The Failure of Facebook's Voter Experiment: What It May Mean
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the possible lessons we may take from Facebook's inability to get even one percent of its users to vote on its proposed new Terms of Service (ToS). Ramasastry contends that Facebook might have seen better voter turnout if it had given its users better notice -- for instance, by doing so via email and doing so more than once. Moreover, she argues that Facebook should not respond to the low voter turnout by eliminating user votes on changes to the ToS, given that important issues such as the protection of user privacy and users' rights to their content are likely to be at stake.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Tuesday, Apr. 21, 2009
Google Street View's Troubles in the United Kingdom: Why the UK May Pose a Legitimate Privacy Challenge for Photographic Mapping, and How Google Should Respond
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses an interesting phenomenon: There has been much more opposition to Google Street View -- a part of Google Maps that relies on online postings of photos of streets and houses taken from Google's cars -- in the UK, than in the US and elsewhere. Ramasastry details the strong backlash Street View has evoked in the UK, including a number of cases in which couples and families were put into conflict based on photographs captured by Street View cars and posted online. She also discusses UK privacy law, and suggests that, in the UK, Google Street View may be able to quiet the controversy it has faced by complying with rules similar to those that govern closed-circuit television there, and by taking care to protect domestic-violence victims from having former abusers be able to locate them based on unblurred Street View images.
Wednesday, Apr. 8, 2009
Is Facebook's New "Bill of Rights" a Lasting Policy Change? Why User Inaction May Cause the Experiment to Fail
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses Facebook's actions in the wake of the controversy over its changing its Terms of Service, without direct notice to its users and in a way that purported to give Facebook a perpetual license to posted content, even when users had left the service. As Ramasastry explains, Facebook has now proposed a new system under which it has reverted to its original Terms of Service, and given users the chance to vote on its new "Principles" and "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities." Ramasastry provides a detailed account of how users' voting on this and future amendments to Facebook's contract with its users will work, and raises questions about whether the new system will be workable and effective.
Tuesday, Mar. 24, 2009
Facebook Follies: Why Facebook's Recent Change to its User Agreement Was A Bad Move, and Will Likely Be Unenforceable
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the legal issues raised by Facebook's controversial recent attempt to change its Terms of Service. As she explains, Facebook angered many of its users by purporting to reserve the right to use their content forever -- even if they were to delete it, or leave the site -- and by failing to provide users with direct notice of that change. Drawing upon recent lawsuits and FTC actions involving other companies that tried to change their Terms of Service in problematic ways, Ramasastry argues that the Electronic Privacy Information Center is likely correct when it contends that Facebook ran afoul of the law, as interpreted by the Federal Trade Commission.
Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009
A Court Holds that When a Company Breaks Its Promise to Keep Information Safe, It Cannot Be Sued: The Right Result, but One that Suggests the Need to Change the Law
Friday, Jan. 30, 2009
The Recent Defamation Lawsuit Targeting a Posting on the Consumer Review Site Yelp.com: Will It Succeed?
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry considers a recent California lawsuit that challenges, as defamatory, a review on Yelp.com that criticized a chiropractor's billing practices. Ramasastry explains that, in California and other states with "anti-SLAPP" laws, it may be possible for defamation defendants to get the complaints against them dismissed at an early stage, if the comments at issue had a public-interest component. But when does a review on a site like Yelp.com have a public-interest component, and when is it simply a private issue between a consumer and a provider of goods or services? Ramasastry considers several precedents that illuminate when a posting touches upon the public interest, and when it does not.
Monday, Jan. 12, 2009
A Kentucky Court Approves the Seizure of Out-of-State Companies’ Domain Names: A Dangerous Precedent that May Chill Free Speech and Impede Global Internet Communications
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a Kentucky state court ruling that she argues could set a dangerous precedent affecting constitutional rights on the Internet. In the decision -- which is now before Kentucky's Court of Appeals -- a trial judge held that the State of Kentucky had the power to seize the domain names of online gambling sites that were being accessed by Kentucky residents, even though the sites had many other users, some of whom apparently live in places where gambling is legal. The trial judge deemed the domain names to be illegal "gambling devices," not unlike slot machines or roulette tables, but Ramasastry argues that this conclusion was mistaken -- as was the court's conclusion that the domain names were located in Kentucky. As Ramasastry explains, the appellants -- joined by several Internet civil liberties groups, such as the ACLU and EFF -- also argue that the seizure, if upheld, would violate constitutional rights to free speech and due process, as well as the constitutional principle that individual states cannot regulate interstate or international commerce.
Monday, Dec. 22, 2008
Can the Global Network Initiative Advance Freedom of Expression and Privacy Rights in Countries that Censor the Internet? Why It Is a Promising Start, But Still Leaves a Large Hole to Be Filled
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry describes and comments on the Global Network Initiative (GNI) -- through which Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! are attempting to tackle the issues that arise from their providing Internet services in countries that demand censorship of webpages and/or ask Internet companies for information leading to the identity of persons whose postings are seen as anti-government or otherwise objectionable. As Ramasastry explains, over the past two years, the three companies have worked with human rights organizations and NGOs such as the Center for Democracy and Technology to develop a set of principles to address and prevent infringements of speech and privacy rights. She points out that the effort, while a positive step, has some sharp limits, which she details.
Friday, Dec. 12, 2008
Does the Law Allow Your ISP to Charge You High Fees When You Want to Cancel your Contract? A Washington Lawsuit Suggests the Answer May Sometimes Be No
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a recent Washington lawsuit in which two plaintiffs, who seek to head a class action of similarly-situated persons, claim that Qwest, their provider of high-speed Internet service, charged them an illegally high early termination fees. As Ramasastry explains, the plaintiffs argue both that they did not terminate early because their contracts were month-to-month, and that, in any event, the fee charged by Qwest was an illegal "penalty" that far exceeded the damages the company truly suffered from early termination. Ramasastry notes that the termination fee/penalty issue has also arisen in similar cases regarding fees attached to the termination of cellphone contracts.
Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008
Before the RIAA Can Sue a Student, Mom and Dad Can Call a Lawyer: An Interesting Innovation Affords Some Notice to Students Accused of Illegal Downloading
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a Northern California federal district judge's recent ruling that held that, due to education privacy laws, students at the University of California at Santa Cruz and their parents were entitled to receive notice before the university turned over information pertinent to the students' alleged illegal file-sharing to the Recording Industry Association of America. Ramasastry praises the decision for honoring students' rights, and places it in the context of other recent court decisions that grapple with the issue of what rights students may have when accused of infringing copyrights through file-sharing -- including in situations where multiple students have access to the same computer.
Monday, Oct. 06, 2008
An Appeals Court Opens the Door to Judicial Review of the "No Fly" List: A Promising Step Toward Providing Passengers with Due Process
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a recent, 2-1 decision by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, holding that federal district courts may review the government's decisions regarding whom to put on the "no fly" list. As Ramasastry explains, previously those who were erroneously placed on the "no fly" list had seemed to have no recourse -- except from the Transportation Security Administration, which administers the list and has been shown to have made over 30,000 mistakes in including people's names on it. Ramasastry praises the panel's decision for allowing travelers to clear their names by going before a judge and jury to show that they do not belong on the list.
Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008
A City Tries to Stop a Woman from Linking to Its Website: Why Most Challenges to Links Will Not Succeed, and What the Rare Exceptions May Be
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses an interesting case in which a Michigan woman linked to her city's police department's website, but then received a "cease and desist" order from the city attorney commanding her to de-post the link. The woman filed suit, claiming the order violated her First
Amendment rights, and Ramasastry argues that she is correct to deem the order illegal. Ramasastry also covers the range of cases in which links can, and cannot, successfully be challenged -- considering possible ways in which links might violate the law pertaining to copyright, business torts, defamation, criminal threats, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Ramasastry also covers the unique problems posed by "deep linking" -- that is, linking to a page other than the homepage of a given site.
Tuesday, Sept. 02, 2008
Saying Goodbye to Your Cellphone Carrier Just Got Cheaper, Thanks to a California Ruling: Why the Court's Decision was Correct, but Is Only Part of a Longer Story
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a recent preliminary ruling from a California court holding that a cellphone carrier's contracts with customers are illegal insofar as they impose early termination fees. As Ramasastry explains, contracts may included "liquidated damages" clauses providing a realistic estimate of the damages that will follow if one party breaches the contract, but they cannot include illegal "penalties" for breach that are not connected to actual or expected damages. The court found, on the evidence heard so far, that early-termination fees constitute penalties. However, as Ramasastry explains, cellphone carriers have a number of options now, in addition to simply abolishing the fees -- such as seeking federal intervention and prorating the fees based on how early the customer terminates the contract.
Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008
Can An Entire City Get Itself Removed From Google Maps? Why North Oaks, Minnesota Is Trying, But May Not Succeed
FindLaw columnist and visiting National University of Ireland--Galway law professor Anita Ramasastry weighs in on the recent controversy over North Oaks, Minnesota's campaign to convince Google to remove photos of its residents' homes from the Google Maps "Street View" application. As Ramasastry explains, photos taken from the street outside a home are typically legal (with exceptions involving, for example, peeping toms and telephoto lenses). However, North Oaks is unusual in that it has no public streets, but only private streets, which residents give each other permission to use through easements. North Oaks thus persuaded Google to remove the photos on a trespassing theory, but Ramasastry questions whether the principle would still apply if larger cities went private. Ramasastry also notes that advancing satellite technology may mean that Google has the last laugh -- with excellent satellite images of North Oaks replacing the street-level images that were removed.
Wednesday, Jun. 18, 2008
A New York Appellate Court Holds that an Email Message Can Amend an Employment Contract: Why the Decision Was Correct, and What It Means for Employees
FindLaw columnist and visiting National University of Ireland-Galway law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a recent New York intermediate appellate decision holding that a series of emails with signature lines satisfied the Statute of Frauds and was otherwise sufficient to modify the terms of a CEO's employment contract. Ramasastry contends that the decision was correct in light of New York's law on electronic communications, and notes that companies have the freedom to opt out, if they so choose, by noting in their original contracts with employees that only personally signed and faxed modifications will be effective.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Is It Legal for Different Customers to Receive Different, Customized Sales Offers? The Example of Alaska Airlines, and the Likely Regulatory Response
FindLaw columnist and visiting National University of Ireland-Galway law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the legal issues surrounding Internet behavioral marketing and, in particular, the practice of retargeting. As Ramasastry explains, retargeting can ensure that different consumers receive different price offers for the same product from the same company -- with the price difference being based on data such as consumers' past spending patterns and their histories with the company. In order to regulate retargeting, the FTC has offered a disclosure/opt out approach, which Ramasastry endorses, and a New York legislator has proposed a criminal statute, which Ramasastry argues goes too far.
Tuesday, Apr. 01, 2008
On Facebook Forever? Why the Networking Site was Right to Change its Deletion Policies, And Why Its Current Policies Still Pose Privacy Risks
FindLaw columnist and National University of Ireland-Galway visiting law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the social network site Facebook's recent decision to allow users to easily delete -- not just deactivate -- their profiles. Ramasastry explains why the prior policy was so harshly criticized, warns users of social networking sites that they still cannot count on permanent deletion of information from the Web, and describes several related Facebook policies that also arguably compromise user privacy.
Friday, Feb. 29, 2008
Searching Laptops at the Border and In Airports: A Disturbing Practice That Imperils Fourth and First Amendment Rights
FindLaw columnist and National University of Ireland - Galway visiting law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the First and Fourth Amendment issues raises by U.S. government searches of laptops and other electronic devices at international borders and international airports. Ramasastry discusses the recent suit by two public interest groups to enforce a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to disclose government policy regarding this category of searches. She also covers the handful of federal cases, in the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Fourth and Ninth Circuits, that have taken on the First and Fourth Amendment issues involved when laptops are searched.
Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008
Second Life Bans Cyber Banks and Unregulated Financial Institutions: Why This Solution May Only Create More Problems, At Least in the Short Term
FindLaw columnist and National University of Ireland-Galway visiting professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the recent move by the creators of the virtual world Second Life to ban from the site any bank that is not subject to a real-world regulator. Second Life's currency is Linden dollars, but Linden dollars can be converted into U.S. dollars. Accordingly, when people deposited Linden dollars into a Second Life bank that then closed, real U.S. dollars were lost -- and this and other problems motivated Second Life to institute the ban. Ramasastry points out, however, that the ban was not the only option; Second Life users could also have created their own Second Life regulatory bodies. She also notes that the ban may open up its own can of worms, regarding how much real-world regulators can and should intervene in Second Life.
Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008
Why Amazon Was Right to Raise a First Amendment Objection to A Subpoena for Its Customer Records in a Tax Fraud Case
FindLaw columnist and visiting law professor at the National University of Ireland-Galway Anita Ramasastry discusses a Wisconsin federal magistrate judge's decision to uphold Amazon customers' First Amendment rights in the face of a federal government subpoena. The government sought the customers' information to prove its allegations that a person who sold used books through Amazon had failed to pay taxes on his earnings. The magistrate judge both identified a serious First Amendment harm, in the potential chilling effect on Amazon customers' book purchases, and also pointed to an alternative way in which the government could have contacted the customers, through Amazon, to seek their cooperation with the investigation.
Wednesday, Jan. 09, 2008
Are Virtual-World Bank Robbery, Pickpocketing, and Runs on Banks Covered by Real-World Laws?
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasatry discusses interesting developments in the virtual world Second Life, and their potential legal ramifications. Second Life has recently experienced a run on one of its virtual "banks," instances of virtual pickpocketing, and even a virtual "bank robbery." These events had real-world consequences as its "Linden dollars" are convertible into U.S. dollars. Can real-world prosecutors or regulators intervene? Ramasastry describes which laws would and would not apply, and cautions that real-world authorities may be well-advised to start paying attention to Second Life.
Monday, Dec. 31, 2007
In Paul We Trust: Do The New Liberty Dollars, Bearing Candidate Ron Paul's Image, Constitute Illegal Currency?
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the recent federal raid upon the Indiana headquarters of NORFED, an organization that sells precious-metal coins bearing the likeness of Texas Congressman and Republican Presidential candidate Dr. Ron Paul. Federal authorities seized the coins on the ground that NORFED was selling an illegal currency. Will the allegation prove valid? Ramasastry considers applicable law relating to this situation, and also to the situation of barter-like local currencies such as Ithaca, New York's "Ithaca hours."
Monday, Dec. 03, 2007
Facebook's "Fan - sumers": Do Social Ads Violate Users' Privacy?
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a new, controversial feature planned for the social networking site Facebook.com. As Ramasastry explains, after a Facebook user registers as a "fan" of a particular band or brand, Facebook plans to generate ads that display the user's photo alongside product endorsements, and show those ads to the user's Facebook friends.
Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2007
When Copyright and Privacy Collide: A Teenager's Suit Against Virgin Mobile for Using Her Photo without her Permission in an Ad Campaign and Against Creative Commons for Alleged Lack of Clarity In Its License
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses an interesting case in which a Dallas teen is suing Virgin Mobile America for using her photo in a cellphone ad without her permission. The photo had been posted on the photo-sharing site Flickr under a Creative Commons license. However, as Ramasastry points out, the photographer who agreed to the license could not waive the teen's right against commercial appropriation of her image. Ramasastry thus deems the teen's suit against Virgin Mobile strong, but also deems her suit against Creative Commons weak.
Thursday, Oct. 25, 2007
Outlawing Employer Requirements that Workers Get RFID Chip Implants: Why it's the Right Thing for States to Do, Although Current Statutes May Need Refinement
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a recently-enacted California law prohibiting employers from forcing their employees to have Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) chips implanted under their skin. Ramasastry argues that the law is both necessary and the right policy choice, and that other states should follow suit. Responding to libertarian arguments that employees should be allowed to contractually agree to accept RFID chips, Ramasastry contends that, under the circumstances, employees' choice is likely to be far from voluntary.
Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2007
Should Cellphone Companies Be Able to Censor the Messages We Send? The Verizon/NARAL Controversy
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the recent controversy over Verizon's decision to block pro-choice group NARAL from reaching Verizon subscribers who had specifically asked to receive NARAL's text messages, and the Verizon policy under which that decision was made. Ramasastry explains why, under current federal law, what Verizon did is not prohibited. However, she also argues that federal law should be extended to prohibit content-based and viewpoint-based censorship like Verizon's.
Thursday, Oct. 11, 2007
Can an Internet Service Provider Legally Terminate Service to a Bandwidth Hog? Yes, But Companies Need to Be Clearer in their Terms of Service About When and Why
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry considers the legality of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) deciding to do what Comcast did recently: terminate users deemed to be "bandwidth hogs." Ramasastry notes that such terminations are themselves legal, when covered by the company's Terms of Service. However, she predicts that courts may read reasonableness limitations into Terms of Service, regarding the number of days' notice customers must be given before they are terminated, and the degree of information customers must be given regarding precise what counts as being a bandwidth hog in the ISP's eyes. Nevertheless, Ramasastry predicts this issue will be solved through market differentiation, not litigation.
Wednesday, Sep. 19, 2007
A Federal Court's Preliminary Injunction Bans a Kingpin Spammer from MySpace: Why the Court's Ruling Was Correct
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses an L.A.-based federal judge's recent decision to preliminarily enjoin spammer "Spamford" Wallace from continuing to send unsolicited commerical email to MySpace users. At issue was the applicability of the federal CAN SPAM Act to messages sent internally among users on a particular site. Ramasastry contends that the judge made the correct decision, and notes that a high-dollar settlement in another, similar case involving MySpace should also lead spammers to beware.
Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2007
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Rightly Holds that Existing Customers Must be Notified When a Company Changes Their Contract Terms
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry weighs in on a significant decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit regarding contract law and consumers' rights. As Ramasastry explains, the Ninth Circuit applied black-letter contract law to hold that a company cannot unilaterally change a contract with customers, while providing no notice of the change other than by posting the revised contract on its website. Ramasastry points out, however, that the court did not reach several other questions -- such as precisely what is sufficient, in terms of notice and customer acceptance, for such changes to be valid.
Thursday, Aug. 09, 2007
Will Parental Age-Verification Keep Teens Safe on Networking Sites? Why the Answer is No
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the proposal by a group of state attorneys general -- in the wake of MySpace's revelation that its profiles included those of a shocking 29,000 sex offenders -- to require sites like MySpace to gain parent consent before hosting young people's profiles, and to verify the parents' age and identity. Ramasastry discusses the proposal against the backdrop of other relevant federal and state laws, and considers the various ways that the verification requirements might be circumvented.
Thursday, Jul. 26, 2007
The FBI STAR Terrorist Risk Assessment Program Should Raise Renewed Concerns about Private Sector Data Mining
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry describes the FBI's STAR program, which was the subject of a recent Justice Department report to Congress. The program's purpose is to assign risk scores to possible foreign terrorism suspects and their suspected U.S. associates, using computer algorithms that draw on a vast database of information. Ramasastry isolates two potential problems with the program: It will rely on private-sector data that may contain inaccuracies, and it may threaten individual privacy by allowing searches that collect private information, yet are not deemed to fall within the Fourth Amendment's reach.
Tuesday, Jul. 24, 2007
An Oregon Woman's Lawsuit against the RIAA, Alleging Racketeering and Malicious Prosecution: Why It Is Unlikely to Succeed
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a RICO/malicious prosecution case brought against the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) by an Oregon woman, Tanya Andersen, who says the RIAA wrongly accused her of, and sued her for, illegally sharing copyrighted music files. (The RIAA had previously dropped its file-sharing suit against Andersen, and she may be entitled to attorneys' fees as a result.) Andersen claims that the RIAA proceeded with its suit despite clear evidence that she was innocent -- and even tried to question her then-seven-year-old daughter without contacting her first. In particular, Andersen says she found the real culprit on MySpace, using his Kazaa nickname, and alerted the RIAA; and that she offered to show the RIAA records of her prior music purchases showing she favors country music and soft rock, not the hardcore gangster rap the RIAA said she illegally traded.
Thursday, Jun. 28, 2007
Cybertattling: Should It Continue to Be Legal for People to Report Bad Driving and Other Rude Behavior Online?
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the recent phenomenon of "cybertattling" websites designed to identify bad drivers. On the sites, users tell stories of dangerous driving, post license plate numbers, and sometimes post other identifying details as well. Ramasastry points out that such sites raise two potential issues -- regarding the privacy of one's daily travels, and regarding potential inaccuracies in the information posted -- and explains why, nonetheless, the sites are perfectly legal. She also notes that there is a risk insurance companies may begin to rely on information from such sites, without proper checks for accuracy.
Thursday, Jun. 14, 2007
Is it a Crime to Prescribe Medication in Cyberspace? A California Court Says It May Be, If the Prescriber Is Not Licensed by the Relevant State, and Has Not Met His Patient
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a recent California appellate decision that affirmed a California state court's right to assert jurisdiction in a criminal case over a Colorado doctor. California prosecutors charged that the doctor, without a California license, prescribed Prozac to a California man whom he'd never met, through an online pharmacy that only required that the California man fill out a form to report his medical history; the man subsequently died, with the Prozac in his system. Although the Colorado man never travelled to California, the court held jurisdiction existed because agents acting on his behalf sent the Prozac to an address in California. Ramasastry discusses observers' critiques of the court's approach, and proposed Congressional legislation that would regulate online pharmacies.
Thursday, May. 24, 2007
Must Zillow, the Online Home Price Estimator, Be Licensed as a Real Estate Appraiser in Arizona? Why The State Bill Making Clear that the Answer is No Should Become Law
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry argues that Arizona is making a mistake in moving aggressively against the online home price estimator Zillow, by informing Zillow that it cannot continue to provide its "Zestimates" to state residents without procuring a real-estate appraisers' license. Ramasastry contends that the Zestimate -- which is accompanied by clear caveats -- should not be conflated by authorities with a real-estate appraisal, and that the bill pending in the Arizona state legislature that would make clear the difference between the two, and stop the state from proceeding against Zillow under criminal or civil law, should be passed and signed.
Wednesday, May. 09, 2007
Can Universities Take Adverse Actions Against Students Based on Their MySpace Profiles? It Depends In Part on Whether the University Followed its Own Code of Conduct
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the issue of whether public high schools and universities can legally punish their students based solely on the material included in their MySpace profiles. Ramasastry focuses, in particular, on a recent case from Pennsylvania in which a student at Millersville University, despite completing student-teacher training and other requirements, was denied her Education degree on the ground that she had posted an inappropriate photo (depicting her drinking what the caption suggested was alcohol) on her MySpace profile.
Friday, May. 04, 2007
When Hollywood Meets Bollywood: Why Richard Gere is in Legal Trouble in India over a Kiss
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry dicusses the legal actions filed in India on the theory that Hollywood actor Richard Gere's planting kisses on Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty was "an obscene act." Ramasastry puts the suits in context, noting similar recent suits against Bollywood stars for public kisses; explains the history and current state of Indian film censorship; and explains how Bollywood directors have cleverly responded to the public kissing ban.
