Center for Democracy and Technology

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Center for Democracy
& Technology
FoundedDecember 1994
FounderJerry Berman, Janlori Goldman, Deirdre Mulligan, Jonah Seiger, Daniel Weitzner
TypeNon-profit organization
Key people
President & Chief Executive Officer Nuala O'Connor
Revenue (2017)
Expenses (2017)$3,688,230[1]

Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen individual rights and freedoms by defining, promoting, and influencing technology policy and the architecture of the Internet.[2]

As an organization with expertise in law, technology, and policy, the CDT works to preserve the unique nature of the Internet, enhance freedom of expression globally, protect fundamental rights of privacy, and protect stronger legal controls on government surveillance by finding practical and innovative solutions to public policy challenges while protecting civil liberties. CDT is dedicated to building consensus among all parties interested in the future of the Internet and other new communications media.[3] In addition to its office in Washington, D.C., CDT has a full-time presence in Brussels.

Today, CDT has expanded its scope to include tech policy issues across disciplines and borders, continuing to work to protect privacy, promote security, and draw attention to all the ways in which technology changes the landscape of democracy. CDT relies on an expertise-based advocacy model and acts as a non-partisan body, drawing together perspectives and voices from varying backgrounds to emphasize the importance of technology's role in the freedom, expression, security, privacy, and integrity of the individual. CDT advises government officials, agencies, corporations, and civil society on technology and technology-related policy.



CDT was founded in 1994 by Jerry Berman, the former executive director and former policy director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Specifically, passage of Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which expanded law enforcement wiretapping capabilities by requiring telephone companies to design their networks to ensure a certain basic level of government access, spurred Berman to found CDT.[4] Recognizing a threat to privacy and innovation in CALEA's design mandates, CDT fought the passage of the CALEA and later worked to ensure that its implementation would not extend to the Internet. In the end, CALEA did not contain wiretapping design mandates for the Internet and required transparency surrounding design standards. CDT's launch was assisted by seed donations from AT&T Corporation, Bell Atlantic, Nynex, Apple, and Microsoft.[5]


In its early years, CDT fought the Communications Decency Act (CDA) in its attempt to restrict free expression online for the sake of child safety. CDT founded the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition (CIEC), a coalition of free speech groups and tech companies for the advancement of free speech. Against the proposed government censorship of the CDA, the CIEC maintained that both child safety and free speech could be protected by giving users the right to control their own content access.[6] To provide further context for the case, CDT wired the courtroom so that the judges of Philadelphia's District Court could see the Internet.[6] After combining forces with the ACLU, the CIEC's counsel argued the case before the Supreme Court. The CDA was struck down unanimously in 1997.

In the following year, CDT helped to craft the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. Testifying before Congress, CDT argued that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should be able to develop rules to protect both adults' and children's privacy online. Forming a coalition of free expression and youth rights groups, CDT and its coalition secured an amendment to limit parental consent to children 12 and under, allowing teenagers to enjoy more freedom online.

In a 1999 report, CDT made clear that the Federal Election Commission's (FEC) attempts to regulate online political speech according to campaign finance laws were impractical and to the detriment of civic political engagement.[6] CDT worked against the FEC's proposal with an organized group of online activists and bloggers. In collaboration with the Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet, CDT created guidelines to help the FEC and Congress consider their treatment of citizens' political speech online. In support, hundreds of concerned parties signed onto the listing of principles, urging the FEC to drop its proposed rules and Congress to end the rule-making. CDT's grassroots advocacy reversed the tide. The FEC abandoned its proposal and issued a new rule that applied campaign finance regulations only to paid online advertising, protecting the online political speech of citizens.[6]


CDT launched the Global Internet Policy Initiative in 2000, partnering with Internews to survey 11 developing countries to assess their telecom and Internet policies. CDT staff worked with Frank LaRue to shape a report on Internet human rights and the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council to educate members of the Council on Internet freedom in advance of the successful Resolution on Internet Freedom.

