Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

September 2014 Archives

Microsoft Announces the Long-Awaited ... Windows 10?

Windows 9/Threshold is here! Except, according to CNET, it'll actually be called Windows 10.

Weird naming conventions are the only surprises here, since we've been stalking leaks via German websites for some time now, but here's the short version of Microsoft's big announcement today: a new version of Windows, smart enough to sense whether you have a keyboard and mouse, is on the way. This is big news for everyone who hated the tablet-centric Windows 8 -- which is nearly everyone, if market share is any indication.

Public betas of the operating system are set to drop as soon as tomorrow, while those of you hoping to buy a PC with Win10 pre-installed may have to wait a little longer.

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

The fact that states and nations do not line up neatly on the geographical global map continues to create international problems.

Under the Montevideo Convention of 1933, a state is defined as "an entity that has a defined territory and a permanent population under the control of its own government, and that engages in or has the capacity to engage in, formal relations with other such entities."

There is no minimum size for a state. Monaco, which is only 1.5 square kilometers, is a state. The Vatican, with a population of only about 300 people, also is considered a state.

Ello: The Hot New Anti-Facebook Social Network

MySpace came, then went. So did Friendster. Tumblr was cool once, but then Yahoo bought it and it may or may not be still cool. Facebook and Twitter, for now, have staying power.

But Facebook is evil, man. It's like gathering all of your data to push ads down your throat, and it handed so many things over to the government. It's basically big brother, bro, and nobody likes a surveillance state (or private industry -- whatever).

That's what Ello is: a social network without real name requirements, without data mining, and alas, at least so far, without a lot of other things, like granular privacy controls or you know ... people?

Here are some initial impressions about Ello from my fellow blogger Mark Wilson and me, after trying it out last week:

If Apple Doesn't Let Us Snoop, Children Could Die: FBI Director

Not a week after Apple announced that it couldn't break the new default encryption in iOS 8 even if it had to, FBI Director James Comey fired the first of the government's PR shots at Apple and Google, chiding them for having the audacity to prevent the government from snooping on people's phones at its pleasure.

In Comeyland -- which is a lot like Disneyland, but with more armed guards -- the government always holds the spare key to your diary and if you don't let the government snoop on you, children could die.

PACER Calms Hysteria, Restores Pulled Archives

Way back in August, the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) folks over at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts announced that a selection of dated federal appeals court files, and one California-based bankruptcy court's inactive files would be pulled from the system, as they were incompatible with an ongoing upgrade.

Many people were upset about the deletion of important court records, including Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Leahy wrote a stern letter to the Administrative Office, which responded this week with some welcome information: The "deleted" records were only taken down temporarily and will be restored by the end of October, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Yahoo Objects to 'Digital Will' Law With Questionable Arguments

Last month, we brought you news out of Delaware, the first state to pass into law the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA), which allows estate administrators access to testators' email, social media accounts, and the like. The problem this law resolved was social media companies' refusal to grant anyone access to a dead person's accounts unless they got served with a court order.

Last week, Yahoo came out on its Global Public Policy Tumblr against the law. In arguing against the Digital Assets Act, does Yahoo mischaracterize the law? (Was that a leading question?)

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

The world is becoming a much smaller place given international transportation, multinational corporations, and Internet communications that know no geographic boundaries. With more frequent and heightened dealings with people across the globe, there necessarily are increased international disputes that require resolution.

So, one might think that there is a global court in place to deal with such disputes, right? We do have the International Court of Justice (aka the World Court or the ICJ). But can the World Court get the job done in terms of resolving the vast majority of international disputes?

Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding "no."

LinkedIn Email-Hijacking Lawsuit Update: Company Claims Free Speech

Does a company have a First Amendment right to spam the crap out of you on behalf of your friends who (via a browsewrap license terms-of-service agreement that they never read) said that they wanted to contact you (only once)?

