Research Tilburg Law School

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Hackers, authorities and companies can work together on law and policy

Hackers, authorities and private companies can and should work together more closely on the development of technology law and policies. That is what Michael Dizon concluded in the PhD thesis that he will defend at Tilburg University on June 28th, 2016. Building on shared values, the various parties could work as equal partners.

The relationship between hacking and the law has always been complex and conflict ridden. Hackers have been subjects and targets of law and criminal prosecution; they are known to have problems with law and public authorities. But despite the disruption they may cause, for instance by hacking the OV-chipcard (Dutch public transport chip card) to expose security problems, they usually do not intend to cause damage.

Michael Dizon examined how hackers in the Netherlands are influenced by law but also how they influence the law themselves. He undertook legal research on the relevant laws on hacking (computer crime, intellectual property, contract and anti-circumvention laws) and conducted empirical research through interviews with hackers and observation at hackerspaces and hacker events.

Shared values

Despite the apparent conflicts between hackers and the law, they share the same fundamental values such as privacy, security, individual autonomy, and social development, Dizon concluded. Hackers and public authorities can build on these shared values and constructively work together to develop and improve technology laws and policies. It would be more productive if the law and public authorities viewed and treated hackers as co-participants, collaborators and equal partners in the development of technology laws and policies, especially with regard to those laws that particularly affect hacking.

Dutch examples

In fact, open data hackathons that have been organized by Dutch public authorities and private companies are already a step in the right direction, says Dizon. Open data hackathons illustrate how public authorities, hackers and ordinary citizens can come together to produce techno-social change and innovation. Another example is the collaboration by the Dutch government with hackers to draw up responsible disclosure rules that enable organizations and authorities to deal with hackers pointing out vulnerabilities in their IT-systems. Other countries should follow the Dutch example, according to Dizon.

Title PhD thesis: Breaking and Remaking Law and Technology: A Socio-Techno-Legal Study of Hacking. Supervisors: Prof. R.E. Leenes, Prof. E.J. Koops.

Review copies of the dissertation can be requested at