A Conversation with Christopher Wolf, Founder of FPF


Christopher Wolf is the founder and Board President of the Future of Privacy Forum and a leading attorney in privacy and data protection. Chris helped break the path for privacy law and the modern Internet. He has had a hand in advising and shaping thinking on many leading-edge tech issues including Internet free speech, Internet hate speech, and the parameters of government access to stored information. At the same time, he led the development of a top-ranked privacy law practice at Hogan Lovells.

Chris originated and edited the first privacy law treatise published by the prestigious Practicing Law Institute and has written and lectured widely. He has testified in Congress and before the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board, participated in the 2014 White House Big Data Workshops, and served as a panelist at numerous FTC privacy-related workshops.

While playing this industry-leading role in the development of privacy and tech policy, Chris also dedicated a major portion of his time to charitable and philanthropic causes such as the Anti-Defamation League and Food and Friends, a Washington-based nonprofit that provides home-delivered meals and nutrition counseling for people with life-challenging illnesses, and several other charitable organizations. FPF staff who have known and worked with Chris praise him as a friend, colleague, mentor, and role model.

How does the Future of Privacy Forum today compare to your vision when you founded it?

When I founded the Future of Privacy Forum in 2008, the vision was that it would be a place where we could advance the responsible use of data while respecting individual privacy. We’ve stayed true to that mission. Working with Jules and the tremendous FPF team, it has been a pleasure to help the organization grow into a thriving community of business, academic, and civil society thought leaders, influential in shaping public policy on many privacy issues.

We realized early on that privacy isn’t just a legal compliance obligation. It’s good business. It can be a feature that consumers will find attractive if they’re dealing with a company that highlights its privacy practices.

We have grown steadily, in terms of both impact and traditional measures like staffing. And we have developed partnerships around the world. In fact, over the last year, we have significantly expanded our global role with the opening of the Israel Tech Policy Institute and our training and other cooperative projects with European data protection authorities. This year, we are expanding both our international presence and our state activities, while continuing to produce impactful reports, filings, and best practices and convening illuminating stakeholder meetings and events.

What is a project of which you are particularly proud?

There are many. One that comes to mind is Privacy Papers for Policymakers. The purpose of PPPM is to provide a succinct understandable digest in lay terms of the leading thinking about privacy for policymakers across the country. When PPPM first started we were in a tiny room at the National Press Club with space for about ten people. Now it’s held in a large hearing room on Capitol Hill and attracts a couple of hundred leading scholars and policymakers.

It’s not just the best policy research on privacy, it’s the privacy research that will be most useful to policymakers as they search for workable solutions. For those of us deep in the trenches we have many in-depth privacy resources available, but PPPM is really the only channel to put the best privacy scholarship in a helpful format for policymakers in Congress, the Administration, and state governments across the country.

PPPM is just one example of how we have spent the last decade bridging the gap between policymakers, industry, civil society, and academics as we explore the challenges posed by emerging technologies and develop practical privacy protections and effective best practices.

What do you think makes FPF stand out for its effectiveness?

FPF has always created space for thoughtful discourse among diverse stakeholders. Because we are centrist and independent, we are able to convene meetings and working groups that attract stakeholders with a broad range of perspectives to participate in lively and respectful discussions. In turn, that allows us to attract top-notch thinking and create concrete solutions to real-world situations. We remain confident in the power of collaboration to integrate privacy protections with responsible data use that will improve people’s lives.

Could you speak a little about the Christopher Wolf Diversity Law Fellowship?

Throughout my life I have fought discrimination, bigotry, and bias, and it is a great honor to have my name associated with a Fellowship designed to develop privacy professionals of diverse backgrounds.

Chanda Marlowe is our inaugural Diversity Law Fellow, and she has been a wonderful contributor to FPF. She’s an expert on location and advertising technology, algorithmic fairness, and how vulnerable populations can be uniquely affected by privacy issues. I’m looking forward to following her accomplishments during her career in privacy.

What is next for FPF?

Most immediately, we are holding a celebration on April 30 of FPF’s ten years serving as a catalyst for privacy leadership and scholarship. At the event, we are going to honor four trailblazers in the privacy field: Helen Dixon, Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner; Dale Skivington, who was the Chief Privacy Officer at both Dell and Eastman Kodak; Trevor Hughes, the President and CEO of the IAPP; and Peter Swire, the Elizabeth and Tommy Holder Chair of Law and Ethics at Georgia Tech and an FPF Senior Fellow.

It’s going to be a wonderful evening. Other speakers will include Andrea Jelinek, the Chairwoman of the European Data Protection Board, FTC Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter, and Abigail Slater of the White House.

Of course, we haven’t lost our focus on the future of privacy. As I reflect on where we are as an organization and where we are going, it occurs that many new technologies came into play during our first decade. AI and machine learning, genetic testing, connected cars, smart communities – those technologies were considered science fiction when FPF was founded. Now they have a significant and growing impact on society.

FPF will continue to study emerging technologies and influence their adaptation in ways that respect individual privacy. Only time will tell if the most pressing new privacy issues come from implantable devices, quantum computing, global networks, or something else. We want the use of data to remain a net benefit for society. Data holds greater promise than ever to improve our health, knowledge, and quality of life – as long as it is well-managed to control risks and empower individuals. That is what makes FPF’s work both exciting and important.