Georgetown University Law Center and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced a partnership to offer a joint course to law and engineering graduate students this semester. The course will examine the legal and technical aspects of modern privacy problems and draft models of state privacy legislation.

The first session of the class was held at MIT on Wednesday, and the following classes will be switch campuses based on which professor is leading the lecture, collaborating via video conferencing. GULC Center on Privacy and Technology Faculty Director David Vladeck and Executive Director Alvaro Bedoya will teach the Georgetown half of the course, while Daniel J. Weitzner, director of MIT’s Cybersecurity Policy Initiative, and Hal Abelson, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, will lead the MIT side. The joint program currently has 12 GULC students and at least 10 MIT students enrolled.

According to Bedoya, the primary aim of the course is to improve communication between lawyers and engineers.

“There is a really big problem in the world of privacy,” he said. “There are far too few lawyers who are comfortable speaking with engineers, and far too few engineers who are comfortable speaking with lawyers.”

With increased privacy problems such as the hacks of the consumer databases of Sony, Target and Home Depot last year, Vladeck added that lawyers should be more knowledgeable about technology and engineers about policy. Having worked with Weitzner during his time at the Federal Trade Commission, Vladeck collaborated with him to introduce the course.

“We often discussed the difficulty that lawyers had in understanding the difficult technical issues that often drive privacy policy and the difficulty that technologists had in understanding the policy issues that underlay their work,” he wrote in an email to The Hoya. “So we started thinking that when returned to academia, we’d try to put together a class that brought law students and technology students together and had them collaborate on projects, with the aim that the lawyers would become literate in the technology, and the technologists would become literate in policy.”

Jim Davy (LAW ’15), who is enrolled in the class, cited the increased importance of information privacy as driving his interest in the class and expressed his excitement to collaborate with MIT students.

“[The class is] the opportunity to get out of the classroom and work on these issues in a more practical context,” he wrote in an email. “That we’re doing it with MIT — connecting the legal part of the subject directly to the technology part — is hugely appealing as well.”

At the end of the course, the students will present their research and findings to a panel of experts and the panel will evaluate the most promising proposals.

“The goal is to get lawyers and engineers in training to realize that they can’t tackle privacy problems alone.” Bedoya said.

Both Bedoya and Vladeck were optimistic about the program, hoping to offer similar courses in the future.

The course is part of GULC’s increased emphasis on technology and privacy concerns. In addition to the MIT collaboration and the formation of the Center on Privacy and Technology, the law center also announced Tuesday that Paul Ohm, a former senior policy adviser to the Federal Trade Commission and foremost expert on law and technology, would join the center’s full-time faculty. Vladeck pointed to the developments as optimistic signs for the future.

“If all goes well, I would hope to institutionalize and expand this collaboration,” Vladeck wrote. “From the perspective of the law school, I think that helping our students develop competencies in emerging areas like cybertechnology will make them better and more effective lawyers, better and more effective policy advocates, and will help them in this highly dynamic legal job market.”

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