Wednesday, Apr. 25, 2007
Could Second Life Be In Serious Trouble? The Risk of Real-Life Legal Consequences for Hosting Virtual Gambling
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry considers whether the virtual reality site Second Life might be violating the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) -- which forbids banks and other entities from processing payments for Internet gambling transactions. When Second Life's "Linden dollars" are used in a virtual casino within Second Life, and later exchanged for U.S. dollars, has Second Life aided and abetted a UIGEA violation by the virtual casino operator? Ramasastry considers the specific language of the statute in assessing the risk to Second Life.
Wednesday, Apr. 11, 2007
Why the New Department of Homeland Security REAL ID Act Regulations are Unrealistic: Risks of Privacy and Security Violations and Identity Theft Remain, and Burdens on the States Are Too Severe
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the Department of Homeland Security's proposed regulations implementing the REAL ID Act -- which establishes standards for state verification of information provided to obtain drivers' licenses and non-driver identification cards. Ramasastry argues that the proposed regulations should not become final without significant changes that would better protect privacy, better prevent identity theft, and lessen the already-heavy financial burden the REAL ID Act places on the states.
Friday, Apr. 06, 2007
Why the ADVISE Data-Mining Program May be Very Ill-Advised: Reports of Likely Privacy Violations Point to the Need to Mandate Specific Privacy Safeguards
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry argues that Congress needs to take a close look at the Department of Homeland Security's new data-mining program -- Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE) -- which may go into effect as early as 2008. Ramasastry explains why ADVISE sounds a great deal like the junked Total Information Awareness (TIA) program, and has many of TIA's flaws. She argues that, especially in lights of reports that even the testing of ADVISE violated privacy laws, ADVISE's consequences for privacy cannot be ignored.
Thursday, Mar. 08, 2007
The New DHS/TSA Traveler Redress Inquiry Program: Why the System, Though More Efficient, Still Does Not Accord Travelers Sufficient Due Process
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the Department of Homeland Security's new Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP). The program centralizes within a single office the task of redressing complaints from travelers who say they were wrongly placed on the no-fly or selectee lists, or wrongly stopped at the Canada or Mexico border. Ramasastry argues that while centralization is a positive step, the program will never be truly effective until travelers are allowed to examine the underlying data based on which they have been put on the lists -- and to specifically rebut the data if they are wrongfully listed. Toward this end, Ramasastry contends Privacy Act protections should apply here.
Thursday, Feb. 15, 2007
Should MySpace Be Required to Bar Users Under Age Sixteen?
State Attorneys General Say Yes, But This Solution Will Be Ineffective, and Others Will Work Much Better
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry evaluates the demands by a group of thirty-three State Attorneys General that the social networking website MySpace must change its access rules. The demands come in the wake of instances where parents say their teens were victimized by perpetrators they met on MySpace. Ramasastry argues against one of the AGs' suggested remedies -- raising the MySpace age limit to 16 -- on the ground that it will only drive younger teens to sites with laxer rules, that are thus more dangerous. But she contends the AGs have a good point with respect to needed improvements in MySpace's age verification system -- especially relating to the issue of adults posing as minors.
Friday, Jan. 26, 2007
Technology Addiction Lawsuits: Will they Succeed?
Until There is a Clear Answer, Employers Need to Take Steps to Prevent Employees from Misusing or Overusing the Internet
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the argument that Internet addiction could someday -- or even today -- be covered as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Ramasastry suggests the current ADA risk is modest for companies who fire employees for using the Internet for prohibited purposes, or too frequently for personal purposes. However, she notes companies are still wise to act proactively to protect themselves from a risk that does exist, and might grow.
Tuesday, Jan. 09, 2007
A Website Claims It is Publishing the Names of Confidential Informants and Undercover Government Agents: Why It's Legal For It to Do So
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry assesses the legality of a new website called Whosarat.com, which asks users to post information about those whom they believe are government informants or undercover agents. The sites states that its purpose is to help criminal defendants and their attorneys. But some have criticized it due to its potential to help those who seek to retaliate against informants and/or agents, or to avoid being caught for their crimes by agents, or inculpated by informants. Ramasastry explains why the First Amendment provides a strong defense for the site.
Thursday, Dec. 21, 2006
Homeland Security's Automated Program of Risk Assessments for Travelers: Why It Fails to Sufficiently Protect Individual Privacy
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the newly-disclosed system that the Department of Homeland Security has been using, apparently for over four years, to create risk-assessments for those who travel into and out of the U.S. Ramasastry notes that these assessments may be triggered by innocent actions (like ordering a special meal); that errors in them are essentially impossible to correct; and that they may result in travellers being subjected to invasive searches, or even told they cannot fly. Ramasastry argues that the program needs an error-correction mechanism, and should fall under the scope of the federal Privacy Act.
Thursday, Dec. 07, 2006
Is Craiglist.com Responsible for Discriminatory Rental Ads Posted on its Websites? A Recent Federal Court Ruling Correctly Says No
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry argues that the federal judge who recently dismissed the Fair Housing Act (FHA) lawsuit against Craigslist.com did the right thing -- because pursuant to an immunity created by the Communications Decency Act, Craigslist should not be considered the publisher of discriminatory housing ads its users post. Ramasastry notes that Craigslist has a system in place by which users can flag discriminatory postings for removal.
Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2006
Do Zillow.com's Web Property Estimates Violate Federal Consumer Laws?
Why the Site Is Wise To Add Disclaimers to Its Home Valuations
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the complaint now before the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) concerning Zillow.com, which offers free estimates of the value of real estate to potential buyers (even if homes are not on the market). The complaint takes issue with the accuracy of Zillow's estimates -- arguing, among other points, that they unfairly overvalue property in high-income and mostly-white neighborhoods, while unfairly undervaluing property in low-income and mostly-minority neighborhoods. Pointing out that Zillow itself offers disclaimers that caution users to supplement the use of its "Zestimator" with other data -- including actual appraisals -- Ramasastry argues that there is no reason for the FTC to shut down Zillow, as the complaint requests.
