On Privacy and Technology

| MSNY Staff

[T]he protection of society must come mainly through a recognition of the rights of the individual.

– Justice Louis D. Brandeis and Samuel D. Warren,

“The Right to Privacy,” 1890

Earlier this month, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith gave a principled address on privacy and technology at the 11th annual Personal Democracy Forum (PDF) here in New York.  His message regarding the role of technology in our society was clear: that while the pendulum may have swung too far, we can and must find a center of gravity that is true to the values on which the US was founded.  Doing so requires progress in terms of both technology and governance.

Having heard Smith’s remarks, danah boyd, noted researcher, author, and founder of the Data & Society Research Institute, later tweeted that she was “in awe of his efforts.”  Andrew Rasiej, founder of Personal Democracy Media, called it “one of the most spirited defenses of democracy” he had ever heard at PDF.

On Tuesday, Smith visited the Brookings Institution to share this message in Washington, DC – the heart of the US federal government.  He posed four central questions to the audience:

  • How do we ensure transparency…that people have a right to know in an appropriate way what governments and companies are doing?
  • How do we ensure the public has appropriate control over personal information?
  • How do we ensure accountability [in both the governmental and corporate contexts]?
  • How do we ensure international norms and collaboration?

YouTube Video

Answering these questions will take the combined efforts of governments and the technology community. As Smith said at PDF, “Technology is a tool that needs to serve people. Government is an institution that is founded to serve people.  Fundamentally, what we all need to continue to do together is ensure that technology and government come together in a way that serves people.”

We often discuss “privacy & security” as though the two were inextricably connected.  But in reality, the two are distinct: security is often a technology issue while privacy remains primarily a policy issue.  However, solving the pressing challenges around security and privacy requires joint efforts from both governments and the technology community.

Microsoft, Smith explained, is working to increase encryption and transparency, and to improve contractual protections for users.  The Microsoft Technology & Civic Innovation team will work together with those on both the technology and policy fronts to make progress towards our shared goal of empowering people.  After becoming a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, in his dissent in Olmstead v. United States (1928), Louis Brandeis described the “right to be let alone” as “the most comprehensive of rights, and the right most valued by civilized men.” Civilized men and women across sectors will continue to debate how best to interpret, preserve and protect that right in the Data Age – and Microsoft will continue to stand up for you.

Related articles: CNET, IDG, TechCrunchThe Hill

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MSNY Staff