Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

February 2017 Archives

One of the technologies underlying document encryption and internet security for years isn't nearly as secure as once thought. Researchers at Google and CWI Amsterdam announced last week that they have cracked that technology, the Secure Hash Algorithm 1, or SHA-1. That techn has been used for more than 20 years to verify the safety of websites and the authenticity of documents.

SHA-1 works by creating a sort of digital fingerprint, allowing for quick authentication of documents, passwords, and websites. Researchers found that they could trick the algorithm into creating identical "fingerprints" for different files. And while the technology has been suspect for some time, it is still commonly used to validate the integrity of documents, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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

Getting to and from work can be a time-consuming, irritating and productivity-sucking endeavor. Indeed, time wasted in the car certainly could be used for more enjoyable and productive activities than countless annual hours behind the wheel. Where rush hour traffic consistently is bad, telecommuting should be actively explored for appropriate employees.

TomTom has collected data in an effort to measure the worst rush hour traffic in 48 countries, and specifically within 390 cities in those countries. So what are the most recently measured worst cities for rush hour traffic?

Uber Sued for Patent Infringement by Google's Self-Driving Car Division

Anthony Levandowski, an engineer who developed self-driving car technology for Google, has been looking behind him ever since he left the company last year to found a start-up. Now the image in his rear view mirror has suddenly come into focus.

Waymo, the self-driving car division at Google, has filed a lawsuit alleging that Levandowski took its technology and sold it to a competitor. Levandowski, who sold his company to Uber for $680 million seven months after he left Google, knew that it was coming.

Threats on 'Anonymous' Messaging App Result in FBI Arrest

"Asalam alaikum, brother," the suspected terrorist messaged.

He had talked about "jihad and shooting all the people all the time," but the time had come to act. Using an anonymous phone app, he revealed his plan to attack. "I cannot speak of anything," he said. "Say your dua, sleep, and watch the news tomorrow."

Within hours, law enforcement agents were outside his apparent. He tried furiously to encrypt his computer files, but it was too late.

The FBI arrested Garrett Grimsely and seized an assault weapon, along with about 340 rounds of ammunition. He is facing up to five years in prison for "transmitting a threat in interstate commerce to injure the person of another."

Technology Is Quickly Reshaping Workers' Compensation Claims

When Jarrod Magan writes about the future of worker's compensation, he sounds more like a science-fiction writer: Software robots will respond to claimant's calls. Virtual assistants will process paperwork. Doctors, advocates, and patients will meet using personal avatars.

It's not like Magan is inventing the future; it's more like he's already been there. He says that current technologies are evolving and completely changing the administration of worker's compensation.

"Once thought to be cold and impersonal, technology is re-defining our expectations and how we view a quality customer experience," he says. "It is no surprise that new technologies are also reshaping workers' compensation as we know it."

When does something constitute a 'substantial portion of the components of a patented invention' under the Patent Act? Not when that thing is only one of many components, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday, in a fun little case involving DNA testing, international supply chains, and patent law.

The case, Life Technologies v. Promega, involves a patent on a genetic testing kit made of five components. The Promega company was the exclusive licensee of that patent and licensed Life Technologies for the manufacture and sale of the kids to law enforcement. All but one of the kits five components, the Taq polymerase, were manufactured in the U.K. Life then shipped the Taq polymerase to the U.K. to be combined. After four years of this, Promega sued, claiming that Life Technologies had infringed the patent. Liability, according to Promega, was trigged by the shipment of the Taq polymerase abroad.

How Expensive Is AI for Law Firms Really?

While AI has arrived for work at some law firms, it is still in the future for most.

It's not that law firms are lagging behind in technology. It's just that the high end solutions are too expensive for most lawyers.

Sure, even a solo practitioner can buy a digital assistant for about $200 to manage a calendar and make electronic deposits. But a small firm will spend about $30,000 to install a software robot to handle legal tasks like workflow management and contract review.

And if you need a system to accommodate 500 users, we're talking $250,000 -- to start. After set up, there's the cost of tech personnel and support. It's a half million dollar robot -- not quite Iron Man dollars but more than Robby the Robot.

When it comes to technology and the law there are plenty of unanswered questions. Some of these we'll have a long time to ponder. We can debate, for example, the legal implications of robot intelligence for a few years still. Others are more urgent, like who owns the patent on one of the most promising gene editing techniques, or how should the law respond to self-sailing ships. All of them, we think, are interesting.

