John Palfrey

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John Palfrey
John Palfrey-20080313.jpg
John Palfrey
John Gorham Palfrey VII
EducationHarvard University (BA, JD)
Pembroke College, Cambridge (MPhil)
Employer(s)MacArthur Foundation 2019-present[1]
Andover 2012-2019
Berkman Center 2002-8[2]
Harvard Law School 2003-11[3]
Notable workBorn Digital
SpouseCatherine Carter
RelativesQuentin Palfrey (brother)
John Palfrey (grandfather)
Kermit Roosevelt (great-great-grandfather)
FamilyRoosevelt Family

John Gorham Palfrey VII (born 1972) is an American educator, scholar, and law professor. He is an authority on the legal aspects of emerging media and an advocate for Internet freedom, including increased online transparency[4][5] and accountability[6][7] as well as child safety.[8] In March 2019, he was named the president of the MacArthur Foundation effective September 1, 2019.[1] Palfrey was the 15th Head of School at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts from 2012 to 2019.[2] He has been an important figure at Harvard Law School and served as executive director of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society from 2002 to 2008.

Early life[edit]

Palfrey graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1990. He attended Harvard College and graduated in 1994 magna cum laude.[9] Palfrey was co-captain of Harvard's 1994 undefeated national championship squash team, winning the team's fourth straight national title.[10] He graduated in 1997 at Pembroke College, Cambridge with an M.Phil. in history;[9] while there, he was distinguished as a Rotary Scholar. Palfrey returned to Boston and graduated from Harvard Law School in 2001.[2][11][12] Palfrey served as finance director in Boston for the campaign of Lois Pines for the position of Massachusetts Attorney General.[9]


Harvard Law School[edit]

The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.
Harvard Law School library.

Palfrey served as executive director of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.[2][13] He studied Internet usage and attitudes; according to his assessment, an important aspect of the digital revolution was the "massive generation gap" between those who were "born digital"—i.e., after 1980—and those who were not.[5] Beginning in 2010, he helped promote a Berkman project entitled the Digital Public Library of America, which is an effort funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and others to enable a large-scale public file-sharing digital library.[7][14] Palfrey described the online storehouse stocked with millions of digitized books as being one which "will contain everything we can get our hands on."[7] The project began by offering noncopyrighted material but there are efforts to offer copyrighted material in the future with a fee-based arrangement that compensates copyright holders.[7] Palfrey served as the founding chairman of the Digital Public Library of America when it became a stand-alone entity, serving in that role until 2015.[15] Berkman, under his leadership, also initiated efforts to combat malware, spyware and computer viruses with a program called StopBadware.[5][16][17]

In 2003, Palfrey was appointed to the faculty of Harvard Law School, partly hired by Elena Kagan,[3] and his research interests included intellectual property issues such as copyright law, Internet law, and international law.[2] He served as a visiting professor of Law and Information at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, from 2007 to 2008.[18] He served as the vice-dean of library and information services at the Harvard Law School's library,[19][20][21] and led a reorganization effort in 2009.[22] He was appointed to the vice-dean post in 2008.[23] He was also awarded tenure at the Harvard Law School in 2008.[23]


Phillips Academy.

In 2012, Palfrey became the head of school at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.[19] He was the fifteenth person to serve as the academy's head of school, and his investiture was celebrated on September 26, 2012.[24] While at Andover, he was elected as the chairperson of the Knight Foundation, a charitable organization which focuses on how information can improve democratic institutions.[25] He was profiled in Town and Country magazine in 2015.[26] During his tenure at Phillips Academy, the school was the only one of its kind to maintain need blind admissions and reached a high of 86 per cent admissions yield, setting records both for applications and yield.[27]

Palfrey was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2021.[28]

Internet issues[edit]

Palfrey is regarded as an authority about how people use technology, including how they relate to information and engage in politics in emerging digital media such as the Internet.[29][30] According to Palfrey, digital natives (those born after 1980 and who grew up with the Internet) are more likely to "see relationships differently" as well as access information in new ways from previous generations.[31] He is a supporter of information sharing while maintaining copyrights:

We should figure out how to offer legitimate services that enable people to be accountable to one another online, using innovations like Creative Commons licenses, which make sharing legitimately much easier.

