Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

February 2015 Archives

Lawyers and Metadata: Navigating an Ethical Minefield

"Metadata" entered the lexicon thanks to the Edward Snowden revelations, prompting explainers on what the heck it is. The prefix "meta" is self-referential; metadata is data about data. To put it in a less confusing way, metadata is extraneous information about data.

You've got a document, and the content of the document -- the words -- are the data. But the document also contains other information about the data, like who authored the document and when it was created, and what parts of the text are underlined. This hidden data can present an entirely separate set of ethical problems.

Net Neutrality: FCC Votes to Regulate ISPs as 'Common Carriers'

As expected, FCC commissioners voted 3-2 today to regulate Internet service providers (ISPs) as "common carriers" under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. (It also voted to override state laws against municipal broadband, but that's another story entirely.)

The vote was split along party lines, with the commission's Democrats voting along with Chairman Tom Wheeler in favor of the proposal and the Republicans against -- in spite of Republican commissioners' attempt to delay the vote. The litigation will probably start immediately.

Apple Liable for $533M in Infringement Against Patent Holding Co.

Apple suffered quite a setback Tuesday, when a federal jury handed down a $532.9 million verdict against it, in favor of patent licensing company Smartflash LLC. Smartflash claimed that Apple's iTunes software infringed on patents it held relating to downloading files from the Internet.

A look at the allegedly (or, I guess, not "allegedly" anymore) infringing patents, however, reveals that the only thing Smartflash patented is more of the same business method patents that the Supreme Court struck down in Alice v. CLS Bank.

How to Survive After a Law Firm Computer Crash

It's the middle of the night and you're facing a deadline, or you have a "hot pen," to use Justice Ginsburg's phrasing, when suddenly your screen goes black. You have no idea if your current work has been saved, but worse still -- what about all your other work?

Computer crashes are no fun at all, and if you can't make it to an IT professional to fix the problem, you may want to try these suggestions out before you truly start panicking:

More NSA Revelations: Now Your Cellphone Isn't Safe

One of the big surprises at last night's Oscars was the win of "Citizenfour" for Best Documentary. Though that category often involves controversial issues, "Citizenfour" is Laura Poitras' documentary about the Edward Snowden NSA revelations. Snowden himself remains a controversial figure. Depending on your politics, he's either a whistleblower or a traitor.

Of course, without Snowden, we'd have no way of knowing just how insecure our "secure" communications channels are. Week by week, the news just keeps coming that the NSA is listening in on things every way they possibly can. Including your cellphone calls.

Warning: Lenovo Computers Shipped With 'Superfish' Malware

If you recently bought Lenovo computers for your office or firm, then you may want to make sure they're not running a vicious piece of adware that can impersonate a website's security certificate.

According to various reports, confirmed by security researchers, some Lenovo-brand computers ship with a kind of malware called "Superfish" that injects advertisements into users' browsers and impersonates security certificates, meaning the "secure" website you're visiting isn't secure at all.

The Apple Watch Could Be Great for Lawyers

At the end of January, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that the Apple Watch, the vaunted smart timepiece introduced in September, would start shipping in April. The lowest-end version of the watch is the Apple Watch Sport, which rumors believe will start at about $350. The high-end 18K gold version, called Apple Watch Edition, might fetch $3,000.

Fancy lawyers will (and do) pay well over $350 for a fancy watch, but is the Apple Watch worth it? Critics have predicted the watch will be a flop, much like the Samsung Galaxy Gear. The Apple Watch, though, packs enough features into its 38 mm body that lawyers who have to have The Next Big Thing might actually find it useful.

AT&T to Offer Fiber-Optic Internet Service at a (Faustian) Bargain

A few years ago, Google began quite an experiment: It offered fiber optic Internet service to the good citizens of Kansas City, Missouri, for an astounding $70 per month. So, basically, for the same price you pay Comcast, AT&T, or Time Warner, you get Internet speeds that are 100 times faster.

First, the ISPs balked. Then their trade groups tried to lobby state legislatures to make it illegal to offer fiber optic service. Now, it looks like they're actually going to play ball. For a price.

Getting Serious About Cybersecurity

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

Hack attacks have been in the news for a while. But the most recent headlines seem to indicate that hackers are far outpacing security efforts to contain them.

