Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

May 2015 Archives

San Bernardino Sheriff Used Stingray 300 Times: Ars Technica

The Stingray, you'll recall from our many stories about it, is one of our favorite bits of nefarious surveillance technology. Many of the details about the device are kept secret, but we do know that it tricks nearby cell phones into thinking it's a cell tower, and when the phones connect to it, the Stingray intercepts all the data the phone sends.

Ars Technica reported earlier this week on another wrinkle in the ongoing saga of the Stingray: A law enforcement agency in California has used it over 300 times in the last year, thanks to questionable warrant applications.

Android's Factory Reset Feature May Leave User Data Behind

If you're one of the millions of people out there with an Android phone, then you may have a problem. Last week, a research paper revealed that Android phones don't completely erase your personal data when you choose the option to reset your phone.

This presents problems for anyone who resells a phone or otherwise erases the data in the belief that their personal data are completely wiped out. Turns out they're not.

Google Invents Unspeakable, Cuddly Terror

Have you ever thought to yourself, "Gee, how could someone combine the worst elements of Google Glass and Teddy Ruxpin into one creepy, privacy-chilling, cuddly bundle of technological horror?"

Dream no more! A patent application was recently published in which Google (naturally) applied for a patent on "[a]n anthropomorphic device, perhaps in the form factor of a doll or toy" that could "be configured to control one or more media devices."

Now Chucky is going to hog the remote, too!

The IRS announced yesterday that it had suffered a data breach with allowed criminals to gain access to the tax return information of more than 100,000 tax payers. That information could have then been used to file fraudulent returns -- and receive fraudulent refunds.

The hacking, which was limited to one IRS application, exposed weaknesses in the Service's authentication system and emphasizes the continued risks associated with the loss of personal information in other data breaches.

Preparing for Another Computer Search Case at SCOTUS

The private search doctrine's applicability to computers will probably make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, thanks to a recent Sixth Circuit decision in United States v. Lichtenberger.

After Aaron Lichtenberger was arrested for failing to register as a sex offender, his girlfriend hacked into his computer, found images of child pornography, and notified the authorities. Police obtained a warrant to search the computer, finding more pornography, but a federal district court -- and eventually the Sixth Circuit -- agreed that the evidence should be suppressed.

Up to 1.1 million customers may have had their data stolen when CareFirst, a Blue Cross Blue Shield health plan, was hacked on Wednesday. According to the company, the hackers gained access to information such as names, birthdays and emails, but not private medical or financial information. The incident makes CareFirst the third large health insurer this year to have lost customer data to hackers. Across the three, more than 90 million customers may have had their personal information compromised.

With each breach, a new handful of potentially costly class-action lawsuits are filed. When Anthem compromised millions of customers' information, more than 50 class actions were filed in under a month.

What's a lawyer to do?

An important section of the Patriot Act is set to expire June 1st. Without a renewal from Congress, that could mean the end to the NSA's collection of bulk phone metadata. The surveillance program was recently ruled illegal by the Second Circuit and has lost support in the House. Yet, Senate Republicans remain strongly supportive.

As the Senate considers whether to renew the Patriot act, working through an old fashioned filibuster, the question remains: what will happen to the NSA's phone data collection program?

When it comes to taking and organizing client notes, the physical notebook went out of style long ago. There's just too many benefits to having electronic notes, which you can sync across devices or search for specific information.

If you're just looking for basic word processing, using Word or even Google Drive for your notes is fine. But you'll have to go through a few extra hoops if you want to really take advantage of electronic notes. Fortunately, there's plenty of note-taking software that's already done the work for you. So, which one is best?

Belgium Accuses Facebook of Tracking Even Non-Users

Several years ago, Facebook users became aware that the social media giant could track them across websites that used Facebook tracking cookies. Some users became upset, but Facebook assured them that these cookies could track Facebook users only while they were logged in to Facebook.

Except that turned out not to be true, either. Eventually, Facebook closed the glitch (was it a glitch?) allowing sites to track users' activity even while they were logged out of Facebook. Now, from Belgium, comes news that you're being tracked even if you're not a member of Facebook!

Drones, Drones Everywhere ...

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

What are we going to do with all these drones? Indeed, drones are coming at us from all sorts of angles. As a consequence, law firms are even coming up with practice groups devoted to the legal issues presented by drones.

Let's explore just a few of the many issues that may arise from drones.

Tech folks often have their eye on the future, but when it comes to dealing with issues of culpability and liability in computing, some are arguing that it's time to start looking to the past.

When it comes to holding those responsible for complex systems accountable when something goes wrong, at least one Mircoserf suggests that we bring bring back medieval law. The legal revival isn't quite the "if she floats, she's a witch!" attribution of blame, however.

The Department of Justice has withdrawn its appeal of a district court ruling that excluded evidence gathered by a webcam nailed to a utility pole across the street from a suspected drug dealer's house. After the district court for the Eastern District of Washington found that the surveillance violated the defendant's constitutional right to privacy, prosecutors appealed.

The DOJ had argued in earlier filings that "the webcam on a pole" surveillance was legal, since it was similar to an officer's observations on the street. Call it the "bootleg Robocop" theory of surveillance. They may no longer stand by that contention, however, having abandoned their appeal in a brief filing with the Ninth Circuit yesterday.

