CFP ’08 Accepts Our Panel on ‘The Transparent Society’

I'm delighted to report that my proposal for a panel on “'The Transparent Society' — Ten Years Later” has been accepted for CFP'08, thanks no doubt to the sterling panelists I was able to assemble. Our panel is now scheduled to take place on Thursday, May 22, 2008 at 3:30-5:00(PM) in the George room at the Omni Hotel in New Haven.

Computers, Freedom and Privacy is the most fun conference I go to; the program can be variable, I admit, but the hallway conversations are always fantastic. Come – it's fun.

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Here's the panel description:

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of David Brin's controversial book, “The Transparent Society”. The book argues that in the face of the explosion of sensors, cheap storage, and cheap data processing we should adopt strategies of vision over concealment. A world in which not just transactional information, but essentially all information about us will be collected, stored, and sorted is, Brin says, inevitable. The only issue left to be decided is who will have access to this information; he argues that freedom, and even some privacy, are more likely to flourish if everybody – not just elites – has access to this flood of data.

Brin proposes a stark choice: either the information will be “secret” and “private”—in which case only governments, always potentially repressive, will have access. Or, the information will be “open” and “public” and we will all be transparent to each other. Given this choice, Brin argues, better to be naked to each other than to empower a few with unique access to information about the many. The attempt to protect privacy as we know it carries too great a risk, as it leads if not inevitably than at least all too easily to a world of enormous information-driven tyranny in which the powers — primarily governments — with access to our 'private' information will abuse it. In contrast, a high-transparency world with very little privacy is one in which citizens have tools that allow them to monitor their governments.

Brin proposed a paradox which infuriated a good segment of the privacy community. It is normally an article of faith for privacy advocates that privacy empowers, and the removal of privacy is at least disempowering and at worst oppressive. Brin counters that privacy advocates have it exactly backwards: trying to maintain traditional ideas of information privacy in the face of technological changes he sees as (now) inevitable is what will disempower and perhaps oppress; only a program of radical information openness, nakedness even, stands a chance of leveling a playing field on which information is truly power.

The reception of “The Transparent Society” reflected the audacity of its claims. Some dismissed it; some attacked it; a few embraced it. What is striking, however, is that the ideas have had staying power: the book remains in print, it is regularly footnoted, and it comes up in discussion. Right or wrong, “The Transparent Society” has become more than a polar case trotted out as a good or bad example, but an as-yet unproved but also un-falsified challenge to how we think about privacy — one that demands continuing reflection (or, some would say, refutation).

The tenth anniversary of publication is an appropriate time to do that reflection at CFP.

About the presenters:

David Brin (remote participation)

David Brin is the author of “The Transparent Society,” the inspiration for this panel. He is a noted futurist and science fiction writer.

Alan Davidson

Alan is the head of Google's Washington, DC, government affairs office. Previously he was Associate Director of the Center for Democracy & Technology. Alan is a frequent speaker and presence in national privacy debates, and a frequent CFP participant.

J. Bradford DeLong

Professor of Economics, University of California at Berkely

In addition to his work as a macro and economic historian, Brad has written extensively about the economics of information and the Internet. He runs a very popular economics and culture blog, “Grasping Reality with Both Hands: Economist Brad DeLong's Fair, Balanced, and Reality-Based Semi-Daily Journal” at http://delong.typepad.com/. Brad served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy in the Clinton administration, 1993-95. He is also a founder-member of the Ancient, Hermetic, and Occult Order of the Shrill.

A. Michael Froomkin (Moderator)

Professor of Law, University of Miami

Michael has been writing about privacy, encryption, and anonymity for almost fifteen years. His writings include “The Death of Privacy?”, 52 Stan L. Rev. 1461 (2000). He is a founder-editor of ICANNWatch, and serves on the Editorial Board of Information, Communication & Society and of I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society. He is on the Advisory Boards of several organizations including the Electronic Freedom Foundation and BNA Electronic Information Policy & Law Report. He is a member of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. He is also active in several technology related projects in the greater Miami area.

Stephanie Perrin

Stephanie is the Acting Director General of Risk Management, Integrity Branch, Service Canada. She is the former Director of Research and Policy at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and was prior to this a consultant in privacy and information policy issues, president of her own company Digital Discretion Inc., and a Senior Fellow at the Electronic Privacy Information Centre in Washington.

She is the former Chief Privacy Officer of Zero-Knowledge, and has been active in a number of CPO associations, working with those responsible for implementing privacy in their organizations. Formerly the Director of Privacy Policy for Industry Canada's Electronic Commerce Task Force, she led the legislative initiative at Industry Canada that resulted in the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, privacy legislation that came into force in 2001 and has set the standard for private sector compliance. She is the principal author of a text on the Act, published by Irwin Law.

Zephyr Teachout

Visiting Asst. Prof. of Law, Duke University

Zephyr is one of the leading practitioners and theoreticians of online political organizing. She directed Internet organizing for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign.

Zephyr is noted for advocating the Internet as a tool for creating local offline groups. publications include “Mousepads, Shoeleather and Hope: Lessons from the Howard Dean Campaign for the Future of Internet Politics”(Editor) (forthcoming August 2007, Paradigm Publishers); “How Politicians can use Distributive Networks” (New Assignment, November 2006); “Youtube? It's so Yesterday,” (with Tim Wu) (Washington Post, November 2006), and “Powering Up Internet Campaigns,” book chapter in Lets Get This Party Started (Rowan and Littlefield, 2005.) She is currently writing about the meaning of corruption in the American constitutional tradition.

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4 Responses to CFP ’08 Accepts Our Panel on ‘The Transparent Society’

  1. Yes, yes, he took cheap-contrarian view that pundits and data-miners could go ga-ga over, which made it immensely popular.
    Basically, if we had an absolutely perfect world, it would be absolutely perfect.
    Whenever anyone pointed out that we don’t have a perfect world, the pundit or data-miner could reply:”LET’S MAKE IT PERFECT!”

    And it would go on and on that way.

    Bruce Schneier has finally gotten some of the shoot-down into the punditry world:

    Privacy and Power

    “But this mechanism fails utterly if you and I have different power levels to begin with”.

  2. Ann Bartow says:

    See y’all there!

  3. Ann Bartow says:

    See y’all there!

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