Susan Freiwald, Dean and Professor, School of Law

Privacy Law: Online and Off the Record

A healthy democracy promotes privacy and Susan Freiwald wants to keep it that way.

Big Brother may be watching. But if you have nothing to hide, what's the big deal — right?

That's an argument privacy and electronic surveillance law expert Susan Freiwald has heard time and again in response to revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) is spying on Americans. Often enough that it worries her.

“A lot of people don't think they have anything to hide from law enforcement,” says Freiwald, who's a frequent commentator in national media and named dean of the School of Law in July 2019. “They don't realize the harm that comes from overcollection of personal data. It's a power that's easy to abuse, that would permit the government to suppress political expression. It's not healthy for a democracy.”

Freiwald regularly assists the Electronic Frontier Foundation in electronic surveillance litigation and has argued digital privacy cases in federal court. She's particularly interested in whether and how government surveillance violates the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

I remember the first class I taught. I just felt like I was two feet off the ground. I just enjoyed it so much. That's how I knew. I just knew. I really like helping people figure out problems.”

Her field of expertise — privacy law — is a growing one, and it's become increasingly salient as tech giants like Google and Facebook and online retailers such as Amazon collect copious amounts of data on our web browsing and shopping behavior. Freiwald teaches privacy and Internet law to USF students. Among her classes is a hybrid course in which students have the opportunity to practice privacy law at Bay Area firms and companies.

It's a role, says the former software engineer, that combines her interests in law and technology.

“I started programming when I was really young, and I went to law school to bridge the gap between technology and law,” she says.

But she discovered her real passion was in the classroom. As a law student at Harvard University, Freiwald served as a teaching assistant for a sociology class called Women in the Law.

“I remember the first class I taught,” she says. “I just felt like I was two feet off the ground. I just enjoyed it so much. That's how I knew. I really like helping people figure out problems.”

And the Bay Area native has found an ideal community in which she can help her students thrive.

“I love USF's community of students and faculty. We're a community of committed and passionate people who respect and value each other immensely,” she says.

I love USF's community of students and faculty. We're a community of committed and passionate people who respect and value each other immensely, and that's unusual for a law school. We're much more cooperative than competitive. No one thinks their success has to come at the expense of the other.”

Susan Freiwald