Sylvia Mercado, RIP 2015
By Professor Katina Michael
Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences, University
Professor Sylvia Mercado Kierkegaard was a Philippine jurist specializing in computer law. In 2009 she attained the position of Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Southampton, in the United Kingdom researching a diverse range of topics including, comparative contract law, alternative dispute resolution, intellectual property rights, European Union law, privacy, electronic commerce, cybersecurity, computer law, and data protection. Professor Kierkegaard was a lifelong learner who had vast knowledge with a strong multidisciplinary approach to her work. Remarkably, her breadth of knowledge never came at the expense of her depth of legal knowledge.
Sylvia obtained her first academic degree, a Bachelor of Mass Communications (Journalism), in the early 1970s from the University of the Philippines and later studied at Stanford University where she completed her Masters in Asian Studies. In 2003, she duxed her class, attaining her Masters in European Union Business and Law at the University of Aarhus. In addition to living in the Philippines and Egypt (the two countries where her three children were born),the family moved several times due to her husband’s work transfers. Living in Greece and Germany respectively, Sylvia was active as a born-again Christian Minister, serving the Lord and reaching to others. In 1992, Sylvia and her husband, Allan Kierkegaard, decided to move the whole family back to Copenhagen, Denmark. Sylvia continued with her ministries whilst taking care of her three children.
It was in Copenhagen that Sylvia felt she could well and truly re-enter the workforce full time as her children were older, and sincerely begin her career as an academic in the field she so loved. She began to publish articles on topical themes. She also participated in several conferences, at which time she realized there was a stark gap in the field. In 2006, Sylvia swiftly moved to establish the International Association of IT Lawyers (IAITL) targeted at lawyers and legal practitioners who had an interest in Information Technology Law. The association’s mission sought to promote the study and further research in Computer Law through international engagement and conferences, the formation of transnational networks and networking events, the publication of members’ research, and the timely announcement of new job openings. In the same year that Sylvia formed IAITL, the first IAITL conference was held in Hamburg with great success. This was followed annually by conferences in Copenhagen, Istanbul, New York, Beijing, Prague, Malta, Barcelona, Nicosia, Athens, Bangkok and Lisbon. These conferences were known for their high standard in paper submission and service, as well as by loyal conference participation by delegates, year after year. For those of us who have had the good fortune to host, organize, and program large-scale events such as this, it usually is a one off thing, like building a house. Sylvia built many houses in her time, had the ability to mobilize volunteers, and was a visionary.
Sylvia was a deep thinker about the future for numerous reasons. First, she had children, and felt it a duty to provide ways for which legal framework solutions could be used to protect humans. She was incredibly “international” or “bloc” focused in her research having understood the forces of globalization so well from the perspective of a Danish resident and Philippine citizen. For instance, she could especially see how new technologies could impact people (e.g. women and children) and how the law needed to rapidly develop to face the challenges (e.g. cyberbullying). She also knew well the digital divide between countries in Asia and the rest of the world.
Prof. Kierkegaard also liked to tackle looming problems and help bring some definition to them. She would often consider what was “the right thing to do”, and did not mind being faced with what others believed to be insurmountable barriers, challenges or impossibilities like catching out regulators for their lack of enforceability of given laws. To her there was no problem that was unresolvable. It just took hard work, perseverance and persistence. Sylvia needs to be remembered as a trailblazer, a first mover in the European Union, especially in relation to topics that were complex and highly significant to long-term stability of the human race. She was a fierce advocate of data protection, and in the protection of children, and that new technologies should not encroach on an individual’s right to privacy. This editorial is devoted to the celebration of her academic work while she made a seminal contribution at the University of Southampton, throughout Europe and internationally.
