Legal Status of Robots: The RENFORCE/UGlobe Seminar and Why I Decided to Sign the Open Letter

Photo credits: iStock/Global_PhonlamaiPhoto

Should a robot enjoy any legal status independent of its human creators? If so, what kind of legal status would that be? Should the robot enjoy its/her/his “rights”? One’s answers to these futuristic questions might in part depend on whether one’s image of autonomous robots comes from the film Bicentennial Man (1999) based on Isaac Asimov’s novel or a more recent movie Ex Machina (2014). In the film version of Bicentennial Man, a highly autonomous robot played by Robin Williams exhibits humorous, friendly, and warm-hearted characteristics that co-exist with human communities. By contrast, in Ex Machina, a beautiful human-looking robot ended up deceiving a man and achieving freedom by taking advantage of the trust that the man developed towards the robot. While we cannot tell if such a self-governing robotic machine could ever be built, these two movies depict diametrically opposed scenarios that robots can have both beneficial and disturbing consequences to human beings. Lees verder

Cambridge Analytica and Facebook Fallout: The Renforce/UGlobe Seminar

On 11 April 2018, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared at the US congressional hearings. At the heart of the testimony was the Cambridge Analytica fallout on the misuse of Facebook users’ data, which continues to reveal the vulnerabilities of social media companies and their impact on politics. The business model of social media companies is based on the sale of advertisements and the provision of apps which allow the social media platforms to make the most of users’ data. Their businesses’ unique strength resides in the “targeted advertising” of potential consumers — and voters. While Facebook and other similar social media generate an enormous benefit of sharing information, the companies’ reliance on users’ data triggers an unprecedented risk of information misuse, not only in a commercial sense, but also for political campaigns. Lees verder

Disrupting Technologies – A UGlobe Dialogue on Bulk Interception of Communications

Photo credits: iStock/Global_PhonlamaiPhoto

The UGlobe Dialogue Series “Disrupting Technologies?” hosted its first event on 15 March 2018, in the week before the Referendum on a new Dutch Law on the Intelligence and Security  Services (the Wet op de inlichtingen- en veiligheidsdiensten, Wiv). This new law would extend the possibilities of secret services to monitor online behavior. Technology has changed since the usage of fixed telephony and dialup internet-access in the 1990s to the widespread use of smartphones, 4G and Wi-Fi-hotspots in 2018.  So changes in the law regulating the intelligence services are necessary, and in view of the upcoming referendum it is necessary to engage in a debate on the new competences regarding these new technologies and the framework of supervision of these intelligence and security services. Lees verder

Rotten fisheries: EU Advocate-General finds EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement incompatible with international law 

Credit: Katarina Dzurekova (CC BY)

The validity and scope of EU-Morocco trade agreements with respect to Western Sahara – a territory occupied by Morocco – has kept the Court of the Justice of the EU (CJEU) rather busy lately. In 2016, in a case brought by the Front Polisario, a movement fighting for the national liberation of the people of Western Sahara (the Sahrawi), the CJEU ruled that the territorial scope of the EU-Morocco Liberalization Agreement, which liberalizes trade in mainly agricultural products, did not extend to Western Sahara (see for a comment on this blog here, and for other comments here, here and here). Currently, a request for a preliminary ruling, referred by a UK court, concerning the validity of the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement is pending before the CJEU. This Agreement gives EU vessels access to fisheries in Moroccan fishing zones, in return for which the EU provides Morocco with financial contributions. On its face, this Agreement appears to apply not only to the waters off the coast of Morocco proper, but also those off the coast of Western Sahara. The case raises issues of self-determination of the Sahrawi in respect of the exploitation of ‘their’ natural resources, and the role of the EU in this respect. In January 2018, Advocate-General (A-G) Wathelet of the CJEU delivered his opinion in the case, proposing that the Fisheries Agreement should be considered invalid on the ground that it violates the right to self-determination of the Sahrawi people. This post commends the opinion for its detailed, although not always accurate, engagement with international law, and highlights the political salience of the case.