So, to keep you pondering, and perhaps to provide some insight, here are our top unresolved questions arising from the intersection of law and technology, gathered from the FindLaw archives.

SiriusXM Radio Wins Copyright Battle in NY Appeals Court

If only life were as simple as the songwriters say, like in the hit song from the the Turtles' "Happy Together."

Perhaps one day, when theoretical physicists unravel the mysteries of string theory and the harmonics of the universe, everybody will live in music-like unison. But in the litigious meantime, Flo & Eddie and other musicians from before 1972 will have to be happy with a settlement that is still unsettled.

After a legal setback in a New York case, the class action plaintiffs will be looking forward to payment through another case that settled in California. The settlement amount depends on the results of cases pending in the U.S. Second, Ninth and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeal.

iPad Pro and Apple Pencil Enable Lawyer to Go Completely Paperless

"A chorus of angels started singing in my head!" attorney Eric Cooperstein said. "Scales fell from my eyes! "

It was not the second coming of the Messiah, but it was a close second for the paperless attorney. Cooperstein, like many lawyers, went paperless in his law practice a decade ago. Drafting and saving pleadings on his computer; scanning letters and other documents; e-filing, e-discovery, and cloud computing: these all became part of the paperless law office.

But there was no paperless solution for Cooperstein's handwritten notes -- until he saw the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil.

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

Once upon a time, we received news in traditional formats from finite media sources by way of newspapers, television, and radio. And the news we received from those sources did not vary tremendously one from another. The news just seemed to be the news. As Walter Cronkite closed on his CBS nightly newscast, "And that's the way it is" -- in essence meaning, "Those are the facts."

Times plainly have changed. There are many sources of news. People can choose a news outlet that suits their own political preferences. For example, for someone of a conservative, Republican persuasion, Fox News might be the news outlet of choice. Fox tends to present the news more in line with that end of the political spectrum. And, of course, there are other news outlets that favor the liberal, Democrat end of the political spectrum. So what are the "facts" when the reporting of the same events can be interpreted very differently?

Lawsuit Claims Prison Recorded Attorney-Client Meetings and Phone Calls

At the same time a class-action alleges Kansas prison officials recorded attorney-client phone calls, a court-appointed special master is reporting the prison also videotaped at least 700 attorney-client meetings.

Special master David Cohen made the report after reviewing videotapes of 30 attorney visits at the federal prison in Leavenworth. Cohen, who was appointed in a criminal case to examine the prison's video set-up, concluded that more than 700 lawyer-client meetings had been videotaped during a 12-week period.

"It appears all of these attorney-inmate meetings were recorded," Cohen said.

Although the video-recordings did not include sound, Cohen also investigated attorney-client phone calls that were recorded.

When clients look for attorneys, they're looking for someone who will win. But finding that information isn't always the easiest. Sure, attorneys may tout their big victories on their websites, billboards, and subway adds, but the average legal consumer can't easily tell if that $15 million personal injury verdict was a fluke or the norm.

That is, until now. A new startup has launched a free website, Justice Toolbox, that lets users look up the winning-est lawyers by practice area and city -- though there might be some problems with evaluating lawyers based on wins alone.

Road Rage in the Age of Self-Driving Cars

What happens if a self-driving car cuts you off?

It's not like you can flip-off the driver. Yelling won't do any good either, except perhaps to release some road rage.

It's a question that lawyers broached at the American Bar Association's midyear meeting in Florida. The program, broadcast through Legal Talk Network, focused on the challenge of road rage in the age of self-driving cars.

According to panelists, driverless cars are not the problem. They are part of the solution.

Facebook Sued in Germany for Selfie Linked to Fake News Stories about Terrorism

With one selfie, a Syrian refugee has brought Facebook to a day of reckoning.

A German judge will soon decide what to do about Anas Modamani, who took a selfie with chancellor Angela Merkel in 2015 and posted it on Facebook. The photo went viral as a symbol of Germany's open-door policy to refugees, but some fake news stories used the photo to link Modamani to terrorism.

Modamani, who sued for injunctive relief in Wurzburg, wants Facebook to prevent the photo from being shared and to delete all false news stories that have used it. Facebook's attorney told the judge it is not possible.