Following an influx of spyware in 2003, CDT filed complaints against egregious actors with the FTC, resulting in historic settlements against spyware companies. CDT pulled together anti-spyware and anti-virus companies, leading security product distributors, and public interest groups to create the Anti-Spyware Coalition (ASC).[7] The ASC developed a self-regulatory model for companies based on shared definitions of spyware, a comprehensive risk model, best practices for software companies, and a concise vendor conflict resolution process.[7] Using the ASC outputs, anti-spyware companies could label malicious software and protect consumers without fear of being sued by the companies they were targeting, and advertisers could keep better track of where their advertisements were displayed.

In 2006, CDT united with the Business for Social Responsibility to assemble human rights advocates, companies, researchers, and investors to deal with government calls for censorship and restriction of information access.[6] The pairing has successfully worked together to create an accountability framework and principles for the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a human rights organization that promotes the privacy of individual users while preventing online censorship by authoritarian governments.[6]

In 2007, CDT was among the first advocacy organizations to formally call for a Do Not Track (DNT) list from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).[8] In addition, CDT has played an integral role in pushing for a standardized DNT header at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).[9] In 2010, the FTC requested a system that would allow consumers to control whether they were tracked online. In response, all five major browsers put DNT features into place, granting users the ability to surf the web incognito. The W3C formed a Tracking Protection Working Group in order to standardize the DNT compliance, which CDT leadership had a prominent role in.[6][10]


CDT has also voiced privacy concerns about "deep packet inspection" (DPI), a technology that allows companies to collect data from Internet service providers (ISPs) and categorize individual Internet traffic streams to service ads based on that information without user consent.[11] CDT conducted legal analysis to show how DPI advertising practices could violate the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and testified before Congress. In 2009, major ISPs affirmed that they would not use DPI-based behavioral advertising without robust opt-in provisions. In the same year, CDT started the Health Privacy Project to bring expertise to complex privacy issues surrounding technology use in health care.[12] A year later, CDT recommended new guidelines for reporting data breaches and for protecting health data used in marketing. These guidelines were incorporated into the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Later in 2010, CDT launched the Digital Due Process Coalition, establishing four principles for Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) reform.[13] Currently, the coalition has over one hundred members including some of the biggest Internet companies to advocacy groups across the entire political spectrum. The campaign for ECPA reform has brought the need for extending full constitutional protections to the Internet to the forefront of the national debate and has resulted in 2013 coalition-supported bipartisan bills in both houses of Congress.[7]

Two copyright enforcement bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), were introduced to the US Congress in 2010 and 2011. Both bills posed serious threats to the technical grounds of the Internet, as well as freedom of expression online, by increasing the role of ISPs and Internet intermediaries in combating online copyright infringement.[6][14][15] In opposition to SOPA and PIPA, the CDT gathered organizations from technical and civil society backgrounds. The efforts of CDT provided critical legal analysis which laid the foundation for 2012's surge of grassroots resistance against SOPA and PIPA.

CDT was one of the few civil society organizations involved in the founding of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), encouraging a bottom-up style of governance and making certain that the voice of the Internet users be included at the table.[6][16] In the ICANN deliberations, CDT argued for public representation and for the placement of a Civil Society representative on its Board. In helping to form the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) Principles for Internet Policy Making in 2011, CDT also pushed for a multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance. OECD's 34 member states committed to respect human rights, open governance, rule of law, and consideration of numerous viewpoints by accepting the principles.[6][17]


At the International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in 2012, CDT brought inclusive Internet governance into focus.[18][19] Though many governments came bearing proposals to escalate government and ITU control over Internet governance, CDT defeated all such proposals through organized civil society advocacy. In addition, CDT fortified relationships between organizations for the sake of future advocacy efforts. Even now, inclusive Internet governance faces serious obstacles as nations scramble to respond to news of the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance. CDT continues to work with an expanding group of partners motivated by civil society concern to preserve the free and open nature of the Internet.

