Monthly Archives: December, 2017

Want to be your own lawyer – fire up your laptop

December 24th, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Want to be your own lawyer – fire up your laptop”

Written by Juri Wiedemann, a European law school graduate inspired by our Meetup organized during the Technolaweeks where we had the chance to welcome Pim Betist, the CEO of VraagHugo.

How long does it take to get a law degree? To know the ins and outs of your legal system well enough to draw up your own contracts, to be your own corporate lawyer, not having to rely on someone else’s expertise which costs you hundreds of euros an hour? Eight years, seven? About as long as becoming a doctor? Maybe not, maybe all you need is a computer. Maybe all you need is to fire up a laptop to be your own corporate lawyer.

Have you, as a young and ambitious entrepreneur, ever heard that voice in your head saying, ‘you can’t pay for all this, it will ruin you’? Or have you, as a skilled freelancer feared that the steps you need to take before you can contract out your work make the endeavour unrealistic to begin with? I believe one of the main reasons for these hurdles are legal requirements, more specifically the price of legal services. Take an employment contract for example, you will need a lawyer to draw it up, a lawyer who costs you more than a hundred euros an hour. Who is going to pay for that? Conventional legal services are too expensive. For a legal professional to be allowed to do her job takes long years of studying and requires stringent qualifications. This makes the market for legal services very restricted, driving up costs to prices which start-ups, freelancers or small businesses either cannot or don’t want to afford. At the same time, lawyers can be fed up with drafting the same standard contracts over and over again. Most of the terms in a contract are standardised and filling in the few individualised sections probably does not give legal professionals much sense of purpose. Drafting the same contracts day in day out is not for everyone. Who still wants to do the same job every day of every year for all their lives, especially in our generation. A solution could be interdisciplinary. The problems for both the freelancers, start-ups and small businesses, as well as for traditional legal professionals by mixing law with another discipline. This discipline could be, and has in many ways already been, technology.

A computer can do the job of a contract lawyer at a much lower rate. Subscribing to a legal service such as VraagHugo for example, costs 150euros for a year, probably the same amount of money a lawyer would have cost for just an hour of work. With the cheaper price however, comes less professionalism. One might not want to trust a computer with a legal question. A potential employee might be reluctant to sign a document printed from the internet. An employer might be reluctant to rely on that same document. Freelancers might not feel reinsured and legitimised by it. The lack of professionalism could put the parties off. Conventional legal practice inspires confidence, consistency, and trust. As an individual trying to start a business, you certainly don’t want to run into legal trouble straight away, you don’t want to have to go to court over trivial matters. That would drive you right back into the arms of an expensive qualified lawyer. Could a computer maybe also instil the necessary confidence into people, to trust it with their legal decisions, with their business?

Partnerships are a crucial factor in this. VraagHugo for example collaborates with Deloitte and DFT Kennis. Those names instil confidence. You would rather rely on them than a website, right? Especially if you can get their expertise at the price of the web-service the answer will certainly be affirmative. But how can the big company benefit from this partnership? VraagHugo allows you to do the bulk of your standard legal work yourself. The documents you need to start working as a freelancer, or employment contracts to hire your first employee are all available. You won’t need an expensive professional to provide these for you. Thereby, it allows the professionals at the big companies to be more efficient, to focus more resources on work that is still too complex for you and your computer. Furthermore, it allows you to sit back in confidence, knowing that these big names were part of making the legal documents you need available to you.

Partnerships with firms who employ professionals from many fields can also allow company’s like VraagHugo to grow into different sectors. This can ideally prevent you from having to run to an expensive professional once you or your start-up has any problem other than requiring a basic contract, like auditing or tax services. In time, with the help of established names in those sectors, your computer might also be the only resource you need. Facilitating such growth, these partnerships also announce to the legal and other professions that technology is the future, and that traditional lawyers, auditors, etc. can and should work together with people skilled in technology to provide smarter, sustainable and efficient services for the future.

For now, a lack of awareness might be the biggest struggle. Do young entrepreneurs know about the alternative services like VraagHugo, do small businesses and freelancers? I did not, most people I know who study law or business did not know about these developments either. The lack of awareness about these new ways of doing business, or doing law might be the result of too little interdisciplinary education, too little contact between students and professionals from law, business and technology. So, whether you are a tech person, a law person, or an entrepreneur, let’s embrace the change. Let us not be stuck in a boxy tradition that we don’t belong to. Let’s mix what hasn’t been and be the future.

Internet Police

December 17th, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Internet Police”

Written by Doryane Lemeunier, a European Law Bachelor’s student at Maastricht University, Faculty of Law. Doryane has an international background having spent two years in United World College in Mostar and is currently developing her skills in a more national domain at the University of Glasgow. She is furthermore interested in pursuing her studies in the field of EU Competition law at the University of Amsterdam.

