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 Scenario III: One Upon a Time, In the Kingdom Of Ambient Law


Conclusion: The potential of AmL to empower citizens in an AmI environment

The research question, formulated in section , reads as follows:

can law as embodied in the future Ambient Intelligence architecture – Ambient Law – safeguard the core values of privacy and non-discrimination, while at the same time helping to realise the potential of Ambient Intelligence? 

Having discussed the way modern law depends on the printed script, we have come to the conclusion that in a digital world, the law will need a measure of digitalisation. ICT-embedded law does not have to replace text-based, printed law – on the contrary –, but in an AmI world, ‘law in the books’ should be complemented with ‘law in other technologies’ in order to (re)gain effectiveness. The totality of text-based and technologically-embedded legal rules that regulate Ambient Intelligence is what we call Ambient Law.  

The legitimacy of this digitised law will depend on its integration into the framework of democracy and the rule of law. The analysis of the previous section () has demonstrated that AmL could in fact empower citizens to stay tuned to what is going on in an AmI environment; it thereby acts as a check on AmI providers to know too much of AmI users or to make unjustified decisions about them. To a much further extent than the present legal framework, the integration of legal rights of opacity and transparency with the technological architecture would enable citizens to actually exercise these rights. Also, by developing new rights concerning the transparency of profiling practices, one of the major lacunae in the present legal framework could be resolved.

The vision of Ambient Law, as law embodied in the AmI architecture, can thus significantly help to safeguard the core values of privacy and non-discrimination, without obstructing the development of Ambient Intelligence as such. On the contrary, building in these core values into the AmI architecture will help to enhance its social and legal acceptability and will thus further the development of AmI.  

Whether digitised rules also conform to principles of democracy and constitutional law, however, cannot be taken for granted. Technological embodiment of legal norms should not be confused with technological implementation of legal rules since the legitimacy of the entire enterprise will depend on its integration into the framework of democracy and the rule of law. This will be a challenging task, since the technical embodiment of rules in the AmI architecture cannot, of course, be undertaken by the legislature by itself. A plethora of public and private actors will have to work together to build the AmL architecture. It is certainly no foregone conclusion that technologically-embodied rules are democratically acceptable. This will depend on the balance of legal certainty, contestability and democratic participation, while, for example, the rules should be sufficiently fine-grained and flexible to allow for the nuances that are a core element of law in practice. Private actors involved, such as software engineers, should make transparent and auditable which norms are embedded where in the AmI software, which likely can only be done with open-source software. Making technology-embedded rules meet core principles of law is a daunting task indeed.

However, this should not deter us from trying. If we give up the vision of Ambient Law from the start, then we should give up the vision of Ambient Intelligence as well, or else accept that the AmI world that will be developed in the next decades has tremendous gaps in legal protection for citizens and consumers. We are not ready to accept these bleak alternatives – both the provider-centric scenario (section ), with users being manipulated by ‘the system’ without knowledge or redress, and the user-centric scenario (section ), with AmI not fulfilling its potential because users too often have to make data-control decisions or lack benefits because the environment is simply not intelligent enough, are not attractive visions of the future.

Since the vision of Ambient Intelligence has enormous potential for citizens and consumers, but also large risks for legal protection, we feel that the vision of Ambient Law should be developed as an important roadmap for making the vision of Ambient Intelligence come true, in such a way that core values of privacy and non-discrimination are safeguarded. 

In this report we have only been able to provide a first vision of Ambient Law, outlining its basic concept. Much is needed to further develop, refine, and implement this vision. We recommend that at least the following issues are taken up for further research: 

  1. revising the legal framework of rights and obligations concerning privacy and non-discrimination in light of the advent of Ambient Intelligence, where core features of the current framework, like data minimisation, purpose specification, informed consent, and accountability, fall short;  

  2. creating an adequate legal framework for generating and applying profiles, including effective rights of access and effective rights to contest the application of profiles; this implies the development of effective transparency-enhancing tools (TETs) with regard to group profiles; 

  3. developing human machine interfaces that allow individual citizens to communicate with their environment, achieving (1) an adequate insight in the way they are being profiled by their environments, (2) without being flooded with information, but (3) allowing where desired to prevent or to contest application of a profile;  

  4. developing technological tools and redefining legal rules in such a way that the rules can be digitised and built-in in the AmI architecture, making the exercise of these rights feasible and enforceable (the concepts of ‘contextual integrity’ and ‘digital territory’ may prove fertile for such redefinition); 

  5. developing mechanisms for ensuring the legitimacy and conformity with core legal principles of technology-embedded rules.  




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