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Panelists Speak on Privacy and its Implications on American Democracy

Three panelists and a mediator addressed the Boston College community virtually on Wednesday, diving deep into the controversial and fascinating idea of personal and corporate privacy and the many ways those ideas impact and sway the democracy of the society in which we live. 

Kade Crockford, Director of the Technology for Liberty Program at ACLU in Massachusetts, works closely to understand and reform the privacy policies given their detrimental effect on individuals, specifically People of Color. 

Amanda Renteria, the current Chief Executive Officer of Code for America, has worked as Chief of Staff for the Senate, on Senator Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential Campaign, and as the Chief of Operations at the California Department of Justice. 

Professor Alfren Yen, an esteemed author, is currently a professor at Boston College Law School and a Dean’s Distinguished Scholar at the Boston College Law School, focusing on copyright laws, Asian-American issues in the legal system, as well as internet laws. 

The conversation among these successful individuals was moderated by Professor Deborah Hurley, a respected law professor at Brown University.

The three panelists opened the conversation by addressing the broad question of the importance of privacy, the lack of discussion surrounding individuals' privacy, and its ever so important place in democracy. 

Crockford opened the conversation by sharing that in today’s day and age, we have many issues we must address that filter into the lack of privacy for many individuals—specifically those in minority groups—and the invasion of personal information that is systematically perpetuated and condoned by the government.

“That issue does not get enough attention because we are still fighting twentieth century battles about basic voting rights.” Crockford continues on by stating that if we end the toxic cycles present in our society, “We might be able to get into the details of why privacy matters for our democracy.”

Renteria then shared, “Where does your right to know intersect with my right to be forgotten?”

Renteria and Yen alike added their thoughts, highlighting the fine line between protection of the state versus an individual’s personal liberty and their inherent right to their own information. 

Crockford added the immensely important layer that is sexual privacy and the historical repercussions that have come from making individuals hide their sexuality and sexual orientation. 

Cockford also offered an anecdote to shed light on the ways in which intentional breaches of privacy led to violent murders in The Black Panther Party and other racially motivated groups. 

The panelists went on to discuss reform and the many ways in which reform are necessary—both in the private as well as the public sector—when it comes to the intersectionality between privacy and its implications on democracy and the lives of different groups of people. 

Crockford shared, “My view is that all of these questions about technology and democracy are really questions about power.” 

In emphasizing the necessity of power shifts, Crockford was able to display that the root of these issues extend much deeper than a single law; rather, they are a result of years of inequity, the monopolization of technology and information, and the lack of power held by the people.

Yen continued, “When I think about privacy, my biggest concern is ultimately the state versus the citizen.” 

Changing the protocol for obtaining warrants, Yen discusses, is a simple and effective way for the law to protect citizens against the invasions of privacy, and it is extremely easy for the government and police departments to perform. 

Finally, Renteria stated, “We have got to start educating our kids both about technology and government.”

Educating young people on privacy and technology and the ways in which the Internet can be weaponized against them can play a key role in ending the unfortunate cycle of privacy invasion and the systemic issues that allow for these invasions to occur. 

The three panelists shed light on the idea that while privacy is an urgent issue, and one that citizens of the United States are often denied, we as people must come together to participate in the change.

“It’s not like we don’t have good ideas. The problem is that we don’t have the people power to enact those ideas into law…We need more democracy.”