May 312010
 May 31, 2010  Posted by  Misc

“Get back.
Get back.
Get back to where you once belonged.”

That Beatles’ tune kept running through my head yesterday as I read through some of the draft papers for the upcoming Privacy Law Scholar’s Conference to be held this week in Washington, D.C. While many of the papers are forward-looking, some take us back or urge a return to earlier approaches to privacy:

Peter Winn, an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the DOJ and law lecturer at the University of Washington
Law School, will be presenting an absolutely fascinating paper on the “History of the Law of Privacy in the 16th & 17th Century.” His article really left me with a better understanding of the English roots of our legal system’s approach to privacy and with new appreciation that the “right to be let alone” was not judicial activism but was more firmly rooted in English law than some current jurists and members of Congress seem to realize.

Also read to the tune of “Get Back:” Paul Ohm, an Associate Professor at the University of Colorado Law School, has a paper, “The Benefits of the Old Privacy: Restoring the Focus to Traditional Harm,” while Lior Strahilevitz, Deputy Dean, Professor of Law & Walter Mander Teaching Scholar, University of
Chicago, is presenting his paper, “Reunifying Privacy Law,” and Carol M. Bast and Cynthia A. Brown of the
University of Central Florida are presenting their paper, “A Contagion of Fear: Post-9/11 Alarm Expands Executive Branch Authority and Sanctions Prosecutorial Exploitation of America’s Privacy.”

There are many more papers being presented this week (you can see the program here) and the only dilemma is how to decide which sessions to attend when everything sounds fascinating. As but one example of the many thoughtful and critical analyses being presented, Susan Freiwald, Professor of Law at the University of San Francisco School of Law, has a wonderful paper on “Fourth Amendment Protection for Stored Cell Site Location Information” that should also stimulate a lot of discussion.

Indeed, my fervent wish to get some of these people to guest blog on to present their work for a public audience in a way that more people can understand the threats we face today to our privacy. I really doubt that most of the public truly understands how much information their cell phone carriers retain and can generate about them, the privacy risks we face when such data are handed over to law enforcement or combined with other databases, and why the public should care about the government’s argument that it doesn’t need a warrant to obtain location data.

Great thanks to law professors Dan Solove of George Washington University Law School and Chris Hoofnagle of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology for organizing the conference and for inviting me, and to the sponsors who are making the conference possible as a free event for attendees: The Future of Privacy Forum, Doug Curling, AT&T, Google, The Privacy Projects, Intel, and Technology | Academics | Policy (TAP).

The conference will be on Thursday and Friday, and I’ll try to blog more about it each day.

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