Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

June 2015 Archives

Perhaps you've heard of a firewall. If you're an architect, you might be thinking of the actual fire-proof walls used to stop the spread of blaze from, say, apartment to apartment. If you're pretty much anyone else, a firewall is one of the many network settings you may have tinkered with when configuring your Internet. A computer firewall is a network security system that controls incoming and outgoing traffic, creating a barrier between your internal network and the flaming, virus-filled Internet.

Firewalls have been common since the 90's. Which is why it might be surprising to learn that an "inventor" patented firewalls in 2000. Though he let his patent expire, it has recently been picked up by a patent troll, who is using it sue pretty much everyone who sells products related to network security.

Mitigating Cyber Risks

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

Let's face it, the Internet can be a scary place from a risk standpoint. Indeed, it seems that on practically a daily basis we hear about a massive security breach and the theft of sensitive and personal data.

Have you heard about The Cloud? Of course you have. For the last five years or so, cloud computing -- using remote servers, accessible via the Internet, to store, manage and process data -- has been everywhere. There's cloud-based apps, cloud-based accounting, even cloud-based operating systems of sorts.

What there hasn't been much of is cloud-based eDiscovery. Two new start ups are focused on changing that, offering electronic discovery services built from the ground up to take advantage of the scalability, processing power, and lower cost of cloud computing.

Michelle Lee took over as head of the United States Patent and Trademark Office three months ago and has already started to effect changes. Lee, who was the first woman to hold the position of USPTO Director, promised to use her experience in tech, science, and the law to change the way the Office operates.

Some of those changes are starting to go into effect, as the patent office begins to update its technology, implement open data initiatives, and to reach out beyond Washington, D.C.

Big Everything

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

We keep hearing about what is going to be "the next big thing." That concept seems ever-illusive, perhaps because there has been a constant state of "bigness," if I may call it that, since long before humankind developed the notion of time.

I was fortunate enough last week to participate in the immersive, five-day Big History Institute at Dominican University of California. Scholars from around the country convened to contemplate, share and discuss big history issues, past, present and even future.

Does Google Earth have a secret identity as a crime solver? Apparently. The digital eye-in-the-sky has been revealing street crime for years, from petty drug deals to apparent murders. The program has also been used to investigate illegal deforestation, housing violations, and even tax fraud.

With all the evidence that can be found on Google Earth, one might be surprised to learn that courts have not always treated it as admissible. That might change, though, as the Ninth Circuit gave Google Earth its stamp of approval last Thursday.

Lawyering is, in many ways, about writing. Sure, you're not Faulkner, but plenty of attorneys spend their days tapping away at the keyboard, composing motions, answering emails, drafting contracts. But you can give the typing a break every now and then, even if it's only to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome.

If you want to compose a message on the run, easily get a client interview down on paper, or just like working out your ideas verbally, dictation apps are the way to go. These speech-to-text apps turn your smart phones into expert dictation machines.

If the term document sharing is still equivalent to email attachment in your mind, then you may need a crash course in the latest digital communication services.

The idea of sharing important legal documents on your smartphone or tablet may seem like a bad idea. This is a very real issue, since lawyers are failing at secure file sharing. Fortunately, Google Drive and other cloud-based services include secure client portals and password protection features that can help with security.

If you're tired of teleconferences cutting out or sick of the dull light of your office projector, you might want to consider Microsoft's Surface Hub. Sure, it's about the same price as a reasonable, midsized car or a house in Detroit, but it promises to make your office meetings a bit more tolerable.

The Surface Hub, essentially an enormous touchscreen computer, allows you to present, video conference, and strategize like you're having a brainstorming session in the future. The high end tech gadget is bound to end up in a few law offices around the country. Should it be in yours?

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

We all know that Facebook is the social networking beast - with approximately 1.4 billion users across the globe. Who doesn't have a Facebook page? But if that were not enough, Facebook also is becoming an instant-messaging major player.

Indeed, according to CNET, Facebook Messenger already has as many as 700 million monthly users, as reported by CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a recent company annual meeting.

If you ask certain tech prognosticators, money transfer apps are the future. Forget Twitter, Candy Crush, or Kim Kardashian's $200 million app -- apps that let you buy a beer, split a bill or pay back a debt with just a few swipes of the finger are where the future is, supposedly. As such, Facebook, Snapchat and a host of new start ups have been scrambling to lock down the market.

If money transfer apps are the future, the legal sphere isn't going to be left behind. At least one company has put together a law-centric payment app, SettlementApp. It's not the omnibus cash transfer app that Square or Venmo are, but rather a tailored app allowing attorneys, large creditors, billers and the like to receive easy, electronic payments with less overhead.

