Fordham Law Mourns the Loss of Professor Joel Reidenberg


The entire Fordham Law community is mourning the passing of Professor Joel Reidenberg, the Stanley D. and Nikki Waxberg Chair in Law and the founder of the Center on Law and Information Policy (CLIP). He passed away on April 21 at age 59 after a long and valiant battle with leukemia.

Reidenberg was a pioneer in the legal academy on internet privacy and cybersecurity. For three decades, he worked on a wide range of issues and questions, including the intelligibility of privacy policies, legislative protections from privacy harms, government surveillance in the name of national security, privacy in online gaming, student data protection, EU data protection efforts, transnational data flows, and algorithmic decision-making. Reidenberg founded CLIP in 2005, serving as academic director. Through CLIP, he and his staff, including Tom Norton ’16, the current executive director testified before legislators and policymakers around the world, published numerous reports, and convened conferences and roundtables on the major issues of the day. Previous CLIP executive directors, including Jamela Debelak and N. Cameron Russell ’13, now work in the U.S. and abroad on related issues. Reidenberg also played a key role in founding the Samuelson-Glushko Intellectual Property clinic directed by Professor Ron Lazebnik.   

Reidenberg’s groundbreaking article from 1998, “Lex Informatica: The Formulation of Information Policy Rules through Technology,” showed that the developers of networked technologies were as important to data protection and cybersecurity as policymakers and conventional legal mechanisms. As with Lawrence Lessig, another leader in the field, Reidenberg recognized that system designs compete with and sometimes supplant government regulation. Given the evolution of smartphone technology and social media, his observations were extraordinarily prescient.

Ever since, Reidenberg has been a go-to expert for colleagues in the academic community, policymakers, students, and media covering the ever-evolving subject of privacy–including matters involving Facebook, DNA testing, the protection of student data, artificial intelligence, and much more. In February of this year, his groundbreaking research was cited as a cornerstone of the new California Consumer Privacy Act. Under his active leadership, even when he was ill, CLIP was collaborating with computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon, the University of Michigan, and Penn State under a large grant from the National Science Foundation to develop tools that consumers could use to evaluate the privacy of networked services. Additionally, Reidenberg was part of a global consortium of privacy experts. Professor Chris Marsden of Sussex Law School notes that he “wrote an explosive report for the European Commission on how broken transnational data flows were. He made a coruscating contribution on the U.S. data protection ‘safe harbor’–which helped shape what eventually became the General Data Protection Regulation (GDRP).”

“Joel was a beloved member of the Fordham Law community. He was a superb mentor and teacher. He asked hard questions, but was a great cheerleader—taking pleasure in helping others to develop and thrive,” said Dean Matthew Diller. “He had been fighting fiercely for his life for a long while, so he wasn’t physically present at the school recently, but he was still very involved in the community and in the ongoing global conversation on privacy. He shaped my thinking about privacy law and information law, as he has shaped the thinking of colleagues, students, and professionals in the Fordham community and across the country, and around the world. His unbridled enthusiasm, curiosity, and tremendous intellect were ever present and widely recognized. His area of expertise couldn’t be more vital than it is today. Despite being dealt a tough hand in January 2018 when he was diagnosed, his positive attitude, love, and joy in his family and friends and continued focus on issues and people he cared about will always be an inspiration to me and to so many others. He will be sorely missed.”

Reidenberg taught at Princeton University, where he was a visiting research collaborator at the Center for Information Technology Policy, at the Université de Paris-Sorbonne, and at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris. He was a member of the American Law Institute (ALI) and an advisor to the ALI’s Principles of the Law, Data Privacy project. Reidenberg also served as an expert adviser to the U.S. Congress, the Federal Trade Commission, the European Commission, and the World Intellectual Property Organization.

“We have lost a great teacher, a great thinker, and a great colleague in Joel Reidenberg,” said Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham. “In his 30 years at Fordham he has been a far-seeing and principled voice on the law, on issues of student privacy, and on University governance. I know the Fordham family joins me in mourning Professor Reidenberg’s loss, and in remembering his many and varied contributions to the University community.” 

In 2015, Reidenberg, with Professor Olivier Sylvain, developed a four-credit survey course on Information Law, among the first such courses at Fordham and in most of the country. He also created Fordham Law’s LL.M. in Intellectual Property and Information Law, served as the Law School’s LL.M. program director, and created the School’s joint degree program with the Universite de Paris-Sorbonne, among other achievements. He played a leadership role at Fordham University, serving as president of Fordham’s faculty senate and associate vice president for academic affairs, among other positions.  

“It is hard to overstate Joel’s influence on the field. His early scholarship was and remains – important. But, what was more inspiring was Joel’s continuing and unrelenting curiosity and scholarly interest in new and useful ways of protecting students and consumers from overzealous companies and governments,” said Professor Sylvain, who is also the director of the McGannon Center. “Joel was a wonderful scholar, mentor, and friend. He was among the earliest and most influential voices in online privacy and cybersecurity around the world. His writing helped to shape the way many of us think about the governance of information flows—a generative term that he routinely used to explain the ways in which governments and private actors both control access to data. He was a wonderful and generous resource. I am just glad I told him often that I was indebted to him for my hire at Fordham, and for helping me discover my own scholarly passion.”

Ari Waldman, a privacy scholar who currently teaches at New York Law School and Fordham, spearheaded a recent effort to celebrate Reidenberg’s contributions to the field. The event, scheduled for late March of this year at Fordham Law School, was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Dozens of luminaries, including Danielle Citron, John Palfrey, Pamela Samuelson, Judge Denny Chin, and former Fordham Law Dean Bill Treanor, were planning to attend. Last year, in March 2019, Reidenberg received the BCLT Privacy Award from the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology. The award recognized his seminal scholarship, innovative policy entrepreneurship, and tireless support for the privacy community.

“Joel was a fantastic colleague and friend. Not only was he responsible for helping to make the law school a leader in information technology law and privacy, he was deeply dedicated to advancing the mission of the University and always spoke of how much he treasured his time in the faculty senate and his service in the administration. I will miss his insights and counsel,” said Fordham Law Professor Jeffrey Colon.

“Without Joel’s energy and constant efforts to expand Fordham’s involvement in the Information Law space, my clinic would likely not exist in the first place. I am very grateful to have had Joel as a friend and colleague and will miss him greatly,” said Ron Lazebnik, clinical associate professor and director of the Samuelson-Glushko Intellectual Property & Information Law Clinic.

Prior to joining the Fordham faculty in 1990, Reidenberg was an associate at the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. He was a graduate of Dartmouth College, earned a J.D. from Columbia University, and earned a Ph.D. in law from the Université de Paris–Sorbonne. He was admitted to the Bars of New York and the District of Columbia.

Reidenberg is survived by his wife, Pascale; his two sons, Jeremy and David; his daughter-in-law, Caitlin; his grandchildren, Luca and Sophie; and his mother, June. His father Marcus passed away earlier this winter.

We will share information about any shiva or opportunities to offer condolences. Fordham Law will hold an event celebrating the life and scholarship of Professor Reidenberg at the Law School when able to do so.  



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