Everyone has heard about the increasing amount of teenage suicides every year. Yes, this is a dull and hard topic, especially for the families and friends that have had to suffer through those dark times. Over the years, technology has been developing, and it seems that the law has not caught up to the same pace. This brings me to my next point: social media, this dangerous and vast space that some of us have a hard time grasping, just like the fact that the universe is infinite, it seems that the web has no frontiers. As the internet evolves, new apps come out, the youth gets more and more excited, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or even Tinder. These places seem fun, and they are for a while until some mean soul comes across them and starts using them for the wrong purposes which essentially poisons the beauty of these fun tools.

What would you think about an internet police? Obviously, there are vague rules that protect people and more specifically underage teenagers from the usage of these sites, but still not enough to prevent, one of the most horrible feelings of them all: bullying. How easy is it for a teacher to notice verbal or physical bullying in a school? Rather, compared to hidden snapchat conversations when as soon as the message is read: it vanishes!

Now, the question arises: “How can rules manage to stop this attitude from happening online?” Well here is an idea, children under a certain age of maturity (according to national rules though preferable internationally harmonised) should be protected, and maybe shouldn’t enjoy the privacy to the extent they benefit from the current rules. The internet seems to be a separate world; in reality it is a separate world: it’s a virtual world. And the same rules that apply to the real world might not be strict enough. There is no “safe word” or “safe button” for them to report conversations without having to look ‘dumb’ in front of their friends. This is where the internet police should come into place. Why shouldn’t there be a safe button, within the messenger of people under a certain age, that would notify the internet police that would then sanction the “bully”. The internet police could form part of the department of cybercrime in each national state, or be a larger international organisation with easy access, and have a specific job dedicated to the youth.

It is true one can report users, but really that has never really proven to be efficient. How come fake accounts exist? There should be no possibility of this happening, or at least not one so easily attainable by the young. Why doesn’t anyone need to prove their identity before creating an account? Some people may find the idea outrageous, but for the younger generation, many parents lack the ability to teach their children how to use the internet, because they barely know how to use it themselves.

Moreover, many teenagers before committing the fatal act, look it up on the internet, nobody can ever find out about this because they either have their own computers, or they smartly erase the history of the web search. Again in such scenarios once a person under a certain age has looked through a minimum of ‘x’ websites on how to commit suicide, a notification should come to the internet police that would immediately inform the parents of the situation. Options of having a very rapid notification to the parents, could be directly integrated in the computer setups when it is meant for a teenager.

The internet needs to become a safe place, before more children feel their lives are coming apart because of it, and here are some ideas on how to achieve it. Most importantly, raising awareness first.

From the diary of a legal alien

December 10th, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “From the diary of a legal alien”

Written by Kristopher Badurek, a Bachelor student of Maastricht University’s European Law School. He is a tech enthusiast who puts emphasis on interdisciplinarity and self-development.

You don’t have to be an Englishman in New York to feel like an alien. How far does it take then, you ask? Sometimes, all you need to do is enter the building across the street. Unknown, mysterious, full of secrets. This is exactly what the DKE building is for us, law students. Not many of us know what they are actually doing, and barely anyone has ever entered their building. In the name of knowledge, I became a ‘legal alien’ among the ‘nerds’, and spent two months in that very building.

To better prepare myself for my future, I chose to get to know the basics of data science and knowledge engineering, programming in Java, as well as to broaden my knowledge related to the hot topic of artificial intelligence. It was a radical switch, from the uncertain world of law to binary world of math, science and computers. You may be wondering, how was I dealing with all the programming and math? Programming was not bad. It relies heavily on logical thinking. Sounds familiar? Of course, it does, as it’s also a very valuable skill for lawyers. And while the math was initially overwhelming, I survived, with help of fellow DKE students. I also finally learned that math is indeed useful in real life, something that years in school failed to show me. Lastly, the course on philosophy and artificial intelligence was more than just interesting, covering philosophies of science, disputes around AI, as well as legal problems, such as autonomous cars. I heavily recommend this course to anyone with some degree of interest in AI from theoretical perspective, without going too much into details.

Despite some difficulties in adjusting (it was a truly drastic shift, after all), I truly enjoyed myself. After a week, I felt like a first-year student all over again, starting afresh, discovering a new world. I learned a great deal, and faced a great and refreshing challenge of confronting my point of view with people from a different background. In the world which evolves so much, interdisciplinarity is the key. We should avoid confining ourselves to law only, rather explore all the borders of our discipline. We have much more in common with other faculties than we think, and we all should be learning from each other.

Putting the person back into personal data protection

December 5th, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Putting the person back into personal data protection”

Written by Gloria González Fuster, a research professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and member of the Law, Science, Technology and Society (LSTS) Research Group, where she investigates legal issues related to fundamental rights, privacy, personal data protection and security, and lectures on fundamental rights protection in European Union (EU) law in the context of the Master of Laws in International and European Law (PILC).

Data protection law is nowadays a relatively popular subject. The countdown to May 2018, when the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will become applicable, is generating more and more attention. In the meantime, many other connected issues keep triggering intense policy debates, and attracting curious and eager researchers: from the future of the upcoming ‘e-Privacy’ Regulation to forever controversial global data transfers; from the fluctuating privacy/security dichotomy to the contentious frictions between fundamental rights safeguards and innovation, data protection law regularly finds itself directly under the spotlight of important political, societal and scientific discussions.