Monday, Nov. 13, 2006
The New Federal Law Banning Payments for Online Gambling: Why It's the Wrong Choice
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act (UIGA), which President Bush is expected to sign into law this week. Ramasastry argues that the bill -- meant to make laws against Internet gambling enforceable -- is seriously weakened by its exemption for a number of subsets of Internet gambling. She also points out that the U.S.'s double standard for international and domestic gambling may mean it will suffer repercussions from the World Trade Organization and the European Union.
Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2006
Does the Americans with Disabilities Act Require that Commercial Websites Be Accessible to the Blind?
A Recent Court Ruling Suggests the Answer Is Yes, But Only for Certain Sites
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discussing the significant recent ruling by Northern California U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel allowing a suit to be brought against Target under the Americans with Disabilities Act, arguing that Target.com is not sufficiently accessible to the visually-impaired. Ramasastry argues that Patel's decision was the right one, but notes that, due to its interpretation of the ADA, it does not apply to web-only stores, but only to stores like Target that have brick-and-mortar presences. Ramasastry argues the ADA should be expanded to cover web-only stores too.
Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006
Legislating Love Online: Should States Mandate That Online Dating Sites Do Criminal Background Checks of their Users?
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasasty considers the legislative proposals that have been made in several states to force online dating sites to do criminal background checks on their users. Ramasastry argues that, while such laws may initially seem to be a good idea, they are actually quite problematic from both a policy, and a First Amendment, standpoint.
Thursday, Sep. 28, 2006
Boardroom Hijinks May Lead to Serious Liability: The Recent Hewlett-Packard Pretexting Scandal and its Legal Implications
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the legal context over the Hewlett-Packard "pretexting" scandal -- in which the CEO hired investigators to look into apparent insider board member leaks to the press, and as a result, phone records of both board members and journalists were obtained through deception and without authorization. Ramasastry explains the federal and state laws that currently may apply, and argues that it's time for a new federal law that creates a civil action for those whose privacy is violated as a result of "pretexting."
Thursday, Sep. 14, 2006
The Court-Ordered Internet Auction of the Unabomber's "Murderabilia": Why, Though It May Be Tasteless, It's Perfectly Legal
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry explains why the court-ordered Internet auction of "murderbilia" of "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski -- not including his bomb manuals, but including his other writings -- is perfectly legal. Ramasastry also explores a hypothetical question: What if it had been Kaczysnski, not the court, who was holding the sale, for his own profit? Would that still be legal? (The court-ordered sale proceeds will go toward satisfying the restitution order on behalf of Kaczynski's victims.)
Monday, Aug. 28, 2006
Privacy and Search Engine Data: A Recent AOL Research Project Has Perilous Consequences for Subscribers
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the recent disclosure by AOL of hundreds of thousands of its users' search requests. Ramasastry explains why, though the data was anonymized, the requests could still be matched to individuals, and puts the disclosure in legal context -- including the context of two FCC complaints and their allegation that AOL's claiming to maintain user privacy, yet disclosing the search requests, constitutes an illegal trade practice.
Monday, Aug. 21, 2006
Why the Delete Online Predators Act Won't Delete Predatory Behavior:
Requiring Libraries and Schools to Block Access to Sites like MySpace.com and FaceBook.com Isn't the Best Option To Solve the Problem
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry assesses legislation recently passed by the House that would attempt to address the problem of online predators who target minors via social networking sites like MySpace.com. Ramasastry argues that the legislation -- the Delete Online Predators Act (DOPA) -- not only won't do much to combat online predators, but may create a false sense of security. She urges that direct measures to target predators, and education to make teens wary, are better uses of our resources.
Monday, Aug. 07, 2006
Is it Legal to Teach a Course on Computer Hacking?
In the United States, the Answer is Yes, Unless There is Specific Knowledge and Intention as to Crimes, And Unless Terrorism Is Abetted
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses how a university course on computer hacking -- a reality in Scotland -- would be treated under the law of the United States. Ramasastry draws on a key precedent involving how-to manuals for crime in explaining what kind of activity related to crime is beyond the First Amendment's protections. She also notes how special statutes related to terrorism make the legal issue somewhat different in that context.
Monday, Jul. 24, 2006
Risky Business? How Multinationals' Outsourcing Involving Customer Data Can Lead to Identity Theft and Other Fraud
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry considers possible solutions to the problem of identity theft stemming from the outsourcing of multinationals' data to other countries. Ramasastry explains the current, limited legal protections for data; surveys what Congress could do in this area; and concludes that while Congress should study its options, the best solution may be self-regulation, in the form of industry organizations that can verify compliance with standards for security in outsourcing data.
Monday, Jul. 10, 2006
The Treasury Department's Secret Monitoring of International Funds Transfers: Why It Is Probably Legal, At Least in the United States
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses legal issues surrounding the recently-revealed Treasury Department/CIA program of monitoring international funds transfers relating to suspected terrorist activity. Ramasastry describes how the program works, and explains why -- in contrast to the NSA wiretapping program -- it will very likely be deemed constitutional and consistent with federal statutes. However, she also notes that its legality under foreign and international law remains unclear.
Friday, Jul. 07, 2006
A Fourteen-Year-Old Girl's Suit Against MySpace: Should Networking Sites Be Legally Responsible for Protecting Teens from Harmful Real-World Conduct?
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a recent suit filed on behalf of a fourteen-year-old girl who alleges she suffered a sexual assault by an adult she met on MySpace; she is suing both the adult and the site. Ramasastry explains why federal law offers the girl no civil claim, and may even protect MySpace, and considers whether, under state law, the girl's claims for fraud and negligence against MySpace may succeed.
Monday, Jun. 26, 2006
Stolen Laptops and Data Theft: Why the Privacy Act Lawsuit against the Veteran's Administration May Succeed, and Why We Need Similar Remedies in the Private Sector
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the Privacy Act class action lawsuit that has been filed as a result of a Veteran's Administration (VA) breach of data -- including Social Security numbers -- relating to 26.5 million veterans. Ramasastry suggests that the suit's chances are good -- and argues that it's time for a counterpart of the Privacy Act that would apply to private sector companies in the same way the Privacy Act does to federal government agencies like the VA.
