UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy


Dr Feja Lesniewska - Post-doctoral research associate, PETRAS

Feja is a post-doctoral research associate working on the EPSRC funded PETRAS project located at UCL STEaPP.

Can you briefly describe what your research project is about?

My research focuses on issues relating to the Internet of Things (IoT), security and governance. The world is becoming increasingly dependent on the IoT for the functioning and delivery of critical services like health, banking, transport and energy. This is a situation that is only going to increase and in doing so become more complex to manage effectively without undermining security and established privacy rights.

In my research, I initially focused on how established international governance mechanisms, both multilateral and multi-stakeholder, have approached the novel security issues that the IoT raises. I am now taking the research forward to focus on the introduction of the IoT into the maritime sector, focusing primarily on ‘smart’ ports.

The maritime sector is experiencing a radical transformation with new digital technologies being incorporated into ships, logistics and ports. Drivers behind this change include the sector trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to not only mitigate climate change but also to improve air quality in port cities. Understanding the security challenges this radical technological transformation will pose for the maritime sector is necessary so that appropriate legal and governance responses can be developed.

The difficulty is that this is all happening very quickly. It is becoming apparent that some of the regulatory tools we have traditionally relied on to deliver governance objectives may no longer actually be reliable. The IoT is not only the object of governance but is rapidly becoming integral to the design of new governance models. Lawyers and policy makers need to understand the challenges so they can effectively create a regulatory approach that ensures the security and well-being of people and the environment.

How is your research different from other research on the Internet of Things?

A great deal of the research on IoT governance issues focuses on the consumer aspects including standards, labelling, behavioural psychology, ethics, data protection and privacy rights. My research is specifically on critical infrastructure systems: transport, energy, ecosystems and communication. These are often not just domestic problems as many have a public goods dimension to them that transcends the usual regulatory boundaries. I am exploring how concepts used to tackle other global public goods issues, such as climate change, chemical and nuclear waste management for example, could be applied to IoT governance contexts. I am researching how the concept of polycentric governance could be used to mobilise and build trust and cooperation across multiple agents who shape the IoT ecosystem. In the research, I have focused on the UN Paris Agreement on climate change as an example of an evolving polycentric governance system at the start of the 21st century.

What are you working on at the moment to prepare you for the next stage of the project?

I am developing a research plan to take our work on the IoT, security and ports forward. I will be comparing the strategies to develop smart ports in the UK, Netherlands and Singapore. In January 2019 the UK government launched the Maritime 2050: Navigating the Future. Digitalisation is a key component in the government’s strategy. This is a particularly historic moment in the UK with the country leaving the European Union. The government is keen to learn lessons from the innovators in incorporating IoT into the maritime sector so it can become a leader itself in the new phase in its history in the world. The IoT, port and security research will contribute to a greater understanding of what the challenges are for the UK and how it can best learn from others.

Given the pace of change in this sector, research that contributes to understanding the challenges will be valuable to all those involved. Getting the future of the maritime sector right will be important for addressing the challenges of climate change, sustainable development and improving the vitality of the ocean ecosystem as a whole.