During Congressional Recess, Staffers Get a Crash Course in Tech at Georgetown Law

August 21, 2017

Professor Paul Ohm leads a session at "Tech Foundations for Congressional Staff," held August 15-16 at Georgetown Law.

In order to understand laws, court cases and policies related to technology, one must first understand technology — which is why 40 congressional staffers from both sides of the aisle willingly spent two days of their August recess at Georgetown Law. “Tech Foundations for Congressional Staff,” hosted by the Institute for Technology Law and Policy, gave participants a crash course on topics from cybersecurity to smart cities and artificial intelligence.

Lecturers included tech-savvy experts from the Department of Justice, Microsoft, IBM, the Center for Global Development and of course, Georgetown Law. Staffers got an interactive look at the technology of privacy from Professor Paul Ohm — specifically, the tracking of online behavior and cell phone location.

Ohm’s session was especially timely, as a court that week considered the government’s effort to obtain over 1.3 million IP addresses from a web hosting company to “unmask” visitors to the website DisruptJ20.org. And this fall, the Supreme Court will hear Carpenter v. United States — asking whether the warrantless seizure and search of historical cellphone records revealing the location of a cellphone user over 127 days is permitted by the Fourth Amendment.

“[It] promises to be one of the most important Fourth Amendment technology cases in American history — unless the Court finds a way to dodge it,” Ohm said.

On Wednesday, Institute Executive Director Alexandra Reeve Givens led a chat with Vint Cerf, widely recognized as a founding father of the Internet, on topics including digital preservation and the challenges of bringing innovation to America’s heartland. “It’s not possible to create Silicon Valley everywhere…” Cerf said. “This is not just an American problem.”

Participants also got a glimpse of the latest technology — such as a translator tool that allows 100 users to carry out multi-language conversations in real time.

“Before I came to Georgetown about a year ago, I was a Hill staffer like you,” said Givens, who served as Chief Counsel for Intellectual Property and Antitrust on the Senate Judiciary Committee before coming to Georgetown Law. “Tech policy is so fun because so much of it is new. The foundation for good policy is good information, and I hope that is what you’ll gather here this week.”