Whew, that's a mouthful, but that's pretty much what LinkedIn is arguing to Judge Lucy Koh, who's presiding over yet another tech trial in Silicon Valley. Judge Koh previously ruled that users had consented to an initial email invitation to friends, but not necessarily to the multiple follow-ups.

Now, LinkedIn is arguing that it has a free-speech right to "facilitate associations among people and therefore concern matters of public interest," reports MediaPost.

Apple Can't Decrypt Data for Law Enforcement; Is It Enough?

Back in 2013, CNET learned that Apple had the ability to break the encryption on locked iPhones if it so desired. This led to a long waiting list of decryption requests by police eager to get at the juicy probative evidence inside (or failing that, a bunch of photos of the suspect's brunch).

Apparently fed up with this, Apple announced yesterday that a new encryption method employed iOS 8 means that it can't decrypt a locked iPhone running iOS 8 even it wanted to -- or was ordered to. Google quickly followed suit, saying the next version of Android will come with encryption turned on by default and the encryption "keys are not stored off of the device, so they cannot be shared with law enforcement," reported The Washington Post.

Federal Court: 'Google' Trademark Isn't a Generic Term

Apparently looking to make a quick buck (which is the best kind of buck), David Elliot and Chris Gillespie registered domain names using formulations of "Google" along with another well-known words or brand names, like googledisney.com and googlebarackobama.net. So, you know, legitimate business and not SEO tricks.

Google filed a complaint with the domain registrar. Then Elliot and Gillespie sued Google in federal court to have the company's trademarks to "Google" canceled on the ground that it's become a generic term.

FCC Ponders Net Neutrality for Mobile Broadband

We've written before about the importance of net neutrality when it comes to the Internet, but with mobile devices being what they are, there are two Internets. One is the one in your house that comes through the cable or phone line. The other is the one that comes to your smart phone via your cell phone company.

The FCC held a roundtable discussion Tuesday about whether net neutrality should apply to "mobile broadband," the Internet connection available over cell phones. There's less need now than ever to treat the two technologies differently. According to The New York Times, there's been a 600-fold increase in mobile broadband usage since 2010, when the FCC promulgated its net neutrality regulations.

Technology and the 4th Amendment: Past, Present, and Future

Today is Constitution Day, and even though the Bill of Rights isn't technically part of the original Constitution, the two have become inseparable.

Earlier this week, the FindLaw blog team discussed our favorite amendments, and I mentioned that the Fourth was mine. Of course, since the Bill of Rights was passed in 1791, technological advances have changed how the Fourth Amendment has been interpreted and what the bounds of "reasonableness" are.

With that in mind, here's a look at the Fourth Amendment's past, and where it may be headed in the future:

Google Voice and Hangouts: Free, Handy Tools for Lawyers

You have a small firm. You want to be "connected" at all times. If an important client calls, you want to be able to answer that call, whether you are in the office, on the road, or making s'mores in the mountains (assuming you have cell service up there).

This is what Google Voice used to be good at: forwarding incoming calls from your Google Voice phone number to anywhere (landline, cell, computer). But, the app hadn't been updated in years for either iOS or Android. Plus, it was pretty much for incoming calls only -- dial out on your phone and you've just given that client your cell number. (There was a workaround for Android that spoofed your Google Voice number, but thanks to the core app's stagnation, it was a pain to use.)

Well, Google just fixed everything. Kinda. Google Voice is now (mostly) integrated in its Hangouts app, which means a free business phone number, free VoIP services to the U.S. and Canada, free texting, and only a slight headache, though we'll try to simplify it a bit.

When It Comes to Tech, Size Matters

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

Big, small or in-between? When dealing with tech, it seems that there are preferences, and fortunately there options currently.

Long, long ago and far away, back in the disco days of the 1970s, the only available computer to me was a massive, computer punchcard-eating behemoth that appeared to take up the entire basement of my college library. While it was a floor-to-ceiling piece of junk by today's standards, size was not an issue -- because if you wanted to work on a computer, that was the only game in town. I declined.

