Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Teaching Information Privacy Law
Since this blog is read by many new law profs, I thought I’d recommend information privacy law as a course you might consider teaching. (I have a casebook in the field, so this is really a thinly-disguised self-plug.) Information privacy law remains a fairly young field, and it has yet to take hold as a course taught consistently in most law schools. I’m hoping to change all that. So if you're interested in exploring issues involving information technology, criminal procedure, or free speech, here are a few reasons why you should consider adding information privacy law to your course mix:
1. It’s new and fresh. Lots of media attention on privacy law issues these days. Students are very interested in the topic.
2. Lively cases and fascinating issues abound. There’s barely a dull moment in the course. Every topic is interesting; there is no rule against perpetuities to cover!
3. It’s a way to teach fascinating First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, and other constitutional law issues. Often, those wanting to teach in these areas have to wait in line until the course is “released” by professors who already teach it. Getting the First Amendment course, for example, is about as easy as unseating an incumbent in Congress. Information privacy law lets you teach really interesting First Amendment issues and there’s usually not a long succession line to teaching an information privacy law course. Moreover, many law schools already have somebody teaching cyberlaw, and information privacy law covers some incredibly interesting law and information technology issues.
4. The field is growing . . . big time. There are many new jobs in privacy law – jobs at privacy advocacy organizations, most major companies, financial institutions (must have a privacy officer per Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act), health institutions (must have a privacy officer per HIPAA regulations), and the government (DHS privacy office, etc.). Many new laws are being passed regarding privacy, and cases involving these issues are multiplying.
5. The field has some staying power. As long as computers and information remain in fashion, privacy will remain a big issue. It’s not going away . . . the field, that is. Privacy . . . well, that’s a different story.
6. Plenty of material for a three-unit course. You can teach the course with a focus on law enforcement and security issues, or on cyberspace and computer issues, or on media and entertainment issues, or on regulatory issues about healthcare and financial data. Because there is so much material to work with, you can teach the course in many different ways.
7. Great synergies between teaching and scholarship. There’s a lot left to write about in the field, and teaching the course helps tremendously in developing good ideas for scholarship. The community of folks who write in privacy law is wonderful – a really neat group of professors. We love to welcome new folks into this great club.
8. The course is very intellectually rich. There are lots of interesting theoretical issues to ponder. And the theory doesn’t turn off students -- they really dig it. Really!
9. It’s easy to teach. The field is very accessible. Currently, there are many great books, articles, websites, and other resources in the field.
10. I don't have a tenth reason, but I thought that I'd do something to round this list out to ten.
So think about adding information privacy law to your course package. It’s a rewarding and fascinating course. Many law schools still don’t have a course in the field, and it is my hope that someday it will be offered everywhere.
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The tenth reason is that it is the big mover and shaker the next fifteen to twenty years at the intersection of jurisprudence and everyday life. It touches on so many topics that it is a versatile course that you could shape to your classes interests. I was fortunate enough to have a cyberlaw class where I went and the idea of privacy and the intersection of cyberlaw and information privacy was a significant segment of the class.
Amusingly, we had the discussion in that class of the growth of information privacy law in the next decade and when I went home and flipped on the TV, The West Wing made a similar comment. (It was a 1st season rerun I had missed, choosing Mendoza for the SC nomination).
Posted by: Joel | May 10, 2005 11:06:47 AM
Here's another candidate for reason #10 - it's uncertain whether information privacy law exists as a coherent body of law. This may sound counter-intuitive, but I think it's a great strength of the course. One of the great things about teaching info privacy law is that you can assess Dan's book (which is excellent, btw) as a brief that argues "there is such a thing as information privacy law and it is worthy of independent study as a more or less coherent whole." Unlike some other areas of law (First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Evidence, Securities Regulation), you can really engage students at the macro level about whether the subject exists, and if so, what it includes (is evidence in? what about Griswold? Fourth Amdendment law? Defamation? Copyright?). Some of the most interesting and constructive classroom discussions I've had have come from tackling this major question.
Posted by: Neil Richards | May 10, 2005 11:48:44 AM