Archive | Cyberspace Law

The Battle for the Internet:

Bernard Kouchner, the Foreign Minister of France and a founder of Doctors Without Borders, has an interesting but somewhat unsettling op-ed in today’s New York Times. Entitled “The Battle for the Internet,” it’s a call to arms in

the battle of ideas . . . between the advocates of a universal and open Internet — based on freedom of expression, tolerance and respect for privacy — against those who want to transform the Internet into a multitude of closed-off spaces that serve the purposes of repressive regimes, propaganda and fanaticism.

It’s a subject dear to my heart, as you probably know; I, too, believe that preserving what the Center for Democracy and Technology aptly calls the “free, open, and innovative Internet” is of the deepest importance for the future — literally — of human society on the planet. I like where Kouchner’s coming from:

The Internet is above all the most fantastic means of breaking down the walls that close us off from one another. For the oppressed peoples of the world, the Internet provides power beyond their wildest hopes. It is increasingly difficult to hide a public protest, an act of repression or a violation of human rights. In authoritarian and repressive countries, mobile telephones and the Internet have given citizens a critical means of expression, despite all the restrictions.

He’s right about that – at least, I agree wholeheartedly. (Libertarian blogger Adam Thierer called my book about the Net “an extended love letter to both cyberspace and Jefferson,” and though I’m not entirely sure he meant it as one, I took it as a compliment. Though we academics are supposed to take the posture of ironic detachment from pretty much everything we encounter, I happen to think, and I’m happy to say to whomever is listening, that […]

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Virginia Circuit Court Opinion Issues Preliminary Injunction Shutting Down a Web Site, Reverses Itself the Next Day

I just noticed this decision, from a few weeks ago — Burfoot v. May4thCounts.com (Va. Cir. Ct. Apr. 22) (Poston, J.):

Today the Court sua sponte vacates the Order of April 21, 2010. In that Order the Court granted plaintiffs Motion for Entry of a Temporary Injunction prohibiting the defendants from using a website entitled “May4thCounts.com” and ordered the removal of the website from the internet. The Court also directed the plaintiff to effect service of process on the defendants and continued the action for July 7, 2010, for further proceedings. Under the Injunction Order’s terms, the action will be advanced on the docket upon the motion of any defendant.

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“Cyber Civil Rights” Symposium

Danielle Citron

Last year, Maryland law professor Danielle Citron published “Cyber Civil Rights” in the BU Law Review. Here’s the abstract:

Social networking sites and blogs have increasingly become breeding grounds for anonymous online groups that attack women, people of color, and members of other traditionally disadvantaged groups. . . . Attackers manipulate search engines to reproduce their lies and threats for employers and clients to see, creating digital “scarlet letters” that ruin reputations.

. . . .

General criminal statutes and tort law proscribe much of the mobs’ destructive behavior, but the harm they inflict also ought to be understood and addressed as civil rights violations. Civil rights suits reach the societal harm that would otherwise go unaddressed and would play a crucial expressive role. Acting against these attacks does not offend First Amendment principles when they consist of defamation, true threats, intentional infliction of emotional distress, technological sabotage, and bias-motivated abuse aimed to interfere with a victim’s employment opportunities. To the contrary, it helps preserve vibrant online dialogue and promote a culture of political, social, and economic equality.

Citron’s article detailed some particular cases of such abuses. As she acknowledged, the mob actions are solidly within the scope of existing criminal law and tort law. Nevertheless, she made the case that federal civil rights laws should be revised to cover Internet threats and defamation–since civil rights statutes provide attorney’s fees for a successful plaintiff, and since prosecutors would be more likely to bring criminal charges if the underlying offense has a civil rights association. She arguds that “Just as changing circumstances justified curtailing the right of contracts in the 1930s, today’s networked environment warrants a rejection of free speech absolutism.”

Citron also proposed that website operators be civilly liable for the content of postings on their […]

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“This Court Is Perplexed by the Overreaching Injunctive Relief Sought by Plaintiffs”

From Hopscotch Adoptions, Inc. v. Kachadurian (E.D. Cal. Dec. 7):

On an expedited, ex parte basis, plaintiffs Hopscotch Adoptions, Inc. … and Robin Sizemore … seek: … a temporary restraining order to prohibit defendant Venessa Kachadurian’s … internet and related comments on Hopscotch and Ms. Sizemore ….

