Beth Cate

Associate Professor, School of Public and Environmental Affairs

“The questions that information technology illuminate in law make it a fascinating and ever-changing field of understanding the social parameters of technology,” Beth Cate, associate professor of law and public policy in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, stated.

When Cate landed her first law position at McKenna & Cuneo in 1991, she didn’t consider information data law within the span of her responsibilities. Legal issues concerning digitalization of information were still on the horizon.

Not until 1998, when Cate joined the Indiana University General Counsel’s Office, was she introduced to the legal issues and governance of information technology. After joining the General Counsel, Cate focused on legal and ethical issues surrounding student data and the use of information software and technology. Her position with the General Counsel led Cate to take her current teaching position with IU.

As a professor, Cate endeavors to empower her students to engage with law. Her dedication to her students was recognized in 2013, when she was honored with a Trustees Teaching Award.

“I hope my students leave my classes with a sense that the law should proceed from and/or reflect the nuance and complexity of the human condition, and that the law is what we as individuals shape it to be,” Cate stated.

She admires her students’ interests on a wide variety of legal matters. As a professor, Cate finds herself contemplating multiple legal issues that she didn’t encounter in her day-to-day practice.

Cate’s career path didn’t always lead toward an occupation in law. She attended George Washington University to obtain a bachelor’s degree in economics. She had thoughts of going to India to work in economic development until her economics professor discouraged that path and urged law, commenting on Cate’s excellent argumentative skills. After some reflection, Cate decided to change her career path to law and graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1991.

Her current research concerns international data law. She questions what global principles for sharing and protecting data do or should exist, and what information should be available to everyone.

“The reality of technology is that it outstrips law’s ability to keep track of and react to problems created by its use,” Cate stated. “If people think law is going to be nimble enough to fix those problems, well that’s a hopeless expectation.”

Cate believes that law is best developed and applied to technology when it draws on core principles and values of the ruling. For the most part, given the pace of technology development rules should not aim at specific technologies but reflect major principles of law that can apply as specific applications or platforms change. At the same time, technology developments can create new types of social and economic friction or significantly increase existing frictions, so we must continually ask ourselves what are the parameters of law.

Cate as a woman defies the barriers of entering into a technical workplace. In the United States, women comprise only 16 percent of associate professor positions at doctorate granting institutions. Cate believes IU is special in this regard because it represents women faculty who touch technology in many disciplines. She hopes to teach younger girls that information technology is not a daunting field, and to embrace the opportunities in this fast-growing discipline.

When out of the office, Cate enjoys traveling around the world. She recently visited Peru, and hiked to the ancient city of Machu Picchu. Cate hopes to someday see the entire world; a feat nearly comparable to establishing a set of values to govern information technology.