Information Privacy Law
Georgetown University Law Center

Prof. Marc Rotenberg
Spring 2015

(Version: April 22, 2015)


This course examines "information privacy," an individual's right to control his or her personal information held by others. The aim of the course is to understand how courts and Congress seek to protect information privacy as new technologies and new institutional practices emerge. The course traces the origins of the right to information privacy in American law through Constitutional law, tort law, and modern statutory law. Case studies of landmark privacy legislation illustrate how expectations of privacy are translated into legal frameworks. The course looks at recent controversies involving domestic surveillance, identification systems, social networking sites, video surveillance, DNA databases, and airport body scanners. The course also considers the impact of the European privacy directive, the growth of the Internet, and the availability of cryptography and other Privacy Enhancing Technologies on the future of privacy law in the United States. See



Does the Fourth Amendment apply to hotel reservation records? Is the NSA telephone record collection program lawful? May Facebook use your image for commercial endorsement? Is Target liable for the misuse of password informaiton for identity theft? What if Snapchat simply hides images instead of deleting them? Do users have recourse? Is there a way to bridge the privacy approaches of the United States and the European Union? What is the "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights?" And why is everyone talking about Smith v. Maryland? These are just a few of the questions we aim to explore during the 2015 edition of Information Privacy Law. Our larger purpose is to understand the development of modern privacy law against the background of competing commercial and national security claims, rapidly developing technologies, and the global Internet. That should keep us busy for at least a few hours each week.


Most of the reading assignmemnts will be posted online. The assignments will typically follow a simple structure: I will assign the foundational case, statute, or article, and then one or two recent opinons that demonstrate the application of the doctrine to a current problem. Don't be too concerned if you don't understand all of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. No one does. But do try to understand the significance of all of the assignments for our class discussions and for the development of modern privacy law.

The Supreme Court has provided an excellent case for us to study this semester. More below

Also, there will be no class on Wednesday, January 22, 2015. In lieu of class, I will ask you to watch or attend one significant privacy hearing, conference, or argument during the spring semeseter and then prepare a five-page paper that summarizes the issue before Congress or the court and what you expect the outcome to be. Details about sepecific events will follow.

And if you are Georgetown University Law Center, taking a class on Information Privacy Law, you should learn more about the excellent Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology. Finally, real privacy experts say "Fair Information Practices" not "Fair Information Practice Principles." These things matter.


Information Privacy Law meets WEDNESDAY evenings, 5:45 to 7:45 in Hotung1000. Information Privacy Law is a two-credit seminar. The exam is scheduled for There is no paper option. To contact me, send email to or call 202-483-1140x106. OR @MarcRotenberg


Here are ten concepts you should understand after taking this class:
Week 1 (Jan 14) Introduction to Privacy Law
Administration Topics Reading
No classes (Jan 21) Marc in Brussels

Week 2 (Jan 28) Common Law: The Privacy Torts
Topics Reading
Week 3 (Feb 4) Privacy, the First Amendment, Anonymity and Sensitive Data
Topics Reading
Week 4 (Feb 11) Privacy and the Fourth Amendment
Topics Reading
No classes (Feb 18) Faculty retreat

Week 5 (Feb 25) Supreme Court: Los Angeles v. Patel, No. 13-1175 (Searches of cell phone records)
Week 6 (Mar 4) Int'l Privacy Law I: Classic Frameworks
Guest speaker

Jacob Kohnstamm,
Chairman at Dutch Data Protection Authority.
Former Chairman, Article 29 Working Party.


No class (Mar 11) Spring break

Week 7 (Mar 18) Wiretap Law
Week 8 (Mar 25) Privacy by Statute I: Government Databases
Week 9 (Apr 1 Privacy by Statute II: Private Sector Databases
Week 10 (Apr 15) The Role of the Federal Trade Commission
Week 11 (Apr 15) Int'l Privacy Law II: Emerging Law and Institutions / Technology and Privacy
Topics Reading
Week 12 (Apr 22)Aerial Surveillance, Drones, and the Future of Privacy