Category Archives: Privacy Law

He sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake …

Santa may rely on the Elf on the Shelf for his surveillance, but the US government uses the NSA.

If you’re doing research related to the NSA and other electronic surveillance, The Library has a trial subscription (expiring December 25) to ProQuest Collection: Electronic Surveillance and the NSA.

The database includes documents on SHAMROCK (telegram collection), MINARET (the watch list), warrantless wiretapping, ECHELON (satellite communications intercepts), and USSID 18 (retention of information on U.S. citizens).

The vast majority of the collection focuses on records, such as in Operation Mystic, related to the classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden to a handful of journalists and that were ultimately published by newspapers, including The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The New York Times — (available as part of ProQuest Historical Newspapers™ to cross-reference historic coverage on the topic of electronic surveillance. For more information on newspaper research, please see our research guide).

If you use the trial database and have any comments, please let us know.

National Security “Big Data” Symposium Video Now Online

If you weren’t able to make it over to Gewirz this week for the symposium, Swimming in the Ocean of Big Data: National Security in an Age of Unlimited Information, hosted by the Journal of National Security Law & Policy and the Georgetown Center on National Security, you can now watch video of the event online (view below or here). See the schedule and brief program notes for reference — the video is in one nearly 7-hour chunk, so this may be helpful.

The three diverse expert panels and lunchtime keynote address were enlightening and thought-provoking, and complemented the Georgetown Law Library’s own symposium, Big Data and Big Challenges for Law and Legal Information, just last month (video of that event is available here).

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Now Online: Big Data Symposium Video and Materials

The library hosted its 125th anniversary symposium, Big Data and Big Challenges for Law and Legal Information, this past Wednesday. We were delighted to welcome dozens of participants from law schools, libraries, news organizations, government agencies, and law firms to discuss data-driven initiatives in many disciplines at the Law Center. Thanks to all who presented, attended, and tuned in online – we hope you enjoyed the day as much as we did!

Video from the event, speakers’ slides, and the conference program including an extensive bibliography are now available on the symposium’s website.

Also, if you have feedback or ideas to share about the symposium and the topics it addressed, we’d love to hear from you. Please take a brief survey to share with Georgetown Law Library your thoughts on moving forward in our ever-growing world of big data.

Symposium on 1/30: Prof. Paul Ohm on Privacy

Paul OhmThe Georgetown Law Library’s 125th anniversary symposium, Big Data and Big Challenges for Law and Legal Information, will explore a range of topics related to the applications of big data in legal scholarship, practice, and policy.

One of our panelists, Professor Paul Ohm, with academic credentials both in computer science and in law, will provide a fascinating introduction to his interdisciplinary approach to internet privacy issues. Companies soon will be able to collect personal information about us, but without ever receiving that information directly from us. Can and should privacy law respond to this challenge?

To learn more about Professor Ohm’s research and scholarship in this area, see his investigation of inadequate privacy protections revealed in Broken Promises of Privacy: Responding to the Surprising Failure of Anonymization, 57 UCLA Law Review 1701 (2010) and his work on the potential intersection of internet privacy practices with trademark law in a forthcoming article, Branding Privacy, 97 Minnesota Law Review ___ (forthcoming 2013). Visit or look for his posts at the blog Freedom to Tinker. You may watch the symposium live online on Wednesday, January 30.

The Ethics of Big Data as Seen through the Gun Map

The balance of privacy and the public need for information will be a major theme of the library’s January 30 symposium, Big Data and Big Challenges for Law and Legal Information

Privacy and data is now entwined in the national discussion about gun control.  Many people have seen the interactive map posted on website of the Journal News identifying the names and addresses of all gun owners in New York’s Westchester and Rockland counties. In light of the mass murder in Newtown, Connecticut, the newspaper created the map using names of addresses listed in the New York public records.  Designed to inform readers about the prevalence of gun ownership in their neighborhood, the newspaper’s maps have disturbed gun owners who feel the website violated their privacy rights and leaves them vulnerable to attack.

Jeff Sonderman of the website recently wrote an article to further the discussion of journalistic ethics when working with big datasets.  Titled Programmers Explain How to Turn Data into Journalism & Why that Matters, Sonderman’s piece ends with a list of considerations people should contemplate before posting personal data.  Below is a very simplified summary of his factors.

