Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, where she also directs the graduate program on Sustainable International Development. She is also a member of the Law, Technology and Arts Group at at the Law School. 

Prior to joining the University of Washington faculty, Professor Ramasastry was a staff attorney at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Ramasastry graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and clerked for Justice Alan B. Handler of the New Jersey Supreme Court. She has also practiced law with the international law firm of White & Case in Budapest, Hungary, and served as an assistant professor of law and law reform associate at the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary (founded by financier George Soros). She has been a consultant to the World Bank, the US Department of Commerce, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development as well as the United States Agency for International Development. Ramasastry writes on law and technology, consumer and commercial law, and international law and globalization.

Columns by Anita Ramasastry
Teens and Online “Eraser” Laws: Good Intentions, but the Wrong Approach?

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on a Utah bill that, if passed, would allow teens to erase their social-media footprints permanently. Ramasastry notes that teens can have their juvenile criminal records sealed, and can repudiate contracts they have signed. Thus, she notes, there are precedents under which minors are treated differently from adults under the law. Ramasastry also covers related events in California, and notes that we should focus, too, on how social-media postings can, and cannot, be able to be legally used in the future, especially when jobs and credit are concerned.

Debt Collecting by Text: Why This Practice Should Be Prohibited Absent Express Consumer Consent

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on why and how debt collection is often done by text, as opposed to other means, describing the sources that pertain to this area of law, including federal statutes. Ramasastry argues that this practice of texting ought to be prohibited unless consumers explicitly consent to it, and discusses a recent FTC enforcement action in this area of law.

Should Schools Stalk Students Online to Prevent Cyberbullying?

Justia columnist and University of Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on a Southern California school district’s decision to retain a private firm to search the Web and look for public posts, photos, tweets, and other communications made by its students. The district’s stated purpose for retaining the firm is to prevent students from harming others—and, in particular, to stop cyberbullying. But Ramasastry notes that the company that does the monitoring also finds out a lot of other information about students, as well.

Should There Be a Right to Reclaim Your Name? The Harm of Errors in Consumer-Data Collection and Some Possible Solutions

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on consumers' problems with correcting credit reports that are inaccurate and damaging. She also describes a related FTC initiative in this area that helps consumers regain their good names, and their good credit, when credit-report errors have unfairly soiled them.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Crusade to Block Internet Porn: Why His Plan Is Messier Than He Thinks

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the controversy in the U.K. regarding Prime Minister David Cameron’s plans for government Internet filtering. She notes that while almost everyone agrees that children’s Internet access should be regulated, the Cameron Plan for such regulation has numerous flaws—including an overbreadth that would unfairly censor worthwhile and even educational material from which teenagers would benefit. Ramasastry notes that British teens may well find a way to avoid the filters, or change them by secretly getting their parents’ IDs. She also contrasts the U.K. proposal on filtering, with the First Amendment-informed U.S. approach to the same issues when they have arisen here vis-à-vis libraries and schools.

Shopping Under Surveillance: Why We Should Think Twice About Letting Retailers Track Us in Stores

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the ways in which retailers at brick-and-mortar stores are profiling us. She notes that most of us realize that online stores can easily profile us, but many of us may not know that brick-and-mortar stores do the same thing in a different context. Ramasastry describes how these stores may track what we look at, where we browse and linger, what we might pick up and examine but then not ultimately buy. What department or section do we head for? How long do we spend in the sections of the store that we visit? Retailers now have access to this data due to our cellphones, but Ramasastry notes that we can thwart the surveillance by turning off the Wi-Fi feature of your phone, or putting it on airplane mode. In addition, Ramasastry urges, we ought to know when we are being monitored.

No Unpaid Interns Need Apply: Why a Federal Court Got It Right in Finding Unpaid Interns to Really Be Employees

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on a recent ruling from a New York-based federal district judge regarding the legal status of unpaid internships. In the wake of the ruling, which held in favor of a number of former unpaid interns who had performed duties for Fox Searchlight, interns from The New Yorker, and W Magazine now argue that based on the ruling, they, too, should have been paid for the work they did at these high-profile companies. Ramasastry notes that the ruling may well be a watershed for unpaid interns. She also emphasizes the Department of Labor’s criteria relating to when an unpaid internship is—or is not—legally legitimate.

