Session 635


As technological innovation accelerates, new fields and grey areas raise unprecedented challenges for policy, law, and regulatory systems. Companies and users are global but regional approaches differ, creating legal uncertainty around conflict of laws, lack of territoriality, and imposition of extra-territorial jurisdiction. Perceptions of power asymmetry – between large technology companies, small emergent ones, governments, and citizens – contribute to a widespread erosion of trust, undermining the extraordinary potential of new technologies for public good.

The policy and legal implications of new technologies and data applications are difficult to ascertain when still emerging, but even harder to address after technologies have matured and become embedded in social and economic infrastructure.  Regulation depends on top-down control and enforcement capacity, the antithesis of the bottom-up disruptive model pushed by innovators.  Agnostic as to its own use, technology can be used for criminal purposes, to obscure criminal activity, or to investigate and combat crime.  Legal technology (“lawtech”) can make the entire legal system more effective.  However, lawyers and rule-makers may lack skills or the understanding of technology, the extent of its advance, or its future potential.  This requires not only more interaction among stakeholders, but also a focus on actions designed to equip the legal sector with the necessary skills.  In many cases, firms themselves are left to make the rules on ethics and take decisions for their own platforms either through legal requirement or in the absence of guidance.

Legal concerns arise constantly and in multiple cultural and political contexts regarding the balance of privacy and security and of law enforcement and human rights, as well as on how data is held or used by private actors versus by governmental institutions, and with cyber security at the forefront.  Artificial intelligence and the internet of things are increasingly becoming integrated in every facet of our lives.  Algorithms need to be transparent to promote trust and ensure validity, but opaque to ensure security.  Notions of privacy itself have evolved in the digital era, and may even cease to exist.  Current events show that a better-informed citizenry can drive demand for greater transparency and accountability, yet no common ethical framework nor apportionment of responsibilities exists, leaving policy-makers to respond to the latest headline.

Societies and economies stand to gain if leading stakeholders in law, technology, and civil society are able to come together to harness the innovation of cutting-edge companies and developers, foster cross-border collaboration, and enhance flexibility and pragmatism in law and policy-making to ultimately improve global governance.  Advances can directly support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure), Goal 16 (Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions), and Goal 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).


The Salzburg Global Law and Technology Forum will create a high-level, cross-sectoral leadership network, connecting technology, business, law, policy, academia, and civil society. It equips judges, regulators, policymakers, and the legal profession to better understand and anticipate the legal implications of new technologies, and help align law and ethics with technological progress.

The Forum seeks to achieve two concrete goals:
1. Facilitate peer-to-peer dialogue across sectors within an atmosphere of trust, to share perspectives and insights on critical challenges and emerging trends.
2. Enhance opportunities for cross-border regulatory frameworks, accords,and protocols, to clarify applicable rules and avoid conflicts of law or legal gaps.


The inaugural meeting of the Salzburg Global Law and Technology Forum in 2019 defined initial priority issues and identified possibilities for new international norms and practical collaborations. It addressed ways to ensure an ethical underpinning for technological development, consistent with the rule of law and global public good, seeking to balance needs and trade-offs around security, privacy, law enforcement, and human rights. Private firms, public institutions, and civil society representatives had the opportunity to debate and clarify respective interests, roles, and responsibilities.

Areas of activity discussed at the inaugural meeting and in concrete follow-up included:

  • ensuring an ethical underpinning for technological development, consistent with the rule of law and global public good, seeking in particular to balance needs for security and privacy, law enforcement and human rights, and responsibilities for private firms and public institutions to each other and to citizens;
  • resolving specific priority issues and global challenges through a comprehensive and cross-sectoral process within conditions of mutual trust;
  • exploring new ways lawtech might assist the legal profession to promote both efficient and effective justice;
  • devising methods to equip rule-makers from judicial, legislative, and executive bodies with technological literacy, including both through facilitating continuing education or mainstreaming technical staff advising and supporting the rule-makers within institutional and legal processes; and
  • developing leadership skills and competencies that help to unleash human potential to be able to lead technological change, exploiting existing capabilities and new opportunities.


The highly-interactive discussion-based program took place in plenary and breakout sessions. Participants from radically different legal perspectives, technological settings, and cultural backgrounds, sat together on equal terms to learn and reflect across divides. By focusing in great depth on barriers and synergies, they explored new risks and opportunities. For example, because lawyers and rule-makers often lack full understanding of technology, the extent of its advance, or its future potential, more interaction among stakeholders (and demonstration of lawtech) can seek routes to equip the legal sector with the necessary skills while improving practical and ethical implications of public policies or decisions.Strict adherence to the Chatham House Rule ensured a completely open and free exchange.


The program brought together a small group of peers, representing multiple sectors and countries, which enabled participants to foster meaningful and ongoing relationships with stakeholders who may have different perceptions of technology and its role in the world. It drew primarily from:

  • Technology companies, including multinational giants (Microsoft, FAANG), telecoms companies, and device manufacturers;
  • Law firms operating across jurisdictions;
  • Jurists, regulators, and policy-makers and their clerks or senior advisors;
  • Thought leaders from academia or think tanks, and emerging talent from law schools;
  • Civil society activists representing a variety of viewpoints (for example on freedom of speech or digital privacy); and
  • New players and up and coming disruptors, including those not yet with a global footprint.

Consistent with Salzburg Global Seminar’s track record, and given the current under-representation of women in leadership roles in the technology sector, the Forum ensured high diversity and inclusion among participants.


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