Smart information systems (SIS), systems based in machine learning approaches to artificial intelligence using big data analytics are high profile examples of emerging technologies that have the potential to significantly affect most aspects of personal and societal life in industrialised societies. They are the subject of much scientific research but also of large amount of philosophical and sociological studies. A key question they raise relates to ethical questions they may raise which can involve questions of human rights.
The majority of these reflective approaches to SIS are based on anecdotal evidence or conceptual considerations. There is little research investigating the actual ethical issues these technologies raise in their real-world environments. Rigorous empirical research tends to focus on particular technologies or application examples. While such research can produce interesting insights, it is not sufficient to give a broader overview of these technologies. One reason is that the technologies and components involved as well as the applications of such SIS vary greatly.
One way of overcoming this limited view of ethics and human rights of SIS that is based on rigorous empirical research while providing a broad overview of technologies is to undertake a set of parallel case studies that provides simultaneous insights into a range of technologies. This paper outlines the rational and principles according to which such a multiple case study can be undertaken. It describes the process of selection of cases and development of the methodology as represented by a case study protocol. It provides the rationale and methodological underpinning for the set of 10 case studies that are published in the same special section of the ORBIT journal.