CDT requested Congress make Congressional Research Services Reports (CRS) publicly available and easily accessible. When Congress failed to do so, CDT started a website,, that made CRS reports freely available online. was one of the leading sources of CRS reports. By collecting CRS reports acquired by organizations and citizens through direct appeals to their representatives, the OpenCRS website served as a valuable repository of information. Though no longer in operation, the OpenCRS inspired other CRS websites and open resources.[20]

CDT has long been an active supporter of Internet neutrality. In a brief filed in 2012, CDT supported the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Open Internet Rules.[21] The rules detailed the limited role of the agency by blocking discrimination by broadband providers. In this way, the FCC intended to protect online free expression and innovation. In 2014, the Open Internet Rules were struck down, drawing CDT back into the fight for Internet neutrality on a global scale.[22] By offering up extensive expertise, CDT has ensured that any EU regulation on Internet neutrality takes into account the central tenet of nondiscrimination.

In the early 1990s, the NSA developed and promoted the "clipper chip", an encryption device for telephone calls.[23] The NSA argued that government access to cryptographic keys was essential to national security – CDT and its allies claimed that the clipper chip would introduce greater vulnerabilities into the country's communications networks. In 2013, on behalf of a coalition of Internet companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter and advocates for free speech and privacy rights such as ACLU, EFF, and Mozilla, CDT delivered a "We Need To Know" letter to U.S. government officials, demanding greater transparency in matters of national security-related surveillance of Internet and telephone communications.[10] Advocating for reform, CDT's firm stance is that the NSA's surveillance programs and its interference with Internet security infringe on privacy, are chilling free speech and association, and threaten the free flow of information that is the foundation of the open Internet.[24] As an advocacy organization, CDT has outlined key reforms to NSA surveillance.[25]

Project teams[edit]

Privacy and data[edit]

CDT's Privacy and Data Project examines the evolving role of technology in daily life, considering its influence on individuals, communities, and law. In identifying emerging issues and collaborating with companies and public officials, CDT's privacy experts are able to develop forward-thinking technical and policy solutions. Among the topics covered by CDT's Privacy and Data team are Health Privacy, the Internet of Things, Broadband Privacy, Drones, Student Privacy, and Digital Decisions. Additionally, CDT heads the State Privacy Resource Center, which serves as a repository of information to help policymakers at the state and local level craft privacy legislation.[26]

Free expression[edit]

Today's tech affords individuals the ability to communicate, receive, publish, and interpret information and ideas like never before. Understanding that the free flow of information is essential to any healthy democratic process, CDT's Free Expression Project works both to ensure that free speech protections extend to online expression and to block censorship and content gatekeeping. As new platforms for discourse emerge and revolutionize the application of the First Amendment, maintaining the integrity of a user-defined online experience is of utmost importance. Currently, CDT's Free Expression team focuses on issues of Digital Copyright, Intermediary Liability, Children's Privacy, and Net Neutrality.[27]

Security and surveillance[edit]

The technological advancements of today allow governments the means to access troves of personal information by collecting and analyzing the data generated and stored on the devices of individuals. Reasonable, and effectively enforced, checks need to be placed on governments' access to and use of individuals' data to preserve the rights to privacy and free expression. Security must exist in accordance with individual freedoms; it is clear that balanced policies and laws are the only way to achieve both aims. The Security and Surveillance Project of CDT fights to put those balanced checks in place, presently considering issues of ECPA reform, cybersecurity, U.S. government surveillance, drones, and encryption and government hacking.[28]

Internet architecture[edit]

If human rights are to thrive in modernity, the values of individual security, privacy, and free expression must be considered with regard to the increasingly digital world. Principles must be ingrained in the foundation of technology, guiding future development and imagined uses. CDT's Internet Architecture team uses their technical expertise to influence legislation, understanding the importance of informed policy-making. Today, CDT's Internet Architecture team focuses on online anonymity and encryption, the standards that govern the technical decisions of internet operation, net neutrality, government surveillance, internet governance policies at across the globe, cybersecurity research, and election security and privacy.[29]

European Union[edit]

