Disrupting tech-policy focus of new ANU centre

13 September 2021

Reimagined, tech-policy can be a powerful tool that complements tech innovation and delivers positive social, economic and security outcomes

Strengthening Australia's democracy and positioning our economy to reap the full benefits of digital technology will be two of the key issues tackled by a new centre at The Australian National University (ANU).

The Tech Policy Design Centre will address some of the biggest challenges we face with the increasing integration of digital technology in our daily lives.

This includes who owns our data and has permission to use it; the increasing influence and power of tech giants; promoting online rights and safety, while protecting against online abuse; and mitigating the impact of misinformation, disinformation and foreign interference on democracy.

The new centre will be led by Johanna Weaver, a former lawyer and Australian diplomat who has held senior positions in cyber affairs at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and, most recently, was Australia's chief cyber negotiator at the United Nations.

"Digital technologies touch every facet of our lives," Ms Weaver said.

"Today's policy and governance structures are struggling to keep pace with the rapid evolution of technology.  We need to fix that and we to fix it urgently.

"Harnessing the same spirit as the innovators of disruptive technologies, we need to disrupt our approach to tech-policy. Reimagined, tech-policy can be a powerful tool that complements tech innovation and delivers positive social, economic and security outcomes.

"That's what this new centre will aim to do. We will work with business, government, civil society, policymakers, and academia to co-design a new generation of tech policy that is relevant, robust and right."

Chancellor the Hon Julie Bishop said the new Tech Policy Design Centre was another example of ANU taking national leadership on the key issues and challenges facing the nation.

"Digital technologies are interwoven in the fabric of today's societies and economies and underpin our security," Ms Bishop said.

"Globally, there is an urgent and increasing demand for new approaches to technology policy.

"In response, I am delighted to announce today a new ANU initiative to establish a Tech Policy Design Centre.

"The Centre will reimagine how policy can be used in a positive way to shape technology.

"This will help position our nation to harness the full potential of digital technologies while responsibly mitigating against future harms."

Ms Weaver said the rise of digital technologies was about more than questions of national security and cyberattacks.

"In Australia, much of the conversation has centred around which states may be hacking us," Ms Weaver said. "This is a significant challenge, no doubt. But it is just one of many.

"We also need to think about the substantial contribution the Australia tech industry makes to our economy and how best to harness the full potential of technology across every sector of our economy from education to health to agriculture and mining.

"We must never lose sight of the benefits of technology but, equally, we must not be blinded by techno-utopian visions of the future.

"Use of COVID check-in data to investigate alleged crime and technology-facilitated abuse against women are just a few of the tech challenges highlighted in news headlines this week.

"We need to work collaboratively to continue innovating while simultaneously acting much more proactively to pre-empt and guard against, often unintended, harms. Tech policy reimagined has a big role to play in addressing these challenges.

"There's a lot to be done. The good news is it can be done, it must be done, and we are here to help."

The Tech Policy Design Centre will focus on four key themes: people, power, democracy and data. 

The centre will work with existing ANU research areas on these four key themes, including the, School of Regulation and Global Governance, the 3A Institute and School of Cybernetics, the National Security College, the ANU College of Law, the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science, and the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.