SE Students Organize Citizen Hacks

Thursday, September 5, 2019

This weekend in Toronto, a group of Software Engineering students will be running Citizen Hacks, a new hackathon about privacy and socially beneficial technology. The event encourages youth to tackle the challenge of privacy in technology and begin to develop a design orientation that considers technology’s broader social impacts.

Waterloo is part of many aspects of Citizen Hacks. Besides the significant Waterloo student contingent registered as hackers, the event involves many experts from Waterloo. Ian Goldberg will be giving a talk on privacy-enhancing technologies, while Scott Campbell and Paul Heidebrecht will both be participating in a panel discussion on education for ethical design thinking. Among the judges is Derek Rayside.

Citizen Hacks has also attracted significant interest from the wider privacy community. The keynote speaker is Dr. Ann Cavoukian, the former privacy commissioner of Ontario. A representative from Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Mariel García Montes, will be running a workshop. Corporate sponsors include encrypted messaging platform Keybase, AI startup Ada, and Fastmail, a privacy-oriented email service.

As society becomes increasingly data-driven, how we use and collect data has profound impacts on people’s lives, both online and offline. It affects not only the rights and opportunities of individuals, but also the functioning of our democracies and the ordering of society at structural levels. 

Citizen Hacks comes at a time when citizens and leaders in the business community and broader society are increasingly calling for privacy protections to be embedded in the design of technology. For example, over 200 CEOs of leading companies that are part of Business Roundtable recently put forth a framework for national privacy legislation in the US. Also, Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation calls for "Data protection by design and by default".

In organizing and participating in Citizen Hacks, Waterloo students are joining students at other leading schools such as Harvard and MIT who have the opportunity to systematically integrate ethical issues into their studies of engineering and computer science. Citizen Hacks is part of this emerging trend of educational opportunities that encourage innovation in privacy-protecting technology. As Canada’s most innovative university, let’s lead change in this new frontier.

by Benn McGregor on behalf of the Citizen Hacks Team