Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

December 2013 Archives

Top 5 Tech Items Lawyers Will Not Need in 2014

My editor just presented me with a challenge: think of three tech things that lawyers won't need in 2014.

Three? I'll give you five. In fact, I could do this all day. I'll even skip the obvious choices, like PDAs. (Remember Palm Pilots?) Here are five devices that are either obsolete, or soon-to-be, in 2014:

Same Case, Different Outcome: NSA Phone Metadata Sweeps Legal?

Civil liberty advocates and privacy proponents rejoiced recently when a district court judge in Washington D.C. ruled that the NSA's "almost Orwellian" metadata collection program violated the Fourth Amendment. On Friday, those same advocates felt the all too familiar frustration of a novel legal issue being decided by two different courts, and to make things worse, the second just may be correct, legally, if not from a policy standpoint.

U.S. District Court Judge William H. Pauley III, after spending many pages lauding the government's anti-terrorism efforts, and making forceful policy arguments in favor of the NSA telephone metadata collection program (equally forceful, though opposite to, Judge Richard J. Leon's decision), concluded that controlling law supported the notion that the program was fully constitutional, as there is no privacy interest in the phone numbers that a person dials, and that mass collection is far less egregious than inspection of an individual's phone records, as was the case in the controlling Supreme Court opinion.

5 Reasons Why Edward Snowden 'Won' In 2013

You remember Edward Snowden, right? The NSA leaker who fled to Hong Kong and then Russia as the rest of America freaked out about data surveillance and privacy?

Of course you do. What you may not know is that he's "already won," as he recently told The Washington Post. Won what? Exactly.

There will be naysayers, but check out these five reasons why Edward Snowden "won" in 2013:

Silk Road Widens: 3 More Indicted; Ulbricht Looking at Plea?

The Silk Road case moved forward late last week, with three site administrators arrested and indicted on drug, money laundering, and hacking conspiracy charges. The arrests of Andrew Michael Jones of Charles City, Virginia; Gary Davis of Wicklow, Ireland; and Peter Phillip Nash of Brisbane, Australia, follow that of alleged Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht, who himself may have struck a plea bargain on some of the charges against him.

Missed our previous coverage of the Silk Road? Back in October, the supposedly anonymous drug, fake identification, and firearm marketplace was shut down by the FBI after the capture of Dread Pirate Roberts, the pseudonym of Ulbricht who, it turns out, was really bad at the whole staying anonymous thing. A sequel site re-emerged after the original was taken offline, but the men allegedly behind the resurrection -- Jones, Davis, and Nash, who also worked as administrators for the original site -- are now in custody, reports Reuters.

All I Want for Tech Christmas...

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.

Here we are, Christmas Eve. Family is home for the holidays. Festive lights shine bright. Ornaments are on the tree. And soon, stockings will be stuffed and presents will arrive.

What do I want this year? Well, assuming I have been nice and not naughty, I of course want to spend time with loved ones and I wish for health, happiness and peace.

And when it comes to tech, I want a world in which governments can prevent terrorism while not over monitoring citizens by too aggressive and zealous surveillance.

5 New Year's Tech Resolutions for Your Office

Call it (early) spring cleaning. Call it New Year's resolutions.

Whatever you call it, you can start 2014 with a massive productivity boost by cleaning up malware and bloatware, embracing the cloud, and making other minor tweaks to ensure that your tech is working in your favor, not slowing you down.

What are our five big tips? Read on:

If you're sick of hearing Edward Snowden's name, join the club. If anything, the buzz should make one thing clear -- cyber security was one of the biggest issues of 2013. To deal with this ongoing security concern, Kroll, a company dedicated to risk management and response, has outlined seven areas that will be heading up the cyber security debate.

For your reference, we've distilled Kroll's findings and found three main areas of concern for cyber security in 2014: evolving standards, understanding threats and achieving accountability.

24 Hours to Vote for Us in the ABA Blawg 100; A Call for Feedback

"I love myself, I want you to love me."

