Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

March 2017 Archives

On the streets of Bangalore, in the dance halls of Rio, and among the windmills of the Low Countries, they are celebrating. Why? Because it's World Backup Day, a global holiday nonpareil.

What? This is the first you've heard about World Backup Day? Don't worry, celebrating is easy. You've just got to take some time to backup your files. Here's how to do it.

Taking Your Legal Career to Cyberspace and Beyond

Evolution does not always occur through survival of the fittest; sometimes it just occurs through the right fit.

For Adam Cohen, it may have been a combination of the two. He was a BigLaw partner, but he had a passion for technology. In time, he evolved from legal advocate to white hat hacker.

"With technology and business these days, everything changes so rapidly that you constantly have to be learning new things," he told the ABA Journal about his change from law partner to managing director of an expert consulting firm.

Cohen is one of a breed of lawyers who are evolving with technology, gaining knowledge in new fields and emerging in new professions. Here are a few:

When it comes to technology, the legal industry isn't known for being an early adopter. But after years of dragging their feet, many firms have now started to embrace legal tech, even if that embrace is a bit tepid. There are legal tech conferences, legal tech blogs (ahem), legal tech gurus. The field is exploding with startups in everything from legal research to practice management to eDiscovery.

So what's next? Here are some promising trends at the intersection of law and technology, taken from the FindLaw archives.

Women Under-Represented in Cybersecurity, Report Finds

Raising concerns about a short supply of workers to fight cyberattacks, a new report says that women are a hugely untapped source of technical expertise in the field.

The Women in Cybersecurity Report says that women hold only 11 percent of the cybersecurity jobs worldwide, while more than 200,000 cybersecurity spots are vacant in the United States alone. Moreover, the report says, women are generally more qualified than men in the field.

"The under-representation and under-utilization of female talent is both a critical business issue and a hindrance to the development of world-class cybersecurity organizations and resilient companies, as well as the overall safety and protection of our country," said Joyce Brocaglia, founder of the Executive Women's Forum, which presented the report.

How to Guard Against iPhone Ransom

Do you ever think about the end of the world and what you can do about it?

Do you build a bomb shelter, like many countries since the nuclear scare of the 1950s? Do you store water and food, like the survivalists awaiting the killer comet or the religious sects waiting for the Second Coming?

Or, if you are like my teenage daughter, do you declare all is lost because the end of the world means losing contacts on her cell phone?

Well, if your cell phone is your life, then the end of the world is coming on April 7, 2017. Here's why and what you can do about it:

'Beetlejuice,' Tim Burton's 1988 chef d'ouevre, tells the tale of one titular ghost who is called into existence to fright and delight when his name is repeated thrice over. Just say 'Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice,' and he's transferred from the netherworld to your dining room.

The Freedom of Information Act works in a surprisingly similar way. Under the Act, government agencies that have received three or more requests for public records must make those records available on their websites. Now, public interest groups are turning to that Beetlejuice provision to help preserve public access to government data, data they fear could be removed by the current administration.

Copyright Law and the Future of 3D Printing

What came first in the world of copyright and 3D printing, the egg or the egg holder?

Like the chicken-and-the-egg question, the copyright question seems so simple at first. The egg, right? You can't have an egg holder without an egg?

But throw in a U.S. Supreme Court decision and an industry watching it like a hawk, and you have the potential for a scrambled mess. At least, some are predicting the death of 3D printing while its still emerging.

Automation Replaces About 23 Percent of Lawyer's Work

Relax, a robot will not be taking your law job -- yet.

According to researchers -- aided by computers, of course -- only 23 percent of a lawyer's tasks can be automated with current technology. After analyzing 2,000 work activities for 800 occupations, McKinsey Global Institute reported that it will be a decade before artificial intelligence will take over any lawyer jobs.

That's right, C3PO, get away from the lawyer's desk and get back to the translation business.

Some law firms, we recently learned, have been keeping a small stash of Bitcoin on hand. Why? Because Bitcoin, the digital cryptocurrency, is the preferred mode of exchange for most hackers. Should the firm succumb to a ransomware attack, a quick Bitcoin payoff can allow business to resume without too much difficulty.

But there's another way to prepare for potential cyber attacks -- and it doesn't involve stuffing Bitcoin under the mattress. Cyber insurance can help lawyers and law firms insulate themselves from risks associated with hacking, ransomware, data breaches, and the like. Here are some helpful resources for understanding cyber insurance, taken from the FindLaw archives.

Will Electronic Wills Be Legal Soon?

This is not your father's will.

Electronic wills, as proposed in the Florida Electronic Wills Act, are created in an electronic form, including e-signatures for testators with remote witnesses and notaries. In other words, the document will be made in a virtual world.

