Monday, December 11, 2006

Technological Diffusion Characteristics as a Policy Tool

I would like to thank Frank for the introduction and for his intriguing posts last week. This week I will present a paper that looks at the relationship between privacy and the diffusion -- the adoption -- of two new technologies: genetic testing and the Internet. The paper seeks to promote the project of conceptualizing a general theory of law and technology in two ways:

First, throughout history new technologies repeatedly destabilized the value of privacy. Examples are ubiquitous and wide-ranging, including the camera, the birth control pill and computer databases. I propose here that there is a relationship between the technological characteristics that affect a technology's diffusion process and the type of privacy controversies that evolve. I suggest that by focusing on diffusion technological characteristics (for example, whether a technology is centrally diffused or decentralized) we could accomplish two goals. We could develop tools that would help us predict in advance which technologies are going to create certain types of privacy issues. We could also develop principles that would formulate policy guidelines for resolving specific techno-privacy controversies.

Second, I chose two technologies that are rarely studied together: genetic testing and the Internet. My goal was to show that helpful insights can be drawn by taking a broader view that incorporates technologies, which seemingly have little in common.

I am going to focus in the paper on two case studies: genetic discrimination and commercial privacy norms on the Internet. In both cases I have used empirical data to assess how much privacy we currently have and how the diffusion process was affected. In each case study I identify the diffusion characteristics that affect the privacy result and then discuss how diffusion characteristics can be incorporated into the decision-making process.

If anyone is interested in a preview or further substantiation of the week's posts, you can find the full paper here.


Blogger Lyria Bennett Moses said...

I think Gaia's work helps resolve some of the "but aren't all technologies different so how can you have a theory of law and technology"-type problems. She uses theories of technology diffusion to justify reaching different conclusions about the regulation of different technologies. In other words, a theory of law and technology need not mean the same answer for all technologies, it can instead help decide what differences are relevant.

12/11/2006 9:12 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

I do like the idea of comparing two areas which are often artificially separated in legal discourse by subdisciplinary boundaries. There are "internet law" people, and "health law" people, but rarely do they get to think together about what lessons they might learn from one another.

This paper shows how fruitful that type of exchange can be.

12/12/2006 10:38 AM  

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