I provide here a list of highlights between 2009 and 2013 as they demonstrate the breadth of the research Prof. Kierkegaard was engaged in:
• Keynote speaker at the 16th Eurasia Summit on Information and Communication Technologies
• Invited lecture on the “Present State and Future Developments in EU Data Privacy and Protection and Info-Network Security” at Technion Israel Institute of Technology
• Recipient of an EU grant to conduct a visualization and privacy study in Israel
• Speaker and panelist at the Ankara Bar Congress
• Speaker and moderator at the Workshop on IPR, INPR Court in Bangkok
• Keynote speaker at the Digital Agenda Assembly of the European Commission Department of Information Society and Media and the European Parliament
• Chair at the EU Workshop on Cultural Heritage, Private Law and IPR from a global and EU-China Perspective
• Keynote speaker on Cybercrime Prevention organised by the Internet Fraud Association, Australian Police and International Association of Cybercrime Prevention in Sydney
• Keynote speaker on “Copyright, Patent, and Trademark” for the Perth Judiciary conference
• Summer School chairman: organized by the University of Vienna Economics, University of Gottingen, University of Hamburg, and Utrecht University
• Chairman for the Conference in Public law, Private law, Trade law in Cyprus
• Chair and workshop in Turkish Cyprus for the Supreme Court on Regulating Cyberspace
• Various lectures at Beijing Normal University, Communication University of China and Renmin University
• Keynote speaker, World Congress of Forensics, Chongqing China
• Workshop chairman for CASS for the China Supreme Court, for Hong Kong University of China, and the University of Macau
• Panel chairman for Challenges in Cybersecurity – Risks, Strategies, and Confidence-Building workshop organised by the Free University of Berlin, the University of Hamburg, the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva and the Federal Foreign Office Berlin
• Conference chairman and speaker, Cyberconference, Netherlands Antilles
• Speaker at the International Information Marketing Association Conference, Texas, USA
• Speaker at the Famagusta Law Conference in Turkish Cyprus
• Chairman, Hans Bredow-Max Planck Workshop on IP Law: “Regulating IPR”, Hamburg, Germany
• Speaker, panelist, ESF Strategic Workshop on Cybersecurity, Budapest, Hungary
• China IP Summer School Program in X’ian, Nanjing and Shanghai
• Keynote speaker, Cybercrime Conference, Brazil for ILA
• Chairman, speaker, IPL Conference, Barcelona, Spain
• Keynote speaker, Social Networking Workshop, Finland
• Chairman, co-Reach Workshop on IPR and ISP Liability, London, UK
• Chairman, co-Reach Workshop on IPR and Collective Society, Database, and Jurisdiction, Vienna
• Keynote speaker, EU Medforist Project under the auspices of Princess Sumaya of Jordan
• Keynote speaker and moderator,Workshop on Digital Convergence and Cyberlaw, Malaysian Centre of Regulatory Studies, Malaysia
• Keynote speaker, 5th Media Economics and City Development Conference, CUC, Beijing. Participation by over 50 mayors of China
• Co-Reach Workshop, CASS, Beijing
• Keynote speaker, First International Workshop on Transborder Commercial Law, University of South Africa and Nedbank
• Welcome speech, 4th Legal Security Privacy Conference and 3rd International Law and Trade Conference, Malta
• Panel with Interpol, EU Data Protection Commissioner and Eurojust regarding privacy issues under the 3rd Pillar, Brussels, Belgium
• Keynote speaker, The Ankara Bar Congress in Turkey
• Keynote speaker, International Information Management Association
• Panellist, Council of Europe, International E-Participation and Local Democracy Symposium, London
• Keynote speaker and panellist, Council of Europe, Madrid, Spain
• Welcome speech, 3rd IBLT Conference, New York, USA
• Welcome speech, 3rd LSPI Conference, Prague, Czech Republic September
• Keynote speaker, EU- China Joint Workshop Organised by the EU Commission and the Chinese Ministry of Information and Industry, Beijing, China
During the same time she was zipping across Europe, the US, the Middle East, Australasia and the Americas, somehow Sylvia was able to produce about 150 publications in 7 years. For anyone in the law, business or humanities,this is double or even triple the number of high-end outputs of what a typical A+ academic could produce.