If you've been watching your Facesnaps, Twitbooks or NSA data collection feeds lately, you've probably seen more than one share of writer and programmer Paul Ford's "What is Code?" article. The immersive, experience-based feature attempts to lay out the basics of code for a lay audience, in just around 38,000 words.

But what does code mean for lawyers?

The FCC's net neutrality rules go into effect this Friday, June 12th. The FCC's net neutrality rules prohibit three main practices: blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. The goal is to provide an "open Internet" where all content is treated equally by internet service providers.

Telecom companies are scrambling to get their ducks in a row and settle disputes that could end up before the FCC. But, as the rules get ready to go into effect, some roadblocks remain.

In the age of instant messaging, the longest thing you may read in a day is the text of the "Terms of Service" for some new software or web service. Oh, wait, I forgot: no one actually reads those.

It's a frightening thought that even lawyers don't read boilerplate contracts. The general consensus seems to be: even if I did read the terms of service for any given site or application, I would still sign up anyway. So, what's the point?

Self-Driving Cars -- Are We Ready?

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

Many of us feel the need for control - we need to be behind the wheel when in a car. We do not like others to drive us, and when they do, we become the classic backseat drivers - constantly critiquing the technique of whoever is driving besides ourselves.

And then there is the issue of people beyond the wheel in other cars. So many people can be seen screaming in their cars and gesturing angrily at other drivers. This frustration sometimes boils over into true road rage, and unfortunately there have been instances of true violence that have erupted simply because of quarrels about getting cut off in traffic, road speed and other driving issues.

But is that all about to change? Are we willing to relinquish control and give ourselves up to self-driving vehicles? Technological efforts already are moving in that direction - but will that technology be embraced?

Remember all those Internet privacy class action lawsuits that once made headlines? You don't hear much about them these days. The privacy class action first took off 15 years ago, booming in the late aughts. Many were often filed in the Northern District of California, home to Silicon Valley and tech companies such as Apple, Facebook, and Google. But a review by The Recorder shows that privacy litigation in N.D. Cal. has dried up faster than the state's water reserves.

Indeed, only one privacy lawsuit has been filed against the big S.V. tech companies in 2015. Where have all the lawsuits gone?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has made a name for itself as a watchdog of online privacy, defender against government surveillance, and strong critic of intellectual property abuses. The nonprofit, self described as "defending civil liberties in the digital world," is no stranger to litigation. It often acts as plaintiff or amici in strategic litigation. But it seems like it may be a defendant, as the group has been sued for the very first time.

A lawyer who was the subject of an EFF "Stupid Patent of the Month" blog post has sued the group, claiming it defamed him as both an attorney and an inventor. EFF's monthly shaming called out the attorney-inventor, Scott Horstemeyer, for not only making stupid patents, but being connected to a notorious patent troll. The post caused Horstemeyer to cry foul -- and defamation.

For nearly 10 years, the NSA greedily collected American's phone records. This power is now drastically cut back by the USA Freedom Act. But will there be any real difference?

Here's the short answer: the difference may be negligible. Even though the NSA can no longer directly collect phone records, phone companies can still provide them based on their own policies. How closely the phone companies will work together with the NSA is still a matter of speculation.

Here is a general breakdown of the before and after:

Google I/O, the tech company's annual developer conference, came and went last weekend. The conference focuses on encouraging development in Google platforms such as Android and Chrome. But for the non-techies out there, it's much more of a two day press conference about Google's new developments.

Google I/O had some good news for lawyers, from simple developments like longer battery life and easier email, to potential game changers like virtual reality and NSA-connected toasters.

Here's an overview of five promising developments.

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

Perhaps by now you have seen the recent movie, Ex Machina. If you have not, suffice it to say, an Internet coder is drawn into an unusual experiment in which he engages with a true artificial intelligence (AI) being delivered in the form of an attractive female robot. Is this the stuff of science fiction, or is it possible that humans may transform themselves fundamentally based on human design?

Historically speaking, it was not that long ago that Homo sapiens were not the only human species walking the planet. Indeed, Homo sapiens existed contemporaneously with Neanderthals, and there were other human species along the way as well. As we of course know, Homo sapiens are the only currently surviving human species. But is that about to change? By way of our own ability to create and invent, are we about to change Homo sapiens, or at least some Homo sapiens, into yet a new form?

The Best Scanner Under $300

The paperless office. Like the flying car and the sassy robot sidekick, it's something we've been promised for years, but something science has consistently failed to deliver.

Lawyers are up to their ears in paper as much as they ever were, and while our tablets and iDevices let us browse stuff without paper, we've got to cram all those documents in there somehow. That's where a scanner comes in -- but what kind should you get?

Sit back and let us regale you with our scanner story.