Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

July 2016 Archives

Bitcoin Is Not Money According to Florida Judge

"Bitcoin has a long way to go before it is the equivalent of money," Florida state court judge Teresa Mary Pooler said in a recent money-laundering decision. The conclusion should be clear to anyone, her court said, with even "limited knowledge in the area."

The decision is an interesting one that will probably end up only having limited geographical import legally. Still, it does deal a blow to the PR campaign that Bitcoin has been trying to mount ever since the crypto-currency got associated with Silk Road's illicit criminal activity.

Over the past dozen years or so, social media has certainly made its mark on the legal profession. Lawyers now connect with clients on Facebook, release legal podcasts, and some even have an Instagram account.

But social media's reach stretches well beyond legal marketing; social networks have changed the law itself, along with the way lawyers practice. Here's how.

If you want to understand why a federal district court in Oregon ruled that kids could sue over global warming, you've got to look all the way back to shellfish gathering under Emperor Justinian, among other things. Which is to say, to understand the law and how the law works takes a lot of referencing. And the legal system has developed a host of ways to make sure references are cited and explained, from "The Bluebook" tables, to local rules, to Westlaw Next.

And those systems could be in for an update, if some legal innovators have their way.

Law firm inefficiencies don't just make legal work slower and more cumbersome, they also rob lawyers of income. Firms constantly write down hours for tasks that were spent inefficiently, reducing client bills for work that took too long to complete and taking potential income away from attorneys.

Just how much money do such write-downs cost? Tens of thousands of dollars per lawyer, per year, according to a new study by the Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute.

KickassTorrents Owner Indicted for IP Law Violations

The U.S. wants Artem Vaulin of KickassTorrents extradited from the Ukraine to American soil to face various charges related to his site's illegal distribution of more than $1 billion in media. According to CNN, the Ukrainian man, age 30, was arrested in Poland just days ago.

The case is simply the latest in a series of high profile copyright infringement suits that have involved household names like Napster, Megaupload and Limewire. This bust is another massive blow to the online infringer community -- or is it?

Digital Footprints That Small Law Firms Should Track

Before the internet age, discovery was a matter of digging through endless paper files. But the problem is that paper can be shredded, torn, burnt. In today's digital world, electronic forensic evidence abounds in every nook and cranny -- sometimes with great overlap.

Small firms must use some creativity to know where to look when dealing in the digital discovery game. These days, it helps to know exactly what digital footprints you should be tracking.

When it comes to technology and the law, the future might not be here yet, but it's on its way. Despite the legal industry's reputation as a cautious adopter of innovative technology, some lawyers are starting to take steps towards integrating cutting-edge tech into their practices.

But you don't have to be a BigLaw firm or a massive tech enthusiast to start testing out technology that could change the legal practice. There are some you can start using today.

You're a modern attorney, down with the social medias. You've got hundreds of Twitter followers and a professional blog. Maybe you have a few YouTube videos out there, or a social media team that updates your firm's Facebook profile every once in a while.

But Instagram? Should you get on the massively popular social-media sharing site? Probably not. Here's why.

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

Revenge porn is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Some federal lawmakers agree, and they now seek to push legislation aimed at criminalizing revenge porn.

So, what exactly is revenge porn? It often goes something like this:

There are a lot of cloud storage options out there, for lawyers and laypeople alike. But Microsoft's OneDrive stands out, largely because of its ubiquity. The online file hosting service comes included with Windows 8 and 10 and integrates directly with Microsoft Office applications, like Word and Excel.

But getting the most out of OneDrive takes a bit of finesse. Here are our top suggestions to attorneys and legal professionals who want to make OneDrive work for them.

The Ethics of Technological Incompetence in the Law

Maybe you learned to practice law before hacking became the scourge of institutions everywhere, including the government. If that's the case, you're probably having a difficult time understanding why you should worry about monetary risks associated with being incompetent in technology. Here's one reason to consider: you could be in violation of your professional duties.

