By Leslie Gordon
With the goal of increasing government transparency, a flood of public records are going online. The data is often leveraged for business purposes – such as using census records to determine the optimal location for a new Wal-Mart. But there’s a risk that such data could compromise individual security. Plus, private and sensitive information—such as arrest records—could also be misinterpreted or used to disproportionately impact certain already vulnerable groups.
This tension will be addressed at Open Data: Addressing Privacy, Security, and Civil Rights Challenges, the 19th annual symposium jointly produced by the Berkeley Technology Law Journal (BTLJ) and the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology (BCLT). Scholars, legal practitioners, government officials and other stakeholders are invited to attend the April 17 conference in Booth Auditorium.
“The Berkeley Technology Law Journal’s symposiums are known for the robust conversations among representatives from public interest organizations, corporations, and regulators,” said Deirdre Mulligan, a faculty director of BCLT. “The upcoming symposium is the first to focus on the challenges open data presents for government agencies with obligations to protect individual privacy and limit discrimination, as they seek to share information with the public for public good.”
Once data is in a public record, it tends to be unregulated, explained Chris Hoofnagle, director of the center’s Information Privacy Programs. “There’s been a lot of theoretical work regarding the implications of open data. At the symposium, we’ll address how to manage the problems identified by the theoretical literature. We want to encourage sunlight, so to speak, without causing sunburn.”
Open data raises unique concerns that reach beyond conventional legal boundaries into other disciplines such as computer science, statistics, and the social sciences, added Joe Mornin ’15, editor-in- chief of the law journal. “Convening leading thinkers in the open data field will help chart a course for future research.”
Social Justice Impact
The symposium panels will focus on six projects selected by BCLT that examine the civil rights, human rights, security and privacy issues that arise from initiatives to release large datasets of government information to the public. The Microsoft Corporation provided the sole funding for the research.
The event will begin with an open data tutorial for lawyers and regulators by Columbia University’s Cathy O’Neil. The first panel will then address the implications of open data. The next panel will cover policy approaches to managing open data risks. The last panel will compare Fair Information Principles (the norms reflected in most information privacy laws) to the rules governing public health disclosures. At lunchtime, David H. Flaherty, who wrote the first serious treatment of how governments were handling access to large datasets, will present the keynote address about the ways governments have established policy, rules, and regulations for data protection, confidentiality, and dissemination.
As many as 50 student volunteers have planned the symposium, including organizing the existing scholarship, setting the agenda, selecting and inviting participants, and collaborating with the law school community to host the event. They even had to switch venues to accommodate the high number of attendees.
“The value of working on the symposium has been huge,” said Virginia Scholtes ’16, BTLJ’s symposium editor. “We’re building the skills required to run an event, and we’ve made all these connections with the biggest people in the field. Plus, it’s nice to give back, which is in line with Berkeley Law’s social justice slant. Sometimes it’s harder for people in tech law to stay connected to the human experience, but this symposium includes a social justice element.”
Student organizers expect as many as 150 people to attend, including lawyers, academics, chief information officers, and representatives from federal, state, and city governments.