Those words, spoken in a 1990 smash hit with a title a bit too inappropriate to repeat, or even link to (we bet you can guess it though), sum up how we're feeling right now. No, the love part.

Oh, never mind.

We've done good work on this blog, and on the rest of our legal professionals blogs, this year. We've put up more content, refocused on the content that we think interests you, and as a result, our traffic is up and we made the ABA's big list. We love that the blog has evolved into a mix of practical tips and tricks, reviews, and discussions of Internet privacy, legal issues, and civil liberties.

Yes, we're very proud of ourselves. But we need your help with two things: voting and feedback.

Harvard Bomb Threat Shows Anonymous Browser Tor's Limitations

It's exactly like the plot of a college comedy: student isn't ready for a final exam, so he calls in a bomb threat. Except, the only twist was that he used an anonymous temporary email service and and anonymizing web browser to cover his tracks. Yet, he was caught rather quickly.

How did the FBI track down Eldo Kim? And did the much lauded Tor browser, used by political dissidents and journalists to stay anonymous, fail?

AOL v. People+'s Creative Commons Dispute Ends; More on CC Licenses

Last month, we discussed an interesting dispute between AOL's TechCrunch and People+, a startup that helps Silicon Valley professionals connect, in a semi-creepy, Google Glass-enabled world. People+ used TechCrunch's CrunchBase database to pull the contact information needed for their competing product.

Because CrunchBase licensed its content via the Creative Commons Attribution [CC BY] license, it was all legal, as the license only requires attribution back to CrunchBase. Except AOL also had other, more restrictive, terms of service on the API (software pipeline) used to access the data.

Conflicting licenses led to a legal conflict. Fortunately, the conflict was short-lived, as the parties have come to a resolution that should make both sides happy.

Google Backtracks on App Permission Management; Here's a Solution

Google gave, then Google took it away.

Beginning with Android 4.3, there was a hidden app permissions management functionality built in to the operating system. This would allow you to approve or deny, permission by permission, app by app. For example, you could deny that shady flashlight app access to your location and personal contacts. All it required was the installation of App Ops, an app that revealed the hidden functionality.

We were excited. The Electronic Frontier Foundation was excited. Google apparently wasn't, as they removed the feature from Android 4.4.2, telling the EFF that the feature was experimental, could break apps policed by it, and that the release was accidental.

It's too late Google: we want our privacy back.

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.

The other shoe has dropped -- a recently enacted revenge porn law has reached the point of criminal prosecution in California.

Indeed, a San Diego man has just been charged with operating a Web site that allows users to post sexual images of others so that he then allegedly could extort large sums of money from the victims whose images had been posted.

Judge Finds NSA Phone Bulk Metadata Program Unconstitutional

We've had our suspicions since June or so, but today, someone far more important than a blogging lawyer came to the conclusion that the NSA's bulk collection of phone metadata (calling records, phone numbers, etc.) "almost certainly" violates the Fourth Amendment: U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon.

Judge Leon granted an injunction barring the NSA from collecting any metadata related to the two plaintiffs who alleged that they were affected by the phone program, while denying a similar injunction for a similar Internet data collection program that allegedly ended in 2011. (In a footnote, Judge Leon noted that a class has not yet been certified in the case, though four extensions have been sought -- hence, the limited scope of the injunction.) The injunction, however, is on hold pending any further appeals.

For many of us, holiday cheer comes in liquid form, is often bubbly and -- gets us wasted. Oh, don't be shy. Didn't you know? Lawyers are the party animals of the professional crowd.

While you are much more tame and would never be called a party animal, that doesn't mean there will come a point in the night where you've had a few to drink, and then need to figure out how to get home -- safely.

It seems every time new technology is developed, new software soon follows, with the primary purpose of keeping you from getting arrested. In preparation for upcoming holiday celebrations, here are the latest apps and gadgets designed to keep you, and people on the road, safe.