Teens and Tiaras: Virtual Beauty Contests on Instagram, and Why the Company Should Do Something About Them

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses Instragram’s issue with users’ rating the appearance of young girls in beauty pageants online, and leaving comments both positive and negative. Ramasastry notes that such pageants may raise legal issues and privacy concerns and may trigger issues under COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

Will Virtual Money Laundering Rules Stop the Illegal Use of Virtual Currencies? Why Regulators Have More Work to Do to Clarify the Rules of the Virtual Currency Road

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the regulation of virtual currencies, such as Bitcoins, that are created by private companies, and that can be used for either legal and illegal transactions, due to their ability to afford anonymity to users. Ramasastry also covers the new rules that the US Treasury will apply to such currencies; and why the rules’ guidance currently may not be sufficient to guide administrators or exchanges of new virtual currencies in a way that will provide law enforcement with the leads they need to tackle virtual money laundering.

The Federal Trade Commission Takes Aim at Mobile App Privacy: Why It’s About Time

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the FTC’s recent focus on privacy protections for mobile applications, and how key players in the rapidly-expanding mobile marketplace can better inform consumers about their data collection and use practices. Ramasastry also discusses the recent FTC enforcement action that led to a settlement with Path, a mobile social network, relating to its mobile privacy practices. Path lets users keep online journals that can be shared with a limited group of family and friends. The FTC fined Path $800,000, charging the company with violating federal statutory privacy protections for children by collecting personal information on underage users. Ramasastry deems the FTC’s scrutiny of mobile apps to be appropriate and timely right now, as more and more Americans rely heavily on mobile devices.

When a Friend Is Really a Foe: Why U.S. Consumer Protection Bodies Should Regulate Debt Collectors’ Use of Social Media

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the legal issues regarding debt collection and social media. As Ramasastry explains, certain debt collectors currently take to social media to harass debtors after first posing as, for example, a Facebook friend. Ramasastry describes the current law regarding how debt collectors may operate, and the alterations in the law that will likely be enacted in the near future, in order to accommodate the technological changes that have occurred since the initial debt-collection laws were put in place, long before the advent of social media.

Revenge Porn Returns, with Home Addresses: Why the Site Is Legal and What Legislators Might Do to Fix That

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the way in which Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) has unintentionally offered a safe harbor to websites on which people’s exes post nude or other intimate photos that were taken during the course of a relationship, and that were intended by the subject of the photo to be forever kept private. Ramasastry notes how adding additional information to the photo, such as a home address, could be a crime, as it aids cyberstalking. In addition, she urges that Congress ought to amend Section 230 in order to prevent unintended negative consequences like these.

Instagram’s Terms of Service Revision: Why It Strained the Bounds of Fair Contracting

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the photo-sharing site Instagram’s controversial change to its Terms of Service (ToS), which has had some users up in arms—mainly because of a term that would allow Instagram to share a user’s photos with Facebook (which owns Instagram) and marketing affiliates for the purpose of creating paid advertisements, with the revenues going to Instagram, and not the photo owner. Due to the controversy, Instagram has a new ToS, but Ramasastry contends that the new ToS is also problematic for its own reasons.

Senator Franken Wants Us to Know When Our Apps Are Tracking Us: Why This Is a Sensible Thing for Congress to Require

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on Senator Al Franken’s proposed legislation that would regulate cyberstalking and geolocation apps—some of which are installed in a given device without notice of their presence being provided to the user. As Ramasastry explains, some of the chief concerns in this area of law include the possible stalking of domestic violence victims, and the safety of children. As Ramasastry explains, this topic not only sparked Franken’s interest, but also is of interest to the FTC, and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Facebook’s Mandatory Couples Pages: The Site’s Creating Them May Be Legal, But Is It Wise?

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the new couples pages feature on Facebook, which aggregates a Facebook user’s information with that of his or her self-designated significant other. Ramasastry notes that the feature has been controversial, and explains why some users have been upset by it. She notes, too, that Facebook is entering a privacy gray area with the couples pages feature, under which Facebook relies on its privacy policies, but users feel they have lost control. Moreover, Ramasastry suggests that the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which previously criticized Facebook’s Timeline feature, may want to scrutinize Facebook’s couples pages feature as well. Finally, Ramasastry questions whether Facebook’s couples pages are permissible under Facebook’s recent settlement with the FTC.