Yahoo Discloses 1,500 Pages of Documents on Gov't Surveillance

On Thursday, Yahoo announced it would disclose more than 1,500 pages of documents relating to 2007-08 litigation surrounding government attempts to access Yahoo user accounts without a warrant.

Yahoo said on its Global Public Policy Tumblr (yes, Yahoo uses a Tumblr to disseminate global public policy information) that it will take time to disseminate so much material, but other news outlets have apparently gotten access to some of the documents and reported on them. So, here's what happened:

3 New Features Demoed in Latest Windows 9 Leaks

Ah, those crafty Germans. The fine folks at Winfuture.de (h/t to Ars Technica) are who we have to thank for the latest leaks, videos, and pictures of a developer build of Windows 9.

Windows 9, aka "Threshold," is the upcoming "fix Windows 8" version of the operating system, set for public beta later this month.

What have we learned from the latest leaks? As expected, the Start Menu is back with a ton of customizability -- from bare-bones menu to full-on Windows 8 Start screen. Windows 9 will also pick up a couple of features off of its Apple counterpart: virtual desktops and a notifications center.

Time to Upgrade? A Look at iPhone Trade-In Offers

Unless you've been in the mountains of Tora Bora all week, you've probably heard that Apple is releasing a new iPhone. By now, the phone has already been made available for pre-order. This one will be shinier, faster (and strangely, larger in size). "Well," you say, "I don't need a new phone. Mine is working just fine."

Is it? Are you sure? Even if you're not interested in upgrading right now, there are some other things you might want to take into account before you count yourself out.

Who Will Be Responsible in Our Driverless Car Future?

While Google has created a concept driverless car, Cadillac has decided that 2017 will be the year that we surrender to our robot overlords. That's when it will release to the general public a car with "limited automated driving capabilities." Details are very slim, but it probably won't be as terrifying as Skynet or as awesome as KITT.

With increased automation, though, comes the question: When there's an accident in a driverless car, who will be responsible? The manufacturer? The driver? What if the driver wasn't driving; should he have been? It's a thought experiment that's coming closer and closer to reality.

Not An Apple Fan? 5 Other Flagship Smartphones for Q4 2014

Yesterday, Apple revealed its long-awaited, and much-leaked iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Were there any real suprises? No. But the two phones, at 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches, are way bigger and wider than Apple's previous models.

But, phablet or no phablet, maybe you're not an Apple person. Though these Android and BlackBerry phones didn't get quite the obsessive spectacle that Apple's events do, at least on paper, they stand up to (and maybe trump) Cupertino's latest offerings.

Here are five alternatives, set for release this quarter:

Apple Announces 4-Phone Lineup (Incl. Phablets), Apple Watch

No surprises here, though there is a whole lot of new Apple crack for all you fanatics out there.

Today, the company announced its long-awaited and much-rumored iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, as well as the Apple Watch. With the two new phone models, Apple's smartphone lineup expands to four options -- 5c, 5s, 6, 6 Plus -- and with the Apple Watch, the company will get in on the growing wearables category, challenging notable Android Wear entries from Motorola, Samsung, and LG.

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

Since the beginning of time, unfortunately, some people have been intent on causing harm to others for their own benefit. This, of course, has been true with respect to Internet conduct. Indeed, we now live in a world in which the "black hats" are actively hacking and causing other problems in cyberspace, while the "white hats" are trying to combat these efforts.

Cybercrime is not confined within the borders of sovereign states. What happens on the Internet goes beyond national borders. After all, we are dealing with the World Wide Web. Accordingly, cybercrime has international implications.

Internet Slowdown Day Is Sept. 10. Here's Why It Matters.

Back in February, the D.C. Circuit Court struck down the FCC's net neutrality rules, necessitating new regulations.

