Syllabus: CSE 125, Technology and Policy

Jonathan M. Smith and Matthew A. Blaze


Have you ever wondered why sharing music and video generates such political and legal controversies? Is information on your PC safe and should law enforcement be able to access information you enter on the Web? Will new devices allow tracking of your every move and every purchase?


CSE 125 is focused on developing an understanding of existing and emerging technologies, along with the political, societal and economic impacts of those technologies. The technologies are spread across a number of engineering areas and each of them raise issues that are of current concern or are likely to be a future issue.


Readings are deliberately chosen to be provocative and possibly polarizing, with the goal of understanding the tensions that must be addressed in discussing the technology policies.   Each lecture is self-contained, and will start by introducing the technology at issue, explain some of its attractions and potential pitfalls, and continues into a discussion of policy choices.  This syllabus represents an initial version of the course topics and suggested readings to be covered in Spring 2007; however, it will evolve and respond to emerging technology and policy challenges.


The course has no formal pre-requisites, but it is expected that students will have a genuine curiosity and willingness to learn about technologies in sufficient detail to be capable of making well-reasoned policy judgments of their own, on both what is covered in the course and technologies they may encounter in the future.

Grades will be based on class participation, short written essays on each topic covered, as well as a significant final paper on an emerging technology and policy concerns associated with it.


Required Texts:

            Simson Garfinkel, “Database Nation”,

            Lawrence Lessig, “Code: Version 2.0

            David Brin, “The Transparent Society

            Neville Shute, “On the Beach

All of these books are available in paperback.


Topics (with associated background materials) for Spring Semester 2007 are:


Class 1: Digital Rights Management, Digital Content


Class 2: Computer Security



Class 3: Network Security



Class 4: Economics of Security



Class 5: Privacy in Databases

            Garfinkel, “Database Nation”


Class 6: Healthcare Information and HIPPA

            Garfinkel, “Database Nation”


Class 7: Privacy and the Nation State

            Garfinkel, “Database Nation”


Class 8: Privacy and the Internet, Google

            Garfinkel, “Database Nation”


Class 9: Economics of Privacy, Price Discrimination



Class 10: Electronic Voting Risks – Including Voter Registration

            Arbaugh, “The Real Risk of Digital Voting,” IEEE Computer


Class 11: Open Source Software and GPL

            Raymond, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”


Class 12: Software Patents



Class 13: Blogging and protections for Journalists



Class 14: Biometrics, Pervasive Cameras, “Lie Detectors”



Class 15: Genetic Data, Customized Medicine, Insurance



Class 16: Biotechnology, Systems Biology


Class 17: Gene Therapies, Genetically-Modified Food



Class 18: Nanosystems and their risks


Class 19: Traffic and Congestion Pricing



Class 20: Network Neutrality





Class 21: RF and Spectrum Management



Class 22: Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID)



Class 25: Nuclear Weapons/Nuclear Energy

            Shute, “On the Beach”


Class 26: Technological Risk Assessment



Class 27: Consumer Behavior and Novel Technologies



Class 28: Technologies, Terrorism and Society