My time at the Cyberlaw Clinic: lessons in tech law and human rights
The Latest from HLS Clinical Programs 2017-04-29
By Alicia Solow-Niederman J.D. ’17
Alicia Solow-Niederman, J.D. ’17
The choice to enroll in the Cyberlaw Clinic was easy for me. Having worked as a project manager at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society before law school, I knew I wanted to participate in this Clinic even before I began 1L year. Yet the night before my first meeting with my clinical supervisor, my mind raced. I worried that this opportunity to combine my three years of legal training and my interest in technology policy would not live up to my expectations.
Fortunately, my fears were allayed as soon as I met my project team. My first assignment was to prepare a paper for a panel at RightsCon, an annual human rights-focused summit on the future of the internet. Working alongside Cyberlaw Clinic Assistant Director Vivek Krishnamurthy, Clinic Advisor Nani Jansen Reventlow, and LL.M candidate Javier Careaga Franco, I was asked to connect academic theories with real-world adjudication through an empirical study of how legal actors in different jurisdictions are currently treating requests to remove online content. For instance, if an administrative agency in France demands that Google take down all links on a particular topic across not only Google.fr, but also across all of its global platforms, how is the claim legally resolved? This work was right up my alley because it allowed me to take theoretical issues and legal questions surrounding freedom of expression, access to information, and privacy rights and apply them in the context of concrete disputes across the globe.
Through this project, I was privileged to collaborate with experts in not only tech law, but also human rights and international public law, which allowed me to learn a great deal about core principles of jurisdiction, territoriality, and sovereignty. I was then able to immediately apply this learning as I collected consistent information regarding each case (e.g., country of origin, party identity, cause of action, etc.), and created the actual taxonomy within which to catalog the cases. I really enjoyed the challenge of how to cogently discuss and arrange cases ranging from requests that an internet service provider block defamatory content to orders that a search engine delist copyright-infringing content to demands that a website remove obscene content.
Next, I had the opportunity to analyze doctrine, theory, and pending legal controversies by taking primary responsibility for the opening portions of the RightsCon working paper. My goal was to provide a concise, balanced, and accessible summary of the ongoing debate over whether and if so, how, legitimate national laws and preferences should be applied and enforced online with regard to content takedown requests. As our working paper describes, “at the core of this dispute is whether public international law doctrines of territoriality extend to digital spaces, or whether different presumptions should govern online.” I am hopeful that our contribution is merely the beginning of this broader dialogue about how to translate human rights and sovereignty principles into the digital ecosystem.