Hopscotch is an accredited intercountry adoption agency and was co-founded by Ms. Sizemore, its executive director. Ms. Kachadurian is a Fresno resident who, according to plaintiffs, “has unsuccessfully pursued intercountry adoption since at least 2004 and has waged an ongoing cybersmear campaign against such agencies since at least 2005.” Ms. Kachadurian has been neither a Hopscotch client nor an applicant with plaintiffs or an entity affiliated with Ms. Sizemore.

Plaintiffs attribute to Ms. Kachadurian comments in email, blogs and internet chatrooms that plaintiffs engaged in illegal practices and that Ms. Sizemore was fired from a prior adoption agency job for illegal or unethical practices. Plaintiffs further attribute Ms. Kachadurian to improperly claim that Ms. Sizemore is connected with the arrest of Hopscotch’s in-county facilitator in the Georgia republic. Plaintiffs claim “irreparable harm” in lost business and “hesitance among adoption seekers in doing business with Hopscotch.” Plaintiffs’ complaint alleges claims for violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1030, et seq., defamation, negligent misrepresentation, false light, tortious interference with contractual relations, and negligent interference with prospective advantage….

Here, plaintiffs’ alleged harm is compensable by monetary damages, and the complaint’s tort claims demonstrate as much. Unearned fees from lost clients or opportunities is subject to calculation. Moreover, this Court is concerned about free speech issues, especially given plaintiffs’ reliance on apparent limited, stray comments by Ms. Kachadurian. This Court is perplexed by the overreaching injunctive relief sought by plaintiffs and inability to police or enforce such relief. Although plaintiffs identify finite,

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No “Continuing Duty to Investigate the Accuracy” of a Newspaper Article Posted on a Web Site

So held a Massachusetts trial court last year in Jenzabar, Inc. v. Long Bow Group, Inc. (PDF p. 4); I just ran across the case online, so I thought I’d mention it. Defendant had posted a Boston Globe article that mentioned certain allegations by one DiLorenzo; DiLorenzo had later retracted those allegations. The court held that Long Bow had no “continuing duty to investigate the accuracy of the Boston Globe article, i.e., whether DiLorenzo was still accusing the plaintiffs of inappropriate actions.” […]

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Keeping the Nation Safe, or Making Citizens Vulnerable? The Dangers of Vagueness in Anti-terrorism Laws

Second installment of a five-part series on Silverglate’s book, Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent.

Sami Omar al-Hussayen was a doctoral candidate at the University of Idaho when he was arrested in February 2003. Federal prosecutors alleged that al-Hussayen, a Saudi citizen studying computer science in the United States, provided “material support” and rendered “expert advice or assistance” to terrorists. News reports, on the word of anonymous “federal criminal justice” sources, linked him to Osama bin Laden.

What was his crime? Al-Hussayen used his computer skills to run a number of websites for a Muslim charity dedicated to traditional religious teaching. But if a web-surfer burrowed into links from al-Hussayen’s site, he or she would eventually come across links containing violent anti-American messages. This, prosecutors charged (PDF), was how al-Hussayen aided global terrorism.

District Judge Edward J. Lodge, for one, played the case right down the middle. In his jury instructions, Lodge explained to twelve stalwart Idahoans that the First Amendment protects advocacy, even advocacy to break the law, “unless the speech is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” (Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444, 1969) Of course, it was doubtful that al-Hussayen was even advocating lawlessness, much less violence, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume that there was such a subtext to his website maintenance. Even then, the prosecution was highly dubious.

With Judge Lodge’s clear line separating lawful political speech from unlawful incitement to imminent violence, the jury took little time in acquitting the grad student of the terrorism-related charges. Liberty, which seemed to matter less and less at Main Justice in Washington, remained alive and well in Idaho. (This was due not […]

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State v. Drahota Oral Argument

Those of you who have been following this free speech / cyberspace law case — which I’m litigating pro bono — can now see starting the video of yesterday’s oral argument before the Nebraska Supreme Court. My opening argument starts at about 39:00, and lasts for about five minutes; it’s followed by the State’s argument, followed by about five minutes of my rebuttal. I’m cautiously optimistic, but I guess we’ll know in several weeks what the Justices really thought. […]

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State Declines to File Brief in State v. Drahota (the Nebraska Free Speech / Cyberspace Law Case I’ve Blogged About)

As I mentioned before, I’m litigating a pro bono free speech / cyberspace law case before the Nebraska Supreme Court. My client, Darren Drahota, was convicted of two counts of breach of the peace for sending two rude messages to William Avery, who had earlier asked him to stop sending such messages. Avery was Drahota’s University of Nebraska professor and a candidate for the Nebraska Legislature. (Avery was elected and is now a state legislator.) We argued that such speech did not constitute breach of the peace, and was in any event constitutionally protected under the First Amendment; for more details, see here. The Nebraska Supreme Court granted our petition for further review, and agreed to hear the case; we filed the opening brief Oct. 20, and the state’s brief was due yesterday.