It's true. Technological incompetence is the latest ethical violation for which attorneys are finding themselves attending an ethics hearing. What can you do to avoid this fate?

SCOTUS Citation Raises Concerns Over Potential 'Link Rot'

The recent SCOTUS decision of Utah v. Strieff was notable in at least two ways. First it was noteworthy because of Justice Sotomayor's almost Scalia-esque (in terms of passion, if not form) dissent. Some have called it the Court's "Black Lives Matter" moment.

But the Strieff opinion is also noteworthy because it may be the first time in the Court's history in which a URL-link "shortener" was used in place of the real address. Justice Kagan's separate dissent included a citation to http://goo.gl/3Yq3Nd, and that leaves some worried.

Want your documents safe protected from U.S. snooping? Store them on servers located outside the United States. That's the lesson from Microsoft's landmark win in the Second Circuit, yesterday.

In that case, a unanimous 3-judge panel ruled that communications controlled by American companies but stored on foreign servers are outside of the reach of domestic warrants issued under the federal Stored Communications Act. Microsoft is believed to be the first company to challenge such warrants and its win has been hailed as a victory by privacy advocates.

Using the internet just got a bit riskier, thanks to the Ninth Circuit. In two recent rulings, separated by only one week, the Ninth Circuit has greatly expanded the reach of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a federal anti-hacking law from 1986.

Under the Ninth Circuit's new interpretation of the CFAA, you can violate the law by using someone else's password to access a computer database, or simply by using a website you've been told to stay off of. And, if the Ninth's opinions are read broadly, a lot of your online behavior could be considered illegal hacking.

Tesla Involved in Second Auto-Pilot Crash This Weekend

These are bad times for Tesla, but they could be worse. Over the weekend, apparently, another Tesla vehicle was involved in a crash after the vehicle's driver-assist program failed to navigate unfamiliar terrain on a remote Montana mountain roadway. The good news is that this time the driver lived to tell the tale.

Elon Musk, the company's head (and face) tweeted that the company "[didn't] mind taking the heat for customer safety." That should quell the nerves of shareholders, we're sure.

The Inevitable Finally Happens: U.S. Senate Ditches BlackBerry

We all knew it was only a matter of time before the once dominant BlackBerry would give way to Samsung and Apple devices on Capitol Hill, and it looks like that day is finally here. The U.S. Senate has stopped handing out BlackBerry devices to its staffers, according to Politico. Apparently the launch of the latest BlackBerry device couldn't staunch the winds of change.

No matter for the company's CEO John Chen, who made a promise that the BlackBerry devices would become profitable again.

If you haven't noticed, the world has been invaded by Pokemon -- or at least, Pokemon Go. The new "augmented reality" game has millions of users wandering the streets, chasing after Pikachus and Squirtles. And, of course, it has legal implications, from its connection to armed robberies and dead bodies to concerns over data privacy.

In that way, Pokemon Go is a pretty typical video game, for such games often connect to the law in some shape or form. To help you keep on top of your gaming trends, then, here are our top posts about video games and the law, from the FindLaw archives.

You've seen them wandering around, everyone from tweens to grandparents, their eyes stuck to their smartphones, mumbling "gotta catch 'em all." They're not zombies, they're just playing Pokémon Go. The new, "augmented reality" game based on the classic 90's Nintendo game, allows users to roam their streets, capturing and fighting Pikachus, Squirtles, Charmanders, and worthless Zubats.

If it looks weird, it's because it is. It's also a lot of fun. But as tens of millions of Pokémon trainers look to find their next catch, Niantic, the games developer could be collecting their personal information, thanks to Pokémon Go's downright frightful terms of service.

The State Department Email Saga

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

We now know that the FBI does not recommend that Hillary Clinton be prosecuted for using private email servers with respect to government communications while she was the Secretary of State. At the same time, though, the FBI has concluded that Ms. Clinton's handling of government communications was extremely careless. Meanwhile, the State Department may begin its own investigation with respect to EmailGate.

