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Friday Q&A: Leadership at Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy

Housed between the sociology, engineering, computer science and economics buildings on Princeton’s campus is the Center for Information Technology Policy. Completed in 2008, the new building is a physical representation of the colliding worlds of academia, public policy and technology. And that’s how the Center’s leadership sees its physical location, too. “The technical folks and […]


Housed between the sociology, engineering, computer science and economics buildings on Princeton’s campus is the Center for Information Technology Policy.
Completed in 2008, the new building is a physical representation of the colliding worlds of academia, public policy and technology.
And that’s how the Center’s leadership sees its physical location, too.
“The technical folks and computer science people are challenged to think through the policy and political implications of what they’re studying,” says Associate Director Steven Schultze. “[And] the people that come from public policy have a rich set of technical folks to lean on and challenge.”
At the Center, which started simply as a discussion group among interested faculty, dozens of scholars research the impact of technology as it intersects with public issues.
Since becoming a formal organization six years ago, the group has researched electronic voting, government transparency, social inequality security, privacy and more, testifying in Washington and publishing a prolific amount of information on its blogs.
We spoke with Acting Director Margaret R. Martonosi and Schultze earlier this week to hear more about what the organization is up to, after the jump.

Tell our readers about the Center for Information Technology Policy.
Martonosi: CITP is a research center at Princeton that looks at how information technology influences peoples lives; how it interacts with public policy decisions and conversely, how public policy decisions can impact IT. In the past, we’ve had very deep efforts in security, privacy, e-voting, and sociological issues related to information technology. We have people who are leaders in understanding how government policy works in other countries. For example, Brazil has influenced privacy issues and Internet access issues in those countries. And every year we get a new crop of visitors and that shape what the community feels like.
Who’s working at the Center?
Martonosi: We host a half dozen visitors who are in residence from a variety of professions: academics, attorneys, [and others]. We also have a dozen graduate students working on topics related to their IT thesis. There are a range of faculty members that are more or less involved, and we’re also involved with an undergraduate certificate program for information technology and society.
How do you decide which in-residence scholars will work at the Center each year?
Martonosi: Basically, we make a broad call for applications. We get 60-100 applications from which we can select a set that we think could work out well here. Part of it has to do with funding constraints. Some have funding, some don’t. Part of it has to do with what’s going to work best in the Princeton environment. We don’t have a topic theme for the year.
Based on who’s in-residence this year, what are some of the hot button issues you’re focusing on?

Schultze: Next month, we have a workshop on IT issues related to the U.S. and China. There’s been an interesting discussion leading up to planning the workshop. One way we view the Center is a place of convening for various purposes, often helping to bring together the best folks from the academy, industry, and from elsewhere to engage issues that often—in the case of policy issues—tend to house more heat than light and tend to have a lot of rhetoric. In case of policy in U.S. and China, we bring together some of the best thinkers of both countries and try to understand how we can collaborate with each other and where our points of common interests are.
Another interesting event is focused on online tracking and privacy. We’re hosting an event along with the Worldwide Web Consortium, bringing people to write position papers on behavioral advertising and tracking.
How did the Center get its start?
Martonosi: It started as discussion group that goes back 15 years. Faculty started getting together to discuss technology, and it was organized as an official center about six years ago. We now have our own space, one floor of a nice new building.
It’s interesting how the Center is physically built between the computer science building, sociology building and engineering building. How does that affect discussion?
Schultze: We have computer scientists and as well as sociology in the building every day. What it means for the way that we approach questions is that the technical folks and computer science people are challenged to think through the policy and political implications of what they’re studying. The people that come from public policy have a rich set of technical folks to lean on and challenge.
It seems that one of your big missions is speeding up the rate at which policy is enacted to keep up with technological innovation. How do you make that a reality?
Schultze: Part of the problem with policy-making around technical issues or issues affected by technology, is that policymakers really have trouble keeping up to speed with whats going on. What this often means is that there are active, on-going policy debates that, in one of our roles has been as an explainer, like electronic voting, which has been one of the areas that we’ve been widely cited for. We write a lot of research papers, create demos for problems with electronic voting, we testify in Washington, and we do a lot of blogging. But compared to your average ivory tower academic approach, we tend to do a lot more public explaining and outreach.
How can we get involved?
If you head on over to our events page, seminars listed there are open to the public.
Below, a video produced by CITP on its efforts:
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