New research group: Moral Design Strategy

Technology always has an ethical connotation. This can sometimes have far-reaching consequences for consumers, citizens or organisations. For this reason, a new research group: Moral Design Strategy, led by Bart Wernaart, will start on 1 June. In years to come, Fontys University of Applied Sciences wants to invest heavily in practice-based research in this field.


Social issues
Our society has been transformed from an information society to a smart society. In a Smart Society, people and technology always interact with each other. We are increasingly entrusting part of our ethical decision-making to smart technology. This leads to all kinds of social issues and challenges. How sure does an algorithm have to be to accuse a citizen of fraud? And when should a security camera call the police when it thinks it can predict a fight? To what extent should a chat-bot giving financial advice be putting a customer at risk? And what data should an HRM bot prioritise in making a perfect match between an applicant and a job profile? Who gets to decide how an algorithm on a social media platform deals with disinformation? The research group will work on tackling these kinds of social issues.

Technology design
“It’s about more than just gaining knowledge about ethical issues,” says professor Bart Wernaart. “We want to ‘capture’ the morality of the individual and use it for the design process of products and services in both the private and public sector. The next step is translating this into strategy. What does this mean for the mission and vision of organisations? Or how does it relate to decentralised government policy? And how can an organisation ultimately determine in a transparent manner that moral design actually does what was originally intended? Technological design leads to important challenges in the field of moral authority, ethical decision-making and moral strategy formation. Through thorough research, we want to identify these issues and use them as input for future technology design.”

Socially innovative learning process
Bart Wernaart LLM, PhD, will be appointed as professor of the new research group Moral Design Strategy. Wernaart received his Master’s degree from Tilburg University (International Law) in 2005, and his PhD from Wageningen University in 2013. In recent years, he worked as a lawyer and teacher-researcher of law and ethics at Fontys University of Applied Sciences, Economics and Communication.

He sees the new research group as a way to bring education and research closer together, where students have an active participatory role in doing meaningful research. “On the one hand, we want to be hands-on and, for example, take mobile moral labs into neighbourhoods to find out about the moral expectations of citizens regarding a predictive algorithm used by the government. Think of preventive policing, or an algorithm that would have to detect risks of fraud. On the other hand, we want to participate at a high scientific level, and arrive at new models and approaches based on our practical expertise.”

“A lot is happening at the intersection of technology, ethics and society. Think of the increasing role of Artificial Intelligence (AI). At the same time, we sometimes ignore its ethical aspects too quickly. By connecting researchers, entrepreneurs, education and governments and conducting thorough research, we want to gain more insight into this. The starting point is individual morality as input for design, making morality a more explicit input at the drawing table of new technology. This is the true added value of the research group,” says Wernaart.

The fact that the subject is a hot topic is evidenced by the partnerships that have already been formed, even before the research group has started. For example, research projects will be started with the universities of Quebec and Ottawa, the University of Leuven and various commercial parties. Multiple publications have already been realised at home and abroad in this field. Wernaart: “The theme is truly thriving, just look at the developments in the past year: discussions about deep fake, the benefits scandal, surveillance systems and the corona app are all essentially centred around (a lack of) moral design. It is of vital importance that we deal with this properly in order to increase confidence in a bright future with technology.”

More information
More information on the Moral Design Strategy research group at the Fontys University of Applied Sciences can be found here.

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Ethics and business goes international

I am happy to annouce the upcoming international publication of Ethics and Business, a global introduction by Roudlegde publishers (27 May 2021). The English version of ‘ethiek en economie’ was published by Noordhoff in the Netherlands in 2018. Now, also elsewhere in the world this handbook on ethics and business will be distributed. For more info, please visit: Ethics and Business | Taylor & Francis Group.

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Flaminio Costa v ENEL, European Court of Justice, Case 6/64, 1964, preliminary ruling

The EU? It’s electric!

Why is this ruling so important?
In this ground-breaking ruling, the European Court of Justice held that European Law is of a higher legal order than National Law. In case of contrary national legislation, the European rules therefore prevail.

What happened?
In the early sixties, the Italian government nationalized the electricity sector. Mister Flaminio Costa disagreed with this course of affairs, because he owned shares in a small private electricity company that was now being merged into a state owned company: ENEL. As reprisal, he refused to pay his electricity bills, with a total sum of almost 2000 Lire. In the Italian court, he argued that the nationalization was against European Law. The Italian government however, held that under no conditions, a domestic court could set aside national law.

What was decided?
The European Court of Justice ruled that in this case the nationalisation of the electricity sector was a matter the European Commission should deal with, since the commission was competent to review such acts against European Law.

Please note that In casu, mister Costa did not win the argument. However, the court was very clear on one thing: the Italian government was wrong in assuming that no domestic court could set aside domestic law.

Important quotes from the verdict
The obligations undertaken under the treaty establishing the community would not be unconditional, mut merely contingent, if they could be called in question by subsequent legislative acts of the signatories. Wherever the Ttreaty grants the states the rights unilaterally, it does this by clear and precise provisions.

It follows from all these observations that the law stemming from the treaty, and independent source of law, could not, because of its special and original nature, be overridden by domestic legal provisions, however framed, without being deprived of its character as community law and without the legal basis of the community itself being called into question.

Most relevant Articles
Art. 288 TFEU (ex Art. .249 TEC, in the original ruling a reference is made to the earlier Art. 189 of the EEC treaty).

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To ban the Quran? – some legal advise for Wilders

What do we need to ban the Quran

In their latest party programme, the Dutch Party of Freedom is proud to limit the seize of their programme to only one page. The content does not really come as a surprise though. However, I am still intrigued when I read a party’s desire to ban a particular religious book. It is the goal of the PVV (Party of Freedom) to ban the Holy Quran from Dutch soil. While this is nothing new, the popularity of this party is greater than ever.

Therefore, it seems a good idea to help mister Wilders with some legal advise in what he should do to actually ban this holy book by law

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