Interview with Karen Eltis

In a few words, can you tell us about yourself and how you found your way to the academic field? 

My area is Internet Law, Innovation Policy and Cybersecurity. While academe never truly occurred to me as a law student (and I enjoyed the practice of law subsequently), I was first inspired and encouraged to pursue graduate studies towards academic work in the Chambers of the judge I was clerking for while completing a clerkship in Israel. I was similarly inspired by a Canadian law professor who I RA'd for at McGill.

What is the main core of your research? Can you give an example or two? How is it related to cyber security? 

My research focuses on the impact of innovation (new technologies including Artificial Intelligence) on constitutional rights and democratic governance. My methodology is comparative (given my varied juridical and linguistic background) and much of my work deals with Cybersecurity and health law and policy. Examples are ‘Think fast think slow’ : An « emerging governance» paradigm for artificial intelligence and decision-making. In the disruptive digital age, the foremost challenge for policy makers, industry and institutions, is to mindfully apply the countless benefits of the AI to decision making, while avoiding its unintended consequences and acknowledging its volatility. Extra-territorial by definition, new technologies tends to bypass not only institutions but the domestic legal system and its norms . This global reach and increasing sidestepping of local rules often escape cultural nuance, which together with the appearance of infallibility often gracing new technologies (including but not limited to AI), risk inadvertently entrenching bias, encouraging sloppiness thereby ultimately affronting constitutional rights and democratic legitimacy in certain contexts. Delegating decision- making is most delicate (particularly as it touches on expression and other rights) and requires thoughtful framing and oversight.

Why did you choose this area over all others? Did your personal or professional background lead you to it? 

My initial legal training at McGill was bijuridical/ transystemic, leading to a comparative clerkship position. I grew interested in the impact of new technologies (email at the time over 20 years ago!) while pursuing my LLM at Hebrew University and working at a law firm . The Global aspect is natural having lived in various countries and comfort with different languages.

Do you think that in this cyber age these issues are even more complex compared to other times in history? If so – in what ways? 

Indeed! Very much so.. As lawyers we are used to dealing in precedent; but thinking innovatively & critically "outside the box" is now more important than ever. The Internet and Innovation far more broadly challenges the territorial paradigm that Law has been wedded to for so long. Furthermore, notions such as consent are the 'pierre angulaire' - the cornerstone- of much of private law (as 'government action is for public' ...). These too are thrown into question in the Digital Age (see e.g. Douez v Facebook SCC 2017) We musn't shy away from the discomfort that this occasions but rather embrace, step back and address it as a first step . Comparative inquiry fosters creativity and can contribute as can the Flexible principles that characterize the Continental approach and /droit civil.

After explaining the main core of your research, what do you think is the solution? What is the proper model for that? Is it applicable? 

The current Human rights paradigm, particularly as enshrined in and enforced in domestic constitutional documents of most democracies do not necessarily account for the significant and growing role that private entities have inadvertently come to play as well as the increasing public/ private partnerships and collaborations to which we must give more profound thought, The multitude of issues are illustrated by the encryption/ 'backdoor' lawful access/ law enforcement debates as well as online misinformation (just the tip of the iceberg needless to say..)

What is the next phase in your professional life? 

I'm very interested in public policy and contributing to policy development particularly as it pertains to digital government, digital strategy and accountability . Relatedly and specifically, I'm interested in the responsible deployment of AI especially in the context of decision-making and the impact of technology on courts and justice.

What is your message to the public? 

Framing technology may be daunting. Pirke Avot [R' Tarfon] teaches: "You are not obligated to finish the work but nor are you free to desist from it either"; perfecting the [digital ] world and legal framework takes time but we must truly begin ; Digest rather than merely ingest information (which as Daniel Mendelsohn cautions is all the more difficult in the Digital Age.