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Cybersecurity & Standards, Equity in Civic Technology, European Policy, Free Expression, Government Surveillance, Open Internet, Privacy & Data

A Message from Our New CEO, Alexandra Givens

Dear Friends of CDT,

Today, I’m honored to start work as the new CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology. As I do so, the world is, of course, a vastly different place than when I began preparing for this role a few short months ago. As life transforms around us in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, CDT’s work has never mattered more. And in this rapidly changing landscape, there’s a lot of work to do.

During these extraordinary times, technology’s potential to enhance our daily lives has never been more apparent. Technology is allowing many of us to work and study remotely, consult with doctors, and stay connected with friends and loved ones in the face of social isolation. At the same time, the divides inherent to our digital world have never been more stark. In the U.S. alone, millions of students, many of them students of color, remain cut off from remote learning because they lack home internet access. Lack of affordable internet access risks deepening disparities for years to come.

We face equally pressing challenges for individual privacy, free expression, cybersecurity, and civil rights. For example, as leaders explore deploying contact tracing apps, we must examine not only whether the apps can be effective, but the privacy and security measures embedded within them and the rules governing their use. If these apps are useful enough to be implemented—a question still being debated—their adoption must have strict limitations on how employers and other decision-makers may use them, and firm sunsets on their use. As advocates including CDT have urged, any tools must be developed with an express focus on equity, acknowledging disparate ownership rates of smartphones, the higher risk of false positives for urban residents and frontline workers, and the risk of disparate enforcement of tracing app policies.

At CDT, we’re committed to advancing these priorities in the national and global pandemic response. Our Coronavirus: Data for Life and Liberty Task Force is bringing together individuals from companies and civil society organizations, lawyers, academics, health professionals, and technologists to explore whether, and if so how, data can be used to responsibly fight the pandemic while preserving civil liberties and promoting civil rights.

The Task Force is one of many ways that CDT is seeking to ensure the development of thoughtful, technically informed policy solutions in the face of the global crisis. And for me, it exemplifies CDT’s core value proposition. We need more spaces for policymakers, civil society advocates, companies, technologists, subject matter experts, and affected communities to come together to forge responsible policy solutions. I’m committed to furthering CDT’s legacy as a trusted forum to do exactly that.

As I assume the role of CEO, I’m driven by CDT’s 25-year history of shaping technology policy in the U.S. and around the world. From CDT’s visionary founders to its outstanding current team, generations of CDT-ers have fought to advance policies, laws and technical designs that empower people to use technology for good, while protecting against invasive, discriminatory, and exploitative uses. As technology becomes an ever greater intermediary in our lives—transforming how we access information, driving commerce, reshaping core democratic processes—that work has never been more important.

In recent months, CDT’s leadership on these issues has been expertly steered by Chris Calabrese and Lisa Hayes, Interim Co-CEOs. They have managed the organization with exceptional ability, supported by the talented and committed staff. I’m deeply honored to join this team, and to continue CDT’s strong legacy together in the years to come.

As commentators reflect on the pandemic, some have asked if the world we return to after social distancing will revert to prior norms and structures, or will mark the start of a new age. It’s too soon to know the answer to that question. But in either scenario, technology will continue to shape—indeed, define—our society and institutions in ever-evolving ways. I believe in our collective mission to ensure that technology’s impact is a force for good. I’m excited to continue this work with all of you.

With warm regards,

Alexandra Givens