A Private Man

A Conversation on Privacy

The Don Bennett Moon Foundation sponsored the College of SBS panel discussion “A Conversation on Privacy.” The March 25th discussion featured MIT Professor Noam Chomsky, journalist Glenn Greenwald, and former NSA subcontractor Edward Snowden. Chomsky and Greenwald appeared in person while Snowden video-conferenced from Russia. Nuala O’Connor, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, was the moderator. The panelists discussed the competing stresses posed by balancing government intrusion and individual rights in pursuit of a safe society. More than 300,000 people have viewed the video. To watch, go to sbs.arizona.edu/privacy.

The conversation on privacy continued in the Downtown Series on Privacy, held for five weeks on Wednesdays from Oct. 19-Nov. 16. The series featured national experts on privacy who discussed the costs and benefits of giving up personal data in exchange for convenience, precision health, and security. The conversations explored privacy in our relationships to government, corporations, the media, family and peers, and health.Videos of lectures can be found at sbsdowntown.arizona.edu.

If you google Don Bennett Moon, you won’t find much. No LinkedIn page, no bio on a website, and only a trickle of mentions in news stories.

This is fitting, really, given that Moon’s signature causes are privacy and First Amendment issues, a passion that brought him to the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and led him to fund SBS’s “A Conversation on Privacy” event last spring, which featured such heavyweights as Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Nuala O’Connor, and Noam Chomsky.

Moon also recently donated a significant gift to the Center for Digital Society and Data Studies, or CDSDS, in SBS’s School of Information, Arizona’s iSchool. The funds will allow the center to hire postdoctoral research fellows who will collaborate with faculty across campus, including in the James E. Rogers College of Law, to explore issues of digital access, data management and privacy, as well as human rights and online behavior. Research findings will contribute to the work being done by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Democracy and Technology.

“We are so grateful for the recent support from the Don Bennett Moon Foundation, as it provides additional energy to explore some of the many issues we face in an increasingly digital society,” said Catherine Brooks, director of the CDSDS.

Moon credits his friend Bill Nugent, proprietor of the local pub The Shanty and board member of the College of SBS, for bringing him into the “SBS fold.”

“Nugent is an old friend. I knew him from hanging out at The Shanty. He was the only person who was willing to cash my checks when I was in law school. I don’t know how smart that was,” Moon said.

When Moon spoke to Nugent about wanting to do something useful with his money, Nugent steered him to the College of SBS. 

“I like Don a lot,” Nugent said. “I think he has a really good heart. He likes to make a difference. And he’s now discovered through the resources he’s accumulated over the years that he can do that in an effective way.”

Moon discovered that SBS has expertise in areas that overlap with his own interests, namely privacy and First Amendment issues.    

Raised in Parker, Ariz., Moon received his B.A. in political science from the University of Maryland.
He returned to Arizona to obtain his law degree from the UA. He later went to Harvard to earn his master’s degree in public administration.

Before law school, Moon worked for Mo Udall during Udall’s 1976 presidential campaign, and then he was the issues coordinator for Dennis DeConcini’s 1976 Senate campaign. He remains passionate about politics.

Nugent says Moon—who pops into The Shanty to chat whenever he’s in town—has “a twisted sense of humor about politics, which is really enjoyable.”

Moon said he decided to become a lawyer because he “spent too much time watching ‘Perry Mason’.”

Early in his career, he led a movement to create La Paz   County and was elected the first La Paz County Attorney.

“At the beginning I thought I wanted to be a criminal defense lawyer, and it didn’t take very long to figure out that wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life,” Moon said. “I was a prosecutor for a few years, then worked on public land issues, and then I worked on internet speech and privacy issues [as the in-house lawyer for Village Voice Media Holdings]. I’ve evolved. But the First Amendment, speech, and privacy issues are my wheelhouse.”

Moon, who currently lives in Prescott, Ariz., created the Don Bennett Moon Foundation to fund the issues he cares about.

“I’ve probably litigated as many speech and privacy issue cases in the last decade as any lawyer in America,” Moon said. “What I’ve seen is that the federal courts have been very good to the First Amendment and speech and privacy generally; the other two branches of government have been atrocious. So I view speech and privacy as being very much under assault.”

Private in public, Moon has no problem with telling colorful stories in person with people he trusts.

“He loves to tell a story while he’s smoking a cigar,” Nugent said.

“Don enjoys a fight,” said J.P. Jones III, dean of the College of SBS, referring to Moon’s stories of legal battles. “He doesn’t suffer fools gladly.”

Jones and Ginny Healy, the senior development director for SBS, struggle to find the right actor to compare Moon to. Healy leans toward Robert Mitchum, while Jones thinks Joe Don Baker in the movie “Junior Bonner” is a better fit.

Nugent adds that Moon is a “person of contradictions.” His favorite author is gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, yet his favorite place to stay is the Arizona Inn, a bastion of tradition, calm, and elegance.

“I have a very serious Arizona Inn addiction,” said Moon. “I make it a point to hit the inn five or six times a year just for therapy.”

Moon was pleased with the success of “A Conversation on Privacy.” “I thought it was a terrific program and hopefully gave people something to think about.”

“I can tell you that everyone I’ve dealt with at SBS starting with J.P. have just been tremendous folks,” Moon said. “I really look forward to a long-term relationship.”

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This article appeared in the 2016-2017 issue of SBS Developments.

Published Date: 

11/28/2016 - 1:54pm