Law and IT experts from all Swiss universities regularly meet in SWITCH’s ICT Law Working Group in order to learn about the latest legal issues impacting higher education institutions, analyse the need for action and agree on an approach.
Universities’ legal services departments are confronted with a range of legal issues and developments at the international, national and cantonal level. These do not just affect their specific institutions, but also education and research in Switzerland as a whole. Topics that come to mind include copyright law, library law, data protection and legal issues concerning surveillance of postal and telecommunications activity. Many of these themes have a reciprocal relationship with technological developments such as data management, data classification, cloud computing, BYOD, and so on.
Data privacy in particular is a hotly debated topic which needs to be addressed. The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect in May 2016. This regulation also impacts Swiss institutions that manage EU citizens’ personal data – including universities.
It goes without saying that data privacy is a core issue for universities’ legal services departments and presents a considerable challenge for both management and IT divisions. In order to successfully manage these complex challenges, various disciplines within an institution need to productively work together. Good relationships between different universities, with external experts being brought in where necessary, are also a key advantage.
SWITCH’s ICT Law Working Group, which I have been a part of for 10 years, provides outstanding services in the field of inter-institutional relationships. The committee is made up of representatives from legal services and IT departments and meets twice a year to maintain contacts, exchange information and opinions, discuss experiences, enhance knowledge of various topics and examine positions. Members of the working group agree that personal contacts and regular meetings with colleagues working on similar problems are highly beneficial for the community as a whole. The open, collegial dialogue helps participants share their knowledge, develop solutions and establish a foundation for a coordinated and effective legal approach. Thanks to its interdisciplinary nature, the committee enables constructive understanding between legal experts and IT services. As a result, unexpected questions from different fields can be asked, contributing to solutions that serve the entire community. For my part, I’m already looking forward to the next meeting.