Lawrence Lessig on Using Coders to Protect Our Privacy

Lawrence Lessig, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and founder of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, tells Bill Moyers how our government — given all the ways it can spy on us — should just as determinedly use modern technology to protect our liberties.

“We’ve got to think about the technology as a protector of liberty too. So code is a kind of law…There’s a way to build the technology to give us this liberty back, this privacy back. But it’s not a priority to think about using code to protect,” Lessig tells Bill.

“We have two kinds of specialized knowledge here, lawyers and coders — those people have to be in the same room as they listen to the government and the government says, ‘This is what we need to do to keep America safe.’ Let’s force the government to prove that to both of these lawmakers, the lawyers and the coders.”

Watch the full conversation between Bill Moyers and Lawrence Lessig

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  • Barry Kort

    The technology for private and secure peer-to-peer communication and for secure web browsing has been around for a while. Here is a summary of what’s available and where to get it:

  • Raymond Colby

    As long as the Peers in “Peer to Peer” are vetted for integrity.

  • Guest

    “Palantir Technologies Inc. was a CIA start-up aimed at streamlining the gathering and analysis of massive amounts of data generated from both offline and online human interaction.

    Before the FBI and CIA effectively handed over the bulk of their online intelligence gathering and surveillance to software developed by Palantir, there was a focused effort to do something similar in-house nearly 20 years prior.”

    Hm, Lessig is suggesting that an already implemented private corporation that the CIA/NSA/FBI is ALREADY using, is the way to go to in essence, “to cinch these privacy concerns up.” Really?

  • mikemoon

    The whole idea is to outsource this ‘data mining’ to private companies. One more way to move public funds into private hands and to give the owners of that public information private access. There’s a huge conflict of interest.

  • Mace

    Professor Lessig brings an important layer of protection to our attention. Of course, there’s subjectivity in the coding process as well. Because the specter of national security is raised, I doubt that a “lawyer” liaison will be allowed “in the room.” But, civilian oversight in some form is needed. Actually, the courts should be protecting our rights. ACLU has filed an important lawsuit that seeks to challenge the government’s unfettered access to phone numbers. It’s amazing that a few years ago we were talking about the blanket warrants and the FSL warrants and so forth. Today, there is no discussion of warrants. The 4th Amendment has been eviscerated completely and no one in the judiciary is saying a thing. This is all disgusting. The legal maxim articulated by one of our greatest thinkers rings clear and that is a government, indeed a people, who are willing to sacrifice liberty/freedom for a marginal level of security, deserve neither.

  • steve whetstone

    The subjectivity in coding is easily avoided. Code is generalized and separated from data so it can be shared openly making it objectively verifiable. The point Lessig makes in my opinion is that we aren’t using technology to build freedom into our electronic systems.

    another example is Microsoft Sharepoint has built in document expiration and management functions built in so out of date info can be safely deleted and to prevent version control problems caused when someone edits a corporate policy and they don’t want older versions being used. The audit trail keeps a record of the old version and the new version and who made the change. Govt uses a similar technology to for freedom of information laws that specify certain information is to remain secret for 20 or 40 years. We could use code to make it a required field to specify in more detail what specefic law or national security reason is the basis for the secrecy, who signed off on requiring it be kept secret and give them a popup warning of the fines and penalties for improperly classifying something as secret when it’s not. Additionally we could track who keeps the most secrets and what laws or reasons are used to justify keeping them secret and how often they turn out to be valid as ways of testing if the laws work or are over broad. Those aggregate data are directly in no way sensitive because they provide zero operational details.

  • steve whetstone

    I believe outsourcing is more often motivated by the goal of creating plausible deniability. Decreased accountability is the “unintended” consequence of outsourcing and organizations naturally deny that as an intention or a consequence of outsourcing.