— John Palfrey in the Boston Globe, 2004[6]

In 2008, Palfrey served as the chair of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, a year-long national effort to explore how children could "avoid unwanted contact and content" online.[8][32][33][34] He believes digital literacy should be an important public issue in schools so that kids can "sort credible from non-credible information".[35] Palfrey testified before Congress on child safety issues in the digital age.[36] He advocated flexibility in legal solutions for coping with cyberbullying, which happens when "kids treat one another awfully online",[35] and he recommended that laws not be too tied to specific technologies.[21] He is a fan of Wikipedia:

I would use Wikipedia. I think it's a fabulous, fabulous place to turn. Because some of the information is absolutely credible and really useful.

— John Palfrey in The New York Times, 2010[35]

In his book Born Digital, Palfrey and co-author Urs Gasser argued that solutions to bad behavior online could combine parental oversight, public education, responsible behavior by corporations, and only use punitive laws as a last resort.[37] Born Digital was described as "a landmark sociological study of today's early adults".[38] The book was reviewed in the journal Science[39] and the Washington Post.[37] Reviewer Amanda Henry described the authors as "knowledgeable but never pedantic".[37] Library Journal named Born Digital one of its top Science and Technology books for 2008, the only computer science book named to this list.[40][41] According to one account, Palfrey urged his fellow Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig to run for Congress.[42] Palfrey was a member of a pro bono legal team that helped defend street artist Shepard Fairey in a "fair use" case involving an Associated Press photograph of Barack Obama in his Hope poster.[43]

Palfrey urged Congress to write legislation to discourage prominent Internet firms such as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Cisco Systems from bending to pressure by foreign governments to censor web information or forcing them to reveal the identities of dissidents,[4] as part of the Open Net Initiative.[44][45] His work on how Internet usage can affect politics within democracies was cited as influential to the dissidents in Iran responsible for the Green Revolution. These references resulted in his being named by the Iranian government, along with colleague Ethan Zuckerman, as a so-called "conspirator" in the trials that took place in Iran in 2009 and 2010.[46] Palfrey commented in the Boston Globe about how political campaigns in the United States were increasingly being carried out in cyberspace.[13]

BiblioTECH: Libraries and Democracy[edit]

The experience of "serendipity" and discovery through browsing. "Third places" for communities. "Preserving shared history." Education of the youth. "Safe places for vulnerable people to access information, think, write, and learn." [47]


Palfrey's parents are both professors of medicine with a specialty in pediatrics. His mother, Judith Palfrey, was the chief of general pediatrics at Boston Children's Hospital and is a professor emeritus of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.[9] His father, Sean Palfrey, is a professor emeritus of clinical pediatrics at Boston University Medical School.[9] Palfrey's parents served as faculty deans of Adams House at Harvard College.[48] Palfrey is a great-great-grandson of United States President Theodore Roosevelt.[49] His family has many connections to Harvard University, including through his ancestor, John G. Palfrey, the first dean of the Harvard Divinity School and prominent historian of the 19th century.[50] Palfrey married Catherine Carter in 1998.[9][4] In 2003, the Palfrey House in Cambridge, MA, which had been built in 1831 by an ancestor, was relocated to Hammond Street.[51]

Palfrey's father was born John Gorham Palfrey, III, and is a 1967 graduate of Harvard, as is his mother, born Judith Swann Sullivan. His father is also considered John Gorham Palfrey, IV or John Palfrey, VI. He had a younger brother who didn't live for a day (December 5, 1946) and a younger sister, Antonia Ford Palfrey, named for their 3rd great-grandmother, Antonia (née Ford) Willard.

