Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

March 2015 Archives

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

We live in the digital age, with the Internet growing exponentially and with our lives becoming more online every day. It is easy to believe that the development of technology has happened primarily in recent times, given this explosion of information technology.

For the past few months, the government has been waging a PR campaign against enhanced phone encryption -- encryption of the type that might make it harder for government snoops to peak into your phones. When Apple announced that it wouldn't be able to break the default encryption in their new operating system, FBI Director James Comey went as far to say that children will die as a result.

Several commentators noted the irony behind Comey's histrionics. The FBI itself recommended that consumers encrypt their phones. Well, not anymore.

As you may have heard, pop star Taylor Swift recently bought TaylorSwift.porn and TaylorSwift.adult. It's not a sign of a career change, though, it's simply good business. Swift and many others are taking proactive steps to snap up embarrassing domain names before anyone else can.

With the growing proliferation of Internet domains, websites have moved far beyond the .com's of yesteryear, making it easier than ever to create a demeaning or misleading URL. Should you follow Swift's lead and head off the domain trolls, before someone lays claim to YourName.Sucks?

What made the Internet the strange, fascinating and sometimes frightening animal that it is today? It wasn't just the Silicon Valley billionaires, ARPANET visionaries or cats -- lots and lots of cats. The legal system bears its share of praise, or blame, as well.

From protecting free speech online, to prosecuting cyber pirates, these five lawsuits helped shape today's information super-highway:

Less than a month after the FCC commissioners voted to regulate Internet service providers as "common carriers" under the Communications Act, the telecoms have filed suit. Well, one industry trade group, USTelecom, representing some of the nation's largest Internet providers, has sued, as has one small Texas ISP, Alamo Broadband.

The suits, brought in the D.C. and Fifth Circuits, come much sooner than expected, as the FCC has just begun to process of regulating ISPs. Has this pair jumped the gun or are they just in time to shoot down the FCC's regulations in their infancy?

3 Gadgets Actually Worth Buying for Lawyers

Now that we've had the Consumer Electronics Show and Apple's unveiling of the Apple Watch, the question becomes what you can or should buy with your tax refund dollars. Not every piece of technology is worth your time.

Should you spend hundreds on a watch? Or a "learning" thermostat? Or a wireless light bulb? Probably not. Here are three gadgets that are actually worth buying.

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

Before the explosion of online communications, our world necessarily was smaller and who we came in contact with tended to people we already knew. Then our ability to reach out and communicate with others expanded dramatically and exponentially as we all started traveling at warp speed down the information superhighway.

We learned that not only could we interact with people locally, but with a few keystrokes and mouse clicks we could be communicating with people across the country and even in countries on the other side of the globe. Part of the fun was our ability to communicate anonymously, using pseudonyms.

Nasty Response Letter Helped Life360 Win Patent Infringement Trial

"Dear Piece of S---," began a response from Life360 CEO Chris Hulls to a demand letter from a company that wanted him to license their technology. (You can guess what three letters the dashes are subbing for.)

That letter was introduced by AGIS in a jury trial against Life360 for infringing on patents related to calling people who appeared on a map. It turned out, reported Ars Technica, that Hulls' testy language may have helped him secure a verdict of noninfringement.

This Spring, Clean Up Your Inbox

Hey, world: Clean out your inbox!

I subscribe to, and routinely evangelize about, Merlin Mann's "Inbox Zero" technique of email filing. It's a simple way of organizing your email that results in fewer headaches. Basically, if you can't get something done in two minutes, file it for later. Once you read an email and there's no further action to be taken, delete it or archive it. Then use the time you save to look smugly down at all those people who use their Inbox to store all their emails.

A Eulogy for Internet Explorer, the Browser Everyone Loved to Hate

I was an IT Guy once. In college, I worked as a student technician, responsible for helping other students troubleshoot computer and network connectivity issues. Internet Explorer was the bane of my existence.

The time was 2002-05, the height of Internet Explorer 6's popularity. IE6 used a plugin technology called ActiveX that basically gave ActiveX controls unfettered access to the operating system. This was, as you might expect, a terrible idea that led to horrible security problems at worst, and headache-inducing annoyance at best.

Private Surveillance Complicates the 4th Amendment

The Fourth Amendment prevents the government from engaging in unreasonable searches and seizures without a warrant, but what about surveillance by private actors?

Through years of torturous interpretations of that amendment, the Supreme Court has settled on a "reasonable expectation of privacy" as the lodestar for whether the government needs a warrant to search something.

The reasonableness of privacy expectation depends both on whether the person whose privacy is invaded had a subjective expectation of privacy and whether society is prepared to recognize that expectation. A straightforward rule, perhaps, but one that's subject to being contorted out of existence. For example, if someone places a sign in a public restroom that says you're being recorded, can it be said that you had a subjective expectation of privacy? It very well might, which is sort of the problem.

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

It's baaaack. Florida, that wacky state that brought us hanging chads and other irregularities during the 2000 Bush v. Gore presidential election, has returned full force with some new controversy.

Indeed, while the great weight of scientific evidence has persuaded the vast majority of scientists skilled in the field that global warming is real and a looming danger for the planet, government officials at the primary environmental agency in Florida have been prohibited from using the words "climate change," according to Time.com.

