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New $2 million fund to help prepare NZ for digital age

The government has launched an independent $2 million research fund by the New Zealand Law Foundation for projects that are designed to better prepare New Zealand for the information age.

Justice and Communications Minister Amy Adams launched the Information Law and Policy Project at Parliament last night. It will develop law and policy around IT, data, information and cyber-security.

“Technology affects virtually every area of our daily lives, and the pace of change has law-makers and bureaucrats struggling to keep up,” explains Law Foundation executive director Lynda Hagen.

“The global nature of information poses threats and opportunities for New Zealand – how we manage it, and trade in it. What capabilities do we need to deal with cyber-crime, now a $400 billion global industry? How can citizens control use of their data – and what is the impact of technology on our democracy?,” she says.

Hagen says these are just some of the big challenges that the information age has thrown at us.

“The Information Law and Policy Project seeks to focus New Zealand’s best experts on solutions that are right for us. For our small, trade-dependent nation, this work couldn’t be more critical,” she adds.

The Law Foundation, an independent charitable trust, has launched ILAPP with input from relevant public and private interests.

Hagen says the project will bring together teams of experts to examine challenges and opportunities in areas like global information, cyber-security, data exploitation, and technology-driven social change.

Seven broad themes of enquiry have been identified and research projects will align with these:

  1. The global nature of information – how we manage it and trade in it.
  2. Cyber security and crime – what capabilities are needed to protect against this?
  3. Social change following technological change – how is technology affecting society and how can the law keep up?
  4. Ownership/exploitation of data – how can citizens control use of their data?
  5. Philosophical notions – looking at the impact of technology on the State and what that means for democracy and other constitutional issues.
  6. The ethics of inference – algorithmic decision making and its implications for society.
  7. The exclusionary effect of technology – catering for citizens and business lacking the ability to access and unlock the benefits of technology.

The research teams will have around three years to complete their projects, according Hagen.

University law schools are working closely with the Law Foundation on the project. Hagen says a special feature of this project will be its collaborative approach to research.

“Law faculty deans will help develop cross-institutional research proposals and bring together the best available multi-disciplinary teams from New Zealand’s talent pool,” Hagen says.

“We expect the quality of the research to be much higher as a result. The Law Foundation will be sponsor, funder and administrator of research under ILAPP.”

Hagen says that, in addition to legal experts, potential collaborators include computer scientists, economists, sociologists, philosophers, IT and data specialists, business, cyber-security experts, government/public sector, crown research institutes, civil society and users.

“The Law Foundation supports independent legal thinking. We will work collaboratively with government and private interests, but the research outcomes must serve the wider public rather than any vested interest,” she says.

We expect the projects to have practical outcomes, in particular on how New Zealand can gain commercially, and be protected, through technology developments.

“For example, how can New Zealand’s predominantly small businesses, lacking expertise and scale, unlock the economic value of their data?

“While the rapidly-evolving information landscape makes the development of lasting law and policy solutions especially challenging, we expect the projects to be future focused, to identify ongoing issues and propose solution frameworks,” Hagen says.

The scope of ILAPP has been developed in consultation with many interests including experts from the law schools, the Government’s 2015 cyber-security strategy, InternetNZ, the Innovation Partnership, the Data Futures Partnership, Google New Zealand, Spark, and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. 

“This input has been incredibly valuable in bringing the Information Law and Policy Project together,” adds Hagen.

ILAPP will be assisted by a 10-member independent specialist advisory review committee. The committee will help assess and finalise aspects of research projects being supported.