Analysis and Commentary on Technology Law

Using Facebook as a Discovery Device

Chapman University law professor Ronald Rotunda discusses how various courts and bar associations treat attorneys’ uses of Facebook and other social networking sites. Rotunda describes some different rules that affect how lawyers may and may not use social networking sites to interact with witnesses, opposing parties, jurors, and clients.

Drones as the New Peeping Toms?

University of Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the growing personal use of unmanned aerial vehicles (colloquially known as drones) by individuals for spying and other nefarious reasons. She points out that most attention toward drones has focused on their use by the government, but their use by private citizens is increasingly becoming a concern. She discusses existing laws that might cover their use and proposes other ways the law can protect our privacy from individuals with high tech equipment like drones.

Secret Endless Editing of Published Supreme Court Opinions

Former counsel to the president John Dean comments on a recent public revelation that the U.S. Supreme Court quietly revises its decisions years after they were issued. Drawing upon a forthcoming article by Harvard Law professor Richard Lazarus, Dean describes the process by which the Court releases its rulings to the public. He predicts that it will not be the errors and mistakes that will place the Court’s institutional integrity at risk in the future, but the secretive and dubious means they now use to change their written and published opinions.

Married Couple’s Phone Sex Did Not Force Divorce Clock to Reset

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses a recent decision by a Maryland appeals court holding that a couple’s engaging in phone sex does not constitute cohabitation for the purpose of divorce. Grossman describes the history of fault and no-fault divorce in Maryland and explains why the court reached the decision it did in this case. Although she acknowledges that the court’s reasoning is sound, she presents two considerations that might have supported the opposite conclusion.

Stalking Us as We Shop: HP’s New Smartshopper App

Hewlett Packard (HP) has unveiled a new mobile app that retailers can use to stalk people as they shop, to send them targeted ads and promotions. Called SmartShopper, it was unveiled at the Interop conference in Las Vegas at the end of March. It has the ability to send location-based smartphone offers to customers’ iPhones in real time. Promoted by Meg Whitman, CEO of HP, as a way for retailers to monetize their networks and build “tighter relationships with their customers,” this is not the first time that so-called stalker apps have been in the news as being intrusive of consumer privacy. Here, Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry looks at two recent examples of so-called stalker-shopper apps, and legislative attempts to address these new ways of tracking our movements and behavior.

Should Mt. Gox Be Bailed Out? What Should Regulators Do in Light of a Major Bitcoin Heist?

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on recent headlines that caused a panic in the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency world: The largest Bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox, was reporting a loss of nearly 750,000 Bitcoins currency units. (Prominent Bitcoin blogger Ryan Selkis made a post to his blog in which he described an unverified report of the loss.) This figure would be worth above $400 million at current prices. As of now, Mt. Gox, which is incorporated in Japan, has filed for insolvency protection there. Ramasastry comments on key events, and possible future reforms that could be put in place so that this situation does not recur.

Bitcoin: If You Can’t Ban It, Should You Regulate It? The Merits of Legalization

Justia columnist and U.Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the question whether Bitcoin—a so-called virtual peer-to-peer currency—should be regulated by the U.S. and/or States within it. (Along with the Treasury Department, California and New York are also contemplating possible legal or regulatory measures regarding Bitcoin.) Ramasastry looks at recent attempts to extend legal recognition to Bitcoin, and explains why she believes this is a good thing. She adds that while it may be good to clarify that legitimate businesses and consumers may use Bitcoin, it may be too early now to determine what, if any, further measures are needed to provide consumers with needed safety with respect to their Bitcoins.

The Spokeo Lawsuit and the Perils of the New People Finder Companies

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on a possible regulatory issue regarding Spokeo, which bills itself as a people-finder service. Spokeo warns subscribers that they cannot use its information to make decisions about a person’s employment, to make a credit determination, or to put the information to uses that would be covered by a federal law known as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). But as a recent lawsuit illustrates, Spokeo’s data may be being used for such purposes, regardless, raising the possibility of the need for better safeguards.

OfficeMax’s Deceased Daughter Mail Blunder and the Limits of Privacy Law

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on a situation involving Mike Seay and his wife, who have been mourning the loss of their daughter, Ashley, for just under a year. Last week, the Seays received an unwelcome reminder of Ashley’s untimely passing in the mail: It came in the form of a flier from the office supply store OfficeMax, addressed to Ashley’s father, in these words: ”Mike Seay, Daughter Killed in Car Crash.” In addition to that egregious incident, Ramasastry also discusses the growing phenomenon of data aggregation, and the fact that the large-scale collection of data leads to harmful consequences for consumers when companies keep tabs on us in ways that are unrelated to our ordinary commercial transactions, as the Seays painfully learned.

In-flight Cell Phoning Is an Awful Idea

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean, a very frequent flyer himself, argues strongly against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s apparent plan to authorize cellphone calls to be permitted during domestic airline flights. The move was backed by the Telecommunication Industry Association, which would benefit from the change, but it triggered negative public feedback. Moreover, Dean notes, the Department of Transportation is likely to say no to the FCC’s plan. Ultimately, Dean notes, a split decision is likely, allowing texting, but not talking, on a plane.

Why Holiday Headaches From the Target Debit-Card Breach May Not Amount to Viable Legal Claims

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry explains how even a massive data breach like the one Target recently experienced may not lead to a winnable lawsuit, although it has sullied the company's reputation. FTC action may possibly ensue, but class actions may not work in this context, for reasons that Ramasastry explains.

Who Is Looking at Your Kids’ School Data? Why Congress Needs to Take Note

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on school districts' sharing student data with private companies that manage various functions for the districts. How did this happen? Because, Ramasastry notes, in recent years, Congress has made changes to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that have created a potentially broad loophole regarding who has access to student data.

Traversing Anupam Chander’s The Electronic Silk Road

Justia guest columnist and attorney Anita Felicelli reviews Anupam Chander’s book The Electronic Silk Road. Felicelli praises the book as a lucid, thoughtful, and dispassionate survey of Trade 2.0 and cyberspace law. Although she offers mild critique that the book’s coverage of implementation may not satisfy skeptics of its premises, she concludes that the book impressively provides much-needed commentary on a subject that is complex and difficult.

I Don’t Want Michael Bromwich Messing With My Next iPhone

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the antitrust case against Apple, charging the company with conspiring to price fix e-books. Dean questions the judgment of the Southern District of New York judge, Denise Cote who was overseeing the case before it went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In particular, Dean questions the decisions of Apple's court-ordered external monitor, Michael Bromwich, for reasons that Dean details.

The Risks of Defamation on Blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, and the Corsi/Esquire Magazine Case

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a case from November 26, in which a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that a posting on Esquire Magazine’s Politics Blog, claiming falsely—but in jest and temporarily—that a conservative publisher had had the entire print run of 200,000 copies of a conservative book pulled from the shelves and pulped, and that it was offering full refunds to buyers, fit into the First Amendment's protection for satire. Hilden also remarks upon defamation risks on Twitter, Facebook, and blogs.

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.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington U... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb tea... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Befo... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has w... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of L... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Pra... more

David S. Kemp
David S. Kemp

David S. Kemp is an attorney and managing editor at Justia. He received his B.A. in Psychology from... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record... more

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of... more

Ronald D. Rotunda
Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence, at... more