Thursday, Jun. 15, 2006
How 26.5 Million Veterans Were Put At Risk of Identify Theft, and Why Credit Freeze Laws Are Needed to Protect Future Victi
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a recent instance in which a slipup by a Veteran's Administration employee led to the theft of electronic files containing the Social Security numbers of 26.5 million veterans. With the VA currently unable or unwilling to tell veterans whether their Social Security numbers were contained in the stolen files, or to provide free credit monitoring, and with other federal agencies' computer security report cards just as bad as the VA's, Ramasastry argues that it's high time for Congress to enact a federal law to protect those who become victims, or potential victims, of identity theft as a result of agency negligence.
Wednesday, May. 31, 2006
The Recent Revelations About the NSA's Access to Our Phone Records: The Laws that Were Probably Broken, and the Likely Consequences
FindLaw guest columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the recent revelation that the NSA has not only been wiretapping without warrants, but also has constructed a huge database of over ten million Americans' phone-log information, provided by three companies, AT&T, Verizon, and Bell South. Ramasastry argues that the companies may well have violated the federal Stored Communications Act, and that not only the two pending lawsuits, but also Congressional hearings are needed to inform the public about the situation, and address the apparent lawbreaking.
Monday, May. 15, 2006
Can Schools Punish Students for Posting Offensive Content on MySpace and Similar Sites? Often, the Answer Is No, Unless The Posting Materially Disrupts School Activities
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the legal aspects of the controversial social networking websites, such as Myspace.com and Facebook.com, to which high school and college students have been flocking. Ramasastry focuses, in particular, on the question of whether student speech on websites can be censored or punished when it upsets or targets other students, faculty, or school administrators -- canvassing relevant Supreme Court precedent as well as particular recent clashes between schools and students.
Monday, May. 01, 2006
Can States Legally Put Residents' Social Security Numbers and Other Identifying Data Online? The Troubling Answer Is That They Can, and Do
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses how states have often failed to update their public-records laws to account for the realities of the Internet age. Ramasastry argues that, given the ability of identity thieves and others to quickly search online public-records databases, states and their court systems should adopt laws and policies that mean that sensitive personal data is redacted from documents before they appear online. She also discusses several state cases in which plaintiffs have taken the stance that their private information ought to stay private.
Monday, Apr. 17, 2006
Is Your Tax Return Information For Sale?
A Proposed IRS Rule Highlights An Existing Practice and a Possible Expansion
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a proposed change in the law regarding the sale of taxpayers' information by their tax preparers to virtually any third party. The IRS contends that this sale is already legal, but consumer advocates disagree. Taxpayers will have to consent in writing when their information is sold, but will that consent be truly voluntary and informed? Ramasastry considers why it might not be, and warns that we need to be careful when personal financial information -- the kind that can enable identity theft -- may flood into the open market.
Monday, Apr. 03, 2006
Debit Card Debacles: Why Consumers Need to Worry About the Recent, Massive Wave of Debit Card Fraud,
And What Legal and Technological Protections Can Prevent Future Harm
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the legal and technological context for the recent wave of debit card fraud -- reportedly affecting more than 600,000 cards. Ramasastry raises, and suggests answers to, a number of questions: How did this fraud occur when the cards were PIN-protected? Are cardholders legally protected -- or protected by issuers' policies? Should legal protections be increased? And should the U.S. consider switching to more secure European-style debit cards?
Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2006
Data Insecurity: What Remedy Should Consumers Have When Companies Do Not Keep Their Data Safe?
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a recent class action alleging that Providence Healthcare Systems' negligence led to a serious breach of security with respect to patients' sensitive personal and medical data -- and that the breach led to identity theft for some, and the risk of identity theft for others. Ramasastry notes that while, in this case, the company has already offered some of the remedies the suits seeks, such suits may generally face stumbling blocks unless specific legislation addressing data security issues is passed on the state and/or federal levels. Ramasastry also sketches what such laws ought to look like.
Monday, Mar. 06, 2006
The Class Action Against Netflix: Challenging the Practice of "Throttling," Under Which Not All Customers Are Equal
With the class action against DVD rental site Netflix reaching settlement this month, FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the basis for the suit, as well as its aftermath. Ramasastry argues that this may have been a case where the class action wasn't the best vehicle to prompt a needed change: Netflix's disclosure that it gives frequent users lesser priority when it comes to receiving popular DVDs, and when it comes to the speed with which it mails out DVDs to users.
Friday, Feb. 24, 2006
Whose Credit Report is it, Anyway? It's Time for States to Pass Credit Freeze Laws that Give Consumers Control Over their Credit Profiles
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discuss the new "credit freeze" laws that are being considered (or, in a few cases, have already been passed) in over half the states. Ramasastry argues in favor of the laws -- which allow identity theft victims (and in some case, those who suspect, based on theft of information or documents, that they will soon become identity theft victims) to put a "freeze" on any further credit activity. She also contends that one issue critics have raised about the laws -- the freeze can take too long to lift, inconveniencing the consumer and causing lost sales -- can be addressed by states' experimenting with different procedures.
Monday, Feb. 06, 2006
The Lawsuits over James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces": Although the Author Has Conceded Fabrication, The Suits Should be Dismissed
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the lawsuits that have been spawned by the controversy over James Frey's book "A Million Little Pieces" -- described by the publisher as memoir, but now revealed to have been fictional in substantial ways. Ramasastry assesses not only the legal merits of the suits, but also their First Amendment implications -- and argues that they should be dismissed, but that the publisher should offer a refund to readers who seek one.
Thursday, Feb. 02, 2006
It's Time for Congress to Prohibit and Criminally Punish the Sale of our Cell Phone Records: "Pretexting" for Phone Numbers is a Serious Privacy Violation
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the pernicious problem of persons accessing other persons' cell phone records without authorization, by buying the records from a company that calls itself an "information broker" or "people locator." Ramasastry covers how the companies get the records, how the records can be used to harm the cell phone user, and what the legal options are for punishing the fraud used to get the records, and the records' subsequent sale.