John's 2nd great-grandfather, John Carver Palfrey (1833–1906), served in the United States Civil War, as did his 3rd great-uncle, Francis Winthrop Palfrey (1831–1889). His great-grandfather, John Gorham Palfrey II (1875–1945) was an 1896 graduate of Harvard and a lawyer in Boston. His grandfather, John Gorham Palfrey, Jr. or the III (1919–1979), was a 1940 graduate of Harvard, served in World War II, was appointed to the Atomic Energy Commission by President John F. Kennedy, and was a professor at Columbia University from 1952 until his death in 1979, concurrently serving as dean of Columbia College from 1958 to 1962.[52][53]

His grandmother was Belle Wyatt "Clochette"[54] Roosevelt Palfrey (1919–1985), a daughter of Kermit Roosevelt, sister of Kermit Roosevelt Jr., sister of Joseph Willard Roosevelt, granddaughter of Theodore Roosevelt, first cousin, once removed of Eleanor Roosevelt, and fifth cousin, twice removed of Franklin D. Roosevelt. His 2nd great-grandfather was Joseph Edward Willard, lieutenant governor of Virginia and United States Ambassador to Spain.

Through his Roosevelt side, his first cousin, once removed is Mark Roosevelt and second cousin is Kermit Roosevelt III.

Publications by John Palfrey[edit]