Earlier this year, the FCC opened its proposed regulations for public comment. The comment period was set to close on Wednesday, September 10, but has been extended to September 15.

To honor the end of the comment period, the activist group Battle for the Net announced that September 10 will be "Internet Slowdown Day." To show your support for net neutrality, go to the website, then use whatever method you'd like to change your website or Twitter avatar to a spinning gear icon, which represents the slowdown that would result if net neutrality were abolished. (Of course, websites won't actually be slowing down.)

Should Anyone Expect Privacy in the Cloud?

In the wake of the celebrity-actress-nude-selfie-hack scandal, should anyone store private things in places like iCloud and Dropbox, that are susceptible to hacking?

Absolutely. Internet commenters -- including Ricky Gervais -- blamed the actresses themselves for putting such private photos online. But "online" is a big place. Certainly they wouldn't have published them to Facebook or Instagram, which are, by now, public places by definition. These objectors seem to be saying that any location accessible via the Internet is necessarily a public place because it can be hacked.

But such a broad definition not only encompasses literally everything accessible through the Internet (as any security system can be hacked), it also doesn't make sense in terms of our expectations of privacy.

Judges Skeptical of NSA in 1st Cell Phone Metadata Appeals Case

The first of two parallel challenges to the NSA's cell phone metadata gathering program reached a federal appeals court this week, and if the judges' comments are any indication, the Second Circuit may be leaning toward reversing a district court's ruling in favor of the agency.

U.S. District Judge William Pauley ruled in the NSA's favor last December, accepting the government's proffered evidence that the program had helped anti-terrorism efforts and holding that he was bound by decades-old Supreme Court precedent. Pauley's ruling came shortly after a district court judge in Washington, D.C., held the exact opposite -- that the precedent was no longer valid and that the Orwellian program was unconstitutional.

While it was initially looking like the two cases were bound for a Supreme Court showdown, if both the Second and D.C. Circuits side with challengers to the program, it could impact the cases' chances of a certiorari grant.

License Plate Scanners: When Should Public Information Be Private?

The Los Angeles Police Department has about 242 cameras mounted on police cars throughout its fleet. That's not unusual, but the cameras are always on and always scanning license plates as they drive by. The cameras are connected to optical character recognition (OCR) software that reads and stores the license plate numbers -- every license plate that it sees, whether or not the plate is expired or the car's registrant is suspected of a crime.

A little creepy? The ACLU of Southern California thought so too, so it filed a records request to see a week's worth of license plate data from those cameras. The LAPD opposed it on the ground that it could reveal patrol patterns, which could impact current investigations; a superior court judge agreed with the LAPD.

The question remains whether collecting such information could be a search because the information -- license plate numbers -- is "in public" already.

Apple iCloud Hacked, Celebrity Nudes Leaked. But How?

Jennifer Lawrence. Kirsten Dunst. Kate Upton. Hope Solo. Victoria Justice. The biggest celebrity nude photo hack in history went down over the weekend, with hackers on online forums claiming that they had over 60 photos of Lawrence alone, along with nude photos of over 100 actresses.

How? The hack appears connected to Apple's iCloud. While there was some speculation that it was the result of "brute force" password cracking via a now-patched hole in Apple's "Find My iPhone" feature, Apple instead pointed to lucky guesses by determined hackers.

Backlash Against Tech in School: No Laptops, No Email?

For anyone who has graduated in the last ten years from law school: How did you take notes in class? For the vast majority of us, it was on a laptop. And we communicate with professors either through email or in person.

This is not news, unless you're sitting on the Supreme Court.

But, recently, I've been noticing a growing backlash: professors barring laptops from class or refusing to take emails from students. Even outside of the university system, it's happening. The Los Angeles Unified School District had a botched attempt at issuing iPads to its students which was just cancelled after a lot of expense and bad publicity.

In each of these examples, the same reason is provided: It's too much of a headache.