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The external effects of the EU’s regulation of sulfur dioxide (SOx) emissions

On 10 November 2017, I had the honor to be the sole opponent for the (successful) public defense of Philip Linné’s doctoral thesis on ‘Regulating vessel-source air pollution: standard-setting in the regulation of SOx emissions’, at Gothenburg University (Sweden). The thesis concerns the regulatory response, at different scales, including notably the EU scale, to tackle the environmental and human health impacts caused by sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions from the exhausts of seagoing ships. In this post, I reflect on the international legality and especially the external effects of relevant ‘unilateral’ EU action to tackle SOx emissions, i.e., action that goes beyond what is required by international law. Building on, but also adding to Philip Linné’s insights, I argue that by taking unilateral action, the EU has accelerated the calendar for strengthening global environmental standards in respect of SOx emissions. Lees verder

‘Regeerakkoord vergeet EU bij voorstellen mededingingsrecht’

Prof. Anna Gerbrandy schreef voor NRC een column over het mededingingsrecht en het regeerakkoord:

De nieuwe regering wil meer aandacht voor niet-economische belangen in het mededingingsrecht, zo blijkt uit het regeerakkoord. Ze houdt echter weinig rekening met het EU-mededingingsrecht. Ten eerste wil de nieuwe regering dat het mededingingsrecht aandacht heeft voor de ‘machtsbalans’ in de eerstelijnszorg. Zij stelt voor “dat het mededingingstoezicht daar rekening mee houdt” wanneer “samenwerking in het belang van patiënten gefrustreerd wordt door (toepassing) van mededingingsregels”. Dan “is aanpassing van (de toepassing van) deze regels aangewezen”. Ook in de land- en tuinbouwsector moet het mededingingsrecht tegenwicht bieden aan “ongelijke machtsverhoudingen”. Daarom wordt “de mededingingswet (…) aangepast” en “samenwerking (…) expliciet toegestaan”. Verder moet het mededingingsrecht in algemene zin meer ruimte geven aan gezamenlijke duurzaamheidsinitiatieven van ondernemingen: “We onderzoeken of en hoe de mededingingswetgeving kan worden aangepast als deze samenwerking met het oog op duurzaamheid, tussen bedrijven en in ketens, in de weg staat.”

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Ambtelijke fusies tussen gemeenten opgelet: einde aan de verruimde btw-vrijstelling?

Door mr. Willem A. Janssen & mr. Nathan Meershoek

Overheden krijgen vaak te maken met fiscale wetgeving. Zo kan er een verplichting bestaan om btw af te dragen wanneer overheden samenwerken. De interpretatie van dit fiscale kader is sinds 15 september jl. in beweging. Uit een Kamerbrief van de staatssecretaris van Financiën blijkt namelijk dat gemeenten, die samenwerken op basis van een ambtelijke fusie, vanaf 1 januari a.s. mogelijk weer btw moeten gaan betalen over de geleverde diensten.

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‘EU Agencies’ label: to what extent should we treat them all as ‘one’?

Twenty years ago, Alexander Kreher wrote one of the first articles on EU agencies arguing for the growing importance of this ‘institutional phenomenon’, which was almost completely ignored within the academic literature of that time. Judging from the countless number of academic articles and the tremendous growth of the cumulative budget (via-s-via the Commission, see Figure 1), it seems that the importance of EU agencies has only grown. The emevelopment in researching and governing EU Agencies has gone from gathering the somewhat scattered creations of agencies in different policy areas, under different treaty provisions, with different powers and for different purposes, etc. to bringing them under one ‘EU agencies’ umbrella as part of the EU executive machinery distinct from the EU Commission. Indeed, EU agencies have been treated as an ensemble for the budgetary purposes, also at the European Parliament, where the practice of three agencies’ directors would defend budgetary proposals on behalf of all ‘EU agencies’. We have seen the creation of the ‘Common Approach’ and later a roadmap with a view of streamlining the creation and revision of the founding acts of EU agencies. Furthermore, EU agencies’ directors have organized themselves in a network of agencies’ directors to discuss common challenges. To what extent, however, should we treat them as one? Lees verder

De Aanbestedingswet 2012 als instrument voor het uitvoeren van maatschappelijke beleid

Op 23 juni 2017 vond de bijeenkomst ‘beter aanbesteden in 2022’ plaats, ter viering van het eerste lustrum van het executive onderwijs op het gebied van aanbesteden en inkoop aan de Universiteit Utrecht. Tijdens deze bijeenkomst kregen PPRC-onderzoekers mr. Willem Janssen, ir. Niels Uenk en ik de ruimte om te pitchen voor beter aanbesteden. De stelling die ik mocht verdedigen: Om effectief maatschappelijk beleid te voeren is kennis van de Aanbestedingswet 2012 noodzakelijk, leverde in de aansluitende digitale stemronde 74% ‘Eens’ stemmen op. Daarna volgde een mooie discussie. Deze blog is een bewerking van de pitch. Eerder verscheen op het Renforce-Blog al een blog over de pitch van Willem Janssen. Lees verder