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How a Westlake High School grad became U.N. human rights expert
Mo Jazi, Ventura County Star
Published 8:00 a.m. PT Aug. 21, 2019
Considered one of the world’s leading voices on human rights in the digital era, David Kaye teaches law, lectures around the world and has documented human rights violations for the United Nations.
But before all that, he was a student at Westlake High School.
He said his upbringing in the Conejo Valley in the 1970s and ’80s helped lead him to where he is now.
“I grew up in a space where I felt that it wasn’t very political, but I was very politically oriented,” he said, adding that he regularly read the newspaper at home. “I found the news just very, very engrossing.”
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The world has changed a lot since then. Consider the internet’s role in free speech — and how restricting the internet can curb expression. That’s reflected in his latest book, “Speech Police: The Global Struggle to Govern the Internet,” which he’ll discuss later this month in Ventura County.
In August 2014, David Kaye was appointed as United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. (Photo: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)
An early experience that set the stage for his work was learning while he was in third grade about Iranians moving to the Conejo Valley because of the revolution in their home country.
That’s how he became politically aware and connected with immigrants fleeing persecution.
“I’m such a strong supporter of an immigration policy that allows people from difficult circumstances into the country,” he said. “That kind of connects my interest in international things as a young kid in Ventura County, which was, relatively speaking, prosperous and isolated from much of the rest of the world.”
Another formative experience was a trip with about 100 other young people from around the world who went to Poland to learn about the Holocaust. 
After undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley and some work in Washington, D.C., he spent several weeks in Moscow after the fall of the Soviet Union, as well as three months traveling in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
“I did freelance reporting from Central Asia,” Kaye said. “I learned a lot about the changes in the former Soviet Union.”
After law school, he was employed by the State Department, working on disputes between the U.S. and Iran, moving on to nuclear non-proliferation issues and then international humanitarian law. 
“After 9/11, I was very involved in Geneva Convention debates pertaining to the war on terrorism and the war in Afghanistan,” Kaye said.
Ultimately, he returned to Southern California as a law professor at UC Irvine, where he teaches advanced international justice and international justice and directs a clinic in international justice. 
In August 2014, Kaye was appointed as United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. In that role, he put together information from around the world on violations of human rights.
David Kaye's new book looks at the role companies are playing and the way governments are pulling back to recapture control of what they often see as public space. (Photo: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)
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Recently, he penned his book on free speech online. It looks at the role companies are playing and the way governments are pulling back to recapture control of what they often see as public space.
Freedom of speech has changed over the years, he said, with the internet allowing people to “make contacts, connections and to build a community in ways that people couldn’t in the past.”
He said online companies have faced pressure to regulate their platforms more tightly, even as governments try to restrict speech that might have been legal online in the past. 
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Among the factors fueling the moves, Kaye said, are efforts to fight terrorist recruitment, the spread of extremism and hate speech, and foreign actors using the internet to manipulate information and spread disinformation.
“In Europe, we have seen quite a bit of change in the context of the European Union restrict hate speech,” he said. “But the legality issues have not changed in the United States for reasons that have to do with our Constitution.”
Hear David Kaye speak
Human rights expert David Kaye will speak about his new book, “Speech Police: The Global Struggle to Govern the Internet,” from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Aug. 26 at the Museum of Ventura County, 100 E. Main St., Ventura.
Presented as an “Engage and Enlighten” event by the Ferguson Case Orr Paterson law firm and the museum, the event is free and open to the public, but reservations are required. Email aclinton@fcoplaw.com to RSVP or call 805-659-6800.
Mo Jazi is a breaking news reporter with The Star. Reach him at mo.najafianJazi@vcstar.com or 805-437-0236.
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