When it comes to influencing technology policy on a global scale, the perspective and performance of the EU factors in significantly. With a full-time presence in Brussels, CDT is able to promote the fundamental principles of an open and inclusive Internet in collaboration with the EU's Member States, civil society, public institutions, and technology sector. CDT's EU Office focuses on the policy areas of digital copyright, intermediary liability and free expression, surveillance and government access to personal data, net neutrality, internet governance, and data protection and privacy. The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), EU net neutrality policy, European Commission's cybersecurity strategy, and the EU intellectual property enforcement directive are among the issues that CDT's Brussels Office has actively engaged with.[30]


One-third of CDT's funding comes from foundations and associated grants such as the MacArthur Foundation,[31] while another third of the organization's annual budget comes from various industry sources. The remainder is split among an annual fundraising dinner known in DC circles as the "tech prom",[32] Cy Pres awards, and other sources.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Center for Democracy and Technology" (PDF). Foundation Center. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  2. ^ Helft, Miguel (March 30, 2010). "Technology Coalition Seeks Stronger Privacy Laws". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Nissenbaum, Helen (2009-11-24). Privacy in Context: Technology. ISBN 9780804772891. Retrieved August 24, 2010.
  4. ^ "CDT Timeline". Archived from the original on 2014-06-06. Retrieved 2014-06-09.
  5. ^ Meeks, Brock (December 20, 1994). "Changes in the Wind At EFF". Cyberwire Dispatch. Archived from the original on December 2, 2008. Retrieved April 8, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "CDT Highlights". CDT Highlights, iStrategyLabs. Archived from the original on 2014-06-06.
  7. ^ a b "Remarks of Deborah Platt Majoras" (PDF). The Federal Trade Commission. February 9, 2006.
  8. ^ "CDT Proposes That FTC Create a Do Not Track List for Consumer Internet Use". Tech Law Journal. October 31, 2007.
  9. ^ "Tracking Preference Expression (DNT)".
  10. ^ "Tracking Protection Working Group".
  11. ^ "Deep packet inspection: The smart person's guide". March 9, 2017.
  12. ^ "New Health Privacy Project is Launched". Healthcare IT News. March 11, 2008.
  13. ^ "Digital Due Process Coalition Looks to Update Online Privacy Laws". March 30, 2010.
  14. ^ Magid, Larry (January 18, 2012). "What Are SOPA And PIPA And Why All The Fuss".
  15. ^ "Anti-Piracy Bills SOPA and PIPA Remain a Threat to Open Internet". January 18, 2012.
  16. ^ Scola, Nancy (October 7, 2014). "ICANN chief: "The whole world is watching" the U.S.'s net neutrality debate". The Washington Post.
  17. ^ "What is the OECD?". US Mission to the Organization For Economic Cooperation & Development.
  18. ^ "CDT to ITU: Promote Access and Openness, Don't Stifle It". November 12, 2012.
  19. ^ "Corporate Responsibility and Global Internet Governance" (PDF). October 2012.
  20. ^ "About".
  21. ^ "CDT Files Motion to Intervene in Support of Open Internet Order". May 15, 2015.
  22. ^ "Comments of the Center of Democracy & Technology" (PDF). July 17, 2017.
  23. ^ Levy, Stephen (1994). "Battle of the Clipper Chip". The New York Times.
  24. ^ "TF, CDT, and 40 others tell Congress what real NSA reform should look like". Tech Freedom. April 1, 2014.
  25. ^ Geiger, Harley (March 14, 2014). "Four Key Reforms for NSA Surveillance".
  26. ^ "Center for Democracy and Technology Privacy & Data Project".
  27. ^ "Center for Democracy and Technology Free Expression Project".
  28. ^ "Center for Democracy and Technology Security & Surveillance Project".
  29. ^ "Center for Democracy and Technology Internet Architecture Team".
  30. ^ "Center for Democracy and Technology European Union".
  31. ^ "Center for Democracy and Technology". MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved 2014-06-09.
  32. ^ "Case Study: Curley Company Creates Annual "Must Attend" Event for Washington, D.C. Technology Community". Curley Company. Retrieved 19 January 2020.
  33. ^ "Financial Statements for the Year Ended December 31, 2017" (PDF). Center for Democracy and Technology. Retrieved 29 September 2018.

External links[edit]