop. Identity in the Information Society, 3(2), 247–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dworkin, G. (1988). The theory and practice of autonomy. Cambridge, Mass: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Faden, R., & Beauchamp, Th. (1986). A history and theory of informed consent. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Flanagan, M., Howe, D. C., & Nissenbaum, M. (2008). Embodying values in technology: Theory and practice. In J. van den Hoven & J. Weckert (Eds.), Information technology and moral philosophy (pp. 322–353). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Floridi, L. (2003). On the intrinsic value of information objects and the infosphere. Ethics and Information Technology, 4, 287–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Floridi, L., & Sanders, J. (2004). On the morality of artificial agents. Minds and Machines, 14(3), 349–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Goldsmith, J. (1998). Against cyberanarchy. University of Chicago Law Review, 65(4), 1199–1250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Grodzinsky, F. S., Miller, K. A., & Wolf, M. J. (2008). The ethics of designing artificial agents. Ethics and Information Technology, 10, 115–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hildebrandt, M. (2011) Autonomic and autonomous ‘thinking.’ Preconditions for criminal accountability. In M. Hildebrandt & A. Rouvroy (Eds.), The philosophy of law meets the philosophy of technology (pp. 141–160). Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. Himma, K. (2009). Artificial agency, consciousness, and the criteria for moral agency: What properties must an artificial agent have to be a moral agent? Ethics and Information Society, 11(1), 19–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hustinx, P. (2007). Opinion of the European Data Protection Supervisor on the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the follow-up of the Work Programme for better implementation of the Data Protection Directive. Official Journal of the European Union, 2007/C 2551/01, July 25th 2007.Google Scholar
  16. Jobs, S. (2007). Thoughts on music. Retrieved at on September 20th, 2011.
  17. Jutla, D. N. (2010). Layering privacy on operating systems, social networks, and other platforms by design. Identity in the Information Society, 3(2), 319–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kallinikos, J. (2006). The consequences of information: institutional implications of technological change. Elgar, Cheltenham, Northampton, Mass.Google Scholar
  19. Kant, I. (1795). Kant’s principles of politics, including his essay on perpetual peace. A contribution to political science. (edition 1891) (trans: Hastie W), Edinburgh, Clark.Google Scholar
  20. Katyal, N. (2003). Digital architecture as crime control. Yale Law Journal, 112(6), 101–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kelsen, H. (1949). General theory of the law and the state. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Kesan, J. P., & Shah, R. C. (2006). Setting software defaults: Perspectives from law, computer science and behavioural economics. Notre Dame Law Review, 82, 583–634.Google Scholar
  23. Kuner, Ch. (2003). European data privacy law and online business. Oxford, London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Lessig, L. (1999). Code and other laws of cyberspace. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  25. Lessig, L. (2004). Free culture: The nature and future of creativity. New York: Penguin Press.Google Scholar
  26. Lockton, D., Harrison, D. J., & Stanton, N. A. (2010). The design with intent method: A design tool for influencing user behaviour. Applied Ergonomics, 41(3), 382–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Morozov, E. (2011). The net delusion: The dark side of internet freedom. New York: Public Affairs.Google Scholar
  28. Nissenbaum, H. (2004). Privacy as contextual integrity. Washington Law Review, 79(1), 119–158.Google Scholar
  29. Pagallo, U. (2010). As law goes by: Topology, ontology, evolution. In P. Casanovas, et al. (Eds.), AI approaches to the complexity of legal systems (pp. 12–26). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  30. Pagallo, U. (2011a). Designing data protection safeguards ethically. Information, 2(2), 247–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Pagallo, U. (2011b). ISPs & rowdy sites before the law: Should we change today’s safe harbor clauses? Philosophy & Technology, 24(4), 419–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Post, D. G. (2002). Against “against cyberanarchy”. Berkeley Technology Law Journal, 17(4), 1365–1383.MathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  33. Prigogine, I. & Stengers, I. (1981). Vincolo, Enciclopedia Einaudi, 14, 1064–1080. Einaudi, Torino.Google Scholar
  34. Tavani, H. T. (2007). Philosophical theories of privacy: Implications for an adequate online privacy policy. Metaphilosophy, 38(1), 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Tavani, H. T. (in press), Ethical aspects of autonomous systems. In M. Decker & M. Gutmann (eds), Information- and robot-ethics: Some fundamentals, Verlag Berlin, Germany.Google Scholar
  36. Volkman, R. (2003). Privacy as life, liberty, property. Ethics and Information Technology, 5(4), 199–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. von Ahn, L., Maurer, B., McMillen, C., Abraham, D., & Blum, M. (2008). reCAPTCHA: Human-based character recognition via web security measures. Science, 321(5895), 1465–1468.MathSciNetMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. WP 29. (2002). EU Working Party art. 29 D-95/46/EC. The international application of EU data protection law to personal data processing on the Internet by non-EU based web sites, WP 56, May 30th 2002.Google Scholar
  39. WP 29. (2009a). EU Working Party art. 29 D-95/46/EC. Online social networking, WP 163, June 12th, 2009.Google Scholar
  40. WP 29. (2009b). EU Working Party art. 29 D-95/46/EC. The future of privacy. WP 168, December 1st 2009.Google Scholar
  41. Yeung, K. (2007). Towards an understanding of regulation by design. In R. Brownsword & K. Yeung (Eds.), Regulating technologies: Legal futures, regulatory frames and technological fixes (pp. 79–108). London: Hart Publishing.Google Scholar
  42. Zittrain, J. (2007). Perfect enforcement on tomorrow’s internet. In R. Brownsword & K. Yeung (Eds.), Regulating technologies: Legal futures, regulatory frames and technological fixes (pp. 125–156). London: Hart Publishing.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Law SchoolUniversity of TurinTurinItaly

Personalised recommendations