Naula O’Connor – Leading Player in the Privacy Ecosystem

How has your organization’s goals/focus changed over the years to address evolving technologies or challenges?

The Center for Democracy and Technology’s (CDT) overall goals have not fundamentally changed over the years, Naula O’Conner explains.

Instead, we’re closer to our founding values, which – at their core – have a profound respect for the individual, their personal experience online, and their right to speak freely.

New technology emerges every day, and we’re applying the same lens of respecting individual’s dignity to this technology – from drones and audio beacons to the myriad of ways that the Internet of Things IoT (or the Internet of Everything) both makes decisions about individuals and helps to make life more full and efficient.

I think CDT has evolved in its desire to speak to all members of the community – governments, companies, and individuals – to bring them to the table to discuss respecting human rights online.

If anything, the Center for Democracy and Technology’s focus has grown to be more global. We realize that when a change to legislation is made in one country, it will have a global ripple effect. We understand the Internet to be global and that global policy must be applied.

And we believe that the Internet is the greatest loudspeaker ever created.

What is the biggest threat to consumers?

The biggest threat to consumers is the opaque collection of data. Which means the little bits of data you give out every second of your life and don’t realize.

It’s not the transmission of data – like when you do a Google search or when you’re on Facebook – because you know what data you’re inputting. It’s the data that’s extraneous to the transaction, which includes data that’s collected when you walk down the street or into a store.

The ability to collect granular data about you inside of your own home is a relatively new phenomenon and it stymies notions of your curtilage, your physical boundary around your home.

There are concerns about this data beyond how it’s collected or used by companies you may or may not know. Decisions are made about you as a result of this data.

“And you may not be aware whether these decisions are fair, accurate, lasting, or could change how you access services, credit, or information,” warns Nuala O’Connor.

So it’s not just the data that concerns me but it’s these decisions that may not be at all transparent or apparent to the individual, and they have less control or power in its collection and use.

What is your role at CDT?

I’m very lucky to lead policy experts and engineers who are shaping the digital world. As President & CEO of CDT, I get to help craft long-term strategy for the organization and be one of the many great voices for this organization.

CDT is a policy advocacy organization, so we talk to companies, government, media and individuals. Our role is to fight for the rights of the individual and to promote the rights and dignity of individuals in the digital world, all while embracing emerging technologies that are answering the problems of the world.

How did you start working in the privacy field and why do you enjoy it?

I began working in privacy before privacy was an area of the law. I started out as a banking lawyer and transitioned to a small dot com. I love this field because it’s real world stuff, and everyone gets to have an opinion.

Privacy is an area of law that is growing and it won’t ever stop being important to governments, companies and individuals as we fully engage in the digital world.

What do you wish more people knew about privacy?

I wish more people knew how technology really works and felt that they had the right to ask questions to the companies with which they do business. I wish the government was more transparent about how they collect and use information.

And I wish more companies thought of personal data not as a property right to be bought, sold, or traded, but simply as an extension of the human beings, customers and individuals with whom they do business.

I think it would inform their decision-making about the data they collect and how it’s handled and stored.

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