Comparative Constitutional Rights in the Digital Age

Comparative Constitutional Rights in the Digital Age World


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New York, Sept. 19, 2011—A new Columbia Law School course will examine emerging issues and challenges in human rights and constitutional law. As existing frameworks for privacy and constitutionally protected freedoms receive heightened scrutiny in a new digital era, this cutting-edge course contemplates the interplay between innovation and constitutional rights.
Comparative Constitutional Rights in the Digital Age is taught this fall by Karen Eltis LL.M. ’03, and will cover a range of emerging digital issues with an emphasis on comparative thinking and analysis.  
Eltis wants students to reflect on the meaning of privacy in the digital world and consider the differences between the American and Continental attitudes toward the concept itself. “The old notion of privacy as the right to be left alone may very well be dying. Most people don’t want to be left alone. But privacy as the right to mold and control one’s identity – that is more alive than ever.”
Students will also explore issues related to democratic participation, freedom of expression, regulation of hate speech online, the “marketplace of ideas” and other topics. 
“I’m a comparativist,” said Eltis. In our borderless digital world, “if you don’t know how other systems think as a lawyer, then it’s very difficult to ask the right questions” to get the answers clients and policy makers need.
Eltis, an alumna of the Law School who specializes in Internet law and policy, ethics and comparative law, teaches her students that they “can’t be parochial” as lawyers in the digital age. 
“The increased availability of all kinds of information shapes our understanding of constitutional rights” around the world, Eltis noted. Policy-making related to digital rights has to cross borders. “It’s about global governance of data.”
The course also features a comparative exploration of privacy in the U.S., Asia-Pacific countries and Europe, including new European concepts of informational self-determination and the right to be forgotten.
Since digital technologies and actors change rapidly, lawyers and policy-makers addressing these issues cannot take a case by case approach, but must take a broad view, Eltis said. Rather than examine particular technologies such as email, Google, Facebook and Twitter, Eltis wants students to ask broad, general questions such as, “Does the new technology change the applicability of the underlying rationale of a particular rule so that the rule becomes impracticable?”  
As a lawyer with a global perspective, Eltis is fluent in five languages. She is a tenured associate professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Ottawa, Canada, and has clerked for Chief Justice Aharon Barak of the Supreme Court of Israel. She is currently completing a book entitled, Courts and Litigants in the Digital Age (to be published by Irwin Law, Toronto, this winter).
Her early interest in digital rights and Internet law issues led her to write a paper for a labor and employment law class on e-mail eavesdropping in the workplace while she was a student at Columbia Law School in 2003. The paper grew into two articles published in the Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal and a second in the McGill Law Journal (in French).
Returning to teach law at her alma mater is an experience Eltis called “an unparalleled joy.”
She is particularly gratified by the Law School’s remarkably diverse and well-rounded student body.
“This institution has given me so much and has taught me so much,” she said. “It’s an honor for me to be here.” 
Written by Jesse Londin
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Columbia Law School, founded in 1858, stands at the forefront of legal education and of the law in a global society. Columbia Law School joins traditional strengths in international and comparative law, constitutional law, administrative law, business law and human rights law with pioneering work in the areas of intellectual property, digital technology, sexuality and gender, criminal, and environmental law.