If Florida enacts the law, it will become the second state in the country to expressly authorize electronic wills. While technology is pushing legal innovation everywhere, not all probate lawyers are ready to adopt the electronic will just yet.

In 2013, Bitcoin was inescapable. The strange little cryptocurrency had morphed from an internet oddity, where Bitcoin-backers celebrated exchanging 10,000 Bitcoins for two (bad) pizzas, to a serious phenomenon. After a whole lot of stumbling blocks, Bitcoin has continued to grow, with the digital currency valued at over $1,000 a coin today. (That makes those pizzas worth $10 million.)

But the real story behind Bitcoin isn't Bitcoin, it turns out. It's the blockchain, the technology that makes Bitcoin possible. And it's blockchain, rather than virtual currencies, that could revolutionize everything from banking to land records. The tech could even be embraced by tech-shy lawyers.

What Legal Tech Pros Must Know About China's New Cybersecurity Law

Don't know about China's new cybersecurity law set to take effect in June?

Well, they say that what you don't know won't hurt you, but that is not true when it comes to China's cybersecurity law. According to a recent survey, about 75 percent of legal technology professionals didn't know about it. What's troubling is that only 14 percent of the respondents said they were "very concerned" about it.

Legal tech professionals should be concerned because the law requires foreign companies doing business in China to store their data on Chinese servers and to help government officials police the internet. Oh, and failure to abide by the law may result in civil and criminal penalties -- including death.

You read that right. Let's sum it up in two words: kong huang. It means "panic now."

On December 15th, shortly after appearing on 'Tucker Carlson Tonight,' Vanity Fair contributing editor and Newsweek senior writer Kurt Eichenwald checked his Twitter. What he saw sent him into a seizure.

Eichenwald, an epileptic, had been targeted by a Twitter user who messaged the journalist with a strobing .gif designed to trigger a seizure. In case the intent wasn't clear, the online assailant, under the account @jew_goldstein, included the message "You deserve a seizure." On Friday, FBI officials arrested the man suspected of being behind the attack.

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

All countries are not the same when it comes to online freedom and security issues. This is borne out by recent statistics published by Richard Patterson of Comparitech.

When it comes to the amount of freedom offered by countries on the internet, a scale of 1 to 100 is implemented, with 1 being the absolute best possible, and with 100 being the worst. While the United States comes in with a relatively low score of 18, the US is not ranked the most free. Indeed, both Iceland and Estonia have a very low score of 6, with Canada next at 16, then the US at 18. Other relatively free counties include Germany at 19, Australia at 21, Japan at 22, the UK at 23, and South Africa and Italy both at 25.

Spotlight on Laptop Security, Protecting Client Files

When a thief stole a lawyer's laptop, in retrospect the attorney partially blamed himself.

He left it in plain sight on a countertop, where the burglar could easily see it through the glass door of his house. The lawyer had also left a light on in the house to ward off a potential break-in, but saw his strategy differently when he returned home and peered through the broken glass.

"The same feature that contributed to my peaceful light a few hours before now gave a clear view of the countertop where my MacBook Air sat under what I now imagined to be a spotlight of my own making," John E. Grant wrote for Lawyerist.

In a hi-tech age, it also helps to take some low-tech precautions -- like putting a physical lock on a laptop or putting it in a secure place. Here are two tales to consider:

Are workers like Uber drivers or GrubHub deliverymen independent contractors or employees? This is one of the central questions in a growing sector of the economy, where app-based companies can help you get a ride to the airport or send someone over to do your laundry. Most of those companies treat such workers as contractors, while those workers are increasingly demanding recognition as employees.

Two major cases, driver-led lawsuits against Uber and Lyft, were set to help end the debate. But now that those lawsuits are headed toward settlement, will we ever get a definitive ruling on the issue?

Judge Approves $27 Million Lyft Settlement

A  federal judge has approved a settlement between drivers and Lyft for $27 million, but the case leaves a significant question unanswered: are the drivers independent contractors or employees?

The drivers sued the company in 2013, alleging they were employees entitled to reimbursement for expenses such as gasoline and maintenance. The company treated them as independent contractors, so they had to pay for those expenses.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said the $27 million settlement is better than $12.5 million, which he previously rejected, but it does not answer the big question.

"The agreement is not perfect," he said. "And the status of Lyft drivers under California law remains uncertain going forward."

U.S. Indicts Russian Spies for Yahoo Hack

In the aftermath of the Yahoo cybersecurity breach, there is some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that the U.S. Justice Department has indicted two Russian spies and two mercenary hackers who orchestrated the theft of 500 million Yahoo accounts in 2014. It accounts for a substantial portion of the 1.5 billion hacks that Yahoo discovered last year.

The bad news is that the indictments reveal a scheme so murky that it will take a long time for criminal authorities, lawyers, and technology experts to figure out how to deal with such attacks. The investigation alone took two years.

