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November 21, 2008 11:22 AM

Proskauer Rose Lawyer Heads New Online Privacy Group

Posted by Rachel Breitman

Proskauer Rose privacy group founder Christopher Wolf knows that sometimes a person’s most important capital is his personal information.

With the support of his firm and funding from AT&T Corporation, Wolf helped launch The Future of Privacy Forum Wednesday to protect consumers’ personal information.  The Forum, helmed by Wolf and former AOL chief privacy officer and former New York City Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jules Polonetsky, is just Wolf's latest endeavor in the area of privacy law.

Wolf, the former co-chair of Hands Off the Internet, also contributed to the firm's 1,300-page treatise, Proskauer on Privacy, published by PLI, and helps maintain Proskauer's Privacy Law Blog. He has handled such high-profile privacy cases as McVeigh v. Cohen, representing a U.S. Navy officer who was discharged after AOL inadvertently disclosed personal information that included his homosexuality to his superiors; and Wilson v. Cheney, advising CIA officer Valerie Plame and her husband, Joseph Wilson, in a civil suit against the vice-president, deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, the vice president's chief of staff Lewis Libby, and presidential chief of staff Karl Rove, over the disclosure to journalists of her status as a covert operative.

Wolf spoke to The AM Law Daily about the new forum’s goals and some of the complicated issues ahead--regulating hate speech online; the potential passage of a federal data-breach notification of law that would preempt strict state laws already on the books--in what remains an often controversial area of law.

What will The Future of Privacy Forum do?
We will foster debate on how consumers can be better protected online.  We won’t lobby Congress, but we may be called in to testify before Congress or to advise companies or government bodies on privacy matters. We hope to provide a place for educating consumers about protecting their personal data.
How can privacy standards be enforced when there is so much potential profit in behavioral targeting?
We hope to use peer pressure by highlighting good examples of company transparency.

Is the Forum a nonprofit? How is it funded?

AT&T, a client of Proskauer, provided the seed money for the Forum, which is a 501C4  charitable organization.  We are looking for other corporate sponsors.

Where will the organization be housed?
It will be housed right here on my desk, since it’s a virtual forum. We will likely travel to speak before government bodies, in high schools, and in law schools on behavior advertising and consumer protection.

What role should the government play in setting privacy standards?
I think we will see a more active role on the part of the FTC and the new Congress in a more tech-savvy administration. We’d like to see a preemptive federal law on data security breach notification. Now there are many state level laws on the issue, but we’d like to see a uniform national standard forcing companies to make their clients aware when data has been compromised.

Will the group weigh in on the issue of government organizations tracking citizens' online behavior?
It’s not at the top of our agenda. There are other groups that handle government wiretapping and internet privacy matters. Our focus will be on the commercial end.

How does the firm feel about you pursuing these matters on a pro-bono basis?

While the policies of the forum do not necessarily represent the beliefs of the firm or our clients, the firm has always supported my choice to pursue privacy advocacy.

What are some of your other concerns about Internet safety?
I am chair of the Washington, D.C. governing board of the Anti-Defamation League and have been devoted to fighting hate online with the International Network Against Cyberhate.  While I am a privacy advocate, I know that anonymity online can also help foster hate speech, so it's a very complicated issue.

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