Kaye’s early years took place in Conejo Valley during the 1970s and 80s. He was a student at Westlake High School where, during his third grade, he began to take an interest in immigrants fleeing persecution - an interest that was sparked by Iranians moving into his local area due to the revolution of Iran. His undergraduate studies took place at UC Berkeley and, following law school, Kaye was employed by the State Department with a specific role working on disputes between the U.S. and Iran. In time, he moved on to nuclear non-proliferation issues and later onto international humanitarian law.
From 1995 to 2005, Kaye served in the Office of Legal Adviser at the State Department, where he was responsible for issues including human rights, international humanitarian law, the use of force, international organisations, and U.S. foreign relations law. During this time Kaye was also a legal adviser to the American Embassy in The Hague.
Kaye joined the faculty at the UC Irvine School of Law in 2012 as a clinical professor of law. In August 2014, David Kaye was appointed for his first term as United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
United Nations special rapporteurs bear mandates from the United Nations Human Rights Council and may hold the titles special rapporteur, independent expert or special representative of the Secretary-General, and are also referred to simply as mandate-holders.