Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

November 2015 Archives

Following the recent terrorist attacks on Paris, many government officials have renewed their calls for backdoor access to encrypted communications. Terrorists, we're told, are "going dark," using simple encryption technology to conceal their communications. Government and law enforcement, we're told, need code-breaking, backdoor access to help fight off threats.

But is it actually necessary?

Two women have filed a class action lawsuit against the Georgia Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, after the Kemp's office released voter data that contained information including individuals' names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and even driver's license information.

Over six million Georgia voters could be affected by the breach. But it wasn't Russian hackers or disgruntled employees behind the #PeachBreach; it was simple, old-fashioned incompetence.

Does a Lawyer Have a Duty to Replace Hacked Funds?

Lawyers of the digital age already have an array of ethical dilemmas to worry about. But now there's a new ethics question: Do lawyers have a duty to replace hacked funds?

In the opinion of the North Carolina State Bar, the answer is maybe. But in reality, it just gets back to every lawyer's favorite word: "reasonable."

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act isn't even law yet, but it's already causing lawsuits. CISA, recently passed in the Senate and one of a trio of proposed cybersecurity laws, encourages companies to share cybersecurity information with the government. The law has been decried as a cybersurveillance measure, not a cybersecurity act, by groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

But the actual text of CISA "may pale in comparison to what the bill allows" when read in conjunction with a classified Justice Department opinion on "common commercial service agreements," according to the ACLU. Now the group is suing to force the release of that classified opinion, so that the full implications of CISA can be public.

Online, Seeing Is Believing for Kids

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

Unfortunately, there has been a sharp increase in the number of children who believe what they read on the Internet. This has been brought home by a recent study by Ofcom, as reported by The Telegraph.

This is significant because 8 to 15-year-olds now are occupying double their time on the Internet than they were one decade ago. These "digital natives" who have grown up on the Internet appear to lack the ability to differentiate online truth from fiction.

It's not just computers that are vulnerable to hacking. According to McAfee Labs' 2016 Threats Prediction report, our dystopian near-future will see rapid increases in hacked wearables, p0wned critical infrastructure, and, yes, cyber attacks on your cars.

Get ready to add car hacking to your list of cybersecurity issues to know.

Patent Troll's 'Frivolous' Appeal Gets Punished $15K in Legal Fees

Newegg received vindication at the Federal Circuit last week when the court ruled that the case never should have been brought on appeal in the first place for want of jurisdiction, ArsTechnica reports.

Newegg will receive $15,000 in legal fees from AdjustaCam in the ruling, about half of the cost of defending the appeal to the Federal Circuit. But that doesn't even touch the $200,000 in legal fees already billed for the case at Texas District Level. Maybe patent trolling really does pay after all?

5 Tech Skills Every Lawyer Needs to Know

Some lawyer stereotypes don't really die. One of the most enduring and dubious quirks attorneys get accused of is being stick-in-the-mud Luddites.

Like it or not, technology marches on, and attorneys must adapt. Below is a short list of tech skills that are sine qua non for any modern attorney.

Cornell's Tech and Law Introduces New Technology LL.M

Cornell's Tech-arm and Law School announced late October the launch of a LL.M in Law, Technology and Entrepreneurship. According to Cornell, the primary impetus behind this move is to help fresh law grads and practicing attorneys learn the legal and business considerations that technologists and entrepreneurs need to operate in an increasingly technology driven world. It's designed to provide practicing attorneys and recent law grads "with specialized skills to support and lead technology companies into the digital economy."

Are you sold yet? With language like that how can you not be?

YouTube Foots the Bill for Bad DMCA Takedowns

YouTube just announced that it has opened up its coffers and will foot the legal bill for DMCA takedowns of a small number of videos, which the company believes are clearly "fair use."

This is welcome news to YouTube users who have been hassled by DMCA piracy complaints for reasons that have little to do with copyright protection.

Federal Laws Lag Behind Tech Privacy Breaches

The federal government is woefully behind the times when it comes to protecting the private data of users who accessible genetic profiles. The lack of privacy protections allow third parties to easily access genetic information. This invasion of privacy, which potentially affects millions of people, could almost certainly change the business model of insurers and hiring.

3 PDF Tips for Lawyers

If there's a single file type out there that makes life simpler, easier, and more efficient for lawyers, it's the humble PDF. Forget .docs or .ppts. The portable document format (that's the PDF in PDF) blows them all away.

It's simple to use, with the ability to add complexity. It's file agnostic, allowing you to bring multiple file types together in a single document. And it does a good job at securing files and metadata. Here's how to put the PDF's handy features to work for you.