Today, we learned that the state has apparently elected not to file a brief. The local prosecutors had of course prosecuted the case, and the Nebraska Attorney General’s office had briefed the case before the Nebraska Court of Appeals. But at the Nebraska Supreme Court stage, no brief is apparently forthcoming. (The Nebraska Attorney General’s office does make such a decision every so often.)

Naturally, the state supreme court will still have to consider the case, since there is a Nebraska Court of Appeals opinion on the books, and the court needs to decide what to do with it. But the state’s decision not to defend the opinion, or the result it reached, strikes me as heartening. […]

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Ninth Circuit Considers Super-En-Banc for Comprehensive Drug Testing

I haven’t blogged recently about the Ninth Circuit’s blockbuster computer search and seizure decision in United States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing, although not because it hasn’t been on my mind: Among computer crime law folks, it’s topic #1 these days. Indeed, since the en banc decision was handed down, it seems that every conference and informal gathering in the field eventually morphs into trying to figure out what the majority was smoking opinion means, how judges should comply with it, how law enforcement should respond to it, and whether and how long it will be until it is overturned.

Closer to home, I had to make a quick decision whether to put the opinion into the 2nd edition of my computer crime law casebook, which is at the printers right now. I ended up deciding not to include it, as I think the odds favor it being overturned within a year or two. I figured it was better to include the opinion in a supplement in the meantime rather than include it in the main book, as you can easily take a case out of a supplement but not the book itself.

But exactly how the case was going to be overturned is another matter. The most remarkable parts of the opinion are just lists of new rules, announced without any apparent authority or even a case or controversy. We don’t yet know if DOJ plans to file a cert petition in the case, although the procedural posture is tricky: DOJ could try to challenge some other aspect of the case and get that part scrapped in the process, but it’s hard to mount a direct challenge to what seems to be dicta. The main alternative for DOJ would be to let this case stand, let the system […]

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Ninth Circuit Adopts National Standard for Internet Obscenity

In Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973), the Supreme Court announced a three-part test to determine whether a work counts as “obscenity” for purposes of constitutional law:

(a) whether “the average person, applying contemporary community standards” would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and ( c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

In explaining the choice of community standards instead of national standards, the Court wrote:

Under a National Constitution, fundamental First Amendment limitations on the powers of the States do not vary from community to community, but this does not mean that there are, or should or can be, fixed, uniform national standards of precisely what appeals to the “prurient interest” or is “patently offensive.” These are essentially questions of fact, and our Nation is simply too big and too diverse for this Court to reasonably expect that such standards could be articulated for all 50 States in a single formulation, even assuming the prerequisite consensus exists. When triers of fact are asked to decide whether “the average person, applying contemporary community standards” would consider certain materials “prurient,” it would be unrealistic to require that the answer be based on some abstract formulation. The adversary system, with lay jurors as the usual ultimate factfinders in criminal prosecutions, has historically permitted triers of fact to draw on the standards of their community, guided always by limiting instructions on the law. To require a State to structure obscenity proceedings around evidence of a national “community standard” would be an exercise in futility.

Nothing in the First Amendment requires that a jury

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State Public Records Act Covers Metadata

So holds the Arizona Supreme Court; the Washington Court of Appeals held the same a year ago. The decision applies to whatever metadata is stored with the document, including creation, modification, and access dates, the identities of the creating, modifying, and accessing users, and so on (at least unless some exception to the public records act applies).

The decision does not require that the computer systems maintain any metadata; it only requires the disclosure of whatever metadata is present. “[W]hen a public entity maintains a public record in an electronic format, the electronic version of the record, including any embedded metadata, is subject to disclosure under our public records law.”

