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The Tech Policy Greenhouse is an online symposium where experts tackle the most difficult policy challenges facing innovation and technology today. These are problems that don't have easy solutions, where every decision involves tradeoffs and unintended consequences, so we've gathered a wide variety of voices to help dissect existing policy proposals and better inform new ones.

That's A Wrap On Techdirt Greenhouse, Privacy Edition

from the so-much-to-talk-about dept

The inaugural edition of the Techdirt Tech Policy Greenhouse is in the books, and we’d like to thank all of our contributors and those that engaged in conversation as we tackled one of the thornier issues of the modern tech policy era. As we noted early on, our goal with the project is to bring some nuance, collaboration, and understanding to a privacy conversation frequently dominated by simplistic partisan bickering, bad faith arguments, and the kind of deep ideological ruts that routinely result in either bad policy,or, in the case of U.S. privacy, no policy at all.

If you’ve not yet had a chance to dig through contributions for this inaugural edition, here’s a brief rundown:

  • Senator Ron Wyden argued that it’s time for Congress to finally pass a meaningful privacy law for the internet era. One with an eye on transparency, end user control, and meaningful penalties for incompetent or malicious corporations.
  • Lindsey Barrett discussed the fixation on “big tech” when talking about privacy, and how this has allowed certain actors (predominantly in the adtech and telecom sectors) to tap dance over, around, and under meaningful scrutiny for the same or worse behavior.
  • Evan Engstrom discussed whether we can craft a meaningful privacy law in the United States without ushering forth a new breed of privacy troll.
  • Gigi Sohn and Jeff Gary explored how telecom industry lawyers in Maine are myopically engaged in a legal assault that could have a massive and poorly understood impact on our ability to address sector-specific privacy issues.
  • Jen Persson explored the challenges facing educators during the pandemic, and the unrelenting quest to monetize the data gleaned from a growing array of often dubious, gamified, and poorly understood algorithms and e-learning platforms.
  • Chynna Foucek examined how inherent racial biases fused with a broken court system and Luddite government leaders creates a perfect storm of privacy dysfunction.
  • Joey Salazar and Benjamin Moskowitz explored how one path toward greater privacy would be to encrypt the domain name system (DNS) as we attempt to rebuild something vaguely resembling consumer trust.
  • Malkia Devich Cyril explored how existing systemic bigotry all but ensures that contact tracing technologies won’t adequately protect Black and disadvantaged communities, especially without comprehensive and equitable health care reform.
  • Kirk Nahra explored how the pandemic has created an abrupt collision between privacy welfare and health care industry interests, requiring a reconciliation during one of the most challenging periods in American history.
  • Cory Doctorow explored the need for greater technological interoperability on the road toward shifting power from massive unaccountable conglomerates to end users.
  • Chris Lewis also discussed the need for greater interoperability, and how our current paradigm can be particularly harmful to disadvantaged communities and content creators.
  • Kate Tummarello explored the delicate balancing act of crafting sensible privacy policy without harming startups, innovation, and overall competition.
  • Gaurav Laroia examined how Coronavirus surveillance is far too important and risky to be left exclusively up to the private sector.
  • Ernesto Falcon made the case that we need clear and obvious legal liability (aka a “private right of action”) for companies that repeatedly fail to respect consumer privacy and data security, resulting in some excellent panel discussion on what’s proven to be one of the thornier issues in the privacy debate.
  • Jim Harper argued that the quest for better online privacy and security can?t be solved by giving people new property rights in personal data.
  • Joe Jerome took a deeper dive into how, in a country where privacy enforcers at the FTC are simultaneously captured and underfunded, what actual reform and a functioning and transparent U.S. privacy enforcement mechanism might look like.
  • Crafting meaningful privacy guidelines and ensuring sensible, consistent, transparent enforcement was a steep uphill climb even during the best of times. Now the effort will share fractured attention spans and resources with an historic pandemic, recovering from the resulting economic collapse, and addressing the endless web of socioeconomic and political dysfunction that made the American COVID-19 crisis far worse than it needed to be.

    But as many of our contributors made clear, many of these problems are not mutually exclusive. Crafting sensible, transparent, and equitable privacy rules and standards remains just as essential as ever; preferably before the steady parade of privacy and security scandals inevitably get worse. We’re hopeful the insight and conversation collected here gave policymakers and observers alike some additional food for thought as we collectively stumble in the right direction.

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