  • Palfrey, John; Gasser, Urs (2008). Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. Basic Books.
  • Deibert, Ronald; Palfrey, John; Rohozinski, Rafal; Zittrain, Jonathan (2008). Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering. MIT Press.
  • Deibert, Ronald; Palfrey, John; Rohozinski, Rafal; Zittrain, Jonathan (2010). Access Controlled: The Shaping of Power, Rights, and Rule in Cyberspace. MIT Press.
  • Palfrey, John (2011). Intellectual Property Strategy. MIT Press.
  • Palfrey, John; Gasser, Urs (2012). Interop: The Promise and the Perils of Highly Interconnected Systems. Basic Books.
  • Palfrey, John (2015). BiblioTech. Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google. Basic Books. ISBN 9780465042999.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "John Palfrey Named New MacArthur President". March 5, 2019. Retrieved 2019-03-15.
  2. ^ a b c d e Caroline M. McKay (November 15, 2011). "Palfrey Leaves HLS for Andover". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2013-02-03. Professor John G. Palfrey '94 is leaving Harvard Law School to take the position of Head of School at Phillips Academy Andover, according to announcements from both schools.
  3. ^ a b SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, KATHARINE Q. SEELYE and LISA W. FODERARO (May 10, 2010). "A Climb Marked by Confidence and Canniness". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-02-03. (Elena Kagan) ... said John Palfrey, a law professor who was hired at Harvard by Ms. Kagan. ...
  4. ^ a b c Edward Epstein (February 1, 2006). "Internet titans slammed over China". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2013-02-03. ... John Palfrey Jr. ... said a good first step for the companies would be to adopt a voluntary code of ethics that would help them resist government pressure to censor the Internet and turn in dissidents. ...
  5. ^ a b c Jon Swartz (June 10, 2010). "Berkman Center pioneers steer the course of cyberspace". USA Today. Retrieved 2013-02-03. ... John Palfrey seek to combat malware, spyware and viruses. With backing from Google and others, Berkman launches as a neighborhood watch to shame and stop "badware" purveyors.
  6. ^ a b John Palfrey (September 7, 2004). "The digital copyright crisis". Retrieved 2013-02-03. We should figure out how to offer legitimate services that enable people to be accountable to one another online, using innovations like Creative Commons licenses, ...
  7. ^ a b c d Hiawatha Bray (October 22, 2011). "US digital library in works". Retrieved 2013-02-03. "Everybody will get to use it, and it will contain everything we can get our hands on, said John Palfrey, ...
  8. ^ a b "Harvard scholars will lead Net safety task force". USA Today. Associated Press. February 28, 2008. Retrieved 2013-02-03. Leading Internet scholars at Harvard University will convene a year-long task force to explore how children can avoid unwanted contact and content ... John Palfrey, Berkman's executive director.
  9. ^ a b c d e f "WEDDINGS; Catherine Carter and John Palfrey Jr". The New York Times. September 20, 1998. Retrieved 2013-02-03. Catherine Anne Carter, a daughter of Mary and John Carter of Kew Gardens, Queens, was married yesterday to John Gorham Palfrey Jr., ...
  10. ^ Matt Howitt, March 22, 1994, Harvard Crimson, M. Squash Wins Fourth National Championship, Accessed Sep 122013
  11. ^ Harvard Law School profile. Retrieved 2009-11-03.
  12. ^ His personal blog. Retrieved 2009-11-03.
  13. ^ a b John Palfrey (September 2, 2005). "Somerville stumps in cyberspace". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2013-02-03. ... One of the big changes in politics is the emergence of campaigns that are fought out ... in cyberspace. ...
  14. ^ Rapp, David (November 14, 2011). "DPLA Chair Palfrey Moving to Andover". The Digital Shift. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
  15. ^ "The Digital Public Library of America Announces New Partnerships, Initiatives, and Milestones at DPLAfest 2015". Digital Public Library of America. April 18, 2015.
  16. ^ "StopBadware Researchers Graduate from Harvard," eWeek, Matthew Hines, January 30, 2010 Archived January 28, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 2010-09-09.
  17. ^ "University researchers launch anti-spyware site: aims to identify malicious programs and their supporters". NBC News. Associated Press. January 25, 2006. Retrieved 2013-02-03. A corporate-backed Web site ... John Palfrey, executive director of Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, ...
  18. ^ Staff Writer (2011-11-14). "Harvard Law Professor and Vice Dean Named Phillips Academy's 15th Head of School". Phillips Academy Newsroom. Archived from the original on 2016-08-07. Retrieved 2017-06-02.
  19. ^ a b Juliet R Bailin (March 21, 2012). "Law School Appoints New Library Leaders". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2013-02-03. vice-dean of library and information services, a role vacated by Law School professor John G. Palfrey '94, who accepted the position of Head of School at Phillips Academy Andover.
  20. ^ Palfrey appointed as new head of Harvard Law School Library Archived 2 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ a b John Palfrey (October 1, 2010). "Solutions Beyond the Law". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-02-03. John Palfrey ... makes much more sense than trying to create a new statute to cover in a specific way every new fast-moving technology fad. ...
  22. ^ Blog post describing the overhaul of the Harvard Law School Library. Retrieved 2010-09-09.
  23. ^ a b Paras D. Bhayani (May 1, 2008). "Palfrey Appointed New HLS Library Director". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2013-02-03. Cyber law expert John G. Palfrey '94 will take over as director of the Harvard Law School Library and become a tenured professor at the Law School, school officials announced yesterday.