Thanks to How Appealing for the pointer. […]

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District Judge Concludes E-mail Not Protected by Fourth Amendment (But See Correction)

The case is In re United States, — F.Supp.2d —-, 2009 WL 3416240 (D.Or. 2009), by District Judge Mosman. The issue in the case is whether the government must notify a person when the government obtains a search warrant to access the contents of the person’s e-mail account. Judge Mosman concludes that Rule 41 and 18 U.S.C. 2703(a) require the notice to be served on the ISP, not the account holder, as a statutory matter. He then rules that there is no constitutional requirement of notice to the account holder because the Fourth Amendment does not apply to the e-mails under the third-party doctrine. [CORRECTION: SEE BOTTOM OF POST] Here’s the relevant analysis:

The Fourth Amendment protects our homes from unreasonable searches and seizures, requiring that, absent special circumstances, the government obtain a search warrant based on probable cause before entering. This is strong privacy protection for homes and the items within them in the physical world.

When a person uses the Internet, however, the user’s actions are no longer in his or her physical home; in fact he or she is not truly acting in private space at all. The user is generally accessing the Internet with a network account and computer storage owned by an ISP like Comcast or NetZero. All materials stored online, whether they are e-mails or remotely stored documents, are physically stored on servers owned by an ISP. When we send an e-mail or instant message from the comfort of our own homes to a friend across town the message travels from our computer to computers owned by a third party, the ISP, before being delivered to the intended recipient. Thus, “private” information is actually being held by third-party private companies.

This feature of the Internet has profound implications for how the Fourth

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Craigslist Not Liable for Prostitution Ads

So held a federal district court in Dart v. Craigslist, Inc. Here’s what plaintiff, the Cook County, Illinois, Sheriff claimed:

[Sheriff Dart] … alleges that the “erotic” (now “adult”) services section of Craigslist’s popular Internet classifieds service facilitates prostitution and constitutes a public nuisance…. The webpage located at “chicago.craigslist.org” … displays Chicago-related listings arranged by categories (e.g., “for sale” and “services”) and subcategories (e.g., “antiques” and “computer”). Craigslist created the categories, but its users create the content of the ads and select which categories their ads will appear in. Users posting ads on the website agree to abide by Craigslist’s “Terms of Use,” which prohibit posting unlawful content. Users browsing the “erotic” subcategory — which is (or was) the website’s most popular destination — receive an additional “warning & disclaimer” stating that users entering that section agree to “flag ‘prohibited’” any content that violates Craigslist’s Terms of Use including “offers for or the solicitation of prostitution.” Below the warning is a general “erotic services” link, and links to further subcategories (e.g., “w4m” (women for men)). Craigslist also gives users the option to search through ads using a word-search function.

Sheriff Dart alleges that, notwithstanding Craigslist’s warnings, users routinely post advertisements in the eroticservices category “openly promis[ing] sex for money.” Based on the samples that he cites in his complaint most of the ads are veiled (sometimes very thinly) using code words.

The court’s reasoning, which seems quite right to me: 47 U.S.C. § 230 generally immunizes Internet service providers from (among other things) being held civilly liable on the grounds that they are “publishers” of material that is supplied by their users. The Seventh Circuit has not read this as broadly as some other courts, but even under the Seventh Circuit’s reading, Craigslist immune because its alleged liability would stem […]

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And Speaking of Copyright

VC readers in New York City might be interested in this talk I’m going to be giving at lunchtime this coming Thursday, Oct. 22. It’s co-sponsored by the Copyright Society of the US and the Internet Society’s NYC chapter, and is my (latest) attempt to get people to think about how we might fashion a copyright law for the Internet age that actually makes some sense (as opposed to the copyright law we actually have, which doesn’t). [Oh yeah, it’s about my book, too – and why Jefferson sent a moose to Paris, and how we find a “moose” for the Net that will do for us what Jefferson’s moose did for him]. I gave a version of this talk last week at the University of Virginia Law School, and I think I can guarantee you a pretty lively discussion — in fact, I’ll be a tad disappointed if fisticuffs do not break out in the audience as a result of some of the ideas I propound. […]

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Do the New FTC Regs Cover Blog Comments?

More from Walter Olson on the potential scope of the FTC’s new regulations governing bloggers and other social media users.

It’s been much asserted of late that it’s no particular burden to disclose when mentioning a newly published book or quoting from a newsworthy speech that the publisher sent you a review copy or the conference-giver let you into the hall on a press pass or its equivalent. But the regulations clearly contemplate broader disclosures than that. At some point, acceptance of such benefits will be deemed to create a relationship that must be disclosed even on other occasions, when, say, you mention an author or a nonprofit institution in a different context six months later.

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