It was obvious to anyone on listening to Prof. Kierkegaard deliver a keynote or presentation, that she was not only an expert in her craft, but she could convey difficult concepts simply. Her formula was thus:
1. provide current examples of the subject matter at hand
2. illustrate visually with tangible examples and with visual queues (e.g. clipart) where possible
3. explain the relevance of the material in everyday life to various stakeholders
4. come in with heavy duty descriptions of laws, acts, codes, and regulations
5. consider exemptions to the general rule
6. consider the US and also federal and state legislative differences
7. identify case law examples
8. contextualize for the relevant audience (e.g. Australian cases and laws for a predominantly Australian audience)
9. describe how the EU is leading the way with new directives and compare with other nations
10. talk technology and technological issues and impacts on society
11. bring all the various aspects together with specific line by line Article identification; and
12. offer a bigger picture view all the while pointing to future challenges.
Prof. Kierkegaard loved to simplify thick legal speak and skillfully break it down into consumable chunks for her audience. She is one of the few people I know that could confidently deliver 75 PowerPoint slides in 60 minutes without demanding too much of her audience. Needless to say, Sylvia was a grand master in delivery. She was always well prepared with the unique ability to bring all the pieces of the puzzle together to offer cutting edge insights for all who were willing to listen. One could imagine her in full swing as a jurist as many of those qualities shone through during her time in academe.
Sylvia was special; there was no doubt about that. She broke all the gender, academic and ethnic stereotypes: woman, wife, mother, self-confessed born-again spirit-filled Christian, multi-disciplinary scholar, Filipino and powerhouse leader, organizer, editor, innovator. I have tried to reflect on what made Sylvia so exceptional. No doubt,migrants feel privileged, for the greater part do not take for granted what they have, cherish the simple things in life, and are not boxed by the boundaries imposed on them by others, often over-achieving as a result. But there was something more to Sylvia. It was not just her cultural roots, her dynamic spirit of engagement, her passion for her craft- Sylvia had a sense of purpose and believed her work could make a difference, and could somehow see what others could not, years in advance. She also believed in the potential of every person that entered her path.
Prof. Kierkegaard had a flair for engaging everyone she came into contact with: whether they were high court judges, ministers of data protection, European Union or industry lawyers, conference delegates, colleagues, students at Southampton University or simply members’ of the public. She loved people and she loved sharing. Sylvia was always ready to give a talk and always had something to contribute to a discussion in her field. She was vibrant, self-assured, meticulous and extraordinarily encyclopaedic. At the same time, she was willing to see your point of view, provide critical feedback and consider positions that were in deference to hers. The truth was however, you could seldom match it with Prof. Kierkegaard, but rather than feeling somewhat diminished after correspondence or face-to-face question time, you walked away feeling strengthened and encouraged.
Sylvia always made you feel important,that you could conquer the world, achieve anything if you put your mind to it, and that commitment should be placed in international causes that were meaningful to citizenry. In short, she believed all life was precious. She was always seemingly in a hurry to get things done, bring as many stakeholders together around a table as possible, travel to places where decisions and actions could be taken, and think about future issues before they became problematic in society. For Sylvia, there was no time like the present, geographic expanse was not a constraint, and she seldom wasted time putting her ideas into action.
