WikiLeaks May Close due to Lack of Cash

The New York Times has an interesting article on how WikiLeaks may shut down due to a lack of funds. The organization relies on donations to pay for its operating expenses, but several organizations have stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks after the website released classified US diplomatic cables last year. From the article:

Since the end of 2010, financial intermediaries, including Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union, have refused to allow donations to WikiLeaks to flow through their systems, … blocking “95 percent” of the Web site’s revenue and leaving it to operate on its cash reserves for the past 10 months. An aide said that WikiLeaks was now receiving less than $10,000 a month in donations.

A tech blogger and political science professor named Rob Domanski has a fascinating post on the implications of this case. On one hand, the Internet makes information much more free and open, and has allowed a lone site such as WikiLeaks to easily publish diplomatic cables across the world. On the other hand, a small cluster of financial institutions can still “exert their will over others.”

Man v. Machine

Mark Michels, a consultant in Silicon Valley who formerly worked on litigation and discovery matters at Cisco, has an interesting piece in Law Technology News discussing “predictive coding,” or technology-assisted document review. Although several federal judges have expressed approval of this technique, the “defensibility”—that is, the reliability and robustness—of predictive coding has yet to be thoroughly analyzed by the courts.

What would such an inquiry require of an evidentiary proponent? The article suggests being prepared to answer these three questions:

1. Who will explain credibly to the court or adversary the process and results?

2. What evidence is there to prove that technology assisted document review, in general, is reliable?

3. What evidence is or will be available to prove that the party followed a reliable process in this particular instance?

Michels’ article is extraordinarily thorough, interesting, and practical. We highly recommend you read it in full.

Image: cc-by / Michael Himbeault

US Firm Accused of Illegally Selling Technology to Syria for use in Cyber Crackdown

Hamed Aleaziz at Mother Jones has an interesting article on how a US technology company named Blue Coat may have sold technology to the Syrian government “to suppress dissent and block access to the internet.” According to the article, a tech activist group named Telecomix obtained publicly-accessible log files from inside Syria. Analysis of these log files shows that:

Syria’s government is using Blue Coat’s devices to prevent its citizens from accessing social media, video-sharing, and other websites. By using the devices, the Syrian regime can block information about its abuses from getting out of the country and monitor web activity.

If Blue Coat sold the technology to Syria, it would be in violation of US trade sanctions. Blue Coat denies that it exported the technology to Syria, although a Wall Street Journal article has reported that Blue Coat has long sold its technology to other countries in the region, including “Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar” where it is used to filter anti-government messages. These sales place companies like Blue Coat at odds with the US State Department, which is officially committed to promoting greater Internet freedom as a way of advancing democracy.

Registration Open for ABA Techshow

The American Bar Association’s 2012 TECHSHOW will be this March 29-31 at the Hilton Chicago, and registration is open. It is expected to cover multiple areas dealing with technology, from tablets, to social media, to the cloud. From the ABA’s website:

ABA TECHSHOW 2012 is a unique conference dedicated to helping legal professionals understand what technology is available and what will suit your needs.  Whether we’re reviewing new products that improve efficiency and make day-to-day activities easier or examining technology requirements for firms of all sizes, ABA TECHSHOW 2012 is the event that brings lawyers and technology together in a format that suits beginners through the techiest of techies.

In Test of ECPA, Government Secretly Targets WikiLeaks Supporter’s Emails

According to a Wall Street Journal article, the DOJ is using a secret order to force Google and an ISP named Sonic.net to turn over email information from Jacob Appelbaum, a WikiLeaks supporter. Under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the government can get an order forcing a 3rd party to turn over digital information on a suspect after showing only “‘reasonable grounds’ that the records would be ‘relevant and material’ to an investigation.” Mr. Appelbaum has been a volunteer and an outspoken supporter of WikiLeaks, which has been the subject of an “active criminal investigation” since releasing myriad classified diplomatic cables last year.

According to the WSJ, Mr. Appelbaum has filed a motion to vacate the court order. At issue is whether the release of information such as a person’s IP address requires a warrant under the Fourth Amendment. Mr. Appelbaum argues that the release of the address requires a warrant because it could be used to find a person’s “specific geographic destinations,” but the government has counter-argued that IP addresses do not inherently reveal any personal information and are more akin to a person’s phone number.

D.C. District Court Rules That Warrant Is Not Needed for Cell Phone Location Data

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled that police do not need a search warrant in order to obtain information from a phone service provider about the location of a call. The ruling, which came in a case dealing with an alleged robbery of an armored truck, comes months after the D.C. Circuit Court ruled that police do need a warrant before placing a GPS tracking unit on a suspect’s cell phone.

Story originally reported by Law.com: Legal Technology News.

