Meet the faculty: Bryce Newell, assistant professor of media law and policy

Bryce Newell

Hometown: Layton, Utah

Primary research interest: Surveillance, access to information, media law and policy, information law and policy, cybercrime, policing, immigration

Hobbies: Hiking, exploring tide pools at the beach, bicycling, playing disc golf

Favorite book: Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. “It’s fun and has nothing to do with anything I do for work,” he said. “And that’s largely the point.”

Say “hello!”: Follow him on Twitter @newmedialaw

In the current political climate, there is increasing controversy over the role of police officers and how they wield their power. Police-worn body cameras and citizen video footage are intended to increase accountability. But they create new complications. SOJC professor Bryce Newell seeks to understand this intersection of law enforcement, technology and ethics through his research.

Newell joined the UO School of Journalism and Communication faculty this fall as an assistant professor of media law and policy. Before moving to Oregon, he was an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky. He started his career in the film and commercial videography industry before switching to law and earning his law degree at University of California, Davis.

As a lawyer and social scientist, Newell strives to address the regulation of technology as it becomes increasingly intertwined in people’s daily lives. His focus on police surveillance is informed by his hands-on work conducted in the United States, and by his time researching in the Netherlands — where privacy is considered a fundamental right.

We talked to Newell to find out more about his life and research, in his own words.

Who has been particularly influential in your career?

My parents have been particularly influential to many aspects of my career. They homeschooled me throughout my entire primary and secondary education. Through that process, they instilled in me a passion for writing and artistic expression that has fed into my work in film and video production, and also as an academic researcher and writer.

What is your favorite quote?

"So long, and thanks for all the fish," by Douglas Adams in “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.” For some reason, I had this inscribed on a paver in the courtyard at UC Davis's King Hall when I graduated from law school.

Why did you decide to join the SOJC faculty?

I decided to join the SOJC faculty because of the wonderful reputation of the school's programs and faculty members, the fact that the SOJC includes students and faculty interested in both mass media-related research as well as creative media practice, and the school's ideal location in Eugene — which places me and my family near relatives, the mountains and the coast.

As a professor, what do you hope students will gain from your classes?

As a professor of media law and policy, I hope that my students will gain a solid understanding of how law impacts the media and information professions, and especially how law may impact students throughout their chosen career trajectories. I also hope that my students will critically engage in normative discussions about existing law, including laws that touch on free speech, privacy, intellectual property and the regulation of information technologies. I hope these discussions will foster ideas on how we might change our current approaches to improve the impact that law has on our society. 

What do you hope to accomplish at the SOJC?

I hope to excite students about how we regulate speech and the production and dissemination of media; train students with media law-related interests; and conduct research that answers important social, legal and practical questions involving the regulation of new media and surveillance technologies.

What has inspired your interest in topics such as police-worn body cameras, citizen videos of police actions and how immigrants interact with technology and surveillance along international borders?

My academic research interests have been shaped by my longstanding interests and prior professional experience in the video and media production industry. Now, much of my research involves studying how video- and image-based visual observation (e.g., surveillance of and by police) impacts police work and the oversight of the criminal justice system and how law regulates this observational conduct.

How did you get involved with documentary work?

I began my academic career studying film and video production, and initially planned to focus my career on being a documentary filmmaker. Despite changing course after working in the film and video production industry for a couple of years, I still maintain a strong interest in documentary work and hope to continue to produce documentaries throughout my career as an academic. 

How has your background in law helped to frame your experiences with information science?

My background as a trained lawyer has led me to focus largely on the legal and regulatory aspects of information, and information and communication technologies (ICTs) in much of my research. I believe that understanding how the design and use of ICTs are touched by law is a very important consideration.

You have a forthcoming book about police body-worn camera adoption and surveillance by/of the police. Can you describe the research that went into this book?

In my forthcoming book manuscript, which is still in development, I draw from legal research and qualitative social research that I conducted within two municipal police agencies in Washington state over a period of about four years. I spent time riding with police officers, observing their use of body-worn cameras and interviewing them about how police body cameras and bystander video was impacting their work.

During your time in the Netherlands, did you determine any significant difference between how the Netherlands and the United States interact with the intersection between law, technology and surveillance?

The Netherlands (and Europe more broadly) regulates technology and surveillance very differently than the United States does. For example, while European countries are bound to protect privacy rights under human rights treaties and through a distinct data protection regime, the United States does not generally treat privacy as a fundamental right, and offers privacy protection only in sector-specific privacy legislation or case law that often does not go as far as European law does.  

What do you see as the value in studying law, technology and surveillance?

Surveillance and myriad forms of technologies that enable or feed into surveillance infrastructures have become a normalized aspect of our everyday lives. These practices have the potential to shape and regulate our behavior, even in ways we may not realize. Thus, I believe it is important to understand how these practices operate as well as how we regulate them (or could/should regulate them) through law and other levers of power.

What's the single most important piece of advice you'd like to give to current SOJC students?

While balancing all that being a university student entails, find time to discover and focus on what you really love doing. Get engaged in ways that will build your professional profile and resume. And don't forget to spend time focusing on other (often more important) aspects of life, such as family and friends.

Story by Kyra Hanson

Kyra Hanson is a senior majoring in public relations within the SOJC. She is an account executive for Allen Hall Public Relations and vice president of the UO chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). After graduating, she plans to pursue a career in strategic communication with a focus on the health sector. In her spare time, you can find her exploring with her pit bull Juni or frequenting coffee shops around town.