September 27 Tuesday

Law & Tech: William McGeveran

  • Tuesday, September 27, 2016 at 1:00PM - 2:00PM
  • Room 121
  • Open To The YLS Community Only
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Friending the Privacy Regulators

According to conventional wisdom, data privacy regulators in the European Union are unreasonably demanding, while their American counterparts are laughably lax. Many observers further assume that any privacy enforcement without monetary fines or other punishment is an ineffective “slap on the wrist.” This Article demonstrates that both of these assumptions are wrong. It uses the simultaneous 2011 investigation of Facebook’s privacy practices by regulators in the United States and Ireland as a case study. These two agencies reached broadly similar conclusions, and neither imposed a traditional penalty. Instead, they utilized “responsive regulation,” where the government emphasizes less adversarial techniques and considers formal enforcement actions more of a last resort. 

When regulators in different jurisdictions employ this same responsive regulatory strategy, they blur the supposedly sharp distinctions between them, whatever may be written in their respective constitutional proclamations or statute books. Moreover, “regulatory friending” techniques work effectively in the privacy context. Responsive regulation encourages companies to improve their practices continually, it retains flexibility to deal with changing technology, and it discharges oversight duties cost-efficiently, thus improving real-world data practices.


Professor William McGeveran specializes in information law, including data privacy, intellectual property, communications and technology, and free speech.

Profesor McGeveran’s current research focuses on legal and other rules governing digital identity and data privacy, ranging from online impersonation to the privacy features of Facebook and other social networks. Additional aspects of his research include modernizing trademark law, comparing European and American approaches to data protection, and navigating the tension between transparency and privacy in areas such as election regulation or open records laws.

Professor McGeveran earned a J.D., magna cum laude, from New York University and a B.A., magna cum laude, in political science from Carleton College. Prior to coming to the University of Minnesota, Professor McGeveran was a resident fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. He previously clerked for Judge Sandra Lynch on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and practiced as an intellectual property litigator at Foley Hoag LLP in Boston. Before law school, Professor McGeveran worked in national politics for seven years, primarily as a policy aide to Democrats in the United States House of Representatives. He grew up in New York City.

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