Speech and Privacy Protections Must Keep Pace with New Technology

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Having recently started as the new Technology and Liberty Director at the ACLU of WA, I’d like to tell you how I think about technology and some of the key issues I hope to focus on in the coming months and years.

Technology has substantially changed the way we live our lives in very exciting ways. Today we can quickly access tons of information on the go from smartphones. We can store documents, photos, and music on remote servers that we access with just the click of a button. Many of these advances make our lives easier and produce great benefits to society.

But new technologies can also bring serious challenges to our civil liberties. In some cases, technology has strengthened our rights by providing new ways for us to speak publicly and anonymously about political issues. In other cases, technology has reshaped our thinking about civil liberties. For example, privacy rights have traditionally been discussed in relation to our bodies or our homes. But that idea of privacy does not take into account all the various remote locations, such as cloud services and social networks, where we now store critical personal information digitally. Our privacy in these spaces needs to be protected just as much as it is in our bodies and homes.

One ongoing goal of the Technology and Liberty program will be to follow closely changes in technology and ensure that privacy and speech protections keep pace. However, as we think about regulating technology to protect civil liberties, we must be mindful that we don’t harm positive uses of new technology or stunt innovation.

In particular, we’ll be carefully watching how the government uses new technology to monitor citizens. It’s important to make sure we don’t end up with a society where our lives are constantly tracked and recorded. Maintaining our privacy from government intrusion is crucial for a healthy democracy.

Washington is home to many innovative technology companies. We look forward to working with them to think of unique ways that technology can provide citizens with tools they can use to protect their privacy and speech rights.

The program will also be a resource for people about new technologies and the rights they may implicate. Knowledge is power. It’s critical that we understand what technologies are being used in our communities, how they work, and what impact they may have on our privacy and speech rights.

Check in with our blog for the latest news on issues I’ll be working on.