This week at Cornell University, the Associate CIO, Steve Schuster, the Director of IT Security, Wyman Miles, and myself held an open forum to discuss law, policy and technology issues of interest to the campus community. About twenty people attended, some staff, mostly students. I thought we would be there for about an hour, but at ninety minutes our moderator, Steve, called the session to a close. About five students came up to talk more with me.
This is one aspect of what the MIT Report calls for in higher education: more education, more discussion, more debate within our higher education communities about Internet related law and policy issues. Of course, that means: law, technology, social norms and the market (footnote Lessig here). It was a great experience sharing with students their questions and thoughts about these issues.
Here were some of the questions that they asked: Can we trust Google? (For more at Cornell on that issue, see this Cornell Daily Sun article.) What would Google do if the government asked them for my mail? What would Cornell do? What is a National Security Letter? What did Aaron Swartz do? What have we learned from the Snowden disclosures? Why does the United States have secret courts? What is metadata? And, a discussion on these topics would not be complete without the standard question: Does Cornell read my email?
All this session took was a couple of ads in the Daily Sun, $50 for cookies, coffee and soft drinks. Would it have been great to have 100, or a 1,000, people? Yes and no. Yes, because I think these issues are critical to the lives of young people growing up in an information economy, where information – their information, their identity – is a commodity. But last night I was grateful for the twenty. They got to ask lots of questions, and then follow up questions. They got to comment on the state of the law and our policies. It wasn’t a lecture, there was no grandstanding, it was a conversation.
In this smaller setting, I also got to comment as Tracy Mitrano, and not just in my role as Director of IT Policy. If I were queen for day, I said, I would amend these laws to bring them in balance with contemporary social norms and current technology: the Copyright Law of 1976, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Electronic Communications Act, both of 1986. These dates speak volumes about the current gap between law and technology in U.S. culture today. No wonder the market has such a field day with our information! And no wonder social norms are all over the place. Just as revisions of these laws are long overdue, so, too, is the need for us to have these conversations on our campuses today.