Canadians Fear Privacy Violations at U.S. Border

While President Trump looks for another way to ban immigrants from Muslim countries and proceeds to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, a less visible border battle is playing out with Canada.

Border Patrol agents have been stopping Canadians, questioning them about their religion and national origin, and then demanding access to their phones. As part of the president's ban against immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations, agents have been screening Muslims at the borders between Canada and the United States.

Last weekend, a Muslim woman from Quebec reported that she was interrogated at the Vermont border and forced to hand over her phone and unlock it. Agents then refused to let her into the country. An Iranian-born journalist was detained last month at Chicago's O'Hare airport, where agents forced him to unlock his phone and then inspected his Twitter account.

You can use bots to grab the first open reservation at a hard-to-book restaurant. Bots will post your thoughts to Twitter. These relatively simple, automated programs can even pretend to be your girlfriend.

Now, some public-minded techies want to use bots to ensure public accountability, by tracking nearly everything legislators say or do when crafting laws.

Firm Automates Mundane Tasks With 'Software Robots'

It's not quite R2D2, but it's not just a cute movie robot either.

RPA, for Robotic Process Automation, is the real deal. They are software robots, and they are going to work at the international law firm Seyfarth Shaw.

The firm will put the robots to work managing client information, reviewing contracts and other tasks as fast as they can get trained. That, by the way, is the key to machine learning.

Espionage Charges Leveled at Former NSA Contractor for Stealing Hacking Tools

Harold T. Martin III has been facing up to 10 years in prison for allegedly stealing classified government information, but he may soon face another 30 years as prosecutors plan to file espionage charges against him.

In any case, the former contractor for the National Security Agency is not going anywhere for a long time. Unlike Eric Snowden who fled the country after he leaked classified information, Martin is in jail.

Video Game Company Wins in Biometric Face-Scanning Dispute

"In your face!"

Often shouted by sports enthusiasts when they score on an opponent, the expression took on new meaning in a recent court decision. The case involved a video game, NBA 2K, that enables users to scan their faces into a computer to create their own avatars in a virtual basketball game.

The end result is that you -- or at least a digital rendering of you -- can slam dunk a basketball and exclaim: "In your face!"

But two players sued, alleging that the gaming company's use of gamers' biometric data violated the law. Unfortunately for two plaintiffs, the litigation game did not end so well. A federal court judge said they had no case against the software company for keeping the biometric data used to create their faces on avatars.

If you're looking for the definition of demurrer or argle-bargle, pretty much any reputable dictionary published in the last hundred years will do. But if you're looking to find the meaning of "botnet," you might have to rely on less-established sources, even Wikipedia. While language and technology evolve quickly, giving us an endless list of neologisms ranging from "fax machine" to "defriend," the dictionary makers of the world, those modern-day Samuel Johnsons and Henry Campbell Blacks, take a bit more time to separate the wheat from the "chillax."

But they catch up eventually. This week, Merriam-Webster announced that it was adding more than 1,000 words to its pages, many of them technological in origin. Now you'll finally have something reliable to cite the next time you're explaining open-source NSFW listicles.

Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Tell-Tale Heart' tells the tale of a man, so wracked with guilt and paranoia after a well crafted murder that he begins to hear the beating of his victim's heart from under his floorboards and (spoiler alert) confesses to the crime.

Now, Poe's classic tale seems to have come to life in Middletown, Ohio. Well, almost. There's no murder, just alleged arson and insurance fraud. And it's not a dead man's heart that matters here, but the supposed arsonist's. That would be Ross Compton's heart. Police arrested the Ohio man two weeks ago, after examining data they subpoenaed from his pacemaker, data which they believe shows he burnt down his own home.

FCC Puts the Brakes on 'Zero Rating'

In what may be the first casualty of net neutrality rules, the new Federal Communications Commission announced it will not investigate internet service providers who may offer "zero-rating" data plans to customers.

The FCC notified AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Comcast that the investigations the Obama administration started are over. The zero ratings investigations looked into whether the companies were violating net neutrality rules by not charging customers to use data with certain apps.

"These free-data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace," FCC chairman Ajit Pai said.

Legal Implications of Autonomous Ships

An oil tanker, weighing half a million tons, is churning through San Francisco Bay without a crew. What could possibly go wrong?

This is more than a hypothetical question. It is the future. Robot-assisted boats are already coursing through the oceans, bays, and waterways around the world.

