SXSW Interactive: TechTank’s Top Five Issues for Tech Policy

South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) has officially kicked off in Texas. This year, an expected 30,000 people will flock to Austin seeking the latest in technology (with the music and film portions of the festival continuing into this week). At TechTank we’re sharing some top issues related to tech policy as they unfold at this year’s conference.

1.  Pompeo Wanted to Uninvite Snowden to the Party


Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS) published an open letter to the SXSW organizers on Friday, March 7. In the letter, Pompeo criticized Snowden (and by extension, SXSW). He called for the conference to withdraw Snowden’s invitation to the panel “A Virtual Conference with Edward Snowden”.  Pompeo wrote:

“I share your passion for educating the American public on the intersection of civil liberties and technology, but I am deeply troubled to learn that you have invited Edward Snowden to address SXSW on privacy, surveillance, and online monitoring in the United States. Certainly an organization of your caliber can attract experts on these topics with knowledge superior to a man who was hired as a systems administrator and whose only apparent qualification is his willingness to steal from his own government and then flee to that beacon of First Amendment freedoms, the Russia of Vladimir Putin.”

Despite the request, Snowden joined the virtual conference on Monday, March 10.

2.  Doctor’s Offices on their Death Beds


A SXSWi panel on the demise of the traditional doctor’s office explains how “technology and policy are colliding to transform the patient experience. New devices are delivering continuous streams of health data to patients, who in turn are expecting physicians to engage with them via modern communication channels.” Given the caustic nature of health care politics, mobile health may represent the best path forward for future cost reduction and a higher quality of care.

At the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings, we are actively researching advancements in mHealth and mobile technology in order to improve health care domestically and around the globe. This Thursday, March 13, we are hosting an event and webcast onThe Use of Mobile Technology to Improve Health Care and Reduce Costs in China and the United States.” Watch this space for more information as we also release a major policy report on the topic that day.

3.  Wearables and the Governance Issues They Raise

Wearable technology is becoming increasingly relevant to all areas of our lives, whether it is the Samsung smartwatch, Google glass or the connected car that Scott Lange of Team Detroit described as “the biggest wearable device you could possibly have.” According to Google’s Senior Vice President of Android and Chrome Sundar Pichai, the company is “focusing on the low-level operating system hooks that are necessary for the sensors in a wearable device to talk to the Android operating system.”

For technology to break into the apparel market, developers will need to integrate wearables into mobile devices and governments will need to address the legal implications regarding devices which are on one’s person all day, every day (and in some cases, every night). From citizen journalists capturing videos at crime scenes to location tracking and privacy issues, wearables are the trend to watch in tech and will continue to raise a host of complex legal and governance issues.  

4.  From Our Nation’s Capital to Texas’s

SXSW, which has been in existence since 1987, will host no less than six members of Congress this year, a record number. Roll Call compiled their guide to SXSW Interactive in which they write: “Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., are all speaking on panels at the Interactive festival. Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., are taking part in an Economist-led panel on local tech economies.” We will be watching the interplay of policy and technology as lawmakers increase their interaction with the innovation community.

5.  Advancing the Drone Debate

Chaotic Moon Studios are the inventors of the C.U.P.I.D. (Chaotic Unmanned Personal Intercept Drone) that includes an 80,000 volt stun gun and acts as a non-lethal defense mechanism. They decided to address some of the real world issues surrounding weaponized, patrolling drones at this year’s SXSW. In the video below, they look at personal safety, personal privacy, and law enforcement implications.

The C.U.P.I.D. was unveiled publicly to demonstrate that these technologies are already possible today. Chaotic Moon Studios wanted to spur an educated conversation around the drone industry and engage citizens, police, Congress and the FAA.  Small commercial drone usage is a hot topic, especially after the recent decision by NTSB Administrative Law Patrick Geraghty’s decision to dismiss a fine by the FAA.

Our colleagues at the Lawfare blog ( are another great resource for legal issues surrounding drones and autonomous vehicles. This blog is a must read for anyone interested in the future of drones.

Stay tuned to TechTank for continued coverage on these issues in the coming year.  If you are a TechTank reader at SXSW join the conversation at #TechTank and let us know about all of the interesting tech policy issues we missed.