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Ethics & Digital Technologies


Course description

This course aims to develop knowledge and understanding of ethical issues that may arise when operating as a legal professional in the domain of digital technologies. Do companies have a moral obligation to be transparent when it comes to the processing of data? Does society have a moral obligation to reap the benefits from data analytics, even if it may disadvantage certain individuals or groups? What constitutes manipulation in the digital environment and is it a bad thing? What is the moral status of autonomous digital processes, robots and/or AI? What do trust and trustworthiness mean in the realm of digital technologies? As technologies may disrupt established practices across different domains (private, governmental, and public) and bring forth unintended consequences that cannot always be adequately addressed by traditional regulation, students will be trained in identifying, analyzing and mitigating these ethical dilemmas.

Underpinned by theories in the field of ethics and philosophy of technology, students will develop strategies to take into account and balance interests of different stakeholders and the society at large. They will be able to present their ethical assessment in a policy advice, adding an extra and highly needed dimension to their legal analysis. The aim of this course is two-sided: (1) to thoroughly familiarize the students with ethical theory and (2) to develop the necessary skills to bring this theory into practice by constructively discussing dilemmas specific to the context of digital technologies and drafting a policy advise to address possible measures and solutions.

The teaching method relies on active learning. Theory is always presented in relation to cases involving digital technologies that will be analyzed by the students. Specific attention will be paid to different cultural elements and approaches to mitigate ethical issues. Students are explicitly asked to bring in their own knowledge and expertise in order to develop a multifaceted ethical assessment. The group may be split in two or three subgroups for some sessions, to facilitate optimal interaction and exchange of ideas.

Every session will focus on one topic, such as: the dominant ethical theories, ethics of technology, the relation between law and ethics, manipulation, privacy, trust, fairness.


For reference on fundamental ethical theories and concepts, we use

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

As the field of ethics and technology is continuously evolving, each year a course reader will be compiled with a collection of state-of-the-art research articles and current discussions around moral impacts of digital technologies. The reader will contain (excerpts of) key works and articles such as (exact list to be determined):

  • Vallor, S. Technology and the Virtues. A Philosophical Guide to a Future Worth Wanting. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

  • Richards, N.M. and J.H. King, Big data ethics. Wake Forest Law Review, 2014. 49: p. 393-432.

  • Reuben Binns, Fairness in Machine Learning: Lessons from Political Philosophy. CoRR abs/1712.03586 (2017)

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

  • Swierstra, T. and K. Waelbers, Designing a Good Life: A Matrix for the Technological Mediation of Morality. Science and Engineering Ethics, 2012. 18(1): p. 157-172.

Course requirement

Master Degree


The timetable of this course will be available for students in Blackboard


More information on this course is offered in Blackboard

Assessment method

  • Written exam (50%)

  • Policy Advice (50%)

A passing grade in both parts of the assessment is needed to successfully pass this course

Contact information

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

Currently these pages are being updated to reflect the courses for 2019 - 2020. Until these pages are fixed as per 1 September 2019 no rights can be claimed from the information which is currently contained within