To her name are many edited books with leading specialists, conferences hosted or chaired by her together with accompanying peer-reviewed proceedings, and many articles. The books alone which I have listed here are work enough for the average person over a lifetime of research, let alone 7 years:
• Laws and Practice: Critical Analysis and Legal Reasoning (ed., 2013)
• Contemporary Private Law (ed., 2012)
• Law, Governance and World Order (ed., 2012)
• Copyright Law in the Making – Chinese and European Perspectives (ed. With Willem Grosheide, 2012)
• Law Across Nations: Governance, Policy and Statutes (ed., 2011)
• Private Law: Rights, Duties and Conflicts (ed., 2010)
• Legal Discourse in Cyberlaw and Trade (ed., 2009)
• The Dynamics of Trade, Law and Economics (ed., 2008)
• Synergies and Conflicts in Cyberlaw (ed., 2008)
• Business, Law and Technology, Present and Emerging Trends (ed., 2008)
• International Law and Trade, Bridging the East-West Divide (ed., 2007)
• Cyberlaw, Security and Privacy (ed., 2007)
• Business, Law and Technology, Present and Emerging Trends (ed., vol. 1, 2006)
• Business, Law and Technology, Present and Emerging Trends (ed., vol. 2, 2006)
• Legal Privacy and Security Issues in Information Technology (ed., vol. 1, 2006)
• Legal Privacy and Security Issues in Information Technology (ed., vol. 2, 2006)
One considers how Prof. Kierkegaard could have been such a prolific publisher. Of course there must’ve been some significant sacrifices, but one could deduce that when she was not engaged in the classroom, or with her family, or with her local Church activities, or sleeping, she must’ve been at full throttle researching almost all the time into the early hours of the morning.
Before too long, Prof. Kierkegaard unsurprisingly was in very high demand, and this in a pre-Twitter, pre-ResearchGate, pre-Google Scholar world, where academic news traveled slower, though she heavily embraced online communications for knowledge sharing. She traveled to so many parts of the world to deliver talks, to collaborate, on invited visiting appointments (e.g. China), as a legal consultant, as a government advisor (e.g. EU), and as an expert commentator to the media. One was always at a stretch to figure out how she did it all simultaneously. One day she could be in Lisbon, the next in Perth, China, and a few days later back corresponding, researching or working on a paper. For Sylvia her work was inseparable from her life’s journey. She also felt it her duty to educate those who perhaps did not have access to necessary expertise in institutions worldwide. As a Professor named in the Academic Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Research in the UK, she also reached out far and wide, supervising a PhD candidate at the Communications University of China, and as an adjunct professor at Xi’an Jiaotong University among others. Her involvement was significant in the China market.
She was also a fellow at the UN African Center for Cyberlaw and Cybercrime Prevention, consultant for the Data Protection SDN, BHD Malaysia and a member of the Advisory Board for the World Council for Law Firms and Justice. She truly was an international citizen, while also contributing greatly to her neighboring institutions, among them the London School of Economics as a policy expert on their Media Policy Project and was a member of the Policy and Scientific Committee of the European Privacy Association.
There was no doubt about the inner power and strength she possessed. She was a fast mover, always had new ideas, and was constantly thinking about the pressing issues in the field that needed to be addressed. She told me once in person while we attended the Cybercrime Prevention Conference hosted by the Internet Fraud Association in 2011, “The secret to a long and illustrious career is to tackle the topics before anyone else does. Think on the pressing matters that need to be urgently addressed today, and don’t hesitate in seeking solutions. Most people steer away from controversy in research, but I tackle it head on. Someone has to do it.” She also advised me on my career progression: “Katina, choose topics that are little researched, and that few hesitate to consider the implications of, in that way you can make a bigger contribution in a short time-frame. So long as your interests align, and you are passionate about your subject matter.” I remember that conference well, as I was still breastfeeding. My husband encouraged me to leave all three kids with him, drive to Sydney, and to meet Sylvia in person. I was not disappointed. The person I had been corresponding with for several years was real. I cherish those few hours we had together during a lunch break and her keynote. We spoke more about faith and motherhood than academia. She was more than an academic – she was a whole person, with a multiplicity of roles. This is what made Sylvia so magnetic.
For Prof. Kierkegaard, researching the law was a calling, there was something sacred about her mission. And she was right at home whether on a panel with the top EU representatives, as a keynote at a conference, or talking to every day mothers and fathers, or communicating with minors. In fact, when I think of Sylvia, I remember a dynamic woman whom I could not keep up with. She was always speaking somewhere, always writing books, always editing journals, always acting on a committee for reviewing papers, and always engaging. I do not ever recall her saying “no.” She never tired of the correspondence; despite I imagine her email trove was significant. You always were made to feel special. Sylvia was instructive also and always shared her own papers unreservedly. She even sent me her powerpoint presentation files, relevant to my own work. She mentored continuously.
