In Memoriam: Joseph Alhadeff

I note with sadness the passing of Joseph Alhadeff over the Memorial Day weekend. Joseph was a thoughtful and important person in the privacy world who has left behind a substantial body of work and a legacy of privacy thought of the utmost quality. Joseph was deeply knowledgeable about privacy and technology, and he was unafraid to push for what he thought was right, not just what was easy.

Joseph and I crossed paths frequently over the years. Most recently, I worked with Joseph on an OECD advisory committee on health data uses; we were working on language for a new OECD Recommendation. There was a difficult point of discussion in the room about how to use health data that was only subject to very narrow consent, which meant that it could not be used more broadly. Some experts said that we should simply accept less privacy and move on to using more data. Joseph strenuously argued for a different outcome; here, I quote from one of his follow-up emails regarding this point of discussion:

If we can get away from the either/or discussions and focus on how we do both, I think we could dramatically improve the Recommendation.

It is exactly this clear sightedness, the cutting to the root of the problem, that Joseph brought to privacy work. The crux of the problem in the discussion was indeed either/or thinking, thinking which too often subterfuges genuine progress in privacy. Joseph was interested in finding a new way forward in the digital ecosystem, a way that allowed privacy and advancing technologies to co-exist. For Joseph, privacy was not an obstacle, it was something to be protected and treasured, and the real work was to find a way to do both, as he said — to keep moving forward in our evolving digital ecosystem, yet keep moving forward equally with privacy. And that is where the real work is. Joseph knew this.

Joseph’s legacy of clear thinking and thoughtfulness has made its mark in the policy world, but his good legacy is not enough comfort in losing such a thoughtful person too early. I will miss talking with Joseph about privacy, and the loss of his fine input into privacy thought going forward is a substantial one.

-Pam Dixon