Federal Drone Regulations Die Before Takeoff

Last month, we wrote about the government's mandatory registration of all civilian drones -- and the groaning that ensued. Now, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation penned a document announcing plans to solicit public comments and suggestions in a soft-power campaign to make sure all hobbyists register their drones so they can be traced.

Submissions for the public comment have already ended. But has any federal program regulating drones actually taken flight?

Gmail Alerts as to Unencrypted Emails

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

Many people are nervous about the various perils lurking on the Internet. They want to be able to protect themselves and be secure when to comes to their personal data.

Frequent advice given is to make sure to change passwords often, use complex passwords, not open emails or attachments from unfamiliar sources, and to be careful about sending personal data from Wi-Fi hotspots.

InstaAgent App Has Been Stealing Your Password

The smartphone app InstaAgent has been surreptitiously stealing user passwords. If you have this app, get ready to do some damage control. There's some good news, however: you're probably used to it by now.

Both Apple and Google have pulled the app from their stores after a series of developers descended onto the Internet and flagged it for copying user's personal information including their user names and passwords. The developer apologized for programming InstaAgent in this way and acknowledged it was not a good idea.

Whoopsie! You've made an error in your patent filing -- one which wasn't discovered until after the patent has been prosecuted and granted. Don't worry, you wouldn't be the first. And instead of leaving you with a garbage patent, the USPTO allows for relatively easy corrections of small mistakes.

Now, thanks to a recent Federal Circuit case, we have a bit more information on just what counts as a small mistake -- and it turns out those mistakes don't have to be too small, after all.

4 Tips for Protecting Your Email in China

Vigilantly staying on top of one's private communications is simply a good practice when traveling within the states. Things get slightly hairier when you travel abroad, because there are compatibility issues to consider too.

But when you travel to places like China, it's not just a matter of due diligence: you're potentially putting your clients and their company information at risk. Remember, Chinese institutions at least condone the offering of hacking courses that have left American companies scrambling -- even the federal government. You may recall that Sun Tzu devoted an entire chapter of the Art of War to spies and information. If the federal employees are vulnerable, this should tell you not to play around. Protect yourself when you travel to the Middle Kingdom.

Looks like Facebook isn't just for grandparents and cat photos anymore. It's also a great platform for labor organizing -- or even just employee venting. And when employees get together online, they may find themselves facing recriminations at work.

So when labor law, forged from the unrest, strikes, and Wobbly uprisings of the 1930's, runs up against modern social media policies, who wins? The law, of course.

Attention Patent Lawyers: USPTO to Hike Fees

The USPTO has published a proposed set of changes that calls for "slightly" increasing patent prosecution fees -- this despite the proposals also call for common fee increases ranging from 10 percent to 25 percent.

The proposed changes to the Information Disclosure Statement are being proposed ostensibly to benefit applicants. The fee hike has been justified by the USPTO on the grounds that the funds will be used to ensure enhanced patent examination quality and improved efficiency. The fees are scheduled to be implemented January of 2017, at a patent office near you.

Most attorneys aren't exactly early adopters of new technology. Plenty of us don't rush to install the newest software when it comes out. (I know a few lawyers who would still use MS DOS if the world would allow them.) But, those of us who are slow to update might be forced to soon.

If you're still using an outdated operating system, Chrome is about to kick you off -- which is great news. There's no better time to update your aging software than today.

US Charges Hackers Who Targeted JP Morgan

Federal Prosecutors finally unsealed an indictment of criminal charges against three men who orchestrated what has been described as the "largest theft of customer data from a U.S. financial institution in history." The formal indictment does not name the financial institutions directly, but a Reuters report confirms that JP Morgan Chase and ETrade were amongst the targeted companies.

The indictment alleges that three men -- two Israelis and one American -- co-conspired over the course of years to electronically hack, con, and illegally traffic goods profiting in hundreds of millions. In the words of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, "The charged crimes showcase a brave new world of hacking and profit ... This was hacking as a business model." The range and extent of their crimes is too massive to list here.

5 Tips for Hiring a Legal Tech Consultant

Don't fight the technology: master it. Or get someone who is a master to the job for you.

Small firms are depending on technology more and more to help them keep their business running smoothly. We've previously written about considering a social media dashboard to help you manage the social media accounts associated with your firm, so we're squarely in the camp that technology is your friend.

But you're lawyers. Many of you might not have the necessary skills to handle a major tech crisis. And even if you did, we hope you're so busy with clients that you can hire a technology consultant instead. Here are a few suggestions for hiring the right consultant for your legal tech needs.

Facebook: The World's Largest Nation

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

When contemplating the world's largest nations by population, China, India, the United States, and Indonesia might come to mind.

