Privacy Law Scholars Conference
I had a great time at the Privacy Law Scholars Conference in Berkeley last week, perhaps more so than at any CS conference I’ve attended. A major reason was that there were — get this — no talks. Well, just one keynote speech. The format centered around 75 minutes-long discussion sessions (which seem to be called workshops), with 5 parallel tracks; in each session, you pick which track you want to attend. You are supposed to have read the paper beforehand, and usually everyone in the room has something to say and gets a chance to do so.
This seems way more sensible to me than the format of CS conferences, where there is only one track. I can’t imagine that anyone would genuinely want to attend all the talks. Ideally, for any given talk, half the people should skip it and spend their time networking instead, but in my experience this never happens. Worse, the talks are only 20-30 minutes long; while this is enough time to motiviate the paper and inspire the listeners to go read it afterward, it is never enough to explain the whole paper. Sometimes speakers don’t get this concept, and the results are not pretty.
Anyways, I was surprised by the ease with which I could read law papers and participate in the discussions, even if my understanding was (obviously) not nearly as deep as that of a law scholar. This is something to ponder — while legalese is dense and frequently obfuscated, law papers are a breeze to read, at least based on my small sample size.
There is one paper, by Paul Ohm, that I particularly enjoyed: it is about re-examining privacy laws and regulatory strategies in the light of re-identification techniques. This generated a lot of interest at the conference, and I found the discussion fascinating. A major reason I started 33bits was to to be able to play a part in informing these developments; it seems that this blog has indeed helped, which is highly gratifying. I learnt a lot about privacy and anonymity in general, and I look forward to writing more about it in future posts, to the extent that I can do so without talking about specific workshop discussions, which are confidential.