July 11, 2018 - Georgetown Announces New Seminar on Technology Policy and Lawmaking in the Digital Age

by Garrett Lance, Class of 2020

This fall, Georgetown Law welcomes the addition of adjunct Professors Hillary Brill and Miriam Vogel, who will co-teach a new seminar, Technology Policy and the Practice of Law in the Digital Age. The course will explore how lawyers should navigate disruptive and innovative technologies with sometimes outdated legal tools, and how our laws can be more flexible to keep pace with technological changes.

Professors Brill and Vogel discussed their new course and how their backgrounds in technology policy will inform their teaching. Responses below have been edited for clarity and length.

This experiential course is a new offering at Georgetown. Could you provide an overview of the course? And, what are some of the skills you’re hoping your students will acquire throughout the semester?

MV: Students in this course will have hands-on policymaking experience with a focus on the latest technology issues. Students will explore whether and how our laws could be improved to both foster innovation and protect individual freedoms. Students can expect to complete this course with an understanding of key technology legal and policy issues and having acquired “skills of the trade.” 

How does your course fit in with the other technology-focused class offerings at Georgetown Law?

HB: This class will use the example of cutting-edge technology issues to teach practical legal, legislative and policymaking skills that can be applied to any legal and policy matter (e.g., competition, national security, health, tax policy). This course will provide a strong foundation for students interested in technology issues across the campus community.

How should lawmakers be thinking about responding to the ever-changing technology landscape? Are traditional legal tools the best approach, or are there more flexible policy solutions?

HB: Lawmakers need to be open-minded, flexible, and educated about how technology is changing our society. The rapid pace of technology is not being matched by policymakers and the repercussions of that inconsistency have the potential to be troubling if our legislators are not visionaries and not willing to adapt. 

MV: Lawmakers need to stay current and do something that is hard in our election cycles-centric system—think about long-term consequences both of emerging technology and of our laws. Technology is changing norms and realities, and there are ethical and legal consequences that need to be considered during this critical period. Lawmakers need to be ready to make thoughtful decisions about who we want to be as a nation committed to both privacy and innovation, and then we must ensure that our laws and regulations support that vision.  

Are there any technologies or technological developments that particularly concern you, or you think will be especially challenging for policymakers to address?

HB: Privacy issues have recently been at the forefront of legislators and society at large with the Cambridge Analytica / Facebook crisis. However, those issues have been there for years. Unfortunately, it takes a crisis sometimes for people to realize that the technology in their daily lives may have hidden costs. Lawmakers will continue to be faced with privacy and cybersecurity concerns. 

MV: Due to the nature of emerging technologies that challenge actual and perceived legal boundaries, there are numerous technology-related issues that will be particularly challenging to our legal system and our lawmakers that we will address in this class. One in particular is Artificial Intelligence (AI) because it can impact so many of our basic legal notions. AI will enable devices to so closely mimic human behavior that it may change our perception of culpability and mens rea, impact our current ideas of ownership or theft of intellectual property, and pose even more challenging ethical questions.

Tell us about your backgrounds and how you became interested in technology and the law.

HB: When I was a law student at Georgetown there wasn’t much available for students. Few schools, if any, had any Internet law classes as the law was in its infancy. The closest area at the time was communications law, so I became a communications lawyer at Covington & Burling. The dot-com bubble soon burst and I had to be a self-starter at the firm and find any Internet work available, such as helping to draft the first Internet primer, working pro bono for the Smithsonian IP department, and helping the Bosnia and Herzegovina government with its first communications and information regulatory laws. I loved these policy projects and decided to go to the Hill to work with Internet-policy champion Congressman Rick Boucher on the Energy & Commerce and Judiciary Committees. I was then recruited as the Legislative Counsel for eBay and stayed there for ten years in various roles including Senior Global Policy Counsel and Head of Government Affairs. I continue to work with the Internet industry with my private practice.

MV: Like Hillary, I had to seek out opportunities to pursue this area when I was in law school, such as a job after school at National Public Radio. After a federal clerkship, my husband took us out to Los Angeles where I practiced entertainment law with a focus on intellectual property. When we moved to Boston, I was offered an in-house position based on my IP experience, and then we moved home to DC when I was offered a position in the Obama Administration, ultimately serving as Associate Deputy Attorney General and chair of the Attorney General’s Intellectual Property Task Force. It took being creative to find a path into tech policy and law in the past, but thanks to innovations at Georgetown such as the Tech Institute, students can now explore this area with much greater ease.

As Georgetown Law alums, how has the school changed since you were law students? 

MV: On the surface, the school is almost unrecognizable to the one I first sat in when I attended classes with my mother, who was a law student in the early 1980s. The campus has changed in a way that enables students to have more of an on-campus experience but, at its core, the school is very much the same place I’ve known and loved since I was seven years old sitting in Father Drinan’s torts class.  

HB: The Tech Institute is a dream come true. Both Miriam and I bonded over the fact that we wished we had an institute like the one that is thriving and growing today. Students have such incredible opportunities in the area of technology law and policy that were never possible before.

Professors Hillary Brill (l) and Miriam Vogel (r)

Professors Hillary Brill (l) and Miriam Vogel (r)