Compassion, to be effective, requires detailed knowledge and understanding of how society works. Any social system in turn requires men and women in it of imagination and goodwill. What would be fatal would be for those with exceptional human insight and concern to concentrate on ministering to individuals, whilst those accepting responsibility for the design and management of organisations were left to become technocrats. What is important is that institutions and their administration be constantly tested against human values, and that those who are concerned about these values be prepared to grapple with the complex realities of modern society as it is.Grigor McClelland, 1976

My name is Heather Burns and I am a tech policy and regulation specialist. I advocate for an open web built around international standards of human rights, privacy, accessibility, and freedom of expression.

I’m currently employed by Open Rights Group, though this is very much my personal site, and one which does not reflect the opinions of my employer.

Meandering Backstory

Photo by Pradeep Singh – WordCamp London 2017

I designed my first web site in 1996, when it involved using a phone tethered to a laptop to dial in to a text-only Unix terminal, and was a full-time professional web site designer from 2007-2015. My work in tech policy began in late 2011, when I volunteered to speak on the topic at a web development conference. Preparing that talk opened my eyes to the massive and counterproductive gap between the black-and-white world of legislators and the practical realities of the web design and development professions, and what started as a simple presentation ended up changing the course of my career.

While I am not a lawyer, most of the legislators who create digital laws are not internet users, much less developers or digital strategists. Many digital professionals, for their part, defiantly reject constructive involvement in the political processes which create the laws that shape their work. Therein lies the problem. I view my work on digital law and policy as an attempt to build a bridge between the two parties.

In August 2018 I was flattered to be named as Smashing Magazine’s Person of the Week for my work on GDPR and privacy. Photo taken by some Geordie in a Belgrade dive bar run by two refugees from Reading ’94.

In 2014 I wrote my first book to help the web community get to grips with EU e-commerce reforms. In 2015 I wrote for A List Apart and spoke to an international audience at WordCamp Europe on ten days’ notice. In 2016 I began to raise awareness about the potentially catastrophic issues which Brexit and Donald Trump presented for digital professionals on both sides of the Atlantic (and I hate to say it, but I was right.) In 2017 I helped to set up independent, adversarial industry body for digital professionals; got a shout out in the House of Commons; showed up in the Tavern; spilled my guts in HeroPress; helped to organise the best local WordCamp ever; moved a few audience members to tears; and moved other audience members to something else entirely. In 2018 I became a component maintainer for the core privacy team in WordPress.org, helped create a suite of GDPR and privacy tools shipped in WordPress 4.9.6, began work on establishing a cross-project open source privacy coalition, and created a side blog to monitor the transposition of EU digital and tech regulations throughout the Brexit process. In 2019 I helped tech businesses navigate Brexit while continuing to advocate for privacy both within companies and in open source, while also working intensely on UK domestic tech policy as its post-European shape becomes clearer. In 2020 I’m all in on UK domestic policy as well as the next five years of European digital strategy, while working on global privacy standards too.

In 2020, I hung up my freelancing mouse and went to work full time with Open Rights Group. This site will remain up for reference and for the odd personal blog post.

Contact information

Location: Glasgow, Scotland, Europe

Email: contact at webdevlaw.uk

Social: LinkedIn // Twitter: @webdevlaw // Github repo // Zuckervegan

Work: Open Rights Group

Listed on Brookings Tech Policy Sourcelist and Mozilla Pulse

Portrait photography © Julie Broadfoot – www.juliebee.co.uk.
High-res version for print available on request – please ask me.