Making it Real: Legal Hacking Comes to DUMBO (and London and San Francisco…)

For almost two years now the Legal Hackers community has brought lawyers, politicians, technologists, advocates, artists, and business people together to explore and create alternative solutions to pressing legal and regulatory problems.  Two weekends ago, we made a substantial step forward in putting those discussions to practice.

On February 8th and 9th in DUMBO, a group of talented lawyers, coders, and policy heads came together to talk about issues surrounding data privacy and, more impressively, build actual solutions.  The weekend was sponsored and organized by a host of generous organizations, Clio and Kelley Drye & Warren LLP being particularly generous in sponsoring this groundbreaking event in the New York City location.

This Data Privacy Legal Hackathon wasn’t just your grandpa’s “eventing”-worthy unconference.  Legal Hackers, teaming up with Open Notice and Customer Commons to provide working venues across the globe, asked participants to build solutions to data-privacy problems in a little over twenty-four hours.  In the end, we awarded the best project with $1000 cash and the glory of a 1st Place title.

Here’s a recap of the weekend for your geeking pleasure–

Day 1:

A panel of experts, moderated by Professor Jonathan Askin of Brooklyn Law School, opened the day with an engaged and diverse conversation on current and future issues in data privacy. Panelists included David Wainberg (AppNexus), Doc Searls (VRM Harvard Berkman Center), K. Krasnow Waterman (MIT), Amyt Eckstein (Moses & Singer), and Dona Fraser (ESRB).  The entire panel can be viewed here.

Following the panel, participants began to break off into teams to get their projects underway. The projects and teams across all venues can be viewed here.

After some team building and working, we were honored with two compelling mid-day presentations from Susan Herman (President of the ACLU) and the honorable Ann Aiken (Chief Judge, District of Oregon). Susan Herman discussed the pressing need for data privacy solutions, litigation, and even private-industry pressure, in the context of a government-surveilled world that endangers individuals’ rights to engage in public protest and private whistleblowing.

Judge Aiken shifted our focus to the issue of parolee re-entry and reducing recidivism. Judge Aiken’s concept, which was originally presented at Reinvent Law in April of 2013, is a holistic, tech-enabled system to improve two-way communication between parolees and the government–specifically, a smartphone application that connects parolees directly to important re-entry resources while simultaneously collecting deep data about the parolee’s location, actions, and safety.  Professor Jonathan Askin raised an issue here in the context of our theme for the weekend: what sorts of safeguards will be put in place to ensure the privacy of these parolees?  After some discussion, Judge Aiken’s presentation and call to action became a huge rallying point for the event and resulted in a group forming around the idea, proving later to be one of the most popular projects of the weekend (second place in our competition: Re-Entry).  Their elegant response to Askin’s question was the following: parolees do not have much by way of privacy to begin with; it is therefore our responsibility to find a mechanism that “graduates” parolees from the prison system and recaptures that privacy, including the provision of direct access to personal information the government collects.  Re-entry’s application model, they claim, will allow for this recapture.


Susan Herman (left) and Hon. Ann Aiken (right).

Work ensued from there.

Day 2:

“Take My Photo Down” on the left; and “GhostDrop,” presenting, on the right.

Day two was mostly work, but ended with our project presentations, judging, and announcement of winners.

Our New York winners were the following projects–

Second Runner-Up: ToS Helper

First Runner-Up: Re-Entry

And the grand prize winner


The winners, GhostDrop, described their project as “SnapChat” for sensitive document transfer.  Through the service, the transmitting user (perhaps a whistleblower or a client) can set a time limit for the recipient to access the document, after which the document disappears from the service.  Congratulations to them!

You can also see all three hackathon winners’ presentations (from London, NYC and San Francisco) here.  You can view the three winners from New York, London, and San Francisco here—along with the full judging criteria here.


It was tough picking “winners” here, in all.  The winners, really, were the public, who are now benefiting from the amazing discussions, connections and inventions forged over the course of two days, across three cities and two countries.  We look forward to our next hackathon, and we look forward to seeing you there!

Thanks to MakerBot for this great trophy!

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