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PhD Research Level Position on Human Rights Accountability for Contemporary Surveillance Practices

  • February 15, 2021

FRC is proud to be partner in the iBOF project “Future-proofing human rights. Developing thicker forms of accountability” supervised by prof. Paul De Hert and prof. Rosamunde Van Brakel.  

 

For this project, FRC is looking for two motivated PhD candidates (one in Law, one in Criminology) to contribute to the workpackage ‘Human rights accountability for contemporary surveillance practices’ 

 

Vacancy #1 under the supervision of prof. Paul De Hert

 

Deadline for applications: April 11, 2021

 

Foreseen starting date: November 1, 2021

 

Location: VUB Department, Faculty of Law and Criminology – Fundamental Human Rights Research Center

 

Contract: Limited duration (4 years)

 

Degree requirements: Master’s degree in law

 

Occupancy rate: 100%

 

Vacancy Type: Research

 

Job Description: We are seeking to fill one full-time 48-months fully-funded PhD fellowships as part of the iBOF project “Future-proofing human right. Developing thicker forms of accountability” (see below). You will be based at the Fundamental Rights Center at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels’ Faculty of Law and Criminology, but will (remotely) collaborate with colleagues at other Flemish Universities. We are looking for mature PhD candidates, ideally with a research degree; and/or experience of doing fieldwork or research on the topic of human rights accountability. Our working language is English. We encourage candidates from minority groups to apply and have a recruitment process aimed at ensuring inclusion and diversion.

 

Description of the broader research project: The position is one of seven research positions that we are currently seeking to fill in the context of a new research project on accountability for human rights. For more information about the other positions (including at other universities), please see this page. The overall research project is a multi-disciplinary and multi-method study that seeks to identify a variety of avenues for achieving better human rights protection that can provide the basis for a thicker conceptualization of the notion of (human rights) accountability. It seeks to strengthen human rights law by identifying means or mechanisms that ensure a thicker form of accountability. This project proposes to further develop the concept of accountability so that it can face up to current social challenges, such as COVID-19, corporate abuse or surveillance dilemmas. Our particular concern is with the disconnect between the formal legal system and the lived experiences of those who suffer harms that could logically be – but are not yet - understood as a human rights violation. Our overarching research question is: How can thicker accountability for human rights violations be achieved, so as to ensure better human rights protection in line with the everyday experience of rights holders? This question breaks down into three sub-questions:

1. What counts/should count, as a human rights violation, i.e. what types of substantive wrongs (do not) trigger accountability in practice?

2. Who can/should be held accountable (i.e. who is a duty-bearer), but now slips through the net?

3. How can the human rights framework be altered to accommodate this, i.e. what are good practices?

Within this project, the candidate for this position would be working on a specific work package that looks beyond the law and asks how we can learn from other disciplines and from practice to thicken forms of accountability. See work package (WP) 3.3. in this document.

The PhD will reflect on how legally binding fundamental rights standards can be protected in an era of Artificial Intelligence and surveillance through existing data protection law and privacy. The question is timely, since right protection has been built since the late eighteenth century on the idea of an antinomian relationship between the “public” and the “private”. However, the political economy of informational capitalism or surveillance capitalism has become one of the key drivers of the expansion of the use of surveillance technologies in society (Zuboff, Cohen).These developments have led to new substantive wrongs and put into question traditional accountability mechanisms in the governance of surveillance. Under the influence of technology companies, the interpretation and understanding of human rights may be shifting

The focus of this PhD project is to focus on theory of rights (using Raz as a possible starting point) and use two rights (privacy and data protection) as a case study. How do rights function? Is their intended protection selective and if so, on what basis? How to ensure that AI is compliant with fundamental rights, including but also going beyond the right to protection of personal data? To what extent can privacy and data protection requirements address other fundamental rights? Are PIA (privacy impact assessments) and DPIAs (data protection impact assessments) effective to address rights beyond data protection? Why was accountability introduced in these legal areas in the first place? (Neyland’s idea of parasitic accountability). What substantive wrongs of surveillance and AI driven practices (do not) trigger accountability in practice? What can human rights law learn from the accountability mechanisms in data protection law and what useful novel accountability ideas or alternatives are proposed in literature to address shortcomings of privacy and data protection law.

 

Profile of the candidate: In order to be eligible, applicants must:

• hold a European Union master’s degree in law; proven interests in theory of human rights law and in political science understandings of law and human rights;

• have obtained their degree at the time of application or demonstrate convincingly that they will have that degree in hand by July 1, 2021;

• be fluent in English as their primary working language and as their primary publication language;

• participate in international conferences.

 

Furthermore, applicants who meet the following conditions will be ranked higher during the assessment procedure:

• good knowledge of human rights protection at the level of the Council of Europe and the European Union; 

• aptitude to explore theories on human rights and on accountability;

• good knowledge and experience with data protection law;

• Knowledge of and experience with legal research;

• pre-existing networks relevant to the research;

 

In addition to these project specific elements, we expect candidates to;

• have the ability to work independently and in a multi-disciplinary and international team;

• able to cooperate with the other VUB-FRC more criminology oriented researcher on the iBOF project “Future-proofing human right”;

• have excellent academic writing/presentation skills;

• contribute towards the general well-functioning of the team and project;

• have some social media experience, or interest therein;

• work in a meticulous way and be able to manage deadlines.

