Category: Articles and Books


New Edition of Information Privacy Law Casebooks

The new edition of my casebook, Information Privacy Law (4th edition) (with Paul M. Schwartz) is hot off the presses.  And there’s a new edition of my casebook, Privacy, Information, and Technology (3rd edition) (with Paul M. Schwartz).   Copies should be sent out to adopters very soon.  If you’re interested in adopting the book and are having any difficulties getting a hold of a copy, please let me know.

You also might be interested in my concise guide to privacy law, also with Paul Schwartz, entitled Privacy Law Fundamentals.   This short book was published earlier this year.  You can order it on Amazon or via IAPP.  It might make for a useful reference tool for students.



The PII Problem: Privacy and a New Concept of Personally Identifiable Information

My article, The PII Problem: Privacy and a New Concept of Personally Identifiable Information (with Professor Paul Schwartz), is now out in print.   You can download the final published version from SSRN.  Here’s the abstract:

Personally identifiable information (PII) is one of the most central concepts in information privacy regulation. The scope of privacy laws typically turns on whether PII is involved. The basic assumption behind the applicable laws is that if PII is not involved, then there can be no privacy harm. At the same time, there is no uniform definition of PII in information privacy law. Moreover, computer science has shown that in many circumstances non-PII can be linked to individuals, and that de-identified data can be re-identified. PII and non-PII are thus not immutable categories, and there is a risk that information deemed non-PII at one time can be transformed into PII at a later juncture. Due to the malleable nature of what constitutes PII, some commentators have even suggested that PII be abandoned as the mechanism by which to define the boundaries of privacy law.

In this Article, we argue that although the current approaches to PII are flawed, the concept of PII should not be abandoned. We develop a new approach called “PII 2.0,” which accounts for PII’s malleability. Based upon a standard rather than a rule, PII 2.0 utilizes a continuum of risk of identification. PII 2.0 regulates information that relates to either an “identified” or “identifiable” individual, and it establishes different requirements for each category. To illustrate this theory, we use the example of regulating behavioral marketing to adults and children. We show how existing approaches to PII impede the effective regulation of behavioral marketing, and how PII 2.0 would resolve these problems.


The Month Ahead: Spies, Lies, Russia, and Terrorist Watchlists

It’s great to be back at Concurring Opinions (and thanks to Danielle for the generous (re)introduction last week).  This month, I plan to blog on a few ongoing projects and some upcoming news events.  Here are two topics soon to come, with two more after the break.

(1)  Spies.  Immigration authorities seize a suspected spy in Manhattan on the grounds that he entered the country unlawfully.  Rather than process him through the immigration system, or transfer him to the criminal justice system, he is secretly flown more than a thousand miles away, interrogated without a lawyer, and kept virtually incommunicado for almost seven weeks in a government facility on the Texas-Mexican border.  When he doesn’t break, he is transferred back to New York to be tried in federal court for a capital offense.  The evidence from his warrantless arrest and secret detention helps to convict him. 

When did this happen?

No surprise that the story resonates with our national security debates today.  But it all happened during the Eisenhower Administration.  Rudolf Abel was the top Soviet spy in North America before he was convicted of atomic espionage.  Thanks to his lawyer, his life was spared (and he was later exchanged for U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers).  I think that there are lessons to be learned from this history today, but mine seems to be the minority view.

(2)  Lies.  Okay, not lies exactly, but pretext.  (You try rhyming pretext with anything.  You’ll wind up perplexed, if not vexed, with the text that comes next.)  Pretextual use of the law is all around us.  The most common example is the law governing arrests.  In Whren v. United States, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the police were free to do “under the guise of enforcing the traffic code what they would like to do for different reasons,” namely, stop and search Whren’s car for drugs.  Abel’s case (referenced in Whren) presented another classic instance of pretext: his detention for an immigration violation was used for the unintended purpose of counterespionage, neatly skirting in the process constitutional protections against warrantless searches and seizures, not to mention official disappearances.  When Abel’s able lawyer argued pretext, however, the Supreme Court sustained the conviction.

Sometimes the law abhors pretext.  For example, in Kelo v. City of New London, the Supreme Court categorically rejected the idea that the state may take property under the pretext of a public purpose.  How should citizens regard the pretextual use of the law by state officials?  Does such use tend to weaken the rule of law in ways that should matter to us as individuals or as a society?  When tempted to use a law for an unintended purpose, how should the “good” official distinguish an innovative pretextual use from a destructive one?  The Supreme Court dodged these questions just last term in Ashcroft v. Al-Kidd and I’d like to think hard about why.

