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The Privacy Advisor | Georgetown Law Center Aims To Bridge the Gap Between Technologists and Privacy Lawyers Related reading: FTC announces final agenda for ed tech workshop

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A significant problem plaguing the privacy industry today is the inability of those who aren’t technologists to understand how products work. It can be especially detrimental in privacy law cases, in which lawyers must be able to understand the technology in order to understand the facts of the case, or in legislative processes, where decisions could have profound impacts on the citizenry’s e-mail, telephone or location privacy.

It’s with all of this in mind that the Georgetown University Law Center is looking to expand its footprint on privacy and train the next generation of leaders in privacy practice, policy-making and advocacy. This week, it announced the launch of its Center on Privacy and Technology in an effort to pull from the school’s well-established pool of legal expertise to impact privacy debates in federal and state legislatures, regulatory agencies and the academic world.

The school has tapped Alvaro Bedoya, chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy and to Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), to serve as its first executive director. Its faculty will include Profs. Julie Cohen, Laura Donohue, Angela Campbell and David Vladeck, former director of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It’s being funded in large part by a grant from the Ford Foundation.

Vladeck told The Privacy Advisor his experience at the FTC illustrated for him the importance of creating meaningful dialogue between technologists and lawyers, especially. The team heading up the center, combined with Bedoya’s relationships with political insiders on the Hill, should translate to a wealth of experts in both technology and law.

These days, you really can’t talk about privacy without being literate in privacy issues.
David Vladeck

“This center will bring in technologists who have learned the art of talking to lawyers,” Vladeck said. “I worked with a number of lawyers at the FTC who had great facility in explaining what’s going on behind the screen in a way that’s accessible to non-technological people.”

There’s a need for that.

In that vein, the Georgetown University Law is actively trying to recruit technologists, including the University of Colorado Law School’s Paul Om, who, Vladeck quips, “has 13 computers working at home and writes code for fun. Access to good technologists has not been a problem for us.”

There’s an enormous demand for privacy lawyers right now, Vladeck said, and now is the time to train the next generation of lawyers. To do that properly, though, there’s got to be some literacy training involved. The center will help with that.

“Part of this was purely academic, to make sure we had programs that met the needs of our students,” Vladeck said of the reasons behind launching the center. These days, he said, being privacy-literate means more than just being able to read books on privacy law, and the student body is interested in that.

“There’s an enormous interest … to really learn not just privacy law on the books but, as Deirdre Mulligan and Kenneth Bamberger would say, ‘privacy on the ground,’” he said. “How is privacy law practiced? What do you need to do to be able to do it? We offer privacy law courses, but we don’t really offer courses that give students a chance to work on these issues.”

Students will be able to “roll up their sleeves” and engage with technologists and faculty staff to learn how to participate in debates about privacy policy, with the overall aim being to—in the end—formulate good policies that can be shared with the legislators, regulators and companies charged with implementing such policies. That’s where some of Bedoya’s contacts may come in handy.

“Alvaro is someone with very deep experience in formulating privacy policy,” Vladeck said. “He’s literally been at the center of it. All of the important privacy issues of the day have run through his subcommittee.”

Though it’s thus far uncertain what shape the center’s pool of knowledge and talent will take, Vladeck said he can envision the release of position papers aiming to inform debate on the very important privacy issues discussed on Capitol Hill.

“I can certainly foresee us writing a whitepaper and explaining some of the difficult privacy policy issues to Hill staff,” Vladeck said, particularly the issues of the day in commercial privacy.

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