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Equity in Civic Technology, Privacy & Data

CDT’s Next Big Focus: the Equity in Civic Technology Project

I am pleased to announce the launch of CDT’s Equity in Civic Technology Project, a new program advocating for equitable use of data and technology in government institutions. The Equity in Civic Technology Project deepens CDT’s commitment to advancing just, fair, and responsible technologies. The program builds on the work that was started with CDT’s Student Privacy Project, launched in 2018. It will continue to be led by Elizabeth Laird, whose work at CDT is informed by her background in advocating for the fair and effective use of data and technology, as well as five years of experience working in public agencies.

The Equity in Civic Technology Project is launching at a time when civic agencies are relying on digital tools to fulfill their roles more than ever before. Governmental uses of data and technology range from designing educational programs and providing healthcare options for uninsured families, to allocating unemployment benefits and addressing food and housing instability. In each of these functions, thoughtful use of digital tools can bring substantial benefits to the individuals and communities these programs serve. But there are risks: civic technologies designed or implemented irresponsibly can erode individuals’ privacy, make decision-making processes less transparent, and perpetuate unjust social structures in the very communities they were created to serve. Governments have unique legal obligations to ensure they act with public accountability and due process. The stakes are high; as such, it is critical that legislators, civil servants, advocates, and affected communities understand the risks and are equipped to make informed decisions about technology use. 

CDT’s Equity in Civic Technology Project will engage these issues by providing research and advocacy to advance the responsible use of data and technology while centering the rights of individuals. Our approach combines both technical and policy-minded perspectives, creating policy resources and actionable technical guidance. Our work is grounded in the belief that technologies used in government services must affirm individual privacy, respect civil rights, foster inclusive participatory systems, promote transparent and accountable oversight, and advance just social structures within the broader community. 

The launch of the Equity in Civic Technology Project is a reflection of CDT’s success engaging with issues of privacy protection and equitable technology use in education, an important area within the broader civic technology space. This will remain the program’s primary focus, as it strategically expands to address similar issues in other public sectors. 

Fair and equitable governance is essential to a thriving democracy. By providing informed analysis and thoughtful advocacy, CDT’s Equity in Civic Technology Project will help realize a vision for civic technology that affirms these values.

To read more about the program and view its resources, visit the new Equity in Civic Technology page on the CDT website.