Bridging the Accountability Gap: Rights for New Entities in the Information Society?

66 Pages Posted: 23 Jul 2010 Last revised: 10 Aug 2014

See all articles by Bert-Jaap Koops

Bert-Jaap Koops

Tilburg University - Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society (TILT)

Mireille Hildebrandt

Vrije Universiteit Brussel; Radboud University

David-Olivier Jaquet-Chiffelle

University of Lausanne

Date Written: July 23, 2010


New entities in the information society that operate at increasing distance from the physical persons ‘behind’ them, such as pseudonyms, avatars, software agents, and robots, challenge the law. One way of addressing this challenge is to attribute legal rights and/or duties in some contexts to non-humans, thus creating entities that are addressable in law themselves rather than the persons ‘behind’ them. In this article, we review existing literature on rights for non-humans, with a particular focus on emerging entities in the information society. We discuss three strategies for the law to deal with the challenge of these new entities: interpreting and extending existing law, introducing limited legal personhood with strict liability, and granting full legal personhood. Full legal personhood implies that entities can be held liable for culpable and wrongful action and can claim (post) human rights like freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial. To assess these strategies, we distinguish between different types of persons (abstract, legal, and moral) and different types of agency (automatic, autonomic, and autonomous). We conclude that interpretation and extension of the law seems to work well enough with today’s emerging entities, but that sooner or later, attributing limited legal personhood with strict liability is probably a good solution to bridge the accountability gap for autonomic entities; for software agents, this may be sooner rather than later. The technology underlying new entities will, however, have to develop considerably further from facilitating autonomic to facilitating autonomous behavior, before it becomes legally relevant to attribute ‘posthuman’ rights to new entities.

Keywords: Software Agents, Robots, Agency, Personhood, Autonomy, Liability, Posthuman Rights

JEL Classification: K10, K13, K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Koops, Bert-Jaap and Hildebrandt, Mireille and Jaquet-Chiffelle, David-Olivier, Bridging the Accountability Gap: Rights for New Entities in the Information Society? (July 23, 2010). Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 497-561, 2010, Tilburg Law School Research Paper No. 017/2010, Available at SSRN:

Bert-Jaap Koops (Contact Author)

Tilburg University - Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society (TILT) ( email )

P.O.Box 90153
Prof. Cobbenhagenlaan 221
Tilburg, 5037

Mireille Hildebrandt

Vrije Universiteit Brussel ( email )

Pleinlaan 2
Brussels, B-1050


Radboud University ( email )

P.O. Box 9010
Nijmegen, 6500GL

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