In the last week, we have learned that a major health insurer was compromised, possibly exposing the data of 80 million health accounts. Data relating to medical patients is very sensitive, and the number 80 million is staggering in scope. And there have been indications that other health insurers might be vulnerable, meaning that 2015 could be the year of health insurance hacks.

Sen. Orrin Hatch Proposes Changes to Obtaining Data Stored Abroad

The Justice Department, Microsoft, and Ireland are still locked in a showdown over which country's laws control the fairly common modern situation of a company's data being physically stored abroad.

Ars Technica reports that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) plans to reintroduce the Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad Act, which would limit the government's ability to access foreign-stored data.

Facebook's ThreatExchange: A Social Network for Cybersecurity Wonks

Security threats are everywhere on the Internet, but Facebook aims to change that with its new ThreatExchange, a platform for security professionals (and anyone else, I guess) to exchange information on security threats.

Even though there are already centralized repositories of security information, like the Internet Storm Center and the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures List, Facebook's ThreatExchange promises to be a way for security type-folks to interact with each other more directly.

Twitter CFO's Account Spews 'Can't Stop Laughing' Spam Links

How many times have we told you not to click on that mysterious link? Perhaps Twitter CFO Anthony Noto wasn't listening. On Tuesday, Noto's Twitter account began spewing out hundreds of garbage tweets like "OMG when did you do this?" and "I can't stop laughing!" with links attached.

It's not clear how Noto's account was compromised. But the links to spam websites, it turns out, were likely phishing attempts -- which one of our editors nearly succumbed to, though he was saved by the company firewall.

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

Do you ever get up in the morning, feeling sluggish and just not up to the tasks that await you? For most of us, the answer is yes, at least once in a while.

And does it ever seem that your Internet connection is having a bad hair day? Specifically, does it feel like it takes forever for Web pages to download, reminding you of the days of 32k and 56k dial-up modems?

If so, do you just sit there passively and hope and pray that the connection will improve? Well, there might be something you can do to give your Internet connection that coffee jolt that it needs to step up its game.

Google Advisory Group: Limit 'Right to Be Forgotten' to the EU

Last year, the European Court of Justice made some waves (radio waves, that is! Get it? Because it's the Internet) when it announced there was a "right to be forgotten" that should allow people to petition Google to have Web pages removed from search results.

Nice idea, but anyone who knows anything quickly pointed out that would be a logistical nightmare, and besides, Google shouldn't be responsible for policing what's basically a descriptivist index of what's on the Internet already.

Ross Ulbricht Convicted of Operating Silk Road

Not even a month after it began, the trial of Ross Ulbricht, alleged to be the "Dread Pirate Roberts" who operated the underground website Silk Road, is over.

The verdict is in: After just three hours of deliberation, a jury convicted Ulbricht on all seven charges today, which included trafficking drugs over the Internet, running a continuing criminal enterprise, and several helpings of conspiracy.

FCC Chairman Wants to Classify ISPs as Title II 'Common Carriers'

Well, color me shocked. In an essay published today in Wired, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler backed the strongest-ever plan for net neutrality: Regulating Internet service providers as telecommunications utilities under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.

The move, if successful, would allow the FCC to regulate broadband ISPs in the same way it regulates phone companies. And as you might expect, the ISPs aren't happy about it, even though it's good for customers.

FTC Seeks to Thwart 'Revenge Porn'

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

While the Internet provides many obvious advantages to people in this digital age, it can also enable a dark side for those intent on mischievous and criminal online behavior. "Revenge porn" is part of that dark side.

So, what is revenge porn? It usually consists of a nude photograph or video which is publicly shared online (most frequently by an ex-lover of the nude subject) for the purpose of spiteful humiliation.

Congress Tries to Make Technology Law Better With 5 New Bills

With a new session of Congress comes new legislation, and here at FindLaw's Technologist, we're obviously concerned with how the proposed laws will regulate technology.

Things look good so far, with a minimum of "cyber"-titled bills, which reflects the fact that maybe people who know what they're talking about are writing this new legislation. Unfortunately, many of these bills were introduced in the last Congress, but sat in committees for months or years, all dying when the new Congress took over. But maybe this new Congress can get something done? (he said naively).