Technology-Leveraged Policy

We have for years studied the roles that technologies play in our social and organisational lives. In the policy world, however the academic understanding of the roles that technologies play are a bit more limited. The 'technology policy' world is often seeking the promotion of national technology industries, and the regulation and technology studies focus on how and when we regulate technologies themselves.

In recent years we have focussed on how technology extends or limits general policy design, implementation, and review. We have seen that technology plays much larger roles in the lifecycle of policies, where many modern policies hinge on the effectiveness and the use of technology. Modern health, environmental, law enforcement, and consumer protection policies rely intensely on technologies. This relationship therefore gives rise to a number of questions, including:

  • Should governments design policies that are technology-neutral? This would avoid having to pass new laws every time technologies change, but could ignore the small and large differences generated by technological change.
  • Should technological details be discussed and deliberated upon as we decide on new policies? Parliamentarians have insufficient understandings about technology and yet are expected to debate on the minutiae of technologies and their reach.
  • Where does information come from about technologies and their effectiveness? Technologies are not simple black boxes that work or do not work. Instead they are highly contextualised artefacts that require experts and proponents, and opponents to speak for the them.

These are amongst the questions we raise when we are regularly asked to comment on a variety of policy initiatives. In recent years we have been asked about environmental policies in Britain, data-sharing initiatives, medical information systems, and a number of other domains.


We have run specific projects on some policy areas.

Anti-terrorism and policing policies

We have advised a number of Parliaments (e.g. European Parliament, UK House of Lords, U.S. Congress) and institutions (e.g. civil society groups and journalists, bar associations, royal societies) around the world on the dynamics of anti-terrorism policies, international policy-making, and the technological implications of the policy choices.

  • Briefing on the the UK Government's Interception Modernisation Programme (PDF - 1MB). This report reviews the UK Government's consultation process and plans for new regulations requiring communications service providers to collect and retain details of their customers interactions and communications. We review the regulatory implications, the legal issues, and the technological challenges. This research involved convening workshops and forums with leading experts from around the world.

Identity Policies

Our work on identity policies approached modern policy-making with these questions in mind. Much of this work is presented under 'The Identity Project|' when we analysed the UK Government's approach to identity policy. Since then, and under the Policy Engagement Network, we have produced the following reports.

  • CAN ID? Visions For Canada's Identity Policy, commissioned research by the Canadian Privacy Commissioner, in collaboration with the University of Toronto's Faculty of Information Studies. The goal of this research was to understanding Identity Policy in the Canadian context, including a review of the existing and proposed regimes. We also identified some of the Policy Alternatives.
  • Report for the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on Identity Policy: Risks and Rewards. This commissioned report outlines the challenges and opportunities for the U.S. as they consider a national identity policy. It considers the lessons from around the world, and the experiences from existing and proposed initiatives in the U.S. including REAL-ID, and biometric social security cards.
  • The Economic Benefits of Identity Assurance, commissioned by HM Treasury for the Crosby review of identity management in the UK. We identified a number of opportunities and advantages of establishing identity policies, and recommended a number of design issues to consider.

Our other research areas