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Ethics & Digital Technologies


Course description

This core course aims to address the why of regulating digital technologies. We reflect on the broad societal implications of digital technologies, and how they transform our practices and mediate what we consider to be worth striving for, or worth protecting.
As technologies may disrupt established practices and bring forth unintended consequences that are not, or even cannot, always be adequately addressed by traditional regulation, students will be trained in identifying, analyzing and providing advice on ethical dilemmas that arise with the embedding of digital technologies in almost all of our interactions.

This course aims to develop knowledge and understanding of ethical issues relevant for legal professionals in the domain of digital technologies. At the same time, the course addresses specific normative aspects of digital architectures and design. Given the current developments (both in technology and regulation), this course will have a special focus on Artificial Intelligence.

Course topics:

  1. What is ethics, and what is its status or authority (meta-ethics)?
  • Introduction to some of the main ethical frameworks and concepts
  • Introduction to moral reasoning
  1. How do law, technology and ethics relate in the regulatory landscape?
  • How does ethics play a role in legal regulation?
  • How can (moral) norms be embedded in technology?
  1. Anticipating impacts (Collingridge’s dilemma)
  • Value sensitive design
  • Technologies as “social experiments”?
  • Distribution of benefits, risks and responsibilities
  1. Which specific ethical issues arise around Artificial Intelligence?
  • What is Artificial Intelligence?
  • Which are characteristic ethical issues of AI?
  • Interplay of ethics and law in regulation of AI?

The teaching method relies on active learning and engaging different perspectives. Students are expected to actively engage with a curated collection of readings from different relevant disciplines, and engage in discussions involving digital technologies. Students are explicitly asked to bring in their own knowledge and expertise in order to develop a multifaceted ethical assessment. Specific attention will be paid to balancing different perspectives, cultural diversity, and disciplinary differences in relevant practices and thinking about solutions. The group may be split in smaller subgroups for one or more debate sessions, to facilitate optimal interaction and exchange of ideas.

As the field is rapidly and continuously evolving, the course reader will be updated every year and communicated on Brightspace at the start of the course. Course materials will include podcasts and/or web lectures.

Some recommended materials preparing for the course:

  • Justice with Michael Sandel – recorded Ethics lecture series at Harvard (youtube)

  • Julia Driver: Ethics, The Fundamentals (2006), Wiley-Blackwell, 192 p.

  • Verbeek, P.-P., Moralizing technology: Understanding and designing the morality of things. 2011, Chicago ; London: The University of Chicago Press. Ix, 183 p.

  • Kate Crawford, Atlas of AI: Power, Politics, and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence, 2021. Yale University Press

Additionally, some recommended fiction to inspire thinking about ethical questions around digital technologies (your own suggestions are warmly invited!):

  • Dave Eggers, The Circle (2013) and The Every (2021)

  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (2021)

  • Ian McEwan, Machines Like Me (2019)

  • Series: Black Mirror (Netflix – Seasons 1-5, Season 6 expected in June 2023)

  • Movie: Stanley Kubrick, 2001 A Space Odyssee

  • Movie: Minority Report (2002)

Course requirement

Master Degree


The timetable of this course will be available for students in MyTimetable
6 Lectures/interactive seminars of 2 hours. For some sessions the class may be split.


More information on this course is offered in Brightspace


Attendance is mandatory as specified in Article 5.1 of the Course and Examination Regulations of the Master of Laws Advanced Studies Programmes.

Assessment method

In term assignment (pass/fail; pass required for admission to exam)
Exam (short essay questions about excerpts of the course readings) (100%)

Contact information

Programme Coordinator
Ms Patricia Garcia Fernandez
Telephone number: 0031- 71 527 4228

Should there be any future extenuating circumstances which may impinge our teaching and assessment, these could necessitate modification of the course descriptions after 1 September. This will only happen in the event of strict necessity and the interests of the students will be taken into account. Should there be a need for any change during the course, this will be informed to all students on a timely basis. Modifications after 1 September 2023 may only be done with the approval and consent of the Faculty Board and Programme Director.