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Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel
Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel

Microsoft is donating $1.7 million to the University of Washington to found a Tech Policy Lab that will study and test new technologies with the goal of informing and shaping national policies in areas including consumer privacy, security, censorship, public records and wearable gadgets.

Organizers say the new University of Washington lab will address the current gap between policy and technology, where the pace of technological change can make policies outdated even before they’re implemented.

“The brilliance of this Lab – perhaps the first of its kind in the world – lies in bringing computer scientists and engineers together with legal and policy experts to help improve technology policy,” says Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith in a statement. “The Tech Policy Lab will help policymakers keep up with the pace of technical innovation.”

The formation of the lab comes at a critical time in consumer privacy, as a result of the NSA data surveillance controversy. Microsoft and other large tech companies have been objecting to restrictions on the amount of information the companies can release about the user data they’ve been compelled to turn over to the government.

Ryan Calo
Ryan Calo

The university says in a news release, “Lab teams comprised of both students and faculty will identify, test and examine new technologies in order to provide policymakers with a rigorous research base and evidence-based recommendations for decision-making.”

University officials and Microsoft executives announced the founding gift and the formation of the lab during an event last night. The new lab will involve students and faculty from the UW School of Law, Information School and Computer Science and Engineering Department.

The three founding directors are Ryan Calo, Assistant Professor at the UW’s School of Law; UW Associate Professor Tadayoshi Kohno, from Computer Science and Engineering; and Professor Batya Friedman, from the UW Information School.

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