The governmental and commercial use of drones and the introduction of driverless cars raise numerous privacy and legal responsibility concerns that are increasingly the focus of discussion in the media, the legal community and our everyday lives. Participants in UW’s Technology and Public Policy Clinic wrestle with these issues.
Legal and policy issues that affect our lives are becoming ever more challenging to resolve as technology introduces new capacities, and potential risks, into our neighborhoods, communities, schools and other public spaces.
Bill Covington, Director of the Technology Law and Public Policy Clinic at UW Law since 2003, has been working at the front lines of technology policy for years, providing advice in the private sector on telecommunications law and policy while at McCaw Cellular Communications (now Cingular) and Group W Cable (now Comcast), and also working with municipalities and technology companies in tax, land use and other policy domains.
Covington recognizes the vital role that effective policy can have on technology development, and how it can help to guide positive economic and social change. Bill has remarked that “We need a cadre of lawyer-technologists to assist government and industry in assessing new technologies to determine what, if any, formal government policies should be put in place and when.”
The Clinic provides students the opportunity to fill that role through work with the Washington State Legislature to craft policies at the intersection of public policy and technology.
This year’s participants are producing materials to help inform the passage of legislative standards for operation of government drones and working on a presentation urging legislators to plan for the introduction of driverless cars.
The Clinic empowers students with first hand experience in policy processes. For example, clinic students recently huddled with House Speaker Frank Chopp and developed plans to bring their work before legislative committees in February, including their reports for elected officials and legislative staff. Students have made their preliminary reports on driverless cars and drones available online.
The clinic also connects students in networks across policy and technology disciplines to develop communities that can more effectively solve these emerging interdisciplinary challenges. For example, clinic students recently had a Skype conference with engineering students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) to exchange ideas in real time at the intersection of drone and driverless car technology public policy formulation.Close
The UW School of Law is host to a cutting-edge technology policy research lab, exploring hot topics like big data, privacy and augmented reality. Launched in September 2013 with a $1.7 million founding gift from Calo, the Tech Policy Lab is an interdisciplinary collaboration that aims to help inform technology policy through research, education, and expert insight. The Lab bridges three units at UW: the School of Law, Computer Science and Engineering, and the Information School.
Bridges are built by people, and the Lab’s three directors bring together expertise, perspectives, and resources from multiple disciplines. Assistant Professor Ryan Calo (UW School of Law), is a leading thinker on the intersection of law and emerging technology. Associate Professor Yoshi Kohno (UW Computer Science and Engineering) is a deep and visible expert on privacy, security, and censorship. And Professor Batya Friedman (UW Information School) pioneered the influential concept of Value Sensitive Design. They are joined by student fellows from four different units on campus.
The Lab is unique in the ways in which it brings together policymakers and technologists. “Interdisciplinary innovation is crucial here,” said Calo, “in part because technology policy and its challenges are too complex to be addressed by only one discipline.” The Lab’s goal is to help bridge the gap between rapidly-emerging technologies and the policies that historically have lagged somewhat behind.
“In a nation where technology moves at an ever-more rapid rate, policymakers can lack the technical knowledge they need to address how networks, devices, and software operate. As such, the Lab’s deeply interdisciplinary approach to addressing these issues marks a creative, critical step forward,” said Calo.
The team researches complex modern policy issues such as augmented reality, big data, and the Internet of Things. The Lab is already a part of the conversation. For instance, in the recent Internet of Things workshop held by the Federal Trade Commission, Calo and Kohno constituted two of just a handful of academic experts. The Lab plans to release findings and other work product as early as 2014.Close