  24. ^ "Phillips Academy - Pomp, pride and "Blue Skies" launch Palfrey tenure". Archived from the original on 2014-02-03. Retrieved 2012-09-28.
  25. ^ September 12, 2014, Staff report, The Philippian, Palfrey Unanimously Elected Chair of Knight Foundation, Retrieved March 29, 2015, "... Palfrey was unanimously elected Chair ... a charitable foundation dedicated to funding innovation in how information improves democratic institutions ..."
  26. ^ Town and Country magazine, How John Palfrey Is Bringing America's Most Elite Boarding School Into the Digital Age: For centuries Andover was considered the ne plus ultra of elitist, insular boarding schools. Now, with a young iconoclast at the helm, it has become an institution that would shock its 18th-century founders, Retrieved July 14, 2015, "... Puritan named Peter Palfrey arrived from England ... and became a founder of Salem ... family tree includes a signer of the U.S. Constitution, the founding dean of Harvard Divinity School, and great-great-grandfather Theodore Roosevelt. ... "
  27. ^ Sweet, Tracy (2019-07-30). "The Palfrey Effect". Andover Magazine. Retrieved 2021-02-14.
  28. ^ American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Member Directory, 2021, John G. Palfrey, Retrieved May 30, 2021, "...John G. Palfrey, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, AREA: Public Affairs, Business, and Administration, SPECIALTY: Scientific, Cultural, and Nonprofit Leadership, MEMBER SINCE: 2021..."
  29. ^ "The Decoder," Greg Hanscom, Urbanite Magazine, September 1, 2010 Archived September 18, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 2010-09-09.
  30. ^ "Kids These Days," Editorial, Urbanite Magazine, September 1, 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-09.
  31. ^ Mike Musgrove (October 17, 2008). "Talkin' About the Digital Generation". Washington Post. Retrieved 2013-02-03. Palfrey: people who were born today ... may well see relationships differently, they may see institutions differently, they may see access to information differently.
  32. ^ CNET article regarding the Internet Safety Technical Task Force. Retrieved 2010-09-09.
  33. ^ "Report Finds Online Threats to Children Overblown," Brad Stone, "New York Times," January 13, 2009. Retrieved 2010-09-09.
  34. ^ Final Report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force. Retrieved 2010-09-09.
  35. ^ a b c DAVID POGUE (July 22, 2010). "Q&A: Rumors, Cyberbullying and Anonymity". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-02-03.
  36. ^ House Judiciary Committee web site Archived 2010-11-03 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 2010-09-09.
  37. ^ a b c Amanda Henry (October 9, 2008). "An Optimized View". Washington Post. Archived from the original on December 20, 2013. Retrieved 2013-02-03. ... Palfrey and Gasser suggest that any solution ... should combine parental oversight, public education, corporate responsibility and, as a last resort, lawmaking. ...
  38. ^ Project Information Literacy at the University of Washington Archived 2010-09-03 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 2009-09-09.
  39. ^ Science April 17, 2009: Vol. 324. no. 5925, p. 338, doi:10.1126/science.117181
  40. ^ Article relating the Library Journal mention in its top science and technology books of 2008. Retrieved 2010-09-09.
  41. ^ "Best Sci-Tech Books of 2008," Library Journal, March 1, 2009 Archived March 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 2010-09-09.
  42. ^ A blog post from Palfrey expressing his interest into encouraging Lessig to run for congress. Retrieved 2009-11-03.
  43. ^ "Judge Rules Shepard Fairey Can Switch Lawyers in AP Case," Los Angeles Times, November 10, 2009. Retrieved 2011-11-16.
  44. ^ Web site of the OpenNet Initiative, listing the principal investigators. Retrieved 2010-09-09.
  45. ^ Article in Forbes citing Palfrey's work on the OpenNet Initiative and related cybersecurity issues. Retrieved 2010-09-09.
  46. ^ "Iran dissidents draw ideas from US visionaries," Farah Stockman, The Boston Globe, December 20, 2009. Retrieved 2010-09-09.
  47. ^ Palfrey 2015, pp. 207–210.
  48. ^ Judith and Sean Palfrey's Harvard profiles Archived 2012-06-20 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
  49. ^ Potier, Beth, FDR slept here: Adams House triple boasts impressive history" Archived 2011-06-29 at the Wayback Machine, Harvard Gazette, November 21, 2002. Retrieved 2010-09-09.
  50. ^ Resnick, Scott A., "Judith and Sean Palfrey Appointed Adams House Masters", Harvard Crimson, April 05, 1999. Retrieved 2010-09-09.
  51. ^ Elena Sorokin (October 6, 2003). "Parking Your House Near Harvard Yard: Palfrey House slowly rolls into its new location on Hammond Street". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2013-02-03. Sean G. Palfrey Sr. and his wife Judith Palfrey, co-masters of Adams House, were offered a closer look at the move because Sean Palfrey's great-great-grandfather built the house in 1831 as part of his 12-acre Hazlewood Estate. John G. Palfrey II was the first dean of Harvard Divinity School as well as a historian, U.S. Representative and influential abolitionist.
  52. ^ "WEDDINGS; Catherine Carter and John Palfrey Jr". The New York Times. 1998-09-20. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-05-05.
  53. ^ "Deans of the College". Columbia College. Retrieved 2022-05-05.
  54. ^ "Clochette Roosevelt to marry John Gorham Palfrey". Daily News. 1942-12-26. p. 136. Retrieved 2022-05-05.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Barbara Landis Chase
Head of School of Phillips Academy
Succeeded by