Mock Congressional Hearing

Assignment Sheet Overview

The “final” for this class will be an in class final that will require you to take on the role of either a member of Congress, or a specific interest group in a Congressional Hearing on privacy and technology. Specifically the hearing will focus on the roll of encryption and what/if anything the legislature should do to regulate encryption technologies. For the final you will need to research your role/perspective and come prepared to “perform” (read: articulate, explain, and embody) that perspective.

Format on the Day of the Hearing

Introduction by Chairperson framing the events and the hearing to follow: 5 minutes. 3 sets of Witness Panels: 30 minutes each

Each Witness has a 3-5 minute opening statement. After the statements by all the three witnesses in that group we will open to questioning by committee members.

Note in the interest of time we will forgo the usual opening remarks that each committee member makes individually.

First Make List of Resources

Annotated Bibliography with the resources you will use to research your role.

Position Paper

Due April 27th in class. (Please print and bring with you.)

The second piece you will need to turn in, in preparation for the Mock Congressional Hearing final is a position paper that articulates your person’s/institution’s perspective on the issues. This is a broad/high level overview. This should be written from the perspective and in the voice of your person/institution, i.e. “in character.” So for example if you are Facebook, you would want to say “we” believe, we being Facebook. If you are a legislator you want to say “I.”

Guidelines

These should be roughly three pages (900 words). They are due on April 27th.

Legislators: This should take the form of what you would normally have as your “opening remarks.” (Keep in mind you will not actually read these on the day of the final due to time). These remarks should begin with what you see as the important issue(s) at stake, the broad (big) issue. The remainder of the remarks should spell out your position and why you hold that outlook, closing with what you see as the key areas of concerns. I will collate these and distribute them to everyone so they can be read ahead of the final.

Witnesses: This should take the form of your opening statement that you will read on the day of the congressional hearing. You should start by explaining (just a few sentences) who you are, and what organization you represent. The majority of your statement should focus on what you/your organization sees as the central question here, clearly spelling out your beliefs. Every witness has a serious/invested/strong opinion on this matter. Your job is to spell that out and try and convince people your take is correct. Within the context of the hearing you probably won’t convince and of the legislators, their mind is already made up, you can though “play to the public.” This should be about three minutes long.

Reporters: This should take the form of your initial article explaining the hearing to your readership. You want to both convey what is at stake to your readers (the broad issues), and articulate what is likely to happen in the hearing. (Note this might require more than 900 words.)

Timeline Hearing

April 13th: List of Resources/Research: (Annotated Bibliography-ish)

April 27th: Opening Statement or Position Perspective Due
May 9th: In Class Final

Where to Start Legislators

Begin by researching your congressperson. Two good places to start would be (1) the Wikipedia page (2) his/her own website. Keep in mind that both of these are only one accounts of said person. The Wikipedia page while striving towards nuetral will not give you the complete picture, and the congresspersons own page will present things in the best light. You should read the links especially in the Wikipedia page, the ones that go to the original sources, certainly on anything describing their “technology views.”

Take care to notice several things. First who their constituency is, California congress people have very different interests (protecting business models) over say someone in another part of the country (who might privelege defense or the views of those that elect them). Second look to understand their ideological position. These are always more complicated then something like Republican versus Democract, Left vs. Right, COnservative vs. Liberal. Instead what is your person’s world view, how do they approach the world. Do they think first about individualism, minimal government, or more about business concerns and helping companies, or maybe they are focused more on larger social problems. People’s views on technology and privacy are first shaped by their own interests and philosophies and only secondarily by the actual “facts” and technology.

Once you have done all of this, and this will take you much longer than in class. You should look to understand your person’s position on technology and specifically encryption. You probably want to follow the two links on the original assignment sheet and listen to their questioning/performance.

Keep in mind this is very much a performance, congress people aren’t after learning in these hearings they are looking to push their agenda and score points. So while you will want to focus on the question of encryption you might also use this to “score points,” for example Rand Paul on NSA overreach or John Conyers on Civil Liberties, or Zoe Lofgren on the importance of the Silicon Valley to the US economy.

Interest Groups

Begin by researching your organization, institution, or company. The first thing you want to understand is what the over arching mission of your organization is. That is before even thinking about encryption find out what your organization exits to do, both in terms of outward organization (Facebook wants to connect the world) and inward motives (Facebook really wants to make a lot of money). Start at the organizations website to get a sense of how they present themselves to the world, but also check out background info on things like Wikipedia.
Next take a look at your organizations public positions on these issues, look at hearings, publicity statements, and past actions. You also want to see what they have done at past congressional hearings. Each organization and institution has an agenda they want to push (winning the court of public opinion) while also accomplishing other things (protecting stockholder value, or getting congress to pass legislation, or getting increased power to pursue aims). Think about all of this and understand that this is a performance, where you are both protecting your organization and looking to promote its goals. You wanna figure out what your go to answer will be in each case, how you would respond to both friendly questioning, and less friendly questioning.

Reporters

You should pick four different publications, one technology publication, and one mainstream press (and two others). Research how they have covered these issues in the past. Your goal is to cover the hearing, ahead of time with some “articles” and during with “coverage.” You also want to cover it for your audience, that is perform as if you were from that specific media organization.

Next you will look to write an “explainer” article for your audience. Prepare the journalism pieces that would be published by said organization prior to the day of the hearing.