For the time being, it is a highwater mark in the ongoing cyberwar between U.S. and Russian interests. It is the first time the U.S. has indicted a Russian official.

If the Russian government breaks into your email, if the Chinese politburo runs off with your identity, or if Ethiopian state-sponsored spies start monitoring your every Skype call -- well, you won't get any help from the court system. On Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit ruled that U.S. courts have no jurisdiction to hear claims against state sponsors of hacking.

The case involves an American-Ethiopian political activist who claimed that the Ethiopian government spied on him through malware, but the implications are far-reaching, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Not only can governments hack your laptop without legal repercussions under the court's logic, they may even get away with hacking into your car or pacemaker or even sending a drone your way.

Virtual, digital currencies seem to have some staying power. Bitcoin is now at its highest value ever, $1250 per coin, and still growing -- despite the SEC's rejection of a Winklevoss-backed exchange-traded fund for Bitcoin. And while Bitcoin grows, so too do other cryptocurrencies, like Ethereum.

With so much cyrptocoin flowing, the tax man will soon come knocking. And when he does, Steptoe & Johnson want to be there to influence the outcome. The firm announced last week that it will be forming the Digital Assets Tax Policy Coalition, alongside industry partners, in order to "help develop effective and efficient tax policies for the growing virtual currency markets."

Amazon No Longer Claims Alexa Is Protected by First Amendment

Remember when Commander James Lovell and the Apollo 13 astronauts flew by the moon, watching its dark side pass below and wishing they could have landed?

Oh, you weren't old enough to remember 1970? Well then, maybe you remember the Apollo 13 mock-up from 1995. It was a moment in wistful history, real or imagined, to be so close and yet so far from something as monumental as to walk on the moon. Alas, it was not to be. And so it is for Alexa, the robot voice of Amazon's Echo.

A judge was ready to rule that the software robot has a First Amendment right, but then the humans in the case went and waived it. Mission aborted.

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

The internet is a relatively new phenomenon. But the following fascinating facts, provided by Inc.com, demonstrate that the internet has gained rapid and ubiquitous traction.

For example, while it took 75 years until telephones were used by 50 million users, Pokemon Go was adopted by 50 million users in only 19 days!

Cyber insurance is the fastest growing area of the insurance market -- by leaps and bounds. The cyber insurance market is exploding, as companies look to insulate themselves from liabilities stemming from hacking, data breaches, and the like. The ABA is even selling cyber insurance to lawyers now.

Today, cyber insurance isn't just something that lawyers need to consider adding to their insurance plans. It's something they need to understand from a legal perspective.

New Chatbot Helps Refugees

DoNotPay, an autonomous program that has helped beat more than 160,000 parking tickets, is moving into a new field of practice.

The brainchild of Stanford student Joshua Browder, the software robot now gives legal advice to refugees. It is available to those seeking asylum in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

The robot works through Facebook Messenger, asking a series of questions and helping immigrants complete required forms. Unlike your local barrister, the chatbot is available around the clock.

If you haven't heard of Prenda Law, well, where the heck have you been all these years? For the better part of the decade, the infamous Prenda Law firm has popped up in the news again and again and again. Prenda Law first came to the public's attention as one of the worst examples of copyright trolling, tracking down porn downloaders and threatening to reveal their smutty predilections in litigation -- unless they paid to settle quickly.

Now, the long-running Prenda Law controversy may finally be coming to an end, as one of Prenda Law's principal attorneys, John Steele, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and money laundering charges and agreed to help the government take down others in the scheme. So, in memoriam of one of the most notorious legal schemes in recent history, here's a quick survey of FindLaw's favorite Prenda Law coverage over the past few years.

Lawyer Admits Making Porn to Trap Copyright Violators

It turns out that Prenda Law was Prenda Porn.

John Steele, formerly of Prenda Law, has admitted that his firm made pornographic films to trick people into downloading them from file-sharing websites. Then, Steele said, he and his former law partner Paul Hansmeier would sue those people for copyright violations.

The scheme was illegal and resulted in Steele's pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering. Making porn was not against the law, but it's just shocking that the participatory porn credits somehow were overlooked by the Oscars.

Internet Fraud Is Rising, and Fake News Is Adding to the Problem

Internet fraud rose again last year, and scammers are at this year with fake news.

According to recent reports, fraudsters are creating fake news sites with links to trick users into buying bogus products online. The Federal Trade Commission says an investigation uncovered scams for "brain booster" pills.

"They build spoofed websites that look like the news sites that we know and trust," the government said. "The sites aren't real news sites and the endorsements featured on the sites, often from figures like Stephen Hawking, Anderson Cooper and others, are fake."

