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9, 19

Influential privacy scholar Joel Reidenberg died after a long battle with leukemia. He was 59. 

Reidenberg was Fordham University's Stanley D. and Nikki Waxberg Chair in Law and the founder of the Center on Law and Information Policy. He was also the inaugural Microsoft Visiting Professor of Information Technology Policy at Princeton University. 

Joel Reidenberg

He influenced a generation of privacy students, scholars, professionals and policymakers over the course of the last 30 years and published a number of well-respected articles on privacy, including "Lex Informatica: The Formulation of Information Policy Rules through Technology" in 1998, which, according to Fordham Law News, "showed that the developers of networked technologies were as important to data protection and cybersecurity as policymakers and conventional legal mechanisms." 

In 2005, Reidenberg founded CLIP, a pioneering effort that came in response to the legal and regulatory challenges posed by rapidly advancing technology. CLIP conducts research and helps lead public discourse on data protection and information security, among other initiatives. 

The reaction to Reidenberg's death has been wide-ranging across the privacy community. 

IAPP Vice President and Chief Knowledge Officer Omer Tene said Reidenberg "personified the bridge connecting the privacy communities across the Atlantic." Tene has also written about the pioneering efforts of Reidenberg in this Privacy Perspectives post.

Cameron Russell, The Western Union Company's EU data protection officer and a former executive director at CLIP, said, 

format_quoteAn important part of Joel’s legacy to the privacy field is as a bridge builder. He built bridges between future academics and the academy, between junior scholars and more-senior ones. Also, from "Lex Informatica" to "Accountable Algorithms," he helped build key paths between technologists and lawyers. Joel will likewise be remembered for connecting real-world policymaking and academia, especially through his breadth of work in student privacy inspired by his time as an elected member of his local school board. Of course, Joel was also a central and early trans-Atlantic bridge between Europe and the U.S. Sometimes, he helped to strengthen what was underbuilt; other times, he was able to see where we would need new bridges that did not yet exist.  

Joel’s enduring contribution to the privacy world, in part, is how he was able to bring us together with daring optimism — a legacy of bridges, both for the vital policy conversations of the day, as well as to coalesce our community around kindness and warmth.

Reidenberg had a global influence. Allende & Brea Partner Pablo Palazzi obtained his LL.M. from Fordham Law School in 2000. He shared some of his memories with the IAPP: 

format_quoteThe entire privacy community mourns the passing of Professor Joel Reidenberg. I met Joel in August 1999 when I was a student at the LLM at Fordham Law School in NYC. During the LL.M. I worked with him as research assistant at Fordham law school researching the emerging field of privacy law in Latin America. The course on information privacy law he taught at Fordham was a mix of theory and practice, showing students how the notion of privacy was evolving. At Joel's suggestion, I wrote my graduate thesis about international transfer of personal data to Latin America and whether Argentina's new law was adequate. He said that the subject would be very important in the future. As usual, he was right. Argentina later would become the first country to be recognized as adequate by the EU. After graduation, I returned to Argentina, and we kept in touch. I asked him to write the prologue of my book about international data transfer based on my LL.M. thesis, and he did.

Joel was a superb privacy scholar. He was the first U.S. law professor to write a book about data protection (with Professor Paul Schawtz). The book was published in 1995, when data protection was an unknown word in U.S. law. He developed the concept that code is law long before other academics popularize the idea. His pioneering analysis of the EU-U.S. Safe Harbor was confirmed by the European Court of Justice in 2015. In March 2019, Joel received the 2019 BCLT Privacy Award from the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology. The award recognizes Joel’s seminal scholarship, innovative policy entrepreneurship, and tireless support of the privacy community.

In comments provided to the IAPP, Boston University School of Law Professor Danielle Citron said, 

format_quoteAs a field and community, we owe Joel so much. He laid the foundation for our thinking about information systems as governance, the framing of privacy harms, the peculiarities of jurisdictional challenges, and the role of transparency for citizenship. And yet those gifts are really just the start. Joel helped forge us into a community, early on coauthoring major text books and always, always lifting up the work of colleagues. And, I say this from personal experience, he was a special teacher. I had the enormous fortune to be mentored by Joel from the start of law school, and he never stopped. He was always so proud of his students and he helped you feel that pride—to know that you were capable of anything. Joel touched us all and I know we carry him with us in our scholarship, friendships, and teaching. He blessed us all.

Reidenberg's influence was not only felt in the academic community, but in the business and policymaking communities, as well. Future of Privacy Forum Founder Jules Polonetsky, CIPP/US, said, 

format_quoteI first met Joel in 2000 when I was (chief privacy officer) at DoubleClick. Not too many outside industry understood adtech in those days, so I could usually satisfy "outsiders" with my review of the good things we were doing to resolve tracking problems. Not so easy when I briefed Joel, seeking to win over an important local New York academic. Joel instantly honed in on the hardest privacy issues, some of which are still challenging today.

Joel was a mentor to an incredible number of privacy leaders, from his students who became top scholars like Danielle Citron to leading privacy pros like Yael Weinman at Verizon and many more. He was a true intellectual, capable of collaborating across disciplines with computer scientists and ethicists, regularly conducted projects for European institutions, and produced award-winning papers that are appreciated by academics and industry. He integrated his love of community and his faith into his work, as well, organizing a side trip to a concentrations camp during the privacy commissioners conference in Warsaw and regularly traveling and speaking in Israel.

Reidenberg was also a pioneer in student privacy issues. World Privacy Forum Executive Director Pam Dixon said, 


Joel’s contributions to the field of privacy are significant and will stand the test of time. His career was long, and there are many areas I could focus on, as he was a respected privacy and law scholar. One of his major contributions is in student privacy. Joel pioneered modern student privacy and created a full national privacy curriculum for schools, not just university level, but also for younger children. Joel always knew that teaching younger students about core privacy ideas was essential. Joel most recently researched and wrote a groundbreaking report on the marketplace for student data. I spoke with him frequently about this work, and he assisted me as I wrote WPF’s recent student privacy report, "Without Consent," which built on Joel’s prior work. I last spoke with Joel just a few days before he went into the hospital this last time. He gave me some final advice on the report, and he told me to keep on fighting the good fight and to be strong. Joel leaves behind him an extraordinary legacy of scholarship, advancement of ideas around student privacy, and cherished memories of a generous person with the utmost integrity.

His law school teaching once made headlines and continues to be cited in privacy circles today.

In May 2009, The New York Times reported on one such incident involving the now-late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. At the time, Scalia had been dismissive of internet privacy concerns. To facilitate what he called "a teaching moment," Reidenberg had his students create a dossier of Scalia to demonstrate the power of personal privacy. His students created a 15-page dossier of the justice, which Reidenberg presented at a Fordham privacy conference. The dossier included Scalia's home address and phone number, as well as his favorite TV shows and food. 

Reidenberg was born Feb. 6, 1961, and is survived by his wife, two children, two grandchildren, and his mother. 

Photo by Yousef Espanioly on Unsplash

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