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Privacy, IP expert joins Moritz

August 4, 2014 | Faculty

When incoming Assistant Professor Margot Kaminski first began researching privacy, surveillance, technology and law, she was one of only a handful of people examining these legal gray areas with a fine tooth comb. Lately, she feels less alone in her passion for the subject.

“The shift in American public awareness of privacy as a real subject matter in the last two years was really interesting to me,” Kaminski said. “Part of that is due to the Edward Snowden disclosures, and some of it is due to increased media coverage, because the media itself has been a target of a lot of surveillance.”

“To go from feeling like you’re only talking to a few people who are interested in these issues, to suddenly realizing that they are at the core of some really big legal questions that now everybody in the country is paying attention to, that trajectory is what makes law and tech particularly exciting to me,” she added.

This fall, Kaminski will teach two courses at Moritz – introduction to intellectual property law and a course on privacy.

“My interest in international intellectual property law is fairly longstanding,” she said. After college, Kaminski worked in the book publishing industry in New York for a couple of years, handling copyright licensing agreements between authors and publishers. While there, she “noticed the changes to these agreements that had to do with digital rights and became interested in the impact of the Internet on U.S. copyright law.” Then, during law school, she interned for a summer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), studying U.S. free trade agreements and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).

From there, “it was a natural jump to be interested in digital privacy, because the kinds of things that were put in place to deal with copyright piracy were the same kinds of things that would build a surveillance infrastructure,” Kaminski added.

After law school, Kaminski clerked for the Honorable Andrew J. Kleinfeld of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, followed by her most recent position as executive director of the Yale Information Society Project at Yale University – an intellectual center addressing the implications of the Internet and new information technologies for law and society.

On her decision to join the Moritz faculty, Kaminski said: “I felt the dedication to public service and the interest in both strong academic work and policy work during the course of the interview process. That made it very clear to me that Moritz is a place where I would fit in.”

She plans to take advantage of the fact that Moritz is part of a large research university, and hopes to collaborate with faculty and researchers working in similar fields in different disciplines. Currently, she’s fascinated by drones, robotics, and the law.

“Law enforcement use of drones has gotten a lot of attention because people fear a surveillance state,” Kaminski said. “The much more difficult puzzle is what to do about drones operated by hobbyists, civilians, or newsgathering organizations. There, you have, on the one hand, the privacy interests of the people who are being filmed, and on the other hand, the newsgathering interests of people who are doing the filming. As a legal puzzle, it means that you end up with privacy laws on one side and First Amendment jurisprudence on the other.”

With the advent of unmanned aerial vehicles, household robots, and self-driving cars, for example, consumers will begin to give technology – and the companies behind the technology – more permission to be in their homes and observe the patterns of their daily life. This, Kaminski said, will undoubtedly open up the floodgates to a host of complicated legal questions, such as, “To what extent does a person have rights to privacy in public? We have a Supreme Court that is now increasingly starting to recognize that there may be privacy interests in things that we do in public, but that hasn’t yet been framed in contrast to the First Amendment.”

Major technology companies, she explained, have been investing heavily in or acquiring artificial intelligence companies, but the policy community has some catching up to do.

Students in Kaminski’s classes will have the opportunity to tackle these issues head-on.

“In general, I like to teach in ways that give students an idea of the most pressing problems and questions in the field,” she said. “I like to do a lot of work around open legal questions, but provide the foundations so that students can actually try to answer them themselves as issues are coming up through the courts.”

Until classes begin, Kaminski and her husband, Matthew Cushing (also an attorney, he will serve as the Simon Karas Fellow at the Ohio Attorney General’s office this year), are settling into their new home in Eastmoor and exploring all that Columbus has to offer.

“We both love cycling, and are excited to be living near the Alum Creek trail, where we can ride our bikes. We’re looking forward to living close to both a downtown and the outdoors, and to taking camping trips to Hocking Hills and other places,” she said.

“We’re also particularly excited about all the ice cream in the area,” she added with a laugh. “So far we have sampled Jeni’s, Graeter’s, Johnson’s and Whitt’s. I’m not going to tell you which one is my favorite.”