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Feb. 3, 2021

Let’s change the way we think about cybersecurity, legal expert says

New Canada Research Chair appointee Emily Laidlaw works to develop legal, regulatory methods to govern online actions

With online platforms and technology changing and advancing at such a rapid pace, it might be difficult to plan a five-year research program on the legalities of online security and privacy. However, Dr. Emily Laidlaw, PhD, a newly appointed Canada Research Chair in Cybersecurity Law, is up for the task.

“The internet has had a profound impact on society, from relationships and communication, to work, warfare, crime and business,” explains Laidlaw. “So many moments of our day-to-day lives are vulnerable to cybersecurity issues. Combined with the speed of innovation and the internet’s transnational reach, traditional laws are often strained in helping achieve a secure cyber environment, placing increased reliance on other forms of regulation.”

Through the lens of technology regulation and human rights, Laidlaw hopes to explore and unpack the systems of cybersecurity regulation, to influence law reform, and to guide the development of cohesive regulatory models in Canada and around the globe. A key research challenge is how to design the regulatory system to enable the kinds of public-private partnerships needed to secure the cyber environment. An area Laidlaw has been exploring for several years focuses on “Security of Self” – the connection between cybersecurity and abuse.

“From deep fakes, fake news, cyber-stalking and hacking, keeping yourself safe and secure online is becoming a major issue,” she explains. “Through this CRC, I will take a deep dive into the cybersecurity aspects of participatory technologies like social media, advancing law reform on subjects such as the right to one’s image or narrative as a security issue, the legal responsibilities of platforms and data brokers, and appropriate dispute resolution methods when conflicts do happen.”

Dr. Emily Laidlaw, PhD

Emily Laidlaw is the new Canada Research Chair in Cybersecurity Law.

Early stages of developing law

Although some form of the internet has been around since the 1960s, we are only in the early stages of developing comprehensive laws to regulate and govern our online actions. Traditional thinking about cybersecurity has been very technical in its orientation, primarily focusing on hacking and data breaches. According to Laidlaw, it is time to rethink that approach and to solve these problems in partnerships between the public and private sectors, and to find innovative solutions between law and public policy to incentivize good behaviour.

The law as it relates to cybersecurity is in disarray, which provides a really good opportunity for me to make a significant impact on this area of law. The approach I am taking is to start by looking at regulatory models — what are the trends in different governance approaches, and what do we learn from them about what is generally working and not working — which will shape the development of new forms of cybersecurity regulation.

First Canada Research Chair for law school

Not only is Laidlaw involved in research in a new area of law, she has also made history as the Faculty of Law’s first Canada Research Chair.

“Emily’s appointment further solidifies UCalgary Law’s position as Canada’s most innovative law school,” says Dr. Ian Holloway, dean of the law school. “Emily is one of the leading scholars of her generation, and her work at the intersection of internet law and privacy is having a global impact.”

The Canada Research Chairs Program stands at the centre of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world's top countries for research and development. The program is committed to ensuring access and opportunities to all qualified candidates, while maintaining standards of excellence. The goals of equity and excellence are not mutually exclusive. Equity ensures that the largest pool of qualified candidates is accessed without affecting the integrity of the selection process.