The International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) has named recent graduate Rafita Ahlam ’21 as the recipient of the annual Westin Scholar Award.
The IAPP is the world’s largest and most comprehensive global information privacy community and resource. The Westin Scholar Award pays homage to the late Dr. Alan Westin, a foundational voice in the field of privacy and data protection. Throughout his life, Dr. Westin researched and wrote about privacy, data protection, digital identity, and the future of how societies will deal with issues at the intersection of law and technology.
The IAPP announced the launch of the annual Westin Scholar Awards in December as part of its 20th anniversary events and as a way to advance the IAPP’s mission to define, promote, and improve the privacy profession globally. With the growing need for well-qualified privacy and data protection professionals, the annual Westin Scholar Award supports students who are committed to a career in privacy and data protection.
Upon learning she had been named a winner in late June, Ahlam credited Fordham Law’s faculty and the Center on Law and Information Policy (CLIP) for their commitment to building a robust information privacy law program at the Law School.
“Prior to attending law school, I had no idea privacy law—or privacy, in general—was an area to pursue,” Ahlam said, “because, like many others, I thought privacy was a fossil in today’s modern world where widely-available technology automatically collects and shares personal data.”
“But, after taking Professor Ari Waldman’s Information Privacy Law class during the fall of my 2L year, I learned what was just at the tip of the iceberg in this field,” she continued. “I was fascinated by how there was a legal scheme that regulates the access, control, and distribution of personal information, which is such an interesting concept.”
Combining this newfound passion for privacy law with her interest in international law, Ahlam wrote a student note under the guidance of Professor Olivier Sylvain, CLIP’s academic director, during her 2L year.
The note—titled “Apple, the Government, and You: Security and Privacy Implications of the Global Encryption Debate” and published in the latest volume of the Fordham International Law Journal—focused on what has become known as the “encryption debate.” It explores the clash between law enforcement, which desires probative evidence from encrypted smartphones, and entities (like technology companies and users) who have a vested interest in the protection of the data. Ahlam analyzed how various countries addressed the privacy and cybersecurity implications raised by this issue, and discussed what the United States could learn from its international peers in crafting its own law.
Ahlam and other award winners will receive a $1,000 cash prize, a copy of Dr. Westin’s Privacy and Freedom, a two-year membership with the IAPP, three complimentary IAPP certification exams, and unlimited access to online training for recipients’ selected IAPP certification exams. Thanks to the award’s generosity, Ahlam plans to get certified by the IAPP in US privacy law, European privacy law, and Asian privacy law.
In pursuit of her goal to become a privacy and data protection professional, Ahlam will be a health privacy and technology attorney at the Legal Action Center (LAC) this fall. There she will interpret emerging privacy laws, analyze the privacy and equity impacts of new health technology (including consumer apps and telehealth), and provide legal counsel and technical assistance regarding health privacy laws to healthcare providers and harm reduction centers, government agencies, and other stakeholders.
CLIP Executive Director Tom Norton ’16 explained how excited he and CLIP were to hear of Ahlam’s win and to be recognized by the IAPP for the prestigious honor. “Rafita is one of the many talented students Fordham is producing who are seeking to commit to careers in the field of privacy law after graduation,” Norton said. “This recognition by the IAPP reflects that, and it’s a valuable opportunity for Fordham students to chart a path into professional practice in privacy.”
“Rafita is as well deserving of the Westin Scholar Award as anyone,” added Professor Sylvain. “I’m also thrilled that she will continue to work in this important area at the Legal Action Center, where she will work on health privacy matters that affect those with criminal records, substance abuse disorders, and HIV/AIDS.”
“We have been lucky to have her at Fordham,” he added, “and LAC is lucky to have her join them.”