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Time to Revisit the Outer Space Treaty?

At the height of the Space Race and in the chill of the Cold War, the world's most powerful nations reached an agreement that has remained largely intact for 50 years: The Outer Space Treaty.

It was 1967 -- only five years after the United States and the Soviet Union squared off in the Cuban missile crisis -- when the countries put down their weapons and agreed that space would not be militarized. Somehow, ironically after millions have died in conflicts around the globe since then, we have made it so.

However, legal minds ask, will the treaty survive a new space race?

'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.

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:

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.

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?

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.

New FCC Chair Reignites Net Neutrality Rules

Knock, knock, Neo.

Behind the screen you are looking at right now, another world is knocking.

It's not the Matrix; it's the internet. And it is blowing up in a debate about the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

On one side, Comcast, AT&T, and ISP lobbyists are heaping praise on Ajit Pai, who was appointed FCC chairman by President Donald Trump. On the other side, consumer groups, public interest advocates, and the media are hating on the new appointee.

Uber Settles FTC Case for $20 Million

The FTC filed its complaint in federal court on Thursday, and Uber settled the case before the court closed the same day. That's about as fast as Uber gets, no disrespect intended to many Uber drivers out there.

To show its good faith, Uber will pay $20 million to be distributed to those drivers who received less than the average pay that the company has advertised. The FTC alleged the company falsely advertised on Craigslist and other websites that drivers earned between $15 and $29 an hour. In cities like Boston, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, however, fewer than 10 percent of Uber drivers earned as advertised.

Shiva Ayyadurai wants to be known as the man who created email -- so much so that he once trademarked the phrase "the inventor of email." Ayyadurai says he came up with "the electronic mail system as we know it today," in 1978, when he was a 14-year-old boy in New Jersey. It's an assertion some support. Others, however, have questioned Ayyadurai's claims, stating that email existed well before 1978. Techdirt was just one blog to make that argument, and is currently facing a $15 million libel suit from Ayyadurai as a result.

Here's one interesting wrinkle from this complicated case: Ayyadurai's suit makes the somewhat puzzling claim that the U.S. government has legally recognized him as email's inventor -- because he registered the copyright for email.