Google's Going to Cache Images from Email: This is a Terrible Idea

You just received an email from Banana Republic. If you're using Gmail, or any other modern email client, the embedded images are blocked, and you have to click "Display Images Below" to see what fabulous styles await your attention.

It's a pain. And then you click the button and it takes forever to load. It also turns out that, according to Ars Technica, when those images are downloaded, a ton of information about you is sent back, including your IP address (your location), your referring website (which tells them that you're using Gmail, on a mobile device), and the request itself indicates that you opened the email.

Google has a simple solution, to protect your privacy and to speed things up: they'll store the images themselves, and modify your email to facilitate the process.

Microsoft Just Made it Easy to Ditch Gmail for Outlook

Microsoft or Google? If you'd asked me this question at any time in the last ten years, my response would have been an unhesitant "Google." Heck, I have an Android phone and tablet sitting next to me, and as I've lamented before, Google rules everything around me.

After the PRISM scandal, and the WiFi sniffing, and the privacy policy concerns, I'm starting to become a disaffected Googler. And with fellow PRISM-er (no one's perfect) Microsoft catching up to Google in terms of Skype, SkyDrive, Outlook, and collaborative document editing, I'm considering straying.

Plus, they just made switching email services really easy.

5 #FiveWordTechHorrors That Will Kill Your Firm's Productivity

Tech geeks take Twitter! That's right, instead of Bieber trending, this morning, anyone who has ever had a major computer failure took to Twitter in an exercise of catharsis.

The game? Express your tech horror in five words or less. As the guy who has served as the de facto IT department for his family, high school, a small law firm, and more, reading these tweets is giving me flashbacks.

Here are the ones you'll be most likely to encounter. Prepare accordingly.

Snapchat Founders Still Feuding; Company Seeks Restraining Order

What's a Snapchat?

It's a simple app. It allows users to send self-destructing pictures to each other. It's pretty much a glorified way to send pictures of your naughty bits to others, with the assurance that the image will delete itself after a few seconds. We recently cited the company's rumored $4 billion valuation (the actual number is somewhere around $2 billion, per Business Insider) as a sign of the coming techpocalypse.

The incredibly popular app was devised by three guys in college. One got cut out. He's now suing. He's also giving interviews to anyone and everyone about the dispute. This, unsurprisingly, is making Snapchat (and its founders) angry, and they're now seeking a restraining order.

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.

Earlier this year, I told you about how I finally took the leap and moved off of my BlackBerry to the latest iPhone. It was a struggle for me at first, because I was addicted (yes, a confirmed CrackBerry addict) to the tactile keyboard for ease of typing on the BlackBerry device. But, as you may recall, I was won over by the many other fantastic features of the iPhone, including Siri voice recognition, the larger screen, better photography, and the vast array of iPhone apps.

I have been very happy with my iPhone for the better part of 2013 -- notwithstanding the fact that I often miss the BlackBerry keyboard. So, end of story, right? iPhone wins and BlackBerry loses, correct?

Not so fast when it comes to our Commander in Chief -- President Barack Obama.

Tech Companies Start PR War Against NSA; NSA Plays Video Games

The advertising blitz began this morning. The major tech players, PRISM-related or not, created a blandly-named campaign (Reform Government Surveillance) and took out ads in a number of major newspapers, all asking that the NSA stop doing what the NSA does (hacking into the companies' databases, bulk data collection, use secret courts, etc.), reports The Wall Street Journal.

The roster of freedom fighters? It includes a Who's Who of alleged PRISM-participants (AOL, Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Yahoo!) and Twitter, the company that wasn't popular enough to be invited to the spy party.

We doubt the NSA will notice the request, however. They've apparently been too busy playing MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games). Apparently, there's terrorism afoot in Azeroth.

In a predictable move, Hotfile and several motion picture studios reached a settlement only six days before heading to trial. With a settlement award of $80 million in favor of the motion picture studios, it's questionable how much Hotfile will actually be able to pay, reports Ars Technica.

