Paula Cipierre experienced what life with little privacy can feel like as a teenager. At sixteen, the daughter of a German mother and an English father left Germany to spend the last two years of her schooling at an international boarding school, the United World College in Norway. “We were housed in rooms of five,” the 32-year-old recalls. “My bedmates included girls from Lithuania, Norway, Tibet, and Western Sahara, two of whom were refugees.”
Sixteen years later, Paula Cipierre is an expert on privacy issues as EU head of privacy and public policy at software maker Palantir Technologies. The company offers – quite controversially – products such as the Gotham platform, which security agencies use in law enforcement and defense. Here, software engineers and data scientists work hand in hand with lawyers and ethics experts. Paula Cipierre is still in daily contact with a wide variety of people from a wide variety of backgrounds – possibly because she herself likes to take unusual paths.
From linguistics to data protection
Cipierre is one of a handful of young women working on data protection issues at a software company. She is a humanities and cultural studies graduate: She studied French literature, European cultural studies, and Middle Eastern studies, all at the renowned Princeton University in the USA. In 2012, while studying for her master’s degree in public policy at the Hertie School of Governance, she helped organize a conference on the then-planned EU General Data Protection Regulation as a student assistant at the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG). Since then, she has not let go of the topic with its legal and cultural facets.
Shortly after Edward Snowden revealed that Internet users are being spied on by the US Foreign Intelligence Service, Paula Cipierre devoted her master’s thesis to transatlantic privacy governance, then began a Ph.D. in “Media, Culture, and Communication” with a philosopher at New York University – on the topic of how to incorporate legal and normative privacy requirements into the design of new technologies from the outset. This is a topic that otherwise mainly occupies lawyers and computer scientists.
Interdisciplinary thinking in the business enterprise
Cipierre put her doctorate on hold at the end of 2016 to join Palantir, first in New York, then in Munich, and finally in Berlin. “I wanted to be closer to the topics I had been researching for years.”
As the company’s Privacy and Public Policy Officer, her responsibilities now include explaining to government and private customers, as well as the broader public, how Palantir handles data privacy and data ethics in practice: “In both the government and commercial sectors, we work on socially important issues. As a company, we want to communicate transparently: what can our platforms do? And what protections are built into them?”
Cipierre lives in Berlin and is currently studying information technology law part-time, so she is also continuing her legal education – and still benefits from her first degree, during which she learned French, Spanish, and also Hebrew: “In different languages, people think differently about certain concepts. Programming languages are also languages. Now I help translate legal and ethical principles into our software.” Janna Degener-Storr