Jameel Jaffer
Jameel Jaffer

NEW YORK (Diya TV) — Columbia University president Lee C. Bollinger announced last month his appointment of Jameel Jaffer, deputy director at the ACLU, as the founding director of the school’s Knight First Amendment Institute, a new institute created in collaboration with the university and John S. and James L. Knight, which will work to preserve and expand the freedoms of expression and the press in the digital age through litigation, research and public advocacy.

“We’re at a moment in our history when freedom of expression, access to information and high quality journalism have never been more important, yet are facing unprecedented challenges,” said Bollinger. “No one understands that better than Jameel Jaffer. Throughout his accomplished career, Jameel has proven himself to be among the First Amendment’s most effective defenders and we could hardly have a more ideal founding director of the Knight Institute at Columbia.”

Since joining the staff of the ACLU in 2002, Jaffer has served as litigator on some of the most significant post-9/11 cases related to national security and civil liberties. In his role as director of the ACLU’s Center for Democracy, Jaffer created the organization’s project on speech, privacy, and technology and oversaw a major expansion of the ACLU’s work on issues relating to civil liberties in the digital age. Additionally, he was instrumental in the ACLU’s decision to take on the representation of whistleblower Edward Snowden.

He argued constitutional challenges to gag orders imposed under the Patriot Act, the declassification of sealed judiciary opinions issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and has argued cases at every level of the federal court system, including the U.S. Supreme Court. He has additionally testified before Congress about a variety of topics relating to national security and civil liberties.

Jaffer is also one of the nation’s leading Freedom of Information Act attorneys, having litigated landmark cases that resulted in the publication of crucial documents about the U.S. government’s counter-terrorism policies.

“The digital age has brought us a wealth of new ways to communicate, but digital technology is also vulnerable to surveillance and control. At the same time, news organizations have fewer resources to fight for access to government records and defend free expression,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation. “Jameel Jaffer’s integrity, intellect and collaborative nature make him the right leader for a new organization. His experience at the intersection of law and technology make him the forward-looking legal strategist the Institute needs to select—and win—precedent-setting battles.”

The Knight First Amendment Institute will seek to address a range of significant and emerging First Amendment issues, all of which Jaffer has the most astute authority on. Some of the matters include electronic surveillance by government; privacy rights on digital platforms; the overall freedom of internet platforms, and the rights and responsibilities of the corporate actors who own those platforms.

“Columbia and Knight Foundation have made an extraordinary commitment to protecting and expanding freedom of expression and of the press in a constantly changing digital environment,” said Jaffer. “I am excited about this opportunity to build an organization dedicated to a mission that’s so essential in a free society.”

A graduate of Harvard Law School, where he served as editor of the school’s law review journal, he clerked under Hon. Amalya L. Kearse on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and then to Rt. Hon. Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada. His writing has been published in The New York TimesThe Los Angeles TimesThe Guardian, and other publications. His new book, The Drone Memos, will be published by The New Press in November.