Articles Posted in Internet Law

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Long a consistent and ardent judicial champion of the constitutional protections afforded citizens under the Fourth and Sixth Amendments, one cannot help but wonder how Justice Scalia would have viewed the showdown between Apple and the Department of Justice.
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Over the law few months, we have been getting calls every week from Internet subscribers who think they’re about to lose their homes, their entire life savings, or in one particular instance, their freedom (one woman was terribly afraid that she and her husband were going to be sent to prison).

It has been over a year since we last addressed the Malibu Media issue in our post Malibu Media Makes Marylanders Miserable, but the onslaught of copyright infringement cases filed by Malibu Media in the mid-Atlantic has not slowed. At last count, Malibu Media had filed over two thousand alleged copyright infringement cases in the United States, with over 355 cases right here in STSW’s home state of Maryland. The semi-boilerplate “Complaint” that Malibu Media files with the Court in these cases is usually a frightening, lengthy, confusing document that seeks hundreds of thousands in dollars in supposed damages from the Internet subscriber, who is the “Defendant.” Each Malibu Media Complaint has an “Exhibit A” attached that lists sexually graphic video titles, and Malibu Media alleges the Defendant unlawfully downloaded and watched these sexually graphic videos with lewd titles.

If you are reading this, I am not sure where you work or with whom you live, but in my experience, explaining this to your boss or your partner usually doesn’t go over so well…that is until you and those who need to know understand who “copyright trolls” are and what “copyright trolls” do. This NBC Washington news story may help you and your boss or partner understand what has happened to you.

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The technology questions and options surrounding cybersecurity and data storage in “The Cloud” can overwhelm even the savviest of CEOs. The legal issues, however, are often overlooked. Various federal and state laws govern certain types of data storage in the cloud and dictate what your business is required to do if your website or cloud storage is breached and customer data is lost. Failure to comply with breach notification laws can result in statutory damages of hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars.

For these reasons, it is well worth the time and minor front end cost to review these laws and your online practices with a qualified attorney, but the brief checklist below provides common sense tools to make your employees, your online business activities and your cyber data practices more secure.

At SilverMcKenna, we recommend you turn to independent cyber-security experts to develop a secure infrastructure for your data and online practices, but we also urge our business clients to take the following SIX PRACTICAL STEPS to protect business data in the cloud, to secure customers’ data and sensitive information, and to make sure employees and management are working together to do so effectively and efficiently while preserving employee and customer privacy.

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Would you like to be identified by name in a federal court case that alleges you illegally downloaded, watched and shared pornography? Probably not.

Would it affect your job, your career, your reputation? Probably so.

Suing Marylanders by the hundreds, Malibu Media is using strong-arm litigation tactics to intimidate unsuspecting Marylanders to pay money to settle alleged copyright violations they may not have even committed. Malibu Media, LLC, is a California company that produces and/or owns the copyright to adult “soft-porn” movies and video content. Much of this content is available for viewing on the Internet.

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Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C.A. § 230, (CDA) provides online businesses a refuge from civil liability that could otherwise arise from content posted to a website, online blog or other social media platform by a third party. Specifically, § 230(c) of the CDA immunizes providers of interactive computer services against liability arising from content created by third parties, stating: “No provider … of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” 47 U.S.C. § 230(c).

Many businesses seek shelter under this provision of the CDA for legitimate business purposes, such as a commentary section for product or service reviews, but other businesses exploit this immunity, such as revenge porn sites like yougotposted.com.

It is essential, however, that all businesses that conduct business online or that operate an online website understand that the CDA’s immunity provision is not always a safe harbor. Why? Because the CDA’s grant of immunity applies only if the interactive computer service provider is not also an “information content provider,” (ICP) which is defined as someone who is “responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of” the offending content. 47 U.S.C.A. § 230(f)(3), emphasis added.

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Depending on the nature of your business, your employees may routinely handle or have access to information that is subject to privacy protection or financial/securities regulations under various federal and state laws. Improper handling or disclosure of statutorily-protected or otherwise private information could potentially result in (1) statutory and privacy violations and (2) civil liability exposure for your business generally and for your employees individually.

Even businesses that do not handle sensitive information must consider the impact of employees’ use of social media – posts can go viral within seconds. And once content is posted on the Internet, it is very challenging, if not impossible, to remove. For these reasons, it is essential that every employee be aware of and educated about these potential legal risks when posting content on social media sites-even when they do so on their own time.