From an academic perspective, the appeal of data protection is unquestionable, at least for researchers captivated by both law and technology. It requires indeed a minimum understanding of how both function, and represents a constant invitation to reflect on the many articulations between them. Data protection is very much about attempting to regulate the way in which machines operate, and thus demands thinking about what machines do (or could, or should do) with data, about the algorithms playing with such data, and about how these can (or should) be made to work differently. All this is, for sure, tremendously attractive for the geek hiding inside every contemporary legal scholar.

Beyond data and technology, and beyond machines and algorithms, personal data protection is, however, also about something else. It is, actually, also about somebody else: the individuals to whom the data are related. Data protection law does indeed not apply for the sake of trying to regulate automated data processing, or merely because new technologies maybe cannot be trusted to behave properly on their own. Data protection law applies insofar as data relate to somebody, and primarily because our societies consider capital to protect the individuals connected to, and thus associated with, the processed data. It is them, that is, the people who data protection law reverently calls ‘data subjects’, who ultimate justify the existence of any data protection legislation.

In spite of this inherent, crucial link between the person and personal data protection law, data subjects remain to a great extent ‘an explored subject’ in data protection literature. Compared to the thousands of pages written about the challenges and anxieties of those who process personal data, there is proportionately very little published about the concerns, interests and wishes of the individuals whose data are processed. As a matter of fact, there is not much available about how data subjects are to be legally envisioned, or even conceptually framed; about what they supposedly know, what they possibly ignore, and what presumably matters for them.

The GDPR, in a novel fashion, put on the table the fact that some data subjects might be younger than others, and have thus potentially different needs and problems. Time has come, perhaps, for researchers to investigate more closely whether indeed data subjects might come in different shapes, and with different abilities and priorities, as well as what could be the profile of the ideal, average data subject on which EU data protection is seemingly being erected; more generally, to ask the question of who are the data subjects, and to stop approaching data protection law as a primarily impersonal, data-centric topic.

Bitcoin and the stance of the European Central Bank

December 3rd, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Bitcoin and the stance of the European Central Bank”

Written by Doris Bogunović who shares regular blog posts with us on the role of the European institutions working on issues related to technology. She has a legal background, a keen interest in technology as well as experience with both the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Parliament.

What is the famous Bitcoin and where does the president of the European Central Bank stand when it comes to crypto currencies?

There are more than 900 crypto currencies in the world and Bitcoin is just one of them. Bitcoin dates back to 2008, becoming an open source software in 2009. Its primary goal is to provide a secure payment system between two subjects without involving a third party. Summed up, this means money transfers without banks and the state anywhere near the equation. But for how long?

Being an open source software, Bitcoin relies on Blockchain technology (BCT). BTC is a book of data, a software, which basically keeps data organised in “blocks” that you can moderate and enter new blocks into the chain. Every new block of (crypted!) data added to the chain has a part of the key from the block above it. In order to alter the chain and change the data stored within each “block”, you would have to change the other “blocks” as well. When it comes to Bitcoin, each user has a “wallet” and each transaction a certain user makes represents a “block” of encrypted data. That consecutive series of “blocks” of data is specific in a way that every new block contains a part of the code of the above added “blocks” which, in reality, means that, once inserted, information cannot be altered if you do not alter the data within all the “blocks” surrounding the “block” you tried altering. That is, all of the users around you would have to agree to alter their blocks as well, which makes those “blocks” a trustworthy source of information impossible to tamper with. The latter is one of the main reasons for which the BCT is so popular (click here for other possible uses of BCT).

There are various advocates of crypto currencies emphasizing various reasons for which virtual money could eventually beat conventional currencies – few of the them being faster and cheaper transactions, but also reasons of security and the possibility of keeping a public record of past transactions. “The main advantages of Bitcoin are network effect and proven security. Both are nearly insurmountable advantages”, according to bitcoin developer Jimmy Song.

Today’s worth of one Bitcoin is around 4 thousand dollars (precisely 1 BTC = $4153.32) but you can also purchase indefinitely small fragments of it. Bitcoin price changes quite often and depends on various factors. Using BCT for money transactions has its side effects of course, but so do the bank supervised transactions.

To put is simply, BCT is a book of encrypted data, an open source software, visible and available to anyone. Only “owners” of a certain block, possessing an encryption key are able to see the data encrypted within. This makes money transfers cheaper, faster and excludes possible interventions of a third party – such as banks or the state. The question is how long it will take for the European central bank to intervene? The most probable response is that ‘when a vast majority starts using it’. The number of Bitcoin wallet owners is growing rapidly, skyrocketing in the third quarter of 2017 to 15 million users.

We have been reading about ECB and its position on regulating the Bitcoin for months now. The president of the ECB, Mario Draghi, reiterates occasionally that it is still not significant enough to be regulated (see this article from October 2017) but just a month ago he stated that the ECB actually doesn’t does not have the power to regulate it (see another article from September 2017). Which one is true? The ECB might change its mind soon – stay tuned.


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