Developing Unique Expertise in Data Privacy Law
Every day, there are thousands of data brokers collecting information about individuals, packaging that data and then selling it to other companies. It's a huge business that mostly operates behind the scenes without much public awareness—until there’s a data breach.
Murzia Siddiqui ’22 spent the summer and fall of 2021 working virtually with Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego, CA, a nonprofit that raises awareness about data privacy issues affecting consumers. “Data is such a big commodity, and we often don’t realize how much we are giving away for free,” said Siddiqui. “These brokers are collecting data and making a lot of money off it.”
In 2018, Vermont became the first state to pass a data broker registration law that requires data brokers to register with the Secretary of State’s office, with the aim of giving consumers more control over their data. Siddiqui spent last summer analyzing the data broker registry to determine whether brokers were complying with the law and instituting policies for consumers: Do people know their data is being collected? Can they opt out? Do they have the opportunity to correct their data? Her study focused mainly on Vermont but also looked at California, which passed its own data broker registration law shortly after Vermont did.
This turned into such a “massive project,” Siddiqui said, that she wanted to keep working with the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse to compile the findings into a report. She approached Matt McGovern, Director of Experiential Learning, about completing this as a credit-bearing externship during the fall 2021 semester. He endorsed the idea, and she completed a draft of the report by late December.
“My supervisor told me there really are no other reports on data brokers, so this has been a great opportunity to become one of a few experts in this area,” she said. “I really had to start from scratch—which is not something you often get to do as a law student, because your work is often based on precedent. Writing a report of this kind was unlike anything I had ever done in law school.”
Siddiqui’s interest in data privacy law evolved during her first and second years at Villanova Law. After graduating from the University of South Florida in 2019, the New Jersey native knew she wanted to head north for law school. Villanova Law’s reputation for combining law and business appealed to her since she felt drawn to transactional law. After exploring different areas during her first year, she took three courses in her second year that sparked her interest in the intersections between the law and privacy and technology: Artificial Intelligence and the Law; Leveraging Technology for Access to Justice; and a seminar on Privacy.
Her newfound interest inspired her to conduct a large-scale search for summer opportunities in the field, which led her to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. In addition to her externship, Siddiqui conducted a survey of data privacy laws throughout the U.S. for her Advanced Legal Research course. She is also president of the Emerging Technology Legal Society and is working in the Clinic for Law and Entrepreneurship this semester.
“I was always good with technology but never really thought about how it intersects with the law,” she said. “My goal now is to work in data privacy, so I have tried to tailor my law school career in that way. It’s exciting because the landscape of data privacy law is always changing, and I see more change happening in the coming years.”