When Professor Ghappour is asked what he does for a living, he sometimes has to pause before answering. "In a way it's complicated," he says. "But in another way it's actually very simple: I presume innocence, and let the law take care of the rest."
Ghappour will join UC Hastings in the fall from the University of Texas School of Law, where he co-taught the Civil Rights Clinic (formerly the National Security Clinic), and directed a nationwide project litigating constitutional issues related to security and technology in complex criminal cases.
A former computer engineer, his research and teaching focus on the interplay between emerging technologies and national security—particularly in the context of the modern surveillance state, preventative law enforcement and cyberspace as a theater of war. He brings experience litigating issues related to national security, technology, press freedom, electronic surveillance and foreign intelligence gathering, and the international law of armed conflict.
The Liberty, Security & Technology Clinic will be modeled on Ghappour’s work at UT, and will offer indigent defense in complex federal criminal prosecutions involving national security and cybersecurity issues. Students will work with appointed trial counsel under faculty supervision to litigate issues related to Constitutional due process, privacy, speech, and other rights, often involving issues of first impression.
Typical clinic cases “test the limits of substantive doctrinal law, present difficult procedural or ethical questions and have a national or global footprint,” says Ghappour. Last year, one student team drafted a motion to unseal materials related to a district court order order authorizing a state law enforcement agency to conduct “roving” surveillance without a showing of probable cause or specifying a target. Another student team wrote a brief challenging the legality of wiretaps authorized under controversial amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, in a court-martial convened to try an Army Specialist charged with attempted espionage.
“If these cases are not thoroughly and vigorously litigated,” says Ghappour, “then the liberty interests of many or all of us could be sacrificed.” In one recent case, he and colleagues litigated the first challenge by a criminal defendant to mass collection of domestic call records by the government.
“Ahmed’s cutting-edge work in litigation engages the great legal issues of our day,” said UC Hastings Provost & Academic Dean Elizabeth L. Hillman, “including how technological change affects the intersection of privacy and security. He brings an exciting new dimension to our experiential curriculum.”
Currently, Ghappour represents Barrett Brown, a journalist whose case became a cause célèbre after he was charged with crimes related sharing a publicly available hyperlink. The link pointed to a public webpage containing data obtained unlawfully from a private intelligence contractor by a hacker. In a case that was poised to become a First Amendment test case, prosecutors dropped most of the significant charges just two days after the defense filed a motion to dismiss. Following the victory, students worked extensively on plea negotiations and sentencing strategy.
“We are thrilled to have Ahmed Ghappour join us to launch the Liberty, Security & Technology Clinic at UC Hastings,” says Nancy Stuart, Clinical Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Experiential Learning. “Ahmed’s expertise and the work of the clinic will allow our students to engage in practice at the intersection of Constitutional Rights and Cyber-security law while promoting our long-standing tradition of fostering students who wish to dedicate their careers to public service.”
“It's great to be returning to the Bay area,” said Ghappour, “and an honor to be joining such esteemed faculty at an institution whose tradition of public service is both longstanding and forward thinking.”
Alex A.G. Shapiro
Director, Communications & Public Affairs
UC Hastings College of the Law
Office: (415) 581-8842
Cell: (415) 813-9214