NYPD Caught Editing Articles About Eric Garner, Others: Report

The New York Police Department has been caught with its hand in the virtual cookie jar. Capital New York reported Friday that several Wikipedia entries about victims of police violence had been edited or deleted by computers with IP addresses registered to the NYPD's One Police Plaza headquarters.

In particular, the article about the death of Eric Garner was modified to make Garner seem more threatening and police actions less outrageous. The article was modified to include a sentence stating that Garner was "considerably larger than any of the officers." In addition, the phrase "push Garner's face into the sidewalk" was changed to "push Garner's head into the sidewalk."

Using the Internet Wayback Machine to Find Old Web Pages

How many websites are there on the Internet? In September 2014, the number of websites probably hit the 1 billion mark. We say "probably" because no one really knows for sure when that happened, only that there are 1 billion sites, according to Internet Live Stats, which keeps track of this sort of thing.

Those are active sites right now; there are probably even more websites that have gone dark for whatever reason. Thankfully, a nonprofit organization is there to help you recover the past.

Apple's New MacBook Has Only 1 Port? Get Used to USB-C

When Apple unveiled its ultra-thin, ultra-light, ultra-portable MacBook on Monday, onlookers noticed it was missing something besides a few extra pounds.

Ports. The new MacBook has just one port, called "USB-C," which Apple SVP Phil Schiller claimed was being adopted by more companies than just Apple. The USB-C will handle all your charging and peripheral needs -- at least, those ones that aren't already handled by wireless technology. Allegedly.

Wikipedia's parent company, the Wikimedia Foundation, has filed a lawsuit claiming wholesale Internet data collection violates its constitutional rights. Wikimedia joins Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and others in the suit, which names the National Security Agency (NSA) and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) as defendants.

The lawsuit is partly based on information leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealing the NSA's use of what is known as "Upstream surveillance," intercepting Internet communications, often without a warrant. Filed on behalf of the companies by the American Civil Liberties Union, the suit also alleges that Wikipedia was specifically a target of government surveillance.

Smartphones Can Do Anything, Right?

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

Once upon a time, frankly not that long ago, a telephone was something that was tethered by a wire to a phone jack and that enabled people to make telephone calls -- nothing more. A home had one phone line, and perhaps multiple phones for that line.

Things became just a bit more interesting later when a home had more than one phone line. That meant, for example, that a teenager could stay up all night gabbing on the teenager's phone line without interfering with the ability of family members to make a phone call on another home line.

Apple's Spring Event: Apple Watch, HBO, and the Thinnest Mac Ever

Earlier today, Apple held its much-anticipated March 2015 event in San Francisco. On the docket, as rumored, were product updates, the introduction of the fabled Apple Watch, and a surprise for those of us who have been pirating "Game of Thrones" all these years.

So, what happened?

Microsoft Releases Preview of Office 2016 for Mac: 1st Impressions

Is it 2010 already? That's the last time Microsoft Office for Mac, the ugly stepchild of the Microsoft Office family, got a whole-number update. Well, you can throw away your Ke$ha album and upgrade to something more modern, because Microsoft has announced that Office for Mac 2016 is coming in the second half of 2015.

And what's the best part? There's a free preview available right now! We spent some time with the Office for Mac 2016 preview, and here are our first impressions:

Some in Congress Try to Roll Back Net Neutrality

Last Friday, the FCC voted along party lines to approve Title II regulation for Internet Service Providers. This means -- absent lawsuits from Verizon and Comcast -- that the FCC would be able to enforce net neutrality regulations preventing ISPs from selectively throttling whatever traffic it wants and extorting content providers into expensive side-deals ("Nice streaming video service you've got there. It'd be a shame if it slowed down ...")

If you thought that the FCC was hurting poor, defenseless mega-corporations, then you've got a friend in Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn!

Proposed Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights Gets Mixed Reviews

The White House on Friday debuted its proposed Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights Act, which would provide additional statutory protection for sensitive consumer information like Social Security numbers and mandate that holders of such information have to provide consumers with notice about privacy and security practices.

As predicated, no one is happy. MediaPost reports that advocacy groups on both the pro-privacy and anti-privacy sides voiced their opposition.

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

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) generally affords immunity for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) with respect to content posted by users on their websites. There have been various efforts by plaintiffs in lawsuits to chip away at this immunity, most of which have failed. Now along comes Doe v. Internet Brands, in which the plaintiff sought to convince the Ninth Circuit to circumvent CDA Section 230 immunity under a "duty to warn" theory.

Federal Judge: Kim Dotcom Forfeited All His Stuff

You remember Kim Dotcom, right? The larger-than-life Internet entrepreneur from New Zealand, via Germany? The guy who changed his last name to "Dotcom" and made a mint operating the website Mega Upload? The U.S. government alleged Mega Upload wasn't the "digital locker" Dotcom claimed it was, but rather a website that encouraged -- and paid for -- the sharing of infringing content.

It was actually both of those, but the case has gone on because the United States wants to try him for violating U.S. law; New Zealand hasn't extradited him yet.

Here's a new idea: He's a "fugitive" because he refuses to extradite himself.