This year I celebrated Data Privacy Day on January 28 by attending the Privacy Day events at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). It was a great opportunity for people to talk about privacy issues, hear about privacy research, and learn about some steps they can take to protect their privacy.
In his keynote address, Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer Ed Felten, encouraged computer scientists to get involved in policy making. Ed was the first FTC Chief Technologist, and the person who started the Tech@FTC blog.
Andrew Moore, Dean of the CMU School of Computer Science, introduced Ed and emphasized the importance of computer scientists getting involved in policymaking, predicting that we will have a computer scientist serve as President of the United States by 2037.
Ed explained that there are numerous policy issues, including many related to privacy, where the details of technology matter. Without a good understanding of technology, it is difficult to make good policy decisions. He called on computer scientists to take a seat at the policy table and explain computer science concepts to policy makers “while wearing a nice suit.”
As Ed explained, unlike other professions that offer important insights to policy makers, computer scientists do not have a tradition of getting involved in policy making, and computer science career paths don’t always support this activity. For example, economists view interaction with public policy as part of their jobs. It is common for academic economists to spend time in government, and they are rewarded for doing that. Ed and I have been fortunate that our departments and universities have supported our public policy work, but many computer scientists do not necessarily work for organizations that support policy activities.
There are many ways computer scientists can get involved in public policy issues that don’t require spending large amounts of time in Washington, DC. These include getting involved in local policy issues and providing written input to policy discussions in clear and accessible ways. A number of professional organizations offer opportunities for computer science professionals to get involved in policy issues and get trained in how to do so effectively (see for example USACM, IEEE-USA, AAAS).
At the FTC, we frequently announce calls for public input into issues where computer scientists’ expertise would be beneficial. Many computer scientists responded to our call for submissions for our PrivacyCon event. Indeed, my first interactions with the FTC staff early in my career happened as a result of responding to some of these public requests related to privacy.
For computer science students interested in policy issues, there are currently opportunities to apply for information technology summer internships at the FTC. Opportunities are available for both undergraduate and graduate students. The application deadline is February 12. These are great opportunities for students to contribute their expertise and learn about doing technology policy work.
The author’s views are his or her own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commission or any Commissioner.