Protector of Privacy: Prof. McGeveran’s Policy Work and Innovative Practicum Are Helping to Tame the Wild West of Privacy Law and Data Security

May 1, 2019

Data privacy has become an issue of pressing concern to virtually every technology user. Minnesota Law Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs William McGeveran, who was in the vanguard of legal experts entering the field, is working both inside and outside of academia to shed light on the challenges of data privacy in the digital age.

McGeveran, a frequent media commenter on data privacy matters, established the Law School’s innovative Data Privacy Practicum, which introduces students to top privacy practitioners and offers them the opportunity to become certified in the field.

McGeveran was recently appointed to the crucial role of reporter for the Uniform Law Commission’s newly formed Study Committee on Online Privacy Protection.

Part of the impetus for the formation of the study committee was a law passed in California last June that, among other things, aims to provide residents with the right to know what personal information is being collected about them and whether that information is sold or disclosed and to whom. Europe and Brazil have also enacted major new regulations related to data protection.

“The committee is considering whether there should be a model or uniform online privacy law,” notes McGeveran. Ultimately, the committee’s recommendations could form the basis of proposed privacy-protection legislation that will be sent for consideration to the legislatures of all 50 states.

“The California law is more far-reaching than any other state laws have been,” says McGeveran. “The question now is whether there’s a way for states to harmonize their approaches so that we don’t have a lot of disuniformity.”

Professor McGeveran Goes to Washington

The national impact of McGeveran’s work was recently on display when he was tapped to speak on data security enforcement at a Federal Trade Commission hearing in Washington, D.C.

The gist of his testimony was that it is better to have flexible standards and an agency with the power to enforce them rather than “really detailed cookbook recipes for rules.” While the FTC partially performs this function, McGeveran says, “it doesn’t quite have the authority, the resources, or the penalties to really do that job as well as we need it to be done.”

Professor William McGeveran participates in a Federal Trade Commission hearing on data security enforcement in Washington, D.C.

McGeveran’s colleagues in the privacy compliance world applaud his efforts to prepare students to grapple with privacy issues and to spur legislative and regulatory action to help tame this still-wild frontier.

“With so much activity that is important to Minnesota businesses and the people who live here, having a legal expert that specializes in information law is critical,” says Mitchell W. Granberg ’98, chief privacy officer at Eden Prairie-based Optum. “Bill does a fantastic job in preparing students for a career in legal privacy, and he performs important public policy work.”

Sarah Rohne, director of employment and talent development at the Law School’s Career Center, points out that Minnesota Law is one of only a handful of schools partnering with the International Association of Privacy Professionals to offer the Privacy Pathway, which gives students the opportunity to take the association’s Certified Information Privacy Professional exam at a highly discounted rate.

Rohne also notes that the practicum course developed by McGeveran “offers students an opportunity to shadow privacy professionals working in the area, allowing them to see firsthand the application of their academic learning to the world of work.”

The Next Big Thing: The Internet of Things

The breakneck pace of tech innovation means that data privacy will forever be a moving target.

McGeveran predicts that the next great shift will come in response to the fact that more and more information collection is coming from sources other than our traditional digital devices.

“We’re accustomed to thinking of online privacy as having only to do with your screens—your computer or smartphone,” he explains. “But increasingly, there will be information collection happening out in the world with the Internet of Things, including driverless cars or automated checkout at the store. It will make the everyday world part of the issue of data privacy.”

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