MoralIT: Enabling Design of Ethical and Legal IT Systems

Led by Dr Lachlan Urquhart

The internet of things (IoT) involves embedding networked sensors and actuators in many different domains of everyday life. Data driven services are now offered in the domestic environment of the home and car but also shared social spaces of cities and public transportation. However, ethical, legal and technical challenges arise in managing how these new technologies mediate peoples’ experiences of the world around them. Creating more transparent user interfaces to increase user control over their data flows is one concern. Safeguarding devices from attacks that impact physical safety and information security of end users is another.

Some other challenges might include:

  • Managing information privacy risks can emerge from unsecured IoT healthcare tracking devices.
  • Safeguarding autonomous vehicles against hacking and cybersecurity risks.
  • Ensuring appropriate safety protection for networked industrial control systems in near future smart energy grids.
  • Holding social platforms to account for neglecting duties of care to protect youth IoT device data.
  • Preventing environmental harm from e-waste created by IoT that becomes redundant’ when service providers go out of business.
  • Championing engagement with the digital economy for all by ensuring IoT devices are built in line with accessibility rights of users.

As we can see, there are many possible concerns to address, but on a practical level it is hard to deal with them all at once. Balancing each concern, and focusing on how to mitigate risks effectively requires systematic reflection.

Within the regulatory community, there is an increased focus on engaging with legal and ethical risks of emerging IT in more methodical ways. Tools like ethical or privacy impact assessments are gaining popularity. By forecasting risks, organisational or technical safeguards can be built into the systems, to enforce norms by design. However, in practice supporting technologists to design ethical IT systems is difficult. They are subject to a range of competing motivations, limitations and resources.

Accordingly, in this project we want to address some of these issues by firstly working on prototype design tools to be incorporated into legal/ethical evaluation processes. Such tools need to communicate legal principles and supports reflection on privacy, security, legal rights and ethical implications of emerging IT projects. We will also engage with Horizon industry partners, to build better understanding of the motivations and challenges these organisations face in complying with information privacy, security, legal and ethical standards. This project fits into a broader stream of work ongoing at Horizon, looking at creating tools to support responsible research and innovation, ethical IT design and privacy by design.