5 Questions with the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Nuala O’Connor

5 Questions with the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Nuala O’Connor


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Next up in our “5 questions for…” interview series, we’re talking to Nuala O’Connor, President & CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT). With offices in both Europe and the U.S., CDT works to find solutions to today’s most pressing Internet policy challenges. Nuala is a recognized expert in Internet and technology policy with experience in both the public and private sectors. You can read more about her background here.

Alberto: CDT is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and you just became President & CEO in January. Can you tell us your vision for the organization?

Nuala: CDT has been a leading voice for the rights of Internet users since its earliest days. As the Internet and other communications technologies have become integral parts of our daily lives, CDT’s role as the advocate for our digital rights has become even more important.

CDT will continue to advocate for forward-looking technology policies that foster innovation, enable free expression, and preserve the Internet’s open nature. We will work to better define the boundaries of our digital self, namely what privacy protections we must have in place to experience the benefits of technology without giving up our personal space. This includes reining in pervasive government surveillance practices worldwide.

Alberto: How do we balance the benefits of new technologies with privacy?

Nuala: This is one of the most pressing policy questions of today, especially with all the hype around big data, the rapidly expanding surveillance capacity of governments, and the ever-increasing levels of connectivity.

At CDT, we believe in the power of the Internet and technology to improve people’s lives.  From energy-efficient homes and cars, to healthcare devices, to improving educational outcomes through data, we recognize and respect the power of technology’s advance to improve big societal challenges.  However, with each new device and data collection come concerns about legitimate and respectful relationships and use of information.

At CDT, we are committed to bringing all sides and sectors to the table to develop the best solutions to these challenging questions. Too often the issues are painted as black and white, but in reality defining our privacy rights in the digital world requires far more nuance. A good place to start is by applying the Fair Information Practice Principles to the emerging technology challenges.

Another area that is often painted in stark opposites is free expression versus privacy, and views differ across the Atlantic about the relative weight of those two values.  This tension was highlighted, for example, in the recent court decision on the Right to be Forgotten in search results.   It is too simple to say that Americans favor free speech and Europeans favor privacy.  Our values are actually far more aligned than that.  But how these values are implemented in our relationships with companies, governments, and each other—these are hard conversations we all need to be having.

Alberto: What made you passionate about ensuring the use of technology as an instrument of free expression?

Nuala: Truly there has never been a communications platform that has been a more powerful enabler of free speech than the Internet. Of course, there are those that are fearful of people sharing their thoughts, values, and opinions openly, and have attempted to use technology to intimidate or restrict speech.

The Internet was developed in an open and equal manner, and that has brought so many new voices to global conversations. We are better off for this, but we simply cannot take it for granted.

My passion for free expression really began to take shape professionally when I served as the first Chief Privacy Officer for the US Department of Homeland Security. Protecting the homeland is perhaps a government’s most important responsibility, but part of this is protecting the country’s values and way of life. Free expression and privacy are two fundamental American values, and we worked to develop security policies that respected them. I plan to continue these efforts at CDT.

Alberto: How important is it that we continue to strengthen the model of multi-stakeholder Internet governance in the future to ensure an open Internet?

Nuala: The Internet must serve us all, which is why the global multi-stakeholder approach is so vital. Internet governance should never be handled by only governmental bodies or the technical community. Insight from all stakeholders is integral to the further growth of an inclusive and empowering Internet. The recent announcement from the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration of a move to an even more global Internet governance model is a positive, important next step in the Internet’s development. We’re committed to continue to be one of the leading advocacy voices in the process.

Alberto: How can we encourage more women to enter information and communications technology fields?

Nuala: It’s definitely no secret that women are underrepresented in technology and this needs to change. Many times in my career I have literally been the only woman at the table.  A first step is simply for women currently in technology to take it upon themselves to encourage young women to pursue degrees in technology and to be mentors as their careers advance.

I also believe we need to do a better job of integrating technology programs into our primary schools. Girls are proving that they are just as talented as boys in science and technology, and in many countries girls are outperforming boys. A curriculum that prepares girls and young women for jobs in technology is essential, and it will help them enter colleges and universities with the background necessary to succeed. Girls Who Code is an inspiring example of an organization that is doing a tremendous job in helping more women enter the field.

Culturally as well, we need to be very aware of the signals we’re sending to our young girls—and boys—about what’s cool and ok and normal to do.  As a parent, I know that I have to be very aware of my words—and my actions—in forming their attitudes about what is OK for men and women in this world.  I want my daughters to embrace and feel comfortable with technology, and to choose a career path that they love, and to be great people and citizens of the world.  And I want the same for my son.

– See more at: http://www.attglobalpolicy.com/5-questions-with-the-center-for-democracy-and-technologys-nuala-oconnor/#sthash.zu52jwVp.dpuf

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