Bachelors of Color Need Not Apply? Why a Federal Court Was Right to Hold That ABC Has a First Amendment Right to Choose Its Bachelor Contestants, but the Network Should Voluntarily Change Its Practices

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on a recent court decision in which two African-American men challenged what they alleged was differential treatment in their auditions for the reality show The Bachelor. With neither The Bachelor nor its sister show, The Bachelorette, ever having had an African-American lead, the plaintiffs saw evidence of racial discrimination when the show, they allege, gave them shorter interviews than other would-be contestants received, and did not ultimately select them to join the show’s cast. Ramasastry explains why the plaintiffs lost in court: the First Amendment protects casting decisions, whether by dramas, comedies, or reality shows. She notes, though, that the lack of court relief here doesn't mean the men were wrong on the merits, but only that they will now need to find another avenue, such as protesting and/or continuing to speak out, in order to make their point.

Biometrics in the School Lunch Line: Why Parents Should Be Concerned About the Privacy Implications of This Trend

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the use of biometrics in school lunch lines and elsewhere in schools. More specifically, she notes, schools are using an infrared scanner that identifies children’s unique palm and hand vein patterns, and converts these patterns into an algorithm through which the child can be recognized quickly and uniquely by a hand scan. Ramasastry raises privacy concerns about this kind of scanning: Could it lead kids to see other compromises of their privacy as commonplace? Will the databases that contain the scans be used for other purposes—even when the kids become adults? Might law enforcement attempt to use the databases of the hand scans? And what about parents with religious objections to schools’ using the hand scans on their children? At the very least, Ramasastry suggests, the scanning system should be “opt in” and not “opt out,” so that parents can think carefully about allowing their children to become part of the scanning system, and thus part of the related database.

The Right to Be Untagged: As Facebook Disables Facial Recognition for EU Consumers, U.S. Consumers Are Left Wondering What’s Next for Them

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on regulatory responses in the EU and the U.S. regarding Facebook’s facial-recognition tool, which suggests the identities of registered Facebook users for possible tagging by other users in uploaded photos. As Ramasastry explains, the tool has sparked concern by EU regulators due to privacy worries, and even in the U.S., Facebook has voluntarily—but perhaps temporarily—suspended the tool. Ramasastry notes some reasons why Facebook users may have concerns about the tool, including its accompanying archive of tagged photos, which could in theory be used for law-enforcement, intelligence, or other purposes that users never authorized. In the EU, Facebook has agreed to soon stop using the tool, and to delete related data. But what will happen with the tool and the resulting database, here in the U.S.? With complaints from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a leading NGO, and a complaint filed with the FTC, the facial- recognition tool is now in hot water in the U.S. as well as the EU.

Does Have To Make Sure Its Member Profiles are Real and Accurate? Why A Federal Judge Correctly Ruled No

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on a federal-court class-action lawsuit against that had been brought by disgruntled daters who alleged that engaged in deceptive trade practices, and breached its contract with its users. In particular, users have complained that after they joined the site, they found that it contained numerous profiles that were inactive, and numerous others that were merely spam. After analyzing the site's Terms of Service (ToS), however, Ramasastry concludes, as the court did, that did not violate its ToS, nor did it engage in deceptive trade practices. Ramasastry therefore warns Internet users who seek to join pay sites, to first look very carefully at what the ToS do—and do not—actually promise, before signing up. Finally, Ramasastry notes some of the guidelines for dating online that the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has developed.

Are We Our Co-Jurors’ Keepers? New Social-Media Jury Instructions Ask Jurors to Turn in Their Peers If They Break the Rules

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the problem of jurors’ using social media to research—or even communicate with others about—the trials on which they serve. Ramasastry offers statistics and examples regarding the nature and frequency of the problem of juror social-media use, and discusses the new model jury instructions addressing this issue. She also covers some egregious instances of jury misconduct in this area, and considers whether instituting a new rule of peer policing by jurors, of other jurors’ social-media use, will turn out to be a good idea in the end. In particular, Ramasastry expresses considerable concern about the propriety of judges’ mandating peer-to-peer juror policing regarding social-media use, and thus potentially altering natural jury dynamics.