NSA Lies Again: Are They Tracking Your Cell Phone's Movements?

We remember it clearly. Back in June, when the first NSA leaks emerged, we learned that the agency was collecting, en masse, the "metadata" from Americans' cell phones. What "metadata" entailed was not completely clear, but it was generally understood to include incoming and outgoing call records, but not, definitely not, geolocation data, which the agency claimed that it "chos[e] not to," gather reports The Wall Street Journal.

Six months later, we'd heard testimony that the agency did collect such data domestically, though only as a pilot program. And this week, in another leak, we learned that the agency did collect such data abroad, which "incidentally" swept up domestic users' data as well, reports The Washington Post.

Plus, despite new denials, training materials indicate that domestic tracking has been at least contemplated, if not carried out.

Compatibility Between Phones, PCs, Tablets: Software Makers' Plan

Microsoft's long-standing strategy, and recent ad campaigns, tout "one experience for everything" -- Windows Phone, Windows RT for Tablets, and Windows 8.1 for desktops, but despite their similar appearance, all three are distinct systems with their own apps. Your long-beloved Outlook and Office are half-functional on mobile devices.

It's been this way forever. When MS had Windows CE on smartphones, there was the familiar "Start" button and Windows interface, but the apps differed. Today, there is a tile-base interface, and once again, incompatible apps. Different decade, same debacle, in part because of the underlying hardware.

In a few years' time, however, that could change, perhaps because of the chips (which we discussed earlier) and if not, there's always a software-based backup plan.

Compatibility Between Phones, PCs, Tablets: Waiting on Intel

Right now, what kind of phone do you have? How about tablet? And your work computer? Home computer? Our tech worlds are fractured amongst Apple, Google, Microsoft, Ubuntu, and others. Our phones and tablets run iOS or Android, our desktops OS X Mavericks or Windows 7 and 8.1.

Why do we have different operating systems for mobile and PCs? And why are the apps not cross-compatible, ensuring that you can pick up that legal brief on your phone and make edits without ruining the formatting?

The biggest reason: the chips.

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.

It is officially the holiday season. And the internet makes it so easy and convenient for us to purchase holiday presents. (Indeed, I must confess, I already have shopped on Amazon and have bought dozens of presents for my family members.) In fact, this user-friendliness, as opposed to trudging out and waiting in lines at stores, might result even the purchase of more presents than otherwise.

But, and there always seems to be a "but," as reported by USA Today, cybercriminals have been lurking in the vicinity of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the overall holiday season.

Last week the ABA Journal announced its selections for the Blawg 100 -- a list of (some of the) best legal blogs on the web today. And, guess what? This very blog that you are reading right now -- Technologist -- was nominated. Can I get a "Yeahhhhhhh Boyeeeeee!"

If you already read this blog, then you know that we work hard to bring you the best in product reviews that will make your lawyer life easier, as well as highlighting the grey areas where the law is not moving as quickly as technology. With a renewed effort this year to refocus the blog, we're happy to see that our efforts have paid off.

In honor of our recognition, here's a look at some of the most popular Technologist posts of all time ...

Amazon Wants 30 Minute Drone Delivery for Packages

Same-day delivery is an elusive and expensive, yet appealing concept, that appears to be the next big battleground in e-commerce. Need a last-minute gift for the evening's birthday party? Hanukah passing you by? No need to stop at the mall -- just try one of the many competing services profiled by the San Francisco Chronicle and have the item delivered to your office before you leave.

The appeal is obvious, but the profitable model is not. After all, same-day delivery using current logistics models (trucks, delivery drivers) requires a nearby warehouse stocked and/or local retailers with the items, plus trucks and staffing levels sufficient to handle surges in demand (Christmas), and the corresponding dips (um, say, March) without going bankrupt.

Here's another, some say betterr way forward: strap the package to an octocopter and deliver it within 30 minutes. That's Amazon's plan, anyway.