Digital Dilemmas of Privacy Versus Information Freedom in the Internet Age

Posted on: November 5, 2016

Can digital privacy and freedom be reconciled? Should anyone expect privacy in the age of the Internet? What data should the government have access to in order to provide security for its citizens? What data should companies have access to and should they be able to use it and share it with other companies and the government?

Sherri Greenberg, lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, moderated a very interesting debate regarding privacy and information freedom in a world where the Internet follows us wherever we go. The experts on the debate platform at the Austin Forum on Technology and Society were: Andrew Donoho who writes commercial surveillance software and is a member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)-Austin board;  Ryan Harkins who is the Director of State Affairs and Public Policy for Microsoft where he serves as the lead lawyer on legislation and policy issues for Microsoft’s State Government Affairs team; and, Admiral Bob Inman, who is a tenured professor at UT Austin holding the Lyndon B. Johnson Centennial Chair in National Policy.

Mr. Donoho said, “Privacy is inextricably defined around commerce. Any personal data/credit card you have on your phone puts you at risk. EFF believes in strong cryptography. Our industry and economy depend on strong cryptography.”

Ryan Harkins position was: “The speed of internet growth has been incongruous with privacy rights legislation. We’ve seen an explosion of privacy legislation at the state level. We need to re-examine privacy law in this country.”

Admiral Inman gave his point-of-view: “The Internet began as an exchange of science research. At the time, no one envisioned the need for security or privacy. This is a nation of laws. There are occasions, particularly in a criminal warrant, when access directs officials to evidence of a crime. Shouldn’t it be possible to respond? This really comes down to terrorism and drug trafficking.”

The debate was really thought provoking and much more civilized than some debates you may have witnessed lately. The Austin Forum on Technology and Society explores the impact of technology on society and stimulates discussions, collaborations, and partnerships. Attending is free and open to the public. Want to learn more? Please check out the website: