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Kurt Wimmer L’85 Explains “Vexing” Privacy and Technology Issues to DCEx Students

Posted on Saturday 8/8/2020
Kurt Wimmer L'85

By 3L Viviana Bro

Kurt Wimmer L’85 is as much a visionary as the Fortune 100 companies and multinationals he advises. Decades ago, when nascent intelligent technologies first appeared, he understood and anticipated their impact on privacy, data protection, and cybersecurity. With a pioneering attitude, he decided to pursue the convergence of advanced technologies and law. Today, Wimmer is an accomplished legal expert currently serving as a partner and US Co-Chair of the Data Privacy and Cybersecurity Practice Group at Covington & Burling LLP.

Holding an M.A. from Syracuse University Newhouse School of Communications and a law degree from the College of Law, Wimmer has served as chair of the Privacy and Information Security Committee of the American Bar Association’s Antitrust Section. He is certified as an Information Privacy Professional for Europe and the United States by the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Due to his vast expertise, he has testified numerous times before Congress and local legislatures, and he has written extensively about the EU’s data protection regulatory system.

The 2020 Summer DCEx cohort had the privilege to learn from Wimmer during the program’s final seminar on July 30, 2020. Wimmer first provided a global view of privacy, data protection, and cybersecurity. He discussed the EU’s comprehensive personal data protection regulations and addressed Asian data protection dichotomies. While South Korea is an example of a nation with well-formalized and stringent personal data protections, he explained, other nations in the region have little to no legislation in this area, and their governments can exploit their citizens’ personal data indiscriminately.

Wimmer pointed to India as an example of a nation in the process of designing a legal framework for data protection, and he expressed hope that India’s initiative will positively influence surrounding nations to follow its lead.

Data protection in the United States falls under the Federal Trade Commission, Wimmer noted, which regulates deceptive practices and has enforcement power but which lacks rule-making authority. He added that data privacy and cybersecurity law would benefit from federal data privacy legislation because it would introduce predictability, consistency, and accountability to the field.

Congress’ inertia, he commented, has prompted states like California to pass robust legislation to protect personal data from technology providers (the California Consumer Privacy Act). Other states will soon emulate this bold move, Wimmer predicted.

Wimmer concluded by discussing some vexing artificial intelligence issues, including facial recognition technology and its impact on privacy considerations. He commented that our vision of privacy rights clashes with other nations’ norms and attitudes toward privacy. Some countries are amassing and mining vast amounts of data from their citizens, he said, and the exploitation of these data has allowed these countries to make extraordinary scientific leaps, which we cannot realize under our notion of privacy.  

Wimmer’s career provides students a template and an inspiration for what a legal career can become. His insightful presentation illustrated a broader multidisciplinary legal and policy ecosystem where privacy concerns, advanced technologies, cybercrimes, commerce, and law merge.