SWITCH as a mediator between ICT and law

UZH and ETH Zurich have commissioned SWITCH to prepare an expert legal report on the Internet of Things. In this interview, Oliver De Boni and Armin Wittmann of the IT services of the two universities explain how this collaboration came about and whether “SWITCH Legal Consulting” can generate added value for universities.

Text: Anna Kuhn, published on 24.04.2019

UZH and ETHZ are planning a project on the Internet of Things. What is the objective?

Oliver De Boni: Everyone is talking about the Internet of Things (IoT). Certain IoT-applications communicate over special networks, like sensors used to measure temperature and power consumption. In many places, the low-power network LoRaWAN (long-range wide area network) has gained a foothold. Our central IT department is currently examining whether centralised LoRaWAN services would make sense.

Armin Wittmann: ETH Zurich researchers also want to use sensors for interesting IoT projects at hundreds of locations throughout Switzerland, but also inside buildings. For the implementation, we also decided to use LoRaWAN technology.

What legal support do you need for this project?

Armin Wittmann: For LoRaWAN, the specific issue is that receivers forward data packets unfiltered. This is done fully encrypted but over the university’s own IP network, which raises several questions: is the institution now a telecommunications provider? What happens if there are problems with data transmission? What about liability?

Oliver De Boni: After discussions with ETH and SWITCH, it became clear that there is hardly any legal basis for IoT. But in order to be able to decide whether the service should be introduced, key legal questions must be resolved first.

Why did you select SWITCH to prepare the expert legal report?

Oliver De Boni: We contacted various providers. Ultimately, there were a number of reasons why we picked SWITCH. First, they have the necessary ICT expertise. Second, being a provider itself, SWITCH has experience with the relevant legal matters. Third, SWITCH is part of the LoRaWAN-community, as it operates the back-end infrastructure. Fourth, the entire university community will benefit from the collaboration, as other institutions are confronted with these issues as well. 

What was it like working with the SWITCH legal team?

Armin Wittmann: It took only a few meetings to identify the relevant questions which were grasped immediately. The very fair pricing structure also meant costs stayed within limits.

Oliver De Boni: I also found the collaboration straightforward, pragmatic but nevertheless well structured. We were able to get down to the subject very quickly, as SWITCH knows the regulatory environment and technical aspects of the universities.

In which legal areas can SWITCH offer added value over exsisting consulting services?

Armin Wittmann: I think SWITCH is a cost-effective alternative that offers very sound expertise for evaluating network technologies, data protection, and cloud computing.

Oliver De Boni: I would add university-specific and ICT-related issues, such as data protection and procurement law. These are topics we have seen again and again in the past.

Will you make use of SWITCH Legal Consulting again in the future?

Oliver De Boni: Should a relevant issue come up, I would be very happy to consult SWITCH again. I would gladly see it become a standard service from which the whole community could benefit.

Armin Wittmann: The expert report allows us to use the LoRaWAN technology based on a clear legal basis. So I would be happy to use SWITCH Legal Consulting again in the future.

About the author
Anna   Kuhn

Anna Kuhn

Anna Kuhn has been working as legal counsel at SWITCH since May 2017 and as of October 2018 as head of the legal team. She studied law at the University of Zurich and is licensed as an attorney at law in Switzerland. Before joining SWITCH, she worked at a Zurich-based law firm specialising in business law and at a District Court in the Canton of Aargau.

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