When she graduated from high school in 1992, Barbara van Schewick knew she wanted to study law. After all, some of her favorite childhood memories involved discussing cases with her father, a judge on one of Germany’s highest courts. But she was also drawn to technology. She had received her first computer two years earlier and immediately took to it, tinkering with programming languages like C and Pascal. “I didn’t want to give up either subject, so I started wondering whether I could combine the two. Most people thought I was crazy. At the time, the Internet hadn’t become very popular in Germany yet, and German lawyers didn’t use computers for their work,” says van Schewick, who in addition to her scholarly work at Stanford will be teaching communications law and antitrust law.
And so it happened that van Schewick shuttled back and forth between the Free University Berlin and Technical University Berlin, simultaneously pursuing her law degree and a PhD in computer science.
It was a prescient move. By the time van Schewick completed her legal education in 2000, the Internet had exploded. Moreover, it “was clear that it was raising a host of fascinating legal questions that were difficult to solve without technical expertise,” she says.
One issue to which van Schewick has lent her considerable expertise is network neutrality—whether the law should prevent network providers from slowing down applications and content or from excluding it from networks. Her paper, “Towards an Economic Framework for Network Neutrality,” published by the Journal of Telecommunications and High Technology Law this spring, was widely hailed for its groundbreaking analysis.
At Stanford, van Schewick intends to continue her work in this area with the goal of helping shape policy in the United States and Europe, where the issue of network neutrality is far from resolved. She is also finishing a book, Architecture and Innovation: The Role of the End-to-End Arguments in the Original Internet, and conducting research on how future Internet architecture might affect innovation and competition.
“Technical, legal, and economic choices will affect whether the Internet can realize its full potential,” says van Schewick. “To me, understanding what the impact of the various choices will be and what role the law should play in all this is one of the most exciting areas of research in this field today.”
Van Schewick comes to the law school from the Technical University Berlin, where she was a senior researcher at the Telecommunication Networks Group at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. She holds the distinction of being the first residential fellow at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society in 2000.
“Superbly trained in law and equally well trained in other professional disciplines relevant to the cutting-edge issues of our day, Barbara is part of a new breed of law professor,” says Dean Larry Kramer. “Barbara’s expertise in computer science and economics makes her uniquely qualified to tackle some of the most important issues of our age.”