Funding Win for MLS Digital Research

Melbourne Law School has received more than $840,000 in funding as part of the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards.

MLS academics Dr Piers Gooding and Dr James Parker have each received a prestigious Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) to pursue research projects on digital technology and the law. The highly competitive grant is an initiative of the Australian Research Council to support early career researchers. Four DECRAs were awarded to law and legal studies academics nationally, two of which were received by MLS.

Digital Mental Health Care and the Law – Dr Piers Gooding

In line with his work as Research Fellow at the Melbourne Social Equity Institute, Dr Gooding’s research project will examine the legal and political implications of digital mental health technologies. It aims to assist mental health service users, health practitioners, government agencies, courts and the broader public to use digital technology in the mental health context safely and effectively.

Innovations in digital mental health care have seen the creation of mobile apps and online care delivery, algorithmic risk assessment, GPS tracking of forensic mental health patients, and psychiatric drugs with an inbuilt microchip that monitors medication compliance. Although some of these technologies have the potential to address gaps in support for people in crisis, Dr Gooding says, “The rapid uptake of digital mental health technology raises serious issues concerning privacy and other harms, such as discrimination, welfare surveillance, and the spread of commercialised, unproven interventions.”

“This project will promote responsible public governance of digital technology for maximum benefit to the Australian public.

“I’m grateful to the ARC and to my MLS colleagues for their support with my application. It offers me a chance to investigate a key testing ground for the broader digital transformation of health and social services. The recent ‘robo debt’ fiasco, and Philip Alston’s warning about a ‘digital welfare dystopia’, highlight why legal research is so vital to the field,” he says.

The Law and Politics of Machine Listening – Dr James Parker

MLS Senior Lecturer Dr James Parker’s research focuses on the relationship between law, sound and listening, with a particular emphasis on international criminal law and privacy. His research project will examine the law and politics of machine listening.

“Smart speakers equipped with digital voice assistants such as Siri and Alexa are now the fastest-growing consumer technology since the smartphone,” he says. “This technology offers real benefits, but machine listening also poses challenges across privacy, security, surveillance, human rights and other areas of law and politics.”

Dr Parker’s research aims to develop a conceptual framework for regulation and greater public scrutiny around this growing field, and enhance the social benefits of future technologies, devices and services that use machine listening techniques.

“Machine listening is much more than a new scientific discipline or consumer market. It is an emerging field of power, the future impact and repercussions of which we don’t yet understand. It urgently demands our attention,” says Dr Parker.

“I’ve written about the law and politics of listening before, but getting to grips with emergent forms of algorithmic listening is going to be a real challenge. Above all, it will require time. That’s what this grant offers: time to read, think and collaborate. That’s what I’m looking forward to most about the next 3 years,” he says.

MLS Dean Professor Pip Nicholson has expressed her thanks to the Australian Research Council for their support. “This funding recognises the Law School’s long-standing history of innovation in legal education and our reputation for excellence in academic research,” she says.

“I’m so pleased Piers and James have been given the opportunity to undertake these research projects, and I look forward to following their future work.”

Further reading

Dr James Parker

Dr Piers Gooding