Thoughtless or unthinking social media mistakes can create ethical dilemmas and embarrass both a business and its employees. And consider the potential legal claims that may arise from employee social media misuse:

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889854_freedom_2.jpgVery soon, the federal government could know what you bought for dinner last night, or whether you and your wife are having a nasty email fight about something very personal-and they could know this all because of CISPA-The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2013. If you’re using gmail, Google might already know this information, but our Constitution has traditionally protected us from the federal government getting its hand on such intimate, personal information without a warrant or court oversight.

CISPA is a bill that will be voted upon very soon in the U.S. House of Representatives; it allows for voluntary information sharing between private companies and the federal government. The bill’s language and provisions continue to be amended and shaped in closed-door, secret meetings by the U.S. House Intelligence Committee. In principal, the bill is supposed to prevent cyber-attacks. But it does this through sweeping, unprecedented information sharing provisions that allow and in fact encourage private companies, like Facebook and Google, to turn over every intimate detail they’ve collected about you from your online activities, your emails, your texts, your shopping habits, your web-browsing activities, etc., to the US government.

Proponents of the bill argue that it will protect the US from cyber-attack because it allows companies to receive information from the government and turn information over to the government. This sharing of information, they say, will help prevent or at least curb the hacking epidemic.

But the Center for Democracy and Technology points out that CISPA actually allows hacking, because it allows companies to look for cyber threats-not just on their own computers-but on other companies’ computer systems as well.

Another very concerning part of CISPA is that the companies that do hand over consumers’ private information to the government get immunity from legal liability for handing that data over to the government. This means that the government is giving companies an incentive to hand over your data, i.e., immunity from civil and criminal liability, and at the same time circumventing our common law and constitutional privacy protections-such the Fourth Amendment-from the government collecting information on us without a warrant.

What can you do to protect your privacy?

 

 

You should contact your United States Congressman, and let his or her office know your thoughts on CISPA.
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Sure, we’ve all heard that mobile software applications collect more personal data from our smart phones than they need to or should; and the mobile apps’ privacy policies are such a byzantine morass, none of us read them anyway. But the news that the most popular children’s mobile software apps are surreptitiously collecting and then selling to dozens, even hundreds, of marketers and third parties exactly where our children are at all times, what their mobile phone numbers are, and where exactly they go and what they do online, and that this all being done without notice to parent or child…well that creeps out even the most jaded adult.

Yesterday, December 10, 2012, the Federal Trade Commission released a detailed Report replete with research and data that demonstrates the most popular mobile software apps designed for, marketed to, and used by our children are doing all of this, and in so doing, may be running afoul of numerous federal and state consumer protection/deceptive advertising and privacy laws.

The 12/10/12 Report is a follow-up to a February 2012 FTC report wherein the FTC surmised that there may be significant privacy issues with mobile apps designed for and targeted to children. After releasing the February 2012 report, the FTC did its homework: it investigated 400 popular children’s mobile software apps; it reviewed the apps’ stated privacy policies; and it tested the apps’ actual data collection and tracking practices. What it found is troubling, to say the least.
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Jennifer O’Brien, a tenured New Jersey public school elementary teacher with 13 years of teaching experience and a master’s degree in education, was teaching a class of 23-first grade students (all of whom were minorities and mostly six-years old), when she posted on her own, private Facebook page these comments about her job to her 300+ Facebook friends and their friends of friends, “I’m not a teacher-I’m a warden for future criminals!” O’Brien didn’t stop there; she later posted to Facebook, “They had a scared straight program in school-why couldn’t [I] bring [first] graders?”

When NJ school officials came across the Facebook post and confronted O’Brien, she said she didn’t intend her comments to be offensive or racist statements, but otherwise she essentially was unrepentant. Parents were deeply concerned and angered by O’Brien’s Facebook posts; protests formed outside of the school attended by dozens; and parents demanded their children be removed from O’Brien’s classroom. O’Brien was dismissed from her position; her dismissal was affirmed by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ); and ultimately, O’Brien appealed to a NJ state appellate court. O’Brien argued that her dismissal constituted a violation of her First Amendment rights of free speech because (1) her comments addressed a matter of legitimate public concern, i.e., school discipline, and (2) because her comments were made on her private Facebook page, they were protected speech.
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