April 29 – May 4 , 2018, Dagstuhl Seminar 18181

Towards Accountable Systems


David Eyers (University of Otago, NZ)
Christopher Millard (Queen Mary University of London, GB)
Margo Seltzer (Harvard University – Cambridge, US)
Jatinder Singh (University of Cambridge, GB)

For support, please contact

Dagstuhl Service Team


List of Participants
Shared Documents


Technology is putting our everyday lives under continuous scrutiny, such as through monitoring and surveillance by our phones or sensors in smart cities. At the same time, the actuation capabilities of the emerging Internet of Things add a new dimension, by allowing systems to directly affect the physical world. This, coupled with the integration of data analytics and machine learning techniques into system workflows is moving us into an increasingly automated world.

It follows that the legal and policy concerns regarding technology are increasing in salience and prominence; there are real issues regarding privacy, transparency, agency and safety as they relate to the systems underpinning society, and the data that drives them.

Accountability, however, is hindered by the nature of the technology. Systems tend to be "black boxes" that operate in a manner "invisible" to those who are affected by them. Data can easily move across both administrative and geo-political boundaries, often without a trace. The structure and composition of the systems-of-systems involved can be dynamic and complex, and the internals of data analytics techniques are often opaque. This means that even where regulations are fit-for-purpose, ascertaining compliance is difficult, although accountability is still essential.

This Dagstuhl Seminar brings together experts from the computer science and law communities, from academia and industry, to explore these important and timely challenges. Specifically, the aim is to both raise awareness of and establish new research directions concerning the accountability of systems, given directions in systems technologies; developing legal and regulatory requirements; and evolving user expectations.

Law, regulation and requirements for data management, security, confidentiality, quality and provenance should be defined with technological enforcement in mind: technologists should be legally-aware and lawyers should be technology-aware.

The more specific goals of the seminar concern providing the foundations for moving forward, and are envisaged to include:

  • developing a series of concrete use-cases to illustrate the issues and challenges and to shape future research directions regarding accountable systems;
  • categorising the various challenges as a taxonomy or ontology, with specific use-cases provided for the sake of illustration;
  • identifying the opportunities and gaps for data management and security technologies for aligning with current and emerging law and regulation (and vice-versa); and
  • considering the consequences of an increasingly automated ("algorithmic") society and the physicality of systems, to identify the legal/social transparency and control requirements in light of the potential harms that can result, and their relation to technical means for inspection and intervention.

  Creative Commons BY 3.0 DE
  David Eyers, Christopher Millard, Margo Seltzer, and Jatinder Singh


  • Security / Cryptology
  • Society / Human-computer Interaction
  • World Wide Web / Internet


  • Security and privacy
  • Law and regulation
  • Cloud computing
  • Internet of Things
  • Compliance and audit

Book exhibition

Books from the participants of the current Seminar 

Book exhibition in the library, ground floor, during the seminar week.


In the series Dagstuhl Reports each Dagstuhl Seminar and Dagstuhl Perspectives Workshop is documented. The seminar organizers, in cooperation with the collector, prepare a report that includes contributions from the participants' talks together with a summary of the seminar.


Download overview leaflet (PDF).


Furthermore, a comprehensive peer-reviewed collection of research papers can be published in the series Dagstuhl Follow-Ups.

Dagstuhl's Impact

Please inform us when a publication was published as a result from your seminar. These publications are listed in the category Dagstuhl's Impact and are presented on a special shelf on the ground floor of the library.

NSF young researcher support