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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

September 12, 2013 at 4:42 PM

UW, Microsoft create Tech Policy Lab

A new think tank addressing tech policy issues such as privacy, security and censorship is being launched today at the University of Washington.

Called the Tech Policy Lab, it’s an interdisciplinary program involving the UW’s School of Law, Information School and Computer Science & Engineering Department.

The program received its initial funding of $1.7 million from Microsoft and “aims to enhance technology policy through research, education and thought leadership.”

Students and faculty will examine new technologies “in order to provide policymakers with a rigorous research base and evidence-based recommendations for decision-making,” the release said.

Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith, UW President Michael Young and Microsoft Research chief Peter Lee are announcing the lab at an event this evening at the UW.

Smith said the approach was inspired by collaborations between Microsoft lawyers, engineers and researchers to address policy issues such as tracking child pornography online and taking down malicious servers.

There’s also a need to provide lawmakers with data and facts to help them set policies in the age of big data, he said.

“The issues are incredibly broad,” said Young, a lawyer. “Technology has changed my field in ways we never really think about.”

Ryan Calo, assistant professor of law and a founding director of the lab, said technology policy can rarely be addressed by a single discipline. Another goal of the lab is to produce graduates who can work collaboratively across fields on such issues.

Timing is also important, said Tadayoshi Kohno, associate professor of computer science. Policy guidance is needed at the inflection point when new technologies are emerging.

For example, the lab will look at policy implications of augmented reality technologies that will rise over the next five to 10 years. When should wearable cameras be recording their surroundings or blocked? What about wearing them in bathrooms or movie theaters? Should they always be recording unless you opt out? What happens when they capture and upload sensitive information?

These are the sorts of questions the lab will address, Kohno said.

The UW has operated as a lab of sorts for Microsoft since its genesis, when teen-aged Bill Gates and Paul Allen would sneak in to use the school’s computers.

Tonight the Tech Policy Lab will be announced in the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering, not far from the law school’s William H. Gates Hall, funded by Bill Gates in honor of his father.

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