For the next three days, I'll be reporting for TidBITS from the Computers, Freedom and Privacy 2009 conference in Washington, DC. CFP attracts a fascinating mix of civil libertarians, crunchy granola hackers, security policy wonks, and a smattering of government and law enforcement types - all to discuss and debate the impact of computer technologies on civil liberties.
Several themes emerge from the overall program: individual privacy rights is always a top issue, as is government secrecy - as well as the intersection of the two. It's been rather in vogue for the past several years to say that the government can keep plenty of secrets from us, but we can't keep secrets from the government - and if we want to, we must have "something to hide". This idea is looked upon rather dimly by most CFP attendees, which always makes for fascinating debate with its defenders. (One of the great things about CFP: no matter how heated the debate, all speakers tend to be treated with civility. The only time I've seen this rule breached was with speakers who fed inane pablum to this highly technical audience and expected to be believed without question.)
Several sessions are slated to cover predictions of how U.S. government use and regulation of the Internet will change under the Obama administration; I'm expecting some fireworks to fly over the recent announcement of a "cyber-czar" in the White House to oversee all national network security issues. I've been following this debate on David Farber's Interesting-People mailing list, where some say it's a step forward that the president is paying attention to this issue, while others argue that the Cyberspace Policy Review (PDF link) merely restates the obvious without a solid game plan.
Also on the agenda: copyright issues stemming from Google's book scanning; psychological issues ranging from perceptions of fear to behavioral profiling in airports; the impact on privacy from cloud computing, online advertising, and electronic medical records; and discussion of how real the security threat is from hackers in enemy government, criminal, and terrorist organizations.
Check out the program if you'd like to know more about what's coming up; if you really want to drink from the fire hose, check out the #cfp09 tag on Twitter (and feel free to follow me: @jeffporten). Or warm up with my TidBITS coverage of CFP 2006 (see "CFP 2006: Life, Liberty and Digital Rights," 2006-05-08).