With fake news adding to the problem, it's hard to know what cyber criminals are actually doing and what they will do next. But here are some things to watch out for:

Copyright Office Asking Artists for Input on Moral Rights

Did some kid use an app to morph your selfie into a picture of you with dog ears?

Or did someone snag your profile picture and post it somewhere that you would rather not see?

Maybe these questions are funny, but the U.S. Copyright Office seriously wants to know what is happening to your photos. The Copyright Office is seeking comment from the public about how to better protect photos and other arts from unlawful exploitation.

Here's a sobering fact for lawyers: Last year, a machine learning program used by JPMorgan Chase saved the company 360,000 hours of work, work that would normally be performed by lawyers and loan officers.

That's more than 41 years worth of nonstop legal work -- all handled in a few seconds, by some well-designed software.

Long before kids spent all day playing on iPads, they spent hours and hours playing with Play-Doh, the putty-like stuff perfect for molding, throwing, and sometimes eating. And Play-Doh, of course, came with a distinctive aroma -- that strange bouquet of flour, salt, and boric acid.

Now Hasbro, Play-Doh's owner since 1991, wants to trademark that scent. In a filing with the USPTO, the company describes Play-Doh's unique parfum as "the combination of a sweet, slightly musky, vanilla-like fragrance, with slight overtones of cherry, and the natural smell of salted, wheat-based dough."

Lawyers, Double Check Your Cell Phone Security

Read this, even if you think your phone is secure.

This update is about the law as much as the technology. Recent court decisions should give you more reasons to double check your cell phone.

And if you haven't secured your phone in the first place, then start with some basics:

Lawyers, scholars, designers, and coders are coming together to create a new app that will make hate crime reporting easier. The ABA's Center for Innovation will hold a day-long design event in Boston later this month focused on creating an app for victims of hate crimes, providing information on victims' rights, hate crime reporting, and where to turn for help.

The hackathon comes as reports of hate crimes are on the rise, with threats called in to Jewish community centers, two Indian engineers shot at a bar in Kansas, and, last Friday, a Seattle-area Sikh man shot in his driveway by an assailant telling him to "go back to your own country."

Electric Car Startup Sued Again for Allegedly Failing to Pay Contractor

The future of Faraday Future, the electric car company, looks a lot like yesterday -- dim.

Before it could roll out a production vehicle, the company has been sued again. In January, a visual effects company sued Faraday for not paying its bills. Now, another contractor is suing for unpaid bills. Together, the plaintiffs allege the car company is behind by almost $2.5 million.

Add that to more than $10 million in lawsuit claims filed in December, and the future does not look bright for the electric startup.

The Trump administration is without a doubt the most watched presidency in history. President Donald has already earned more prime time minutes, column inches, and radio coverage than any other public figure -- $817 million worth of free coverage in January alone, according to mediaQuant.

But it's not just the fourth estate that's tracking the Trump administration's every move. There are a host of online apps available for monitoring the Twitterer-in-Chief, focused on the legal changes the new regime is making. Here are the highlights.

Will Snapchat Trigger More Tech IPOs?

You know how some parents will break the bank to buy Christmas presents for their kids?

And despite any suggestion that Christmas is not really about money, kids are the driving force behind the buying frenzy?

Well, it's Christmas for Snapchat, and the kids who are making it happen. The tech company has gone public, and its shares jumped from $17 to $24 apiece at the opening.

While the story is far from over, the company is poised to beat projections in its initial public offering. The next question is whether it will trigger more tech IPO's.

Court: File Sharing Waives Privilege

If you're uploading files to a file sharing website, you may as well just leave them on a park bench where everyone can see them.

That's not just a flippant phrase about the risks of file sharing, that's what the judge said in a case pending in a federal district court in Virginia. Magistrate Pamela Mead Sargent said an insurance company's decision to upload files online was "the cyber world equivalent of leaving its claims file on a bench in the public square and telling its counsel where they could find it."

"It is hard to image an act that would be more contrary to protecting the confidentiality of information than to post that information to the world wide web," she said.

When is a search warrant valid for documents stored in the cloud? That's not a simple question to answer, particularly given to recent, divergent rulings. In July, the Second Circuit ruled that the federal government could not force Microsoft to turn over emails stored on the cloud -- or rather, Microsoft's server in Ireland. Just a week after an equally divided Second Circuit declined to rehear the case en banc, a U.S. district court in Philadelphia came to the opposite conclusion, ordering Google to comply with a warrant for documents stored on the cloud.

Can these two rulings be reconciled?

Do Robots Have Free Speech? Amazon Says: Yes

If Amazon has free speech rights, shouldn't Alexa, its voice-enabled robot?

It's looking like the answer may be "yes" in a motion to protect information stored by the digital assistant in a murder case. Amazon has filed a motion to quash a warrant that seeks the digital records, which may reveal communications between a defendant and his robot.