 

How to apply: Please send us:

• A cover letter outlining how your professional and/or research experience is relevant for this project, your motivation, and which case study you would want to examine;

• a detailed CV (including publication list, presentation and fieldwork experience if available);

• a transcript of your degree(s) and grade: 

o If you have a foreign diploma in a language other than Belgium’s national languages (Dutch, French or German) or English, please add a translation in one of the mentioned languages;

o a ‘Certificate of equivalence’ is required for diplomas awarded outside the European Union (This can be requested via www.naricvlaanderen.be/en);

• two letters of recommendation;

• a writing sample on a related topic (10.000 words maximum, in English, ideally an academic or research paper).

Applicants should submit these documents as one pdf file via email to paul.de.hert@vub.be with the subject line “Application iBOF PhD”. We may not be able to process applications that do not follow these formal requirements.

The deadline for submission is April 11, 2021.

 

For inquiries, please contact Prof. dr. Paul De Hert at paul.de.hert@vub.be

 

Vacancy #2 under the supervision of prof. Rosamunde Van Brakel

 

Deadline for applications: March 31, 2021

 

Foreseen starting date: November 1, 2021

 

Location: VUB Department, Faculty of Law and Criminology, Fundamental Rights Research Centre

 

Contract: Limited duration (4 years for a doctoral position)

 

Degree requirements: Master’s degree in criminology or a relevant social science

 

Occupancy rate: 100%

 

Vacancy Type: Research

 

Job Description: We are seeking to fill one full-time research position as part of the iBOF project “Future-proofing human right. Developing thicker forms of accountability”.

To be eligible for the position as a PhD candidate, your highest degree must be a MA in Criminology and/or a relevant Social Sciences discipline.

The postholder will become a member of the Fundamental Rights Centre and the Crime and Society Research Group at the Faculty of Law and Criminology of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and will collaborate with colleagues at other Flemish Universities (mostly remotely). In addition, there will be the opportunity to get involved in the activities of the Chair in Surveillance Studies - https://survstudies.research.vub.be/en.

Your task will be to investigate, as part of iBOF research team mentioned above and under the direction of Professor Rosamunde Van Brakel, how corporate actors are influencing accountability mechanisms of law enforcement in Belgium to deal with surveillance wrongs. You will do so by mapping best and worst practices in terms of legal and non-legal accountability mechanisms. The methodology for this endeavor is critical discourse analysis and uses NVivo software for analysis. Data will be collected through semi-structured interviews and focus groups with law enforcement, oversight bodies and platform representatives, and desk research.

You will also attend academic conferences and participate in the dissemination of the findings of the research project.

Dutch and English will be your main languages of work.

We encourage candidates from minority groups to apply.

 

Description of the broader research project: see above under Vacancy #1

 

Profile of the candidate: In order to be eligible, applicants must:

• hold a master’s degree in criminology or a relevant social science;

• have obtained their degree at the time of application or demonstrate convincingly that they will have that degree in hand by November 1, 2021;

• be fluent in Dutch and English as primary working and publication language;

• be willing to spend period(s) of time abroad to participate in international conferences and summer schools.

Furthermore, applicants who meet the following conditions will be ranked higher during the assessment procedure if they can demonstrate that they have

• experience with qualitative research methods and more specifically doing interviews and using NVIVO software;

• interest in doing interdisciplinaryresearchonthe political economy of surveillance and police accountability;

• interest in human rights;

 

In addition to these project specific elements, candidates will be selected by reference to the following criteria:

•ability to work both independently and in a multi-disciplinary and international team;

•quality of academic writing/presentation skills;

•capacity and willingness to contribute to the well-being and well-functioningof the teams of which they are part;

•social media experience, or interest therein;

•meticulousness, organization skills and capacity to manage deadlines.

 

How to apply: Please send us:

• a cover letter (double-spaced, font 12, 4 pages maximum) outlining your motivation, your research proposal, and what you would bring to both your specific and the broader research projects;

• a detailed CV (including publications, if any);

• a transcript of your degree(s)and grades:

o If you have aforeign diploma in a language other than Belgium’snational languages (Dutch, French, or German) or English, please add a translation in one of the mentioned languages.

• two letters of recommendation;

• a writing sample on a related topic (10.000 words maximum, in English, ideally an academicor research paper).

 

How to apply: Applicants should submit these documents as one pdf file via email to: rosamunde.van.brakel@vub.be with the subject line “Application-iBOF - WP3.3(MBD)”.

We may notbe able to process applications that do not follow thesef ormal requirements.

The deadline for submission is March 31, 2021.

For inquiries, please contact prof. dr.Rosamunde Van Brakel.

 

Evaluation Procedure: Selected applicants will be invited to complete a home-based written assignment. Applicants will be shortlisted for an interview on the basis of their assignment. Shortlisted applicants will beinvited for a video conference interview. During this interview, we will assess the relevance of your experience for this project, and gauge whether you meet all the requirements.

The evaluation will be carried out by Prof. Van Brakel, in collaboration with the project’s steering group. Should we believe that your skills and expertise are better suited for one of the other vacancies on the project, we will be happy to pass this information along to the concerned PI. If you do not wish for your application to be considered for other positions, please indicate this explicitly in your cover letter.