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Comparative Digital Privacy - Spring 2020

Professor Urs Gasser

Digital privacy has become a major issue for Internet users, technology companies, online businesses, researchers, and policy-makers around the world, as more and more personal information is collected, aggregated, shared, and used across a wide variety of contexts. Policy-makers on both sides of the Atlantic—and globally—have been responsive to data scandals and breaches and growing concerns expressed by users, consumer organizations, activists, and academics, and have proposed an important series of new laws, regulations, and other privacy-enhancing instruments at the international and national level. At the same time, the approaches aimed at regulating the respective information practices on the Internet and in the digital environment more broadly—targeting social networking sites, online advertising, data aggregators, IoT providers, AI companies, and the like—as well as the details of the proposed privacy norms are highly controversial.

In this interactive seminar, we will identify, map, analyze, and discuss the latest developments in privacy law related to the digital environment from a comparative perspective and put them into a broader context. Specifically, in the first part of the seminar, we will introduce competing theories and models of online privacy and map current policy proposals as well as regulatory action onto such a matrix. In addition to discussing theoretical frameworks and analyzing current developments in digital privacy, we will also take a closer look into qualitative and quantitative studies regarding privacy attitudes and practices online, and ask how such findings from research have shaped—or should shape—both the theoretical frameworks as well as the actual application of law. In the second part, the seminar examines in greater detail potential solutions to the concerns and harms that are presented in the first section. In our analysis, we will survey and critique both legal and non-legal solutions. We will hope to answer questions like: which institutions are the most capable of enforcing user privacy? And how can we design our technologies so that privacy values are embedded into the construction of our technological tools? In asking these questions, we will create a valuable matrix and taxonomy for recommending solutions to potential privacy harms. Finally, in the third section, we will look at specific developments and current trends in privacy law. For instance, we will take a closer look at the new General Data Protection Regulation in Europe, as well as a series of privacy Congressional bills introduced the US in 2018 and 2019. Throughout the seminar, privacy-relevant incidents and developments will be discussed real-time as they unfold. 

For more information about this course, visit the Harvard Law School Course Catalog