Change Watch: Privacy, Innovation and a side of Transparency

by Devanshu Mehta

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Tim Jones at the EFF has just finished his threepart series outlining how the new leadership in Congress and the Executive branch can restore what has been lost over the past eight years.

There are two aspects to how privacy has deteriorated over the past eight years. On the one hand, claiming war time needs, the government has increased warrant-less surveillance of Americans by alarming proportions. Jones highlights the flawed FISA Amendments act which granted immunity from litigation to telcos, the States Secrets Privilege, which allows the executive branch to shield itself from judicial review. The abuse of National Security Letters to acquire data from Internet service providers has also been increased. On the other hand, corporations have much more control of user data than ever before and the balance is decidedly against the consumer. In Jones’ words, “the privacy of personal data should not depend on how long an ISP has stored that data or whether the data is stored locally or remotely. “

Innovation is an area that most directly affects consumers and technologists. Jones suggests– and I agree- that balance should be restored to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) and that serious patent reform is required. Both issues, as they currently stand, favor the incumbents over consumers and inhibit innovation.

On transparency, the government should resemble the Sunlight Foundation— if you haven’t already and take a look at how they are working on making data about the government available in formats that are easy to parse, process, analyze and visualize. Obama has promised much in this direction- and Change.gov is certainly a refreshing web site- but the post-January reality will be determined by his administrations response to Freedom of Information Act requests and opening up the data of all branches of government.

Until inauguration day on the 20th of January, I will be covering some of the aspects of the transition to the Obama administration that affect technology and open government in a series called Change Watch .

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