I came across Prof. Kierkegaard’s research at the beginning of 2009 when I was completing my major project on DNA and the Prüm Treaty while studying towards a Masters of Transnational Crime Prevention in the law faculty at the University of Wollongong. By then Sylvia had a well-established academic teaching and research portfolio and was near the pinnacle of her career. Sylvia sent me half a dozen papers, and helped me clarify my research topic so that it could offer some original contribution. Her support during this time was crucial to me. She was such an inspiration for working mothers who were trying to raise a family, and somehow juggle an academic career. In this regard, Sylvia would say that the little children should always come first, and refer to the special responsibility that working mothers had to the health of their households. When I told her I was pregnant with my third child, she eradicated the doubts in my mind that “I could not continue to do it all.” In 2011, a year after I had given birth to my third child, Sylvia could see the enormous pressure I was under. She gave me the words of encouragement I needed, reassured me that all would be well. She was also very proud of her own children and their achievements and was just elated when her daughter Margaux became pregnant in 2013. She could not wait to become a grandmother, to spend time with her grandchild. She would also mention her beloved husband to me often, of being a godly man who encouraged her onward daily.
Many of us would have suspected that something was wrong when our emails remained unanswered. Sylvia was known to reply to messages within at most a few days. She would never leave you hanging. Somehow she always made you feel important despite the humongous workload she always engaged in. At most if a few weeks had passed by, you would get an email with longer guidance than you expected and then somehow additional helpful thoughts given a recent visit Sylvia had completed or an important discussion she had with an influential notable. On one occasion in 2013, Sylvia had told me she was not feeling well but did not make it sound at all too serious, rather that investigations had begun to find out what was wrong. She asked me to pray for her and said for a short time she would try cutting back on her commitments. It was the last time we had contact.
It is with great sadness that I write of the passing of one of the most brilliant people I have personally known in my career. Sylvia was 62 years old. And she had so much more to do.
I consider Sylvia would have heavily contributed to necessary changes that she long foresaw, such as the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and passing of data breach notification laws. How she would have reacted today to the constant stream of business news such as the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, the role of social media in Brexit (and more), to IOT-invasive tech like Wi-Fi enabled toys for kids, to smartphone tracking and telecommunications metadata laws, autonomous systems like driverless cars, and the impact of artificial intelligence in the field of law. She would have particularly had much to say on the mega data breaches of Target, Equifax, and online platforms like eBay. Suffice to say, Sylvia would have had more than an opinion, but she was among the first to begin the discussion more than fifteen years before its actuation. Prof. Kierkegaard was a major supporter of the Computer Security Law Review journal begun by editor in chief Steve Saxby, an exceptional pioneer in his own right. Together, Steve and Sylvia were able to draw a global community of specialists to cultivate a nuanced socio-legal response to technological innovation. Unsurprisingly, after many years of effort, CLSR has become the number 1 outlet for such discussions and is truly multidisciplinary bringing together scholars and practitioners from diverse fields. Sylvia’s professional service to the community also extended to several other publications for which she had primary involvement (see http://www.iaitl.org/):
• Editor in Chief, Journal of International Commercial Law and Technology
• Editor in Chief, International Journal of Private Law
• Editor in Chief, International Journal of Public Law and Policy
• President and Chairman of the Board, International Association of IT Lawyers (IAITL)
Sylvia was an authentic leader. She gave of her time, and people around her reciprocated with supporting her common vision. There are many examples of Sylvia’s mentorship, but if I named them here explicitly, I know that she would chastise me for disclosing things that, in her eyes, one did because they were “being human”. She shared in her successes, and lifted those people up around her. She was selfish when it came to carrying the load, and unselfish when it came to sharing the ‘glory’ with others. A model academic in my eyes, I am honoured to have called her my friend, albeit in the last 6 years of her life. I am sure that stories post this publication will surface, of examples of goodness, altruism, goodwill. Great people never die, they live on in our memories. And perhaps of all things, these are the achievements that matter. On our tombstone, the number of publications are not recorded, nor are the titles of “Professor” or “Chairman” or “Keynote Speaker”. We leave with just our name, our age, and the active reputation that precedes us in the number of years we had the opportunity to make a difference in this world we live in. Prof. Sylvia Kierkegaard, could say, on reflection, she did all she could in the time she had- she lived life to the max. She would likely tell us now, it is our turn to pick up where she left off, and continue on the fulfillment of her greater vision of research on the implications of technology on the law.
