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[WEBINAR] Civil Liberties, Privacy, and Public Health: Emerging Tensions and Technologies during COVID-19

An online forum hosted by PEN America’s Campus Free Speech Program

This is PEN America’s fourth online forum in our webinar series, “Free Speech & the Virtual Campus.” More webinars will be announced.

COVID-19 and our global response are posing numerous ethical and public policy dilemmas. Prominent among them is the need to reconcile competing public interests in robust surveillance to monitor and predict the spread of the virus, and in protecting citizens’ civil liberties and rights to privacy, free expression, and free assembly. These tensions have become particularly salient for the higher education sector as colleges and universities debate re-opening for the fall semester.

Join PEN America and the Free Speech Project at Georgetown University for this roundtable discussion as we explore this complex convergence of civil liberties, public health, and technology, and contemplate the implications of proposed surveillance strategies for resolving this health crisis.



David Cole

David Cole is the national legal director of the ACLU, and the Hon. George J. Mitchell Professor in Law and Public Policy at Georgetown Law. He is the author of 10 books, most recently Engines of Liberty: How Citizen Movements Succeed. He writes regularly for The New York Review of Books. He has argued many Supreme Court cases, including most recently, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, where he represented a gay couple who was refused service by a baker because they sought to use his cake to celebrate their marriage, and Harris Funeral Homes v. Stephens, which asks whether federal civil rights law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of transgender status.

Eileen DonahoeEileen Donahoe is the executive director of the Global Digital Policy Incubator at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center, where she develops global digital policies that address human rights, security, and governance challenges. She was the first U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, during the Obama administration. Later, she was the director of global affairs at Human Rights Watch. Donahoe is a member of the board of directors of the National Endowment for Democracy; the World Economic Forum Council on the Future of Human Rights; the University of Essex Advisory Board on Human Rights, Big Data and Technology; and the Benetech Advisory Board.

Robyn GreeneRobyn Greene is a privacy and public policy manager at Facebook. She leads the company’s global privacy policy work on issues related to surveillance and data security. Before joining Facebook, she was the senior policy counsel and government affairs lead for New America’s Open Technology Institute, where she also specialized in surveillance and cybersecurity law. Prior to that, Robyn worked at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office. She earned a BA in government and politics at the University of Maryland, and a J.D. from Hofstra University School of Law.

Patricia J. WilliamsPatricia J. Williams is a University Distinguished Professor of Law and Humanities at Northeastern University in Boston. A graduate of Wellesley College and Harvard Law School, Williams began her career as a consumer and health law advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, and as a deputy city attorney for the City of Los Angeles. She later taught at several law schools and is professor emerita at Columbia University. Her award-winning column, “Diary of a Mad Law Professor,” has appeared monthly in The Nation magazine for two decades. In 1997, Williams delivered the annual Reith Lectures, the BBC’s highest honor in radio journalism, and in 2000, she was awarded a MacArthur “genius” fellowship. 


Sanford J. UngarSanford J. Ungar is director of the Free Speech Project at Georgetown University. He served as the tenth president of Goucher College between 2001 and 2014. Previously, Sandy was director of Voice of America, the U.S. government’s principal international broadcasting agency, in the Clinton administration. A respected educator, he was dean of the School of Communication at American University. He has extensive journalism experience at Foreign Policy, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic, and he was an award-winning co-host of All Things Considered at NPR. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the London School of Economics and the author or editor of six nonfiction books.


Matt BaileyMatt Bailey is PEN America’s new Digital Freedom Program Director, focusing on issues ranging from surveillance and disinformation to digital inclusion that affect journalists and writers around the world. Matt previously served as a senior advisor for the National Democratic Institute. Before that, he was a civil servant in the Office of the United States Chief Information Officer under two presidents. While at the White House, Matt helped launch the first-ever U.S. government-wide open source and legislative data initiatives. Previously, he served the city of Washington, D.C., as its first director of technology innovation. He holds an M.A. in English Literature from Georgetown University.

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