From the outside, it does not appear that Ms. Clinton acted with malice when using private email servers regarding her government communications as Secretary of State. Nevertheless, it is critically important that government records be maintained as government records so that the public has an opportunity to review those records when appropriate.

Another Lawsuit Against Facebook Over 'Material Support' of Terrorism

Another set of survivors have filed suit against Facebook following revelations that Hamas and other terrorist organizations have been recruiting militants via the social media site. We say "another" because suits like this have happened before -- and they're likely to continue as the theory of the law settles.

Does the desire for society to root out terrorists' communication channels necessarily mean a reduction in our speech liberties? Perhaps we'll found out sooner than we wished.

Micah Johnson, a disgraced Army vet, is thought to have shot and killed five police officers and injured seven others in Dallas last Thursday. Johnson was killed in turn, hours after being cornered by police in a nearby parking garage. But Johnson didn't fall to police gunfire. He was blown up.

In what appears to be a first, the Dallas police used a Multi-function Agile Remote-Controlled Robot, or MARCbot, to end Johnson's life. The MARCbot, also known as a "bomb robot," was a simple military robot with an explosive attached to its arm, sent to dispatch the suspected Dallas shooter without endangering police officers' lives. But the use of the bomb robot has raised significant issues about the blending of military and police technologies and the delivery of deadly force when dealing with dangerous suspects.

You wake up and check your phone. Before you go to bed, you send a last-minute email from under the covers. Twenty years ago, doing so much work in your pajamas would have been unthinkable. Now, it's the norm.

And you've got your smartphone to blame. Mobile phones have changed how the law is practiced by your average lawyer perhaps more than any technology since the desktop computer.

Silicon Valley's Y Combinator Funds 'Turbotax for Immigration'

Y Combinator, one of the most popular funding entities in Silicon Valley, has decided to send its money into the coffers of a company that's trying to become the 'Turbotax for immigration.' The company in question is SimpleCitizen. And if the Y Combinator is correct, this could be big news for the future of immigration law.

Self-driving cars, autonomous vehicles, high-tech Roombas -- call them what you may, but they're becoming increasingly visible on our roads, in our headlines, and, perhaps soon, in court rooms. And self-driving vehicles aren't just for techno futurists in Silicon Valley anymore; even the federal government and major Detroit automakers are on board. But as the recently-revealed fatality involving the driver of an auto-piloted Tesla car shows, there are still plenty of questions about self-driving cars' safety and any liability for accidents.

To help you navigate our (possibly) driverless future, here are our top articles on self-driving cars, for lawyers.

It might be time to tap the breaks on the push for self-driving cars. Last Wednesday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into what could be the first fatality caused by a self-driving car: the death of Joshua Brown last May, who was killed after his self-driving Tesla collided with a tractor-trailer.

Here's how the fatality could impact this emerging industry, and the laws and regulations that govern it.

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

At this point, it may come as no surprise that the US government has some ability to monitor internet traffic. However, the tremendous extent of government surveillance may be somewhat alarming to those who are interested in privacy on the internet.

An article by RT.com reports that the NSA has the ability to read 75 percent of all U.S. internet traffic. The article points out that programs referred to as Stormbrew, Lithium, Oakstar, Fairview, and Blarney all have the ability to monitor the actual text of emails, not just email metadata.

Way back in March, you might have seen a story about agitators who were paid over $3,000 a person to protest outside Trump rallies. Or maybe you spotted the story about President Obama limiting American gun ownership to three guns per person, max? None of them were true, but you could be forgiven for being duped. Both came from ABC.com.co, a fake news website designed to trick the unsuspecting.

And when it comes to .co's, it's easy to confuse them for .com's. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why .co domains are the number one non-.com source of disputes before the World Intellectual Property Organization, as Doug Isenberg reports on Gigalaw blog.