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Rights & Responsibilities for Software Programs?

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Panel Summary

To what extent should software code or applications have rights and/or responsibilities? A question at the border of artificial intelligence theory and privacy law, this inquiry will increasingly inform both software development and the regulation of a wide range of situations where software-driven platforms can harm individuals. The panelists will discuss their current work on these issues.

Speakers

  • Samir Chopra: Professor of Computer Science and Philosophy; has written several important articles on privacy in computing systems (including "Is Google Reading My Email"?)
  • James Grimmelmann: Computer scientist and lawyer who has written extensively on these issues (see, e.g., his "Regulation by Software" in the Yale Law Journal).
  • Jon Garfunkel: Computer scientist and author of Civilities.net.
  • Frank Pasquale: Law professor and author of several articles on search engines.

Detailed Description

To what extent should computer programs-have rights and/or responsibilities? A question at the border of artificial intelligence theory and privacy law, this inquiry will increasingly inform both software development and the regulation of a wide range of situations where software-driven platforms can harm individuals. The panelists will discuss their current work on these issues. Most proposed panelists have expertise in programming and computer science.

Samir Chopra's work has already explored in detail the extent to which automated monitoring software violates privacy laws. He has also raised provocative questions about the reporting responsibilities that such automated monitoring might generate (for example, would Google have an obligation to report to authorities a Gmail conversation that obviously contemplated criminal action?). Chopra will address the degree to which law should attribute knowledge to computing platforms. James Grimmelmann will address similar topics, and will also discuss some potentially unavoidable problems in even the best-designed social networking sites and search engines.

Jon Garfunkel write rules-based software for Pegasystems, a software company in Cambridge, Mass. His wider work at Civilities.net examines the role of software architecture in enabling or frustrating accountability-- in diverse technologies such as search engines, blog comment threads, Wikileaks, political robocalls, and the WHOIS system.

Frank Pasquale has analyzed recent court cases involving dominant search engines, claiming that First Amendment protection they grant to search results (by analogizing search engines to newspapers) is an unwise extension of an already expansive doctrine. He has argued that search engines should be regulated in order to protect citizens and businesses harmed by unfair results.

Danielle Citron has examined the ways in which automated decisionmaking in government social programs can go awry. For example, one Colorado benefits management system wrongly denied coverage to hundreds of breast cancer patients. Citron proposes that "technological due process" modulate the increasingly important decisions made by software.

Pasquale and Grimmelmann have already debated these issues in print; Pasquale's 2005 article "Rankings, Reductionism, and Responsibility" was critiqued in Grimmelmann's 2007 "Don't Censor Search" (and Pasquale responded to some of these criticisms in his 2008 piece "Asterisk Revisited"). Garfunkel has also addressed some potential obligations of platforms in a series of reflections on Wikileaks (for example, should such a site maintain some record of posters' identities?). There are a number of overlaps among the panelists' areas of expertise. A vigorous discussion among them and the audience may well shed some new light on the rapidly changing law, morality, and technology of software-driven agents.