Above all, Sylvia valued relationships and people: her family and friends, colleagues and students. She was overjoyed by the effort of her own children in academia, Margaux in International Development and Management, Mikael an engineer specializing in innovation in industry, and Patrick a health informatics scholar. Sylvia, especially mentioned many times, Patrick’s contribution and co-authoring efforts in joint work. Among my favorite papers that demonstrated Sylvia’s flair was one of her final publications printed in CLSR published in 2013 with son Patrick, titled: “Danger to public health: Medical devices, toxicity, virus and fraud”. Here she bravely took on some big names in industry holding them accountable to appropriate biomedical regulatory practices.
Sylvia was larger than life, a force to be reckoned with, in the field of transnational law and the need for laws in the protection of people to assist in reducing the negative social implications of technology. Sylvia’s voice was unique, and it will echo reverberations in decades to come. Such was the currency of her work. May you rest in peace Sylvia Mercado Kierkegaard. Thank you for your passion and dedication to the field, and for igniting so many of us to follow in your footsteps. Thank you for being kind, and for loving others as you did. You have been missed greatly already but not forgotten. May your memory be eternal.
How the Class Found Out
that Sylvia Had Passed Away
Some classmates had been reaching out and searching for Sylvia for a couple of years, but were unable to find her. On October 2018, Cherie announced on a private group chat that Sylvia’s younger sister, Lorna, shared a link with her classmate, Lanie.
Lanie, who happens to be Cherie’s sister, shared the link with Cherie. The link was to a blog (above) by Prof. Katina Michael, who wrote an In Memoriam for Sylvia.
Classmates’ Reaction to the Announcement
Elinor Shares Her Memories of Sylvia
I had the chance to stay with Sylvia in Copenhagen. I remember she was so accommodating to me and my Mom when we had our Baltic cruise, which included Denmark, her second home. She toured us in several castles & the world famous Tivoli Garden.
Comments from Elizabeth
The last time many of us saw Sylvia in person was probably in 2003 at Bebs’ house in Reseda, California. At that time, we talked about publishing an “updated” yearbook with old school pictures and recent pictures, along with brief profiles about each classmate.
When it became clear that the logistics of accomplishing this project was far fetched, Sylvia, with the help of her son, Patrick, generously came up with an alternative solution: they created a website for our class in 2003. This was way before Yahoo Groups, MySpace, Facebook, and other social media.
Over the years, Sylvia and I maintained contact first through cards and letters, then through email and Skype. When I was feeling down, she shared with me the many trials and hardships she went through, but always ended on a positive note. She shared a prayer with me, which I referred to from time to time.
Dear God in heaven, I come to you in the name of Jesus. I acknowledge to You that I am a sinner, and I am sorry for my sins and the life that I have lived; I need your forgiveness.
I believe that your only begotten Son Jesus Christ shed His precious blood on the cross at Calvary and died for my sins, and I am now willing to turn from my sin.
You said in Your Holy Word, Romans 10:9 that if we confess the Lord our God and believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead, we shall be saved.
Right now I confess Jesus as the Lord of my soul. With my heart, I believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. This very moment I accept Jesus Christ as my own personal Savior and according to His Word, right now I am saved.
Thank you Jesus for your unlimited grace which has saved me from my sins. I thank you Jesus that your grace never leads to license, but rather it always leads to repentance. Therefore Lord Jesus transform my life so that I may bring glory and honor to you alone and not to myself.
Thank you Jesus for dying for me and giving me eternal life.