And with advances in artificial intelligence, the next big thing in the shipping industry will likely be autonomous ships. These office-building-sized tankers, filled with liquid fires-waiting-to-happen, will be creeping around the globe without a man on board to pilot them.

Feeling a little seasick?

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

Changes keep coming fast, and now nine companies that recently have been part of a program intended to offer subsidized internet access to low-income users have been informed by the Federal Communications Commission that they must not offer this service, according to a recent article by the International Business Times. This position by the new leadership of the FCC represents a complete pivot from a ruling only weeks before by prior FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Last July, the Second Circuit ruled that the federal government could not force Microsoft to turn over emails stored on a foreign server in Ireland. Two weeks ago, a divided Second Circuit declined to reconsider that ruling en banc, allowing the landmark decision to stand.

But the Second Circuit's logic doesn't seem to have convinced U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Rueter. On Friday, Rueter ruled that Google must turn over foreign-stored electronic data to the FBI, pursuant to two search warrants issued under the Stored Communications Act, the same act the Second Circuit found did not have extraterritorial reach.

Target's Data Breach Settlement Delayed

For Target, the $10 million settlement would have closed the door on one of the biggest data-breach cases of the time.

The company had already agreed to pay banks with MasterCard $39 million and Visa $67 million. Even the consumer class action -- representing up to 110 million Target customers -- had been approved. But then this happened.

One person objected, and an appeals court agreed with him. The settlement, based on the data-breach of 2013, will be on hold for now.

When disaster strikes, can your firm recover and ensure that you're still able to serve clients, practice law, and meet your duties? Do you have a plan in place for emergencies, like earthquakes, hurricanes, or the loss of your internet?

Yep, with practice management systems, webmail, legal research, and records databases increasingly integrated with "the cloud," something as simple as a WiFi outage could disrupt your practice just as much as a flood. Here's why and how to prepare.

What Should Small Firms Know About AI?

What should solo practitioners and small firms know about AI?

He was only the highest-scoring point guard in the history of the NBA, that's what! He stood toe-to-toe with Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time, crossed him over and scored on him like a boss!

Wait, you want to know about the other AI? Fine. Work with me here.

Like gifted athletes on the basketball court, solo practitioners and small law firms can own the big leagues on the other court. And AI can get you there. That's what I'm talking about. Artificial Intelligence, not Allen Iverson.

'We'll see you in court' the American Civil Liberties Union declared shortly after Trump's election in November. Then, with last Friday's executive order halting the resettlement of refugees and banning immigrants from seven majority-Muslim nations, the battle really began. All the while, the donations were rolling in -- so quickly that the ACLU's website crashed. The group received roughly 120,000 donations in the first five days after the election. On the weekend of Trump's immigration ban, that number almost tripled. The group took in $24 million from over 350,000 donations -- six times what it usually raises online in a full year. That's enough cash to fund a whole army of public interest lawyers.

Now, following the unprecedented explosion in donations, the ACLU is teaming up with an unexpected partner, Y Combinator, the Silicon Valley startup accelerator.

President Trump is an avid Twitter user, but otherwise avoids technology. (The president doesn't own a personal computer and rarely sends email, according to reports.) Justice Scalia once wondered, during oral arguments, whether one could print off text messages and share them with their friends.

Now Trump has nominated Tenth Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch to take Scalia's place. Where does Gorsuch stand on technology generally and how might he impact technology and the law if he makes it to the Supreme Court?

Airport Internet: What Lawyers Need to Know

President Trump fires his attorney general for refusing to defend his immigration ban; a lawyer is jailed for peacefully protesting at the inauguration; and hundreds of lawyers are in the cross-hairs for assisting immigrants at the nation's airports.

Unless you work for the president, you might be feeling a little paranoid about what could happen to you if you cross the line. Oh wait, that's right. He fired his top attorney.

In any case, there is a real security threat to any attorney who does legal work at the airport. Everyone from a hacker to to an immigration official can access your communications on the internet.

Airports, like many public places, offer wi-fi services to anyone . But it's a bad idea for lawyers to use public Wi-Fi networks because they are not secure. For phishers, it's like shooting fish in a barrel.

A class action lawsuit against PACER, the online Public Access to Court Electronic Records service that everyone loves to hate, overcame an important hurdle last week.

The suit accuses PACER of charging too much for records and, on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle certified the class, which includes just about anyone who has used PACER in the last six years.