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No More Fire, the Water Next Time

Paul Campos thinks I am cemented to the wall of Yale Law School by the blood of a thousand students, murdered by rapacious professors.

Among its many other vices, does legal education teach you to argue less persuasively and in a way that unsettles civil society?  That accusation is implicit in Dan Kahan’s new magisterial HLR Forward, Neutral Principles, Motivated Cognition, and Some Problems for Constitutional Law.  In Some Problems, Kahan considers the Supreme Court’s perceived legitimacy deficit when it resolves high-stakes cases.  Rejecting the common criticism that focuses on the ideal of neutrality, Kahan argues than the Court’s failure is one of communication.  The issues that the Court considers are hard, the they often turn on disputed policy judgments. But the Justices  resort to language which is untempered by doubt, and which advances empirical support that is said to be conclusive. Like scientists, judges’ empirical messages are read by elites, and thus understood through polarizing filters.  As a result, Justices on the other sides of these fights quickly seek to undermine these purported empirical foundations – – as Justice Scalia argued last term in Plata:

“[It] is impossible for judges to make “factual findings” without inserting their own policy judgments, when the factual findings are policy judgments. What occurred here is no more judicial factfinding in the ordinary sense than would be the factual findings that deficit spending will not lower the unemployment rate, or that the continued occupation of Iraq will decrease the risk of terrorism.”

Kahan resists Scalia’s cynicism — and says that in fact Scalia is making the problem worse.  Overconfident display encourages people to take polarized views of law, to distrust the good faith of the Court and of legal institutions, and to experience the malady of cognitive illiberalism.  Kahan concludes that Courts ought to show doubt & humility — aporia — when deciding cases, so as to signal to the other justices & the public that the losing side has been heard.  Such a commitment to humble rhetoric would strengthen the idea of neutrality, which currently is attacked by all comers.  Moreover, there is evidence that these sorts of on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand arguments do work.  As Dan Simon and co-authors have found, people are basically likely to consider as legitimate arguments whose outcomes they find congenial.  But when they dislike outcomes, people are better persuaded by arguments that are explicitly two-sided: that is, the form of very muscular rhetoric typical in SCOTUS decisions is likely to be seen, by those who disagree with the Court’s outcomes, are particularly unpersuasive, illegitimate, and biased.

I love this paper — it’s an outgrowth of the cultural cognition project, and it lays the groundwork for some really neat experiments. So the point of the post is partly to encourage you to go read it.  But I wanted to try as well to connect this line of research to the recent “debate” about Law Schools.

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Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff Between Privacy and Security

I’m pleased to announce the publication of my new book, NOTHING TO HIDE: THE FALSE TRADEOFF BETWEEN PRIVACY AND SECURITY (Yale University Press, May 2011).  Here’s the book jacket description:

“If you’ve got nothing to hide,” many people say, “you shouldn’t worry about government surveillance.” Others argue that we must sacrifice privacy for security. But as Daniel J. Solove argues in this important book, these arguments and many others are flawed. They are based on mistaken views about what it means to protect privacy and the costs and benefits of doing so. The debate between privacy and security has been framed incorrectly as a zero-sum game in which we are forced to choose between one value and the other. Why can’t we have both?

In this concise and accessible book, Solove exposes the fallacies of many pro-security arguments that have skewed law and policy to favor security at the expense of privacy. Protecting privacy isn’t fatal to security measures; it merely involves adequate oversight and regulation. Solove traces the history of the privacy-security debate from the Revolution to the present day. He explains how the law protects privacy and examines concerns with new technologies. He then points out the failings of our current system and offers specific remedies. Nothing to Hide makes a powerful and compelling case for reaching a better balance between privacy and security and reveals why doing so is essential to protect our freedom and democracy.

This book grows out of an essay I wrote a few years ago about the Nothing-to-Hide Argument.   The essay’s popularity surprised me and made me realize that there is a hunger out there for discussions about the arguments made in the debate between privacy and security.

The primary focus of NOTHING TO HIDE is on critiquing common pro-security arguments.  I’ve given them nifty names such as the “Luddite Argument,”the “War-Powers Argument,” the “All-or-Nothing Argument,” the “Suspicionless-Searches Argument,” the “Deference Argument,” and the “Pendulum Argument,” among others.  I also discuss concrete issues of law and technology, such as the Fourth Amendment Third Party Doctrine, the First Amendment, electronic surveillance statutes, the USA-Patriot Act, the NSA surveillance program, and government data mining.


Choosing Book Publishers: Academic, Teaching or Trade?

Where to publish your latest book-length manuscript?  Law professors can position their books for publication in many different ways.  The target audience and a publisher’s program are the key factors in choosing a publisher. 

