Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities
Research project

Designing freedom? Bringing fundamental rights and freedoms into electricity grids and disaster management through ICTs (DESFREE)

The aim of this research project was to investigate the question of what happens to fundamental rights and freedoms (such as privacy and dignity) as these become matters of engineering and design to be built into emerging ICT infrastructures.

Ein kvit vegg med lys og tekst i svart
The image is from Zürich Stadthaus. The title, translated, reads: Privacy, protected, shared, sold.
Wikimedia Commons/Ank Kumar

Main content

We build liberty...by setting society upon a certain constitution...an architecture...that structures and constrains social and legal power, to the end of protecting fundamental values - principles and ideals that reach beyond the compromises of ordinary politics, Lawrence Lessig (2006)

The project engaged with and studied such processes in two domains: (1) smart electricity meters and so-called “smart grids” seen as central to on going transitions towards renewable energies, and (2) ICTs for use in disaster management (ie. search and rescue, “triage”).

The research question was discussed and developed into research proposals in interdisciplinary groups including practitioners from philosophy, social science, law, engineering, software design, as well as representatives of different professions using and operating the ICT systems.

The project addressed the concerns of the SAMKUL program by focusing on rights and freedoms as main legal-political-cultural preconditions of democratic societies, and the ways in which these preconditions are being re-configured and re-constituted in digital technological systems. Such re-configurations are already under way through so-called privacy and data protection by design, through new approaches to risk management, and through the use of ICTs in new environments of energy and disaster management.

In these ways the project specifically addressed the environments of Nature and Technology, and to some extent also Economy, as identified in the SAMKUL programme.

For more information, read the project application below.