Indeed, their populations are currently estimated as follows:

FCC Dismisses Consumer Watchdog's 'Do Not Track' Lawsuit

The FCC just dismissed a petition a petition filed by Consumer Watchdog requesting the Federal Agency to force "edge providers" like Google, Facebook, Netflix, etc., to honor a consumer's request not to be tracked. These are significant because you've probably even signed a couple of requests not to be tracked. Well, guess what: You're likely being tracked anyway.

Trade in illegal, endangered wildlife parts is a billion dollar industry. In Vietnam, endangered rhino horn can sell for $100,000 per kilo, making it worth more than gold. Those prices, and growing demand, have made the illegal wildlife trade the fourth largest black market in the world.

A new start up thinks they have the solution: flooding the market with 3D printed, bioengineered rhino horns.

The latest 'smart device' to make headlines isn't an expensive watch or fancy phone, it's the city of San Francisco. The City by the Bay has entered into a year-long pilot program with the French tech company Sigfox to create a city-wide wireless network dedicated only to the Internet of Things, that ever growing network of web-connected smart devices.

The project puts San Francisco at the forefront of IoT-friendly cities, but has raised predictable concerns about the safety and privacy of user's data.

Senate Wants to Remove 'Gag Clauses' for Negative Online Reviews

The Senate Commerce Committee has steadily moved forward to passing legislation related to online gag clauses, which significantly limit or penalize customers who leave negative online reviews of companies.

Yesterday morning, senators held a hearing on the Consumer Review Freedom Act, which would make the inclusion of a non-disparagement clause in a consumer contract a violation of the FTC.

E-Discovery Is Not Getting Easier Anytime Soon

Mercifully, the days of discovery that involved physically transporting bulky folder boxes are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Now, lawyers are opting to keep electronic forms of discoverable evidence on their electronic devices. E-discovery has even been one of the main factors that cause "paperless office" predictors to hold the views they do.

But a new monster has taken its place: the problem of dealing with hoards of mountainous electronic data. Ironically, the shift away from mountainous physical discovery into bite-sized electronic chunks has only encouraged data expansion to include files that even are only remotely related to the case.

If you were planning to take advantage of Microsoft's unlimited cloud storage, well, we've got bad news. That storage is getting much more limited. OneDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage service, used to offer absolutely unlimited storage to paid Office 365 subscribers. For under $10 a month, you could upload terabyte after terabyte of archived files, backed up computers, or funny cat videos. As of Monday, those days are over.

Could this mark the end of endless cloud storage?

Google Is the Latest Defendant in Employee/Contractor 'Misclassification' Lawsuit

New lawsuits related to the on-demand economy. For years, the 'gig' economy has been both lauded and decried by some as the new economic paradigm. It seems to have gotten people working again.

But not without controversy. The latest company to feel the misclassification lawsuit hurricane is none other than Google. According to Reuters, Anna Coorey, a contract driver for Google Express, is poised to sue the search engine company for overtime pay and expenses, arguing that she should be classified as an employee, not a contractor. Other plaintiffs have joined in the lawsuit and will be treated as a class.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Spokeo v. Robins, the most important privacy and technology case of the term, one that could help determine the future of Internet privacy litigation. The question at its heart: do those who've had their privacy violated online, with no further harm, even have the right to sue?

If the Court says no, it will be a major blow to privacy advocates in particular and the plaintiff's bar generally. If the Supreme Court says yes, expect scads of new class action lawsuits to be filed against companies which deal with personal information online.

Losing Revenue, States Consider Taxing 'The Cloud'

More and more people store files and purchase digital media using the mobile devices these days. Fewer and fewer people are buying physical media and instead opt to store their entertainment on remote servers. When was the last time you even saw a compact disc?

State revenue has been noticeably lower because fewer people are buying media -- in physical form, that is. CDs, DVDs and other optical discs are the latest victims of the relentless march of technology. As these media formats disappear, so too does the revenue the states used to enjoy. Now states are considering taxing the cloud.

China's Patent Office Wants to Protect Intellectual Property. No, Really

China has not recently enjoyed a sterling reputation with regards to the protection of intellectual property. Whether it's pirated software, bootlegged movies, or "pleather" designer handbags, China's got it all. There's even a term for it: Shanzai -- which roughly translates to "knock-off." Unnervingly, some journalists have reported that the term even has a certain cache about it.

In seeming response to this social and economic blight, the Chinese State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO -- the Chinese equivalent of the US Patent Office) recently released a fourth amendment to the country's patent laws -- the Amendments. An invitation for public comment is reminiscent of Mao's Hundred Flowers Campaign in which intellectual opinion was sought. Let's hope this one isn't as embarrassing for Chinese politicians.