Briefing Room
Dennis Hirsch


Dennis Hirsch speaks at U.S. Senate roundtable on the future of privacy regulation

September 7, 2018 | Faculty

As data protection becomes a growing concern in the United States, legislators like U.S. Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) are investigating possible solutions. In July, the senators hosted the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law’s first roundtable discussion, which focused on the future of privacy regulation. Professor Dennis Hirsch was among the small group of panelists who were invited to discuss potential approaches to privacy regulations in the United States. “Faculty want to be active contributors to society, and opportunities like this allow us to do that,” Hirsch said. “It’s very rewarding when you get the chance to share your scholarship with those who can act on it to solve important problems.”

Professor Hirsch directs the college’s Program on Data Governance, which seeks to identify strategies that will best allow society to achieve big data’s important benefits while reducing its potential harms. During the roundtable discussion, Professor Hirsch shared his research on law and policy to govern big data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. “It’s well understood that these advanced analytics technologies have incredible benefits,” he said. “But they also can create bias, unfairness, and invade privacy—I’m interested in addressing and minimizing those risks.”

In addition to Hirsch, panelists at the roundtable included: Jason Albert, Deputy General Counsel, Workday; Ed Britan, Senior Attorney, Privacy and Regulatory Affairs, Microsoft; Alfredo Della Monica, Vice President and Senior Counsel, American Express; Michelle De Mooy, Director, Privacy and Data Project, Center for Democracy and Technology; David Hoffman, Associate General Counsel and Global Privacy Officer, Intel; Kevin Koehler, Trust & Safety Team, Automattic; and Howard Waltzman, Attorney & Lobbyist, 21st Century Privacy Coalition.

The group discussed the increased interest in baseline privacy legislation at the state level and the European Union’s recent actions to update and expand its data protection laws. In contrast to Europe, U.S. privacy statutes cover particular sectors. The United States does not have a baseline privacy law that applies to all sectors and all types of business. That may soon change.  In June, California became the first state to pass a baseline consumer privacy law, the California Consumer Privacy Act, which will go into effect July 1, 2020.

While these developments promise increased privacy protection, Professor Hirsch believes that they will not fully protect people in the era of big data and predictive analytics. At the roundtable, he recommended a new paradigm of privacy regulation that goes beyond existing “notice and choice” approaches and draws substantive lines between data practices that are appropriate and fair and those that are not. He explained that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) could use its existing “unfairness authority” to draw such lines. This would establish rules of the road for big data analytics and help to ensure public acceptance and sustainability of this increasingly important set of technologies.

To learn more about privacy and consumer data protection, Senators Flake and Coons will continue to host additional roundtable discussions where they can listen to the unique perspectives of experts in various fields and industries. Professor Hirsch believes their effort to find a solution to consumer data protection and privacy is very timely. “If we fail to draw boundaries around the appropriateness of data analytics, people will not only get hurt; they will stop trusting companies’ use of this set of technologies, and that will definitely impact our society,” he said.