Do you want to reach students, teachers, scholars, policy-makers, the general public?  What publishers best target which groups?  Are they all equally good at marketing or are some more effective than others? 

Often it is clear where the book should  be published but sometimes a book straddles the markets, posing vexing decisions.  How do professors choose then?

Some books are clearly meant for the classroom, and should be published by the likes of Aspen, Foundation, Lexis or West.  Within that cohort, houses further distinguish between adoptables, targeted to professors who require the book, and discretionary student purchases, for supplemental reading.  

Other books are obviously written for a specialized academic market and should  be published by such university presses as Cambridge, Harvard, NYU or Stanford.  A small number undoubtedly show greater potential trade market appeal, and could be published by such houses as John Wiley, McGraw-Hill, Penguin or Random House.  

But what of the book that transcends one or more of these audiences, positions, and publishing programs?  Is it possible that some houses can deliver it all, as many authors say is true of such presses as Oxford, Princeton, Yale?

In particular, I have spent this past year writing a book on contract law stories in the news during the past several years.  Readers of this blog would recognize a dozen or more of them.  Read More


Honor & Private Law

Nate Oman has a terrific short paper up on SSRN that’s a must read for contract and tort scholars (and teachers): The Honor of Private Law.  From the abstract:

“While combativeness is central to how our culture both experiences and conceptualizes litigation, we generally notice it only as a regrettable cost. This Article offers a less squeamish vision, one that sees in the struggle of people suing one another a morally valuable activity: The vindication of insulted honor. This claim is offered as a normative defense of a civil recourse approach to private law. According to civil recourse theorists, tort and contract law should be seen as empowering plaintiffs to act against defendants, rather than as economically optimal incentives or as a means of enforcing duties of corrective justice. The justification of civil recourse must answer three questions. First, under what circumstances – if any – is one justified in acting or retaliating against a wrongdoer? Second, under what circumstances does the state have reasons for providing a mechanism for such action? Finally, how are the answers to these questions related to the current structure of our private law? This Article offers the vindication of wronged honor as an answer to these three questions. First, I establish the historical connection between honor and litigation by looking at the quintessential honor practice, dueling. Then I argue that the vindication of honor is normatively attractive. I do this by divorcing the idea of honor from unsavory associations with violence and aristocracy, showing how it can be made congruent with certain core modern concerns. In particular, when insulted parties act against wrongdoers, they reestablish the position of respect and equality that the insult upset. I then show how having the state provide plaintiffs with a means of vindicating their honor avoids making the political community complicit in the humiliation of its citizens and provides those citizens with a means of exercising their agency in ways that provide a foundation for self-respect. Finally, I show those areas of private law where honor operates most powerfully as a justification for providing recourse through the courts while acknowledging that it operates less powerfully as a reason in other areas.”

The paper is of a piece with Nate’s other recent work that illustrates the structural oddness of private litigation (odd from an economist’s perspective, that is).  Nate also has a novel analysis about dueling & its relationship with lawsuits.  (If you want to learn more about dueling – and why wouldn’t you? – read Harwell Wells’ End of the Affair.) Over time, I’ve become an increasing fan of civil recourse theory as a way to conceptualize and teach contract law, and Nate’s paper makes an important contribution to that literature.  Check it out.


New Privacy Law Reference Book: Privacy Law Fundamentals

Professor Paul Schwartz (Berkeley School of Law) and I recently published a new book, PRIVACY LAW FUNDAMENTALS.  This book is a distilled guide to the essential elements of U.S. data privacy law. In an easily-digestible format, the book covers core concepts, key laws, and leading cases.

The book explains the major provisions of all of the major privacy statutes, regulations, cases, including state privacy laws and FTC enforcement actions. It provides numerous charts and tables summarizing the privacy statutes (i.e. statutes with private rights of action, preemption, and liquidated damages, among other things). Topics covered include: the media, domestic law enforcement, national security, government records, health and genetic data, financial information, consumer data and business records, government access to private sector records, data security law, school privacy, employment privacy, and international privacy law.

This book provides an concise yet comprehensive overview of the field of privacy law for those who do not want to labor through lengthy treatises.  Paul and I worked hard to keep it under 200 pages — our goal was to include a lot of information yet do so as succinctly as possible.   PRIVACY LAW FUNDAMENTALS is written for those who want a handy reference, a bird’s eye view of the field, or a primer for courses in privacy law.

We wrote this book to be a useful reference for practitioners — ideally, a book they’d keep at the corner of their desks or in their briefcases.

We also think it can serve as a useful study aid for students taking privacy law courses.

You can check it out here, where you can download the table of contents.