Marc Sel: Technology and law constantly meet and cross-fertilise one another

Alina Matei
Alina Matei
Marc Sel
Marc Sel

Alina Matei: Thank you, Mr. Marc Sel for your time and for accepting to give this interview. In 1984, you were pursuing a master’s degree in Information Technology in Brussels. How did you know that this is the future?

Marc Sel: I didn’t, but I I always liked technical stuff. And programming appealed to me. But it’s my interest in dependability, security and trust regarding technology which got me started in the field of electronic identification, authentication and signatures. And this lead to pursuing Royal Holloway University of London’s Master in ICT Security, which guided to my activities in a really future-oriented field.

Alina Matei: To what extent or how much of what you’ve learned then applies today?

Marc Sel: The most important thing is to learn how to learn. That remains valuable particularly in today’s world of “continuous education”. Foundations don’t change overnight. Many of the electronic signature solutions are essentially based on number theory. However, society advances and fields such as technology, mathematics, cryptology and law are dynamic fields. As illustration, when I started in consulting laptops, tablets, mobile phones or Internet were not yet invented. So it’s important to keep on learning. Also, the domain of number theory is continuously challenged by progess such as in quantum computing[1].

Alina Matei:What is in your opinion the connection between technology and law?

Marc Sel: Such connection is much stronger than it appears at first sight. Technology enables new ways of solving problems. This is mostly deployed in law-governed society’s, so technology and law are bound to meet. Both are large domains. Technology covers healthcare, life sciences, defence and electronic warfare, and much more. Law covers civil law, common law, international law and so much more. Technology and law constantly meet and cross-fertilise one another.

Alina Matei: Are we witnessing more than just the creation of a new field of law – CYBERLAW? Should this field be taught mandatory in law schools?

Marc Sel: Thank you for this interesting question. Indeed, is there actually a need for something such as cyberlaw? Cyberspace is essentially about interconnecting people and machines, so they can collaborate.

If a surgeon, a robot and an AI software collaborate in complex surgery and a patient dies, does our current legislation provide adequate tools to address such a situation? I am a layman in the field of law. At first sight my preference would be to maximise the use of existing legislation regarding responsibility, due care and product warranty.

But there are of course an unlimited number of situations. Consider for example virtual currencies, either central bank issued or otherwise. Such currencies are increasingly popular, but cannot be unleashed without a legislative framework. Which likely will have to be global, but creating global legislation is complex.

So for Cyberlaw to be taught in law schools, we probably first need to define it precisely. Is it law related to internet and net-neutrality? To self-driving vehicles? To automated healthcare? To privacy? To virtual currencies and tokens? The future probably lies in collaboration between legal and technology experts.

Alina Matei: Isn’t the Digitalization of Law complicated? Particularly its implementation in practice?

Marc Sel: This is quite a fascinating topic. The expression ‘digitalization of law” can be interpreted in many ways.

Law may one day be written in a language that is readable to both machines and humans. Look at the various attempts to create languages for smart contracts on blockchains. The OpenLaw[2] initiative is building a technology stack to help power next generation “smart” legal agreements in an understandable way. Lexon[3] is another illustration thereof. In contrast, Facebook’s Lybra currency is an illustration of a smart contract language which is tense and not particularly readable to the layman. The main driver here is to have strong guarantees regarding the security features of the language.

Gradually, legal files are increasingly digitised. And the interpretation of law is also on its way to become automated. See for example the work that has been going in for years in the Jurix[4] community.

And we already witness all kinds of automated enforcement. Consider e.g. Automated Number Plate Recognition, which is increasingly implemented. You will find it in parking lots to facilitate your visit, but also in police cars for identification of vehicles that are known to be stolen or not having paid their insurance.

Alina Matei: Are we ready to bear the rigors of technology?

Marc Sel: Well, there are some technologies we don’t want to miss out on. Think about advances in medicine and healthcare. We will all have to find out whether we like or dislike the possibilities of Siri, Cortana, Echo etc. And what will happen when they give wrong advice?

Alina Matei: You will attend the CYBERLAW conference in Bucharest. What thoughts do you have coming to Bucharest? Do you expect to speak a common language regarding cyberlaw?

Marc Sel: It’s my first visit to Bucharest which has been on my list for far too long. I look forward to increasing my competences in cybersecurity and cyberlaw. Looking at cybersecurity, a lot can be learned, particularly from the military and from efforts to protect the critical infrastructure. I hope these will be well represented then.

Alina Matei: One last question: what are the advantages of your digital signature? I hope it is as reliable as mine.

Marc Sed: For digital signature, I use most of the time my government-issued electronic identity card which has electronic authentication and signature capabilities built-in. The last years I used it increasingly to sign my contracts. Companies such as LibreOffice, Microsoft and Adobe, just to name a few, have done a great job in integrating signature capability in their tools. So for signing a contract, my preference is now the electronic signature, and I store a copy in my own home-run cloud.

Alina Matei: Leave a message for JURIDICE.ro’s readers, please.

Marc Sel: Always be open when change is coming your way!

Alina Matei: Thank you for talking to me.

Marc Sel: The pleasure was mine!

[1] See for example An introduction to Quantum Computing, Phillip Kaye, Raymond Laflamme, Michele Mosca , Available at http://mmrc.amss.cas.cn/tlb/201702/W020170224608149125645.pdf
[2] Available here.
[3] Available here.
[4] Available here.

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