PrivacyCamp

This past Saturday I attended the very first PrivacyCamp. It was organized by Shaun Dakin and hosted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

I only had the barest idea what to expect from secondhand reports by others participating in unconferences. That is the key word, participation. Involvement by attendees was not a problem at this particular event. During the pitch and grid setup, we managed to fill the schedule with some excellent sessions. My sole complaint about the resulting schedule is that one of my panels was at the same time as another one I wanted to attend.

The venue provided was ideally suited to the size and style of the event. We had the use of a large press hall style room, where we did the opening and closing sessions with everyone. We had three other rooms on two floors and only the smaller rooms were a bit awkward either because of location of size.

I can easily see this space used again for more unconferences but also for the traditional style of presentations I’ve attended at New America and Google’s DC office in the past. I do hope they manage to host more events of all types, it really was a great venue.

I helped run sessions on ownership of personal data and on why technology with privacy implications isn’t more often crafted with fail safes included.

The first of those was combined with one suggested by Aaron Titus. The first half of the time allotted spent digging into some of the legal and constitutional questions, particularly from whence does any legal or moral conception of privacy stem. Also we discussed how violation of any privacy right could best be enforced. Not surprisingly, we didn’t come with anything more conclusive than Douglas’ historic ruling in the Griswold case. From there, we considered the angle I suggested, that of how best to build some sort of decision framework, like Creative Commons does for copyright or P3P tried to do previously.

I’ve felt that we needed a strong privacy default for a privacy commons to work. I’ve been mulling over that question since February of this year, since I read an Ars piece on the idea. My concern was that without a legal default, like copyright when a bare license or condition fails, then privacy policies like this would not be as useful. My fellow campers debunked that concern and the idea has spawned a very early stage discussion of such a project.

The latter of my two sessions was lightly attended. I used the idea of an RFID kill switch as the topic to spark interest. I spent more time explaining what an RFID is and why a fail safe is a good idea than digging into why the notion isn’t more popular. Everyone seemed a bit worn down at that point, to be fair.

The session I missed that I really wanted to catch was Deviant’s discussion of modeling the physical traces of meat space searches, a la Goldilocks and the bears’ porridge, in the digital world. I met Deviant two years back at Shmoocon. His session was well attended and I am hoping this is one of the talks for which there eventually will be video, especially since it was in the main room where Aaron had a camera set up.

I also attended sessions on the risks of digital signage and security vs. transparency vs. privacy.

The first of those was more of a traditional lecture right up until the end. To be fair the speaker was preparing for some media activity on the topic so was using us a bit as a test audience. We were able to push back with some good questions that should strengthen his later discussion.

The other session had a very diverse audience and was the first ones I was in where issues of generational and socio-economic divides came into the discussion of privacy. It echoed the overall diversity of background and interest in the camp as a whole. I was glad to be in the minority as a technologist. I was able to make some solid connections with more area NGOs, with policy wonks and activists that I am hoping will bear more interesting discussions if not some actual projects.

I still have plenty of detailed notes to pore through and think about. I am pretty sure that Shaun considers the event enough of a success to do another one. I know somewhere out on the West Coast, he is in contact with a group wanting to replicate this initial barcamp. I hope he and American Progress are up to doing another one locally, at least this time next year if not sooner.

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