Reflections on Interning with New York City Department of Social Services’ Office of Data Privacy

Posted by

By Lucia O’Quinn ’23

This summer, I was fortunate enough to serve as an intern with the New York City Department of Social Services’ Office of Data Privacy. I even stayed on past the date my internship was officially over! 

Following my first year of law school at the University at Buffalo School of Law, I went into the internship having worked on the operational side of data analytics and project management, dreading the thought of having to deal with more data and analyzing outcomes. But the experience this summer was so much more. As I begin my offboarding process, I do so with bittersweet feelings – grateful both for the range of assignments I was able to complete, as well as the amazing mentorship I’ve been given this summer.

With the growth of artificial intelligence, new technological innovations, and especially in this time of remote work, “data privacy and cybersecurity” is definitely an up-and-coming area of the legal industry. In fact, during my first week of the internship there were many cybersecurity incidents being investigated on the news, and even some within the legal agency that New York State uses as their counsel.

When you think of data privacy and cybersecurity, some people might think of HIPAA, the Freedom of Information Act, companies trying to hide their trade secrets, or more likely the annoying dual-authorization to get into your school email. Coming out of this internship I have seen a different side of data privacy – that of client advocacy, helping individuals already in vulnerable communities to feel secure in knowing their information will only be used to further the agency’s support and rehabilitation efforts.

During my time at DSS ODP, I have been able to support the efforts of many different DSS units, including the Fair Hearings, MICSA (Medicaid), HASA (HIV/AIDS), and Rental Assistance units. From Article 81 Guardian authorizations, to record subpoena responses, to Emergency Rental Assistance Program data-sharing issues … there was no lack of assignment variety over the summer. In fact, one major discovery I had over the summer months was that of the complexity of data privacy issues. There are so many different data privacy statutes and laws. Because of this, it is extremely simple to build one’s career around their niche expertise of one of the state privacy laws. For instance, the Identifying Information Law is a newer local law one could spend hours researching and contrasting “identifying information” to “personally identifiable information” to “personal information” – believe it or not, they all have different meanings and come from different legal regulations.

DSS legal interns also have the opportunity to participate as witnesses in the New York City Law Department’s summer program mock trial. With my interest in health law – at one point even wanting to be a physician (but clearly choosing the more noble profession) – I was pleasantly surprised when I learned I would be playing a medical expert. This mock trial exercise was a great look into the litigation side of the industry, as I had been working on the regulatory/corporate aspects.

I am extremely grateful to Kristen Graham Koehler and David Koehler for their generous gift in the 2021 Graham Koehler Public Interest Fellowship. Thank you – this award through the University at Buffalo School of Law’s Summer Public Interest Funding & Fellowship Program program gave me security in my position with the DSS ODP, allowing me to give my 1L summer to the city that has given me so much over the years. 

Name: Lucia O’Quinn, ‘23

Name of Fellowship: Graham Koehler Public Interest Fellowship

Placement: New York City Department of Social Services’ Office of Data Privacy

Location: New York City, NY

One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “There are so many different data privacy statutes and laws. Because of this, it is extremely simple to build one’s career around their niche expertise of one of the state privacy laws.