  1. Do you have a reason for publishing the data, or are you doing it “because we can”?

  2. Have you considered reasons why not to publish it?:

    1. Who could be harmed

    2. Is the data accurate

    3. Is it relevant to the story

  3. Are you presenting the data in a way that maximizes the benefit and minimizes the harm?

The library invites you to participate in the discussion about big data by watching the symposium live online on Wednesday, January 30.

Big Data at the Crossroads of Art History and Privacy

On January 30th the law library will host a conference entitled Big Data and Big Challenges for Law and Legal Information.  By bringing together academics, governmental staff, policy advocates, and librarians, the day-long program will examine how to use data for the public good while protecting personal privacy. 

This is the first in a series of blog postings on the topic of big data.

Jer Thorp is an artist in residence at NYTLabs and is an adjunct professor in New York University’s ITP program. He is also the co-founder of the Office For Creative Research

In an interview with Lauren Drell and in the embedded video below, Thorp demonstrates how designers can use data to create beautiful and meaningful tools for historians and anthropologists to study society.

His projects create poignant narratives specifically by using data which is intentionally personal and yet publicly available.  In his video, Thorp offers an especially thought-provoking statement about the crossroads of art, history, data, and by implication, privacy.


Symposium: Big Data and Big Challenges for Law and Legal Information, Wed. 1/30

Big Data and Big Challenges for Law and Legal Information, A Symposium in Celebration of 125 Years, Wed. 1/30 at Georgetown Law

In celebration of 125 years, the Georgetown Law Library looks to the future with a symposium of the academic, advocacy, government, and library communities on Wednesday, January 30 at Georgetown Law.

“Big data” is a term perhaps too narrow for the topic: The size of data sets is not the key to big data issues. Rather, it’s the changes in society that are growing along with our ability to discover meaning by connecting points of information electronically, across numerous, vast, and often unrelated stores of data.

This conference will examine the public good and collective harms associated with the large-scale aggregation of information from public and private sources. During the course of the day, panelists will also discuss how scholars, researchers, and information professionals use very large or complex data sets to distill meaning and develop public policy.

Registration is free and open to all. A complimentary lunch will be provided for registered attendees, however space is limited. Register now to reserve your place and view additional information at

New Privacy Law Resource

Members of the Georgetown Law Center community now have access to the World Data Protection Report.  This monthly report summarizes developments in privacy law worldwide.  Topics included are identity theft, monitoring and surveillance in the workplace, encryption, network security, cross-border data flows, outsourcing, and direct marketing.   Previous issues can be searched online

Students, faculty, and staff can sign up to receive an alert when a new issue has been published (along with other BNA titles). 

Facebook Agrees to Shut Down Beacon in Class Action Settlement

In a proposed settlement for a class action suit, Facebook has agreed to shut down its Beacon marketing system. The agreement is before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California: Lane v. Facebook Inc., N.D. Cal., No. 5:08-cv-3845, 9/18/09).

Beacon is a controversial Facebook system that monitors a users purchases on certain online venders and then publishes that information on the user’s news feeds, read by the user’s Facebook friends.

Facebook aslo proposes creating a $9.5 million settlement fund, partially to pay damages. Part of the of the fund would launch a privacy foundation to fund and sponsor programs designed to educate users, regulators, and enterprises regarding critical issues relating to protection of identity and personal information online through user control, and to protect users from online threats.

Read more about the case through the library’s subscription to BNA Privacy Law Watch.

Full text of the Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement Agreement is available at

Full text of the proposed Stipulation and Agreement is available at

Federal Web Sites May Begin Tracking Users

An article in yesterday’s Washington Post reported that the federal government has begun to reconsider its ban on the use of cookies by federal agency web sites. Instead of banning cookies, the government may implement other user privacy safeguards. Critics of the move wonder if it is motivated by requests from private companies such as Google. An OMB-initiated comment period for the possible policy change closed on Monday, Aug. 10.

For more information, see Spencer S. Hsu and Cecilia Kang, U.S. Web-Tracking Plan Stirs Privacy Fears, Wash. Post Online, Aug. 11, 2009, at, and the OMB’s request for comments (now closed), available from