This summer, I got to check “cross-country road trip” off my bucket list. It took us eight days to drive from Berkeley to Washington, DC, which sounds longer than it actually feels. We made up the route as we drove, hiked the Grand Canyon, got hailed on in Flagstaff (not planned) and snowed on in Albuquerque (also not planned), saw Elvis’s house, and toured Nashville’s edition of the Parthenon. By the time we arrived in DC, my boyfriend and I were still on speaking terms and our dog had not thrown up, so I’d say the trip was a success!
Everyone warned me DC would be hot in the summer. So, I was prepared for the heat, but not for the wild thunderstorms that roll in faster than Karl the Fog. Lest you think so much rain must have been an enormous inconvenience, I should add that I was always pleasantly surprised every time I was caught in an unexpected downpour and the rain was warm instead of freezing, like it is in Berkeley. Glass half full.
Despite the traffic mayhem (red lights mean, you know, stop but only if you feel like it), and perhaps partially because of its distinctive weather patterns, DC is a pretty spectacular city. For a California girl who has only ever called the Bay Area home, DC has a certain magnificence. The buildings are grand and official, and the red brick sidewalks are teeming with history and character.
Suddenly my office was a 10 minute walk from the White House; my morning run took me by the Capitol, around the Washington Monument, and up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial; and the opening sequence of House of Cards became a montage of familiar streets and buildings. I can now tell you that the gleaming white Supreme Court building truly is as unapproachable and glorious as photographs make it out to be. It seemed like there was always something to do on any given weeknight and especially on the weekends. Outdoor movies? Yes! Jazz in the park? Of course! Art and history museums? Not to miss!
I did a fair bit of sightseeing this summer (did you know that most of the museums here are free?), but what really opened my eyes was the work I got to do. I spent ten weeks learning about technology policy at a nonprofit advocacy group on K Street. In Washington, DC, being in “technology policy” means trying to educate policymakers about what technology is and how it impacts the roles of individuals and the government.
Technology policy, I should tell you, is also my primary focus at UC Berkeley’s School of Information (affectionately known as the “I School”). With its world class faculty and incomparable access to campus-wide resources, the I School is the perfect place to combine the study of technology with its legal, economic, and social implications, and provides an ideal foundation for an internship in technology policy.
Within the first few weeks of my internship, I attended a Congressional hearing on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—the law that allows the NSA to run the PRISM program and listen in on the communications of non-U.S. persons abroad—and started a deep dive on the laws that govern the government’s ability to investigate criminal activities conducted on the Tor network. (For those who don’t know, the Tor network, or the “dark web,” uses anonymizing technology to hide who you are and what you do on the Internet.)
In June, the United States Supreme Court decided to hear a case on governmental access to cellphone location data, and I researched mobile location technologies in support of an amicus brief. The summer would not have been complete, however, without a conference on protecting Internet of Things devices from botnets (translation: preventing your talking refrigerator from getting hacked), and an examination of the uses of facial recognition technologies at our nation’s borders.
All of the work I got to do was incredible. But, far more amazing were the people I got to work with. You could call them lawyers, but I think a more accurate description is brilliant, dedicated, compassionate, legally-trained civil rights advocates. They know the ins and outs of legislative procedure, and they understand policymaking strategy. They can also explain how Bitcoin works and why the First Amendment protects your right to access social media.
The office hosts a traditional Friday happy hour and (if you still need more convincing about how incredible these people are) took all of us interns to a Thursday afternoon Washington Nationals game, where the Nationals tied the major league records for most consecutive homeruns (four) and most homeruns in one inning (five). I have a hard time imagining a better place to work.
Do I see a future in technology policy? Absolutely. Especially if it means I get to aspire to be as smart, passionate, and knowledgeable as the people I worked with this summer.