All Hands on Tech

As technology continuously evolves, experts grapple with the resulting challenges and the role the law should play in addressing those issues.

Jeanne Fromer
Jeanne Fromer

How is Big Data changing the law? When NYU Law hosted three conferences on law and technology in a single month last November, panelists tackled a broad spectrum of topics involving the digital economy. One constant theme, however, was that technological and business innovation presents new challenges in intellectual property, antitrust, and regulatory law, among other areas.

At two of these conferences, some discussions probed the changing role of trade secrecy. “Trade Secrets and Algorithmic Systems,” organized by the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law and Policy and the Information Law Institute (ILI), explored trade secrecy protection of data-driven decision-making algorithms. “Data Law in a Global Digital Economy,” sponsored by the Guarini Institute for Global Legal Studies and the Institute for International Law and Justice (IILJ) in cooperation with the NYU Law Review, focused on how law affects data ownership, concentration, and control.

“When I started teaching trade secrets here as a standalone course a few years ago,” said Professor Jeanne Fromer at the Guarini/IILJ conference, “I kind of would carve out to the students that the software sector…was less relevant in the trade secrets space.” No longer, she said. The growing significance of data collection and of cloud computing, which allows companies to keep software hidden from competitors, has made trade secrecy an attractive option for protecting innovation, Fromer explained. She warned that this shift could limit competition and ultimately harm innovation throughout the software sector.

A third conference, “Artificial Intelligence in a Democratic Society,” hosted by the Center on Civil Justice, assessed how existing legal and ethical concepts are meeting the challenge of the AI revolution.

Sylvia Acevedo speaking
Sylvia Acevedo

Other law and tech events took place throughout the year. Last October, the third annual Women Leaders in Cybersecurity conference, sponsored by the Center for Cybersecurity, focused on the intersection of technology, privacy, and security. The first of two keynote addresses was given by Jeanette Manfra, assistant director for cybersecurity for the US Department of Homeland Security. Manfra emphasized the need for private US companies and government organizations to work together to create a robust cyber defense.

“The internet was engineered for transparency, interoperability,” Manfra said. “And those are all wonderful things. It wasn’t engineered for security.”

The final keynote was delivered by Sylvia Acevedo, a former rocket scientist in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and current chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts. As Girl Scouts CEO, Acevedo has created programming and merit badges in robotics, engineering, coding, and cybersecurity.

“When we took on cybersecurity, we realized that this was not just another science, technology, engineering, and math badge,” Acevedo said. “This [is] the opportunity to train girls, whether at any point in their life they ever code. It teaches them how to think about privacy, about individualism, about freedom, and about protection.”

Jeanette Manfra speaking
Jeanette Manfra

In April, the Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights hosted “Democratizing Data: Grassroots Strategies to Advance Human Rights,” which examined how artificial intelligence impacts marginalized communities. Professor of Clinical Law Jason Schultz moderated the panel discussion “Can We Democratize Data?” Professor Seeta Peña Gangadharan, of the London School of Economics and Political Science, noted that data-driven tools often encode existing prejudices.

“Data collection or surveillance, marginalizing surveillance, and the data collection related to that creates a culture of fear, of suspicion among individuals,” Peña Gangadharan said. “Yes, data-driven technologies or data-driven decision making tears families and communities apart. Yes, pervasive data collection, targeting, and profiling can obliterate mental wellness and create lasting and even intergenerational trauma. And yet, yes, people have developed strategies and tactics within these conditions of marginality.”

Posted September 4, 2019