Indonesian law schools will have to face questions surrounding ethics in technology in the coming years, if not already. How can they prepare for it? Shutterstock

How Indonesian law schools can prepare for the future of technology

Who would be responsible if a driverless car injures a pedestrian? Is it right that a profit-seeking tech company releases its own digital currency?

As technology continues to advance, we will run into these questions of ethics concerning technology more often.

For Indonesian law schools to keep up with the evolving concepts of justice amid the slow pace of the country’s legal system in reacting to technological development, legal scholars suggest educators adopt innovative interdisciplinary curricula, along with implementing creative teaching methods.

Asmin Fransiska, the Dean of the Faculty of Law at Universitas Katolik Indonesia Atma Jaya, says innovative solutions must be considered to ensure law schools can adapt to future uncertainties.

“An interdisciplinary approach to legal education, as well as innovative tech-based curricula, are solutions that we must consider,” she argued.

The slow response of civil law

Tomi Suryo Utomo, a professor of business law at Universitas Janabadra and also visiting professor at Universitas Gadjah Mada, said it is challenging for Indonesian law schools to react to technological trends.

He argues that the reason is partly due to Indonesia’s civil law system, where predetermined statutes and regulations define what’s right and wrong.

Tomi, who is also a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the University of South Carolina, says that this makes it hard to introduce new regulations as problems arise.

This is in contrast to common law systems, where judicial cases are often the most important source of law. Here, judges play a more active role in developing rules and adapting to societal dilemmas.

“In Indonesia, often laws made by the government and legislators do not contain provisions that anticipate future needs, as they are made before the trends occur,” Tomi said.

“This affects curricula in law schools as they are often made to only address developments foreseeable at that time.”

The CIA World Factbook records that about 150 countries have adopted the civil law system, including Indonesia, Germany and Japan. On the other hand, around 80 states have a common law system, including the United States and the United Kingdom.

Tomi further argues that law schools in common-law countries adapt faster to technological trends and scientific progress.

“In the US, this isn’t much of a problem. Legal students study law from judicial cases, which are dynamic and respond quicker to debates surrounding justice that happen in society,” he said.

In 2017, for example, the US Supreme Court ruled in Carpenter vs United States that the collection of extensive mobile phone data for law enforcement purpose – without a warrant – violated an individual’s right to privacy.

A case like this could then be immediately discussed during a course in privacy law across American universities, without having to make any changes to the existing curriculum.


Read more: Supreme Court struggles to define 'searches' as technology changes


Creativity and innovation are key

Fransiska says that although the law system limits the speed at which Indonesia – and ultimately its law schools – can react to developments in technology, there will always be room for innovation.

“It’s a huge challenge, but I remain optimistic. There is no regulation governing higher education institutions that says we have to stick to studying only existing laws,” she said.

An example that she cites is how the faculty she leads has recently introduced courses on topics in frontier knowledge.

“We have a curriculum discussing outer space, including a course on space law. It’s not mandated by the Ministry of Research and Technology. It was our initiative because we have the relevant experts and we know it will be important in the coming years,” she said.

“Not even a year has passed and there have already been developments in legal mining in outer space, requiring collaboration between mining law and space law. We have to respond to this.”

“These future-oriented initiatives are possible to anticipate our legal system that is based on statutes,” she added.

Other sophisticated examples come from the Washington College of Law at the American University.

Last year, the faculty established the Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Legal Issues Group to provide a platform for law students to understand emerging concepts affecting the legal industry.


Read more: The lowdown on Libra: what consumers need to know about Facebook’s new cryptocurrency


Forward-thinking lecturers

Fransiska acknowledges that initiatives like these rely heavily on law educators and faculty administrators to have a forward-thinking mindset.

“I don’t think that the legal system should be reformed, but instead the mindset of administrators and lecturers should. One of the barriers for innovation is the conventional wisdom that law studies should be based on existing statutes,” she said.

Tomi agrees with Fransiska, saying that lecturers must take centre stage when it comes to responding to technological trends.

“I teach international business law. The curriculum doesn’t mention things like blockchain technology, but nevertheless I insert discussions surrounding modern methods of payment,” he said.

“Regulations and curricula can’t respond as quickly as they should, so the creativity and initiative of lecturers play an important role.”


EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been renewed to update the academic credentials of Tomi Suryo Utomo