Image: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 /JonJon2k8

Could “Supercookie” Use be a Felony?

(A Picture of a Cookie)Shannon Brown has an interesting post on how the use of “supercookies” (also known as “undeletable cookies,” “zombie cookies,” and “malcookies”) could be a felony in Pennsylvania. Using cookies to keep track of users is nothing new; it’s basically why you don’t need to log in every time you want to check your email. According to Ms. Brown, supercookies can be more nefarious because they:

(1) intentionally circumvent the security and privacy settings of the user’s web browser and (2) may be able to insidiously re-spawn (replicate) themselves even if the web user deletes the “cookie.”

Ms. Brown concludes that under Pennsylvania’s expansive definition of a computer virus, which includes any computer program “that may replicate itself and that causes or can cause unauthorized activities within or by the computer,” the distribution of supercookies may be a felony. This would be the case regardless of whether the distributor’s computer is outside the state of Pennsylvania as long as the victim’s computer is inside the state.

Raising similar issues, a man in Kansas has sued Facebook claiming that its use of tracking cookies violates federal wiretapping laws.

Image: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / roboppy

Possible Downsides to Software as a Service

Brian Proffitt at ITWorld has an interesting post on possible downsides to software as a service (SaaS), specifically Amazon Silk. Amaz0n Silk is a new “cloud-powered” web browser which will work with Amazon’s new ereader/tablet, the Kindle Fire. Silk uses Amazon’s cloud-based web service (AWS) to perform faster. From its website:

With Amazon Silk, most of the heavy-lifting is shifted from the processor on your device to our powerful AWS servers.  Access to such lightning fast CPUs, expansive memory, and huge network connections allows the performance of Amazon Silk to transcend the capabilities of your local device.  Amazon Silk isn’t just about massive computing power, however.  Because much of the intelligence of the browser is in the cloud, a number of performance enhancements become possible, including squeezing the utmost throughput out of your “last mile” connection, smart caching both on your device and on our servers, and on-the-fly content optimizations.  In addition, Amazon Silk has the ability to learn about traffic patterns on individual sites over time, allowing it to begin fetching the next page that users may wish to visit.

As ITWorld points out, however, there are two main concerns. The first is privacy. Although Amazon will let you opt out of this feature, by default it will keep track of your browsing habits. Amazon claims that the data will be held in aggregate, which would make it hard to identify individual users, but Mr. Proffitt points out that it would be difficult to make this work considering that “location-based services like Yelp and Latitude will need some sort of unique ID to figure out where you are.” It other words, it may be possible for someone to determine your browsing history without ever accessing your physical machine.

The second concern is that services like these have a danger of confining Internet users. In the Amazon Silk example, while it should theoretically be possible to use Silk to access any site on the Web, it must be tempting for Amazon to drive traffic towards their services. As SaaS proliferates, more companies may try to lock-in users rather than allow them to browse the Internet generally.

CLCT Director Fred Lederer on “Courtroom Technology Snafus”

Frederic Lederer, the director of the Center for Legal & Court Technology, was recently interviewed for an article in Law Technology News about “courtroom snafus,” especially those related to the use of technology in the courtroom.  Lederer – who is also a member of the board of Law Technology News – identified the “three types of trial technology snafus: 1) real or perceived hardware failure, 2) real or perceived software failure, and 3) attorney ineptitude.”  The article goes on to solicit Lederer’s recommendations for how to best avoid such embarrassing mishaps.

Read on at LTN for the full article.

A Duty to Warn Clients of E-mail Risks?

Nicole Black at Sui Generis takes up a formal ethics opinion on the subject of warning clients about the risks of electronic communication, recently issued by the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility.  The opinion (No. 11-459 [PDF]) contains the following broad conclusion:

A lawyer sending or receiving substantive communications with a client via e-mail or other electronic means ordinarily must warn the client about the risk of sending or receiving electronic communications using a computer or other device, or e-mail account, to which a third party may gain access. The risk may vary. Whenever a lawyer communicates with a client by e-mail, the lawyer must first consider whether, given the client’s situation, there is a significant risk that third parties will have access to the communications. If so, the lawyer must take reasonable care to protect the confidentiality of the communications by giving appropriately tailored advice to the client.

Black notes that the opinion is potentially problematic because “the Committee appears to be treating electronic communications differently than other types of communication, even though, regardless of the form of communication, there is always a risk of third party interception. No form of communication is 100% secure.”

It appears that this issue arose in the context of the narrow factual scenario where an attorney is communicating with a client via the e-mail system operated by the client’s employer — who has a presumptive right to monitor and access its employee’s use of the system — but the Committee perhaps painted with too broad a stroke in construing its opinion more generally.

Read on at Sui Generis for more analysis.