John Deere to Farmers: You Own Your Tractors -- Kind Of

DRM has reached the farm, according to an article published last month in Wired magazine. John Deere, long-time manufacturer of indispensable farm equipment, argued against a proposed exemption to copyright law made on behalf of John Deere equipment owners -- excuse me, licensees.

Farmers want the legal authority to circumvent software restrictions built into John Deere equipment. John Deere says that's not cool.

Cyber Risks Are Here and Now

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

The Internet provides an abundance of benefits in so many aspects of our lives. We have information at our fingertips. We are in touch with our family and friends in myriad new and different ways. We can make purchases from our computers and our phones, without the hassle of having to go to out to the store. And the list of benefits go on and on.

But that is not the end of our story. No, indeed. The Internet, unfortunately, also creates many risks and liabilities for us as well. Recent data suggest the following disturbing trends.

The vast majority of emails are not legitimate; most are spam.

When Google Glass announced in January that it was ending its Explorer program, it looked like our cyborg future might be in jeopardy. Thankfully, Microsoft has stepped into the void, obtaining a patent for emotion detecting glasses. With an enhanced set of eyes, we may be one step closer to putting ourselves to the fullest possible use, which is all any conscious entity can ever hope to do.

Of course, Microsoft's glasses probably won't transcend the human-computer divide just yet, but they may have important implications for the legal profession.

Cal. Court: No Right to Data from Police License Plate Cameras

Last year, the ACLU filed a records request with the Los Angeles Police Department for a week's worth of data gleaned from 242 cameras that are designed to scan license plates. Was everyone in L.A. County suspected of a crime? How long was this information stored? Was it cross referenced with over information? Could it be used to track people around the county?

All legitimate questions -- but questions that will have to wait for another day, apparently, as a California appellate court ruled that the ACLU doesn't have a right to that information.

There's been a lot talk about "digital natives" lately, that cohort of Millennials who grew up immersed in an online world, never engaging in once-common activities like flipping through an encyclopedia or trying to fold up a map. Those tasks were largely outsourced to computers by the late '90s.

Surprisingly, it turns out that many in this generation of computer whizzes can't do even the most basic Internet task: Google effectively. According to a study of college students at Illinois Wesleyan University, only 23 percent were able to conduct a "well-executed" Google search.

That's right; the kids these days can't even Google. Can you?

NSA Bulk Metadata Collection Not Lawful, Says 2nd Cir.

Well, color us shocked. The Second Circuit this morning found that the NSA's bulk metadata collection program -- which, by the way, would have remained secret if not for Edward Snowden -- was not authorized by the USA PATRIOT Act.

The court took seriously the notion that systematic bulk electronic collection of metadata is very different from more "traditional" metadata collection, such as reading the address on an envelope or using a pen register on a phone. Even though the court limited its holding to the statute, and avoided the Constitution, the stage is set for putting the concurring opinions in United States v. Jones into practice.

It's been almost 25 years since Microsoft launched PowerPoint -- it's official birthday is May 22nd, 1990 -- and since then, the program has pretty much taken over the world. It controls virtually the entire presentations software market, with an estimated 350 PowerPoint presentations given every second.

But, like many programs we use frequently, we often get used to one version. That means you might still be operating on a PowerPoint program that is five, even eight years out of date. Is it time for an upgrade?

Blue? Brown? Red? Your Guide to Mechanical Keyboard Switches

Readers of a particular age -- by which we mean at least 30 -- will remember the days of the mechanical computer keyboard, when depressing the keys made a satisfying "clack" sound. Those sounds are gone because the old mechanical switches have largely been replaced by simple rubber domes that contact the circuit board under the keys.

We wrote about mechanical keyboards last year, but avoided the big question; namely, what kind of keys you want with your keyboard. A German company called Cherry makes, more or less, every switch in modern mechanical keyboards, and they come in several different styles (Blue? Red? Brown? Green?!), each of which has its own pros and cons.

Music Streaming Service Grooveshark Goes Belly Up

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Grooveshark, once home to 35 million users, has officially shut down under the pressure of $17 billion in lawsuits from music labels that claimed the eight-year-old company infringed on their music and allowed users to do the same.

If the Napster case defined the boundaries of the online music store for the 2000s, Grooveshark will define the streaming music player for the 2010s -- an era where even digital sales are giving way to online streaming.

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

The topic for today: selfie sticks. How do you feel about them -- positive, negative or indifferent?

Let's backtrack a bit first with a brief history lesson.

3 Things to Know About Divorcing Over Facebook

Ah, Facebook. The venerable social media giant is over ten years old now, making it just uncool enough for teenagers. It's still out there, though, and recent news suggests that Facebook and divorce are becoming more and more linked.

What's the deal with divorcing people over Facebook, anyway? And why a rise in divorces as there's been a rise in the use of Facebook? There's got to be something that Mark Zuckerburg isn't telling us.

People don't give the Library of Congress enough credit.

It's the largest library in the world, with more than 838 miles of bookshelves and 160 million items. It's got everything from the first known book published in the New World, to some of the only remaining copies of American silent films. And its collection grows by the day, gaining 15,000 new items each day -- primarily because it's the home of the U.S. Copyright Office.

The Library knows that none of its information is useful if it can't be ... used. To that end, the Copyright Office has put out a handy new tool for any one working in copyright law. Their new Fair Use Index search tool allows you to pull up relevant cases in a snap -- leaving you more time to spend reading something really interesting.