My name is Heather Burns and I am a tech policy and regulation specialist. I research, write, publish, consult, and speak extensively on digital regulations and political issues, most specifically those that affect web development. My mission is to educate digital professionals on the legal and political issues that impact our work, empower them to comply responsibly, and inspire them to view constructive political involvement as a cornerstone of professionalism.
I have been designing web sites since 1997, 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 client-facing work was with charities, not-for-profits, and third sector organisations in Scotland. I have now chosen to focus exclusively on my tech policy and regulation work.
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 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’m helping 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.
It’s a source of great pride to me that my work has allowed me to speak to diverse audiences in eight countries, to advise Parliament on web accessibility issues, and to help project maintainers overcome the cultural and legal differences which previously divided them. While it’s easy to feel pessimistic or even aggressive about the issues which face us, they are all within our power to impact for the better, and it is a privilege to inspire people to work for positive change. If you’d like to work with me to make this happen, let’s talk.
Education and personal life
In 2015 I earned a postgraduate certificate in Internet Law and Policy from the University of Strathclyde. Before web design existed as a career I earned a BA in International Affairs from The George Washington University in 2000. In my Washington years, I cut my teeth working on Capitol Hill, in think tanks, and at an international nonprofit. These hands-on experiences helped me to understand the capital-P and small p- politics that go into the formulation and dissemination of laws and policies, and the need to participate constructively at all stages of the process.
I live in Glasgow, Scotland, surrounded by books and plants and neverending French pop playlists. I drink too much coffee and am probably on a train. You are always welcome to buy me more books.