Another story has hit the media about privacy in the social media sphere. GigaOm and others are reporting about a recent decision by a California probate court in which the court refused to require Facebook to turn over the contents of a deceased woman’s account to her parents (who were the named executors of her estate).
The Court found that federal Stored Communications Act forbids companies not just from sharing user’s e-mails without their permission, but also social media communications, as well. The GigOm article above links to an interesting artificial by Venkat Balasumbramani which was posted on Eric Goldman’s Technology and Marketing Law blog which discusses in greater detail a number of the recent court cases across the country dealing with privacy and social media issues and some of the landscape which they are beginning to carve out.
It is clear, however, that they law has a lot of catching up to do on this issue of privacy in a world of electronic communications. Eventually the law will catch up on this subject, whether through new legislation or court interpretation of existing legislation.In the meantime, there will be a great deal of uncertainty and inconsistency in the law, leaving rocky shoals to navigate.
Stanford has just wrapped up a conference on Intellectual Property that seems to have had some very interesting and notable highlights. Head over to the GigaOm article for a bit more detail (and here for the full agenda), but here are a few of the highlights of interest:
University of Colorado Professor Paul Ohm is headed off to join the FTC, but he stopped by the conference and gave a presentation that made it clear that he intends to do more than a but of arm-twisting in Washington to get companies to live up to their privacy promises.
Another presentation discussed unauthorized distribution of copyrighted content though the lens of the porn industries current frustrations. It looks like maybe Big Porn is starting to realize that the litigation tactic is a loosing battle, as they begin to experiment with shifts towards making “experience goods” like live chats and other engagement oriented products.
Collen Chien of U.C. Santa Clara presented on the current patent mess in the mobile device industry and hos the historic patent epidemics over farmer’s tools and railroad technology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries may portend much needed reform in our current patent morass.
Professor Howard Abrams discusses the U.S. Supreme Court of Golan v. Holder from earlier this year in which the Court upheld Congress’ rights to retroactively extend copyright terms. The case when on to indicate that congress can extend copyright protection to previously public domain works and to state that First Amendment is not implicated by these actions, as these works were available in the marketplace and thus represented commercial speech.
Yet another sign that the privacy issues are starting to come in from the cold: The California Attorney General’s office is setting up a special unit for the purpose of enforcing state and federal privacy laws.
This has the potential to have a major impact on not just Silicon Valley, but also (if Massachusetts and Nevada are any indicator) any company doing business in the state of California.
As a result of moves such as this, it is increasingly important that companies make sure that their policies, procedures, and practices on customer privacy are fully up to date. More and more, this is a truly business-critical issue.
In an apparent fit of sanity, large players in the Telecom field, under the aegis of the International Telecommunications Union, specialized agency of the United Nations which is responsible for information and communication technologies, will be convening a high-level roundtable among standards organizations and mobile device manufacturers with the stated goal of removing barriers to continued mobile innovation.
It is anticipated that the talks will include discussion of reasonable and non-discriminatory patent policies, royalties issues, and IP enforcement. Among those already signed on to participate in the October talks are Apple, Microsoft, Motorola, and Samsung, to name a few.
While not a panacea for the toxic combination of rigidity in existing IP protection laws and the vogue trend of destructive patent litigation by participating and non-participating entities alike, this represents a significant opportunity to de-escalate the current patent wars and to move towards a more rational state of business where it possible to both protect IP and permit true, robust, and pervasive innovation. I continue to believe that changes to existing IP laws are a crucial part of this process, but industry consensus and buy-in are likewise vital (and perhaps a necessary first-step) to reaching a more rational balancing of interests.
From the vaults of “They passed a law making it illegal to dowhat?!?!”
Apparently in 1989 the state of Rhode Island passed a law making lying on the internet a misdemeanor crime punishable by fines up to $500 and as much as one year in prison.
Quoting from the Yahoo news article: “If you’ve ever lied to a potential Internet date about your weight, texted your spouse that you were someplace you weren’t or emailed mom to say how much you love that ugly new sweater, you were breaking the law if you did it in Rhode Island.
But state lawmakers have now decided that white lies online should no longer be a crime. The General Assembly voted this month to repeal an obscure 1989 law that made fibbing on the Internet a misdemeanor punishable by fines of up to $500 and as much as a year in prison. Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed the measure.”
Good grief! Reducing fraud online is all well and good. Doing so in ways that impinge upon free speech and criminalize non-fraudulent conduct is another thing altogether.
The good news is, at least they have now repealed the law. This, however, is an object example of well-meaning legislators passing laws without our due regard to the consequences that the law may create.
Here is an excellent piece from GigaOm regarding to recent profusion of proposed legislation (SOPA, CISPA, ACTA, etc.) dealing with online content. While there is a clear necessity to have laws that adequately and appropriately protect content creators, owners, and distributors, most of the recent proposed laws are not only draconian in nature, but present the very real specter of being being cures that are far worse than the disease.
The article is well summed up in its final paragraph:
“As the Internet becomes more and more vital to our daily lives, it is inevitable that legislators will continue to propose laws restricting it. Many of these laws will be cast in moral tones, imploring us to “think of the children,” protect people from cyberbullying or save us from criminals. These may be laudable goals, but it’s incumbent on the Internet community to ask whether the price in free speech online is worth it. And it’s not going to be. There’s no way to restrict just the bad and preserve only the good. Limits and restrictions invariably favor one class of speaker over another, impoverish the discourse and reduce transparency. Ultimately, the answer to concerns about the messiness of communication online lies in what caused the messiness in the first place: Keep the discussion as wide open as possible.”
We need to be cautious in our attempts to regulate the internet, particularly in ways that implicate the First Amendment. If you are not already doing so, pay attention to what is going on in Congress with respect to laws regulating the internet. Talk to your representatives. Be engaged. Bad legislation at this point can have profound negative impacts on not just our civil liberties, but on our economy. We cannot afford to get this wrong!
While I have not yet read the proposed legislation, the three major prongs of the bill discussed in the article appear to be:
1) Creation of a new class of entrepreneur’s visa to allow people who start new businesses and create jobs to remain in the country;
2) To make is easier for foreign students holding post-graduate degrees in math, science, or engineering to remain in the country after finish their studies; and
3) To create targeted tax credits to encourage start-up companies to invest in R&D, but allowing investors who cash in on investments in such companies to avoid capital gains taxes, so long as they held the investment for at least 5 years.