Monday, Jan. 23, 2006
The National Security Letter Provision of the USA Patriot Act: Why It Ought to Be Amended during the Reauthorization Debates
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses Congress' proposed amendments to the National Security Letter (NSL) provisions of the USA Patriot Act. These provisions currently allow the FBI to compel businesses -- including Internet Service Providers -- to give anyone's customer records as long as it vouches that they could be relevant to a terrorism or espionage investigation. Ramasastry contends that, in addition to the already-proposed amendments to the NSL provisions, Congress should also requires that the records sought by the NSL be linked, through individualized suspicion, to a terrorist, spy or other foreign agent.
Monday, Jan. 09, 2006
Should the USA Patriot Act Be Reauthorized?
Why the Current Proposal on Section 215, the Business Records Provision, Still Falls Short
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a key USA Patriot Act provision -- Section 215, which covers requests for business records -- that Congress will soon decide how to amend. While Ramasastry agrees with many of the proposed amendments, she argues that they don't go far enough -- and that Section 215 should be limited to requests for records of persons linked to particular suspected terrorism activity; currently, it allows requests for any record that can be connected to a terrorism investigation.
Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2005
Is an Online Encyclopedia, Such as Wikipedia, Immune From Libel Suits?
Under Current Law, the Answer Is Most Likely Yes, But that Law Should Change
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry examines one potential application of the federal statute that protects many hosts of online speech from defamation liability -- discussing whether the statute applies to render the online interactive encyclopedia Wikipedia immune from liability. Ramasastry focuses on a recent, infamous case in which a scholar was falsely accused, in a Wikipedia entry, of being connected to the RFK and JFK assassinations.
Monday, Dec. 12, 2005
Printers and Privacy: Why Government-Sponsored Printer Identification Raises Serious Privacy Concerns
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses recent reports that -- in an effort to catch counterfeiters -- the government has, for decades, been successfully pressuring color printer manufacturers like Xerox and Canon to include software that puts, on each page printed, an invisible-to-the-naked-eye set of dots. Once magnified and unencoded, the dots reveal to the reader the identity of the printer, which can then be matched with customer records to reveal the identity of the person owning the printer. Ramasastry considers the First Amendment and privacy implications of this program, and suggests how Congress could safeguard these rights.
Monday, Nov. 14, 2005
Every Move You Make, Part Three: Why Law Enforcement Should Have to Get a Warrant Before Tracking Us Via our Cell Phones
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses an issue on which courts have divided: Are a showing of probable cause and a warrant necessary when government surveillance allows tracking, via "cell site data" gathered from cell phone networks, of a person's movements? Ramasastry argues that two judges, in Texas and New York, who said yes, got it right -- and contends that, to clarify the law, Congress ought to pass a statute saying that probable cause is required to collect this type of data.
Thursday, Nov. 10, 2005
Tracking Every Move You Make, Part Two:
Government Monitoring of Drivers' Cell Phones Raises Some Privacy Concerns that Can Be Easily Mitigated
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a type of monitoring planned to be used by Missouri, as well as some other states. It involves tracking drivers' movements using their cellphones' distance from various cell phone towers, and its purpose, the Missouri Department of Transportation says, is to ameliorate traffic congestion. MDOT says the information will be kept anonymous, but should privacy advocates still be worried? And is San Francisco's system based on toll booth e-passes a better one from a privacy standpoint? Ramasastry comments.
Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2005
Assessing Anti-Price-Gouging Statutes In The Wake of Hurricane Katrina:
Why They're Necessary in Emergencies, But Need to Be Rewritten
With a number of states not directly affected by Hurricane Katrina nevertheless taking action against alleged gas-price-gouging in its wake, FindLaw columnist and U. Washington professor Anita Ramasastry questions whether anti-price-gouging statutes are too broad. Ramasastry reviews different states' approaches to price-gouging, considers the costs and benefits of allowing prices to rise dramatically in emergencies, and suggests how state anti-price-gouging statutes should be revised to maximize benefits, and reduce costs.
Friday, Sep. 16, 2005
Tracking Every Move You Make: Can Car Rental Companies Use Technology to Monitor Our Driving?
A Connecticut Court’s Ruling Highlights an Important Question
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses how private companies have used -- and may misuse -- information from GPS systems in rental cars. Ramasastry focuses on a Connecticut case in which the state's Supreme Court evaluated a rental car company's contractual "wear and tear" charge of $150 -- incurred by the driver every time that, according to GPS data, a car was driven at 80 miles or more an hour, for two minutes or more. The Court found that the charge was not reasonable, in light of the much lower actual cost of the wear and tear on the car. Ramasastry also considers the possibility that GPS-related information may be used not only to overcharge customers, but also to infringe privacy by tracking customer movements.
Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2005
Why the "Real ID" Act, Which Requires National Identity Cards, is a Real Mess
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry explains how the Real ID Act -- which requires states to aid the federal government by implementing a national identity card scheme -- was passed "under the radar." Ramasastry suggests a number of amendments to the Act that would help protect privacy, and in some cases, potentially avoid violence.
Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2005
Secure Flight Is Set to Take Off, But Will our Data Be Secure? :
GAO Reports Correctly Highlight Weaknesses in The Proposed System
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry offers a guide to the problems still plaguing the Secure Flight program -- the Transportation Security Administration's most recent bid at making airline flight safer via watchlists. Ramasastry draws on two recent reports by the GAO -- the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative body to raise concerns that Secure Flight may neither protect security, no4 preserve passenger privacy.
Tuesday, Jul. 26, 2005
Do Banks and Other Businesses Have a Duty to Notify Customers of Computer Security Breaches?
A Recent California Suit, and a Possible Federal Law
With over million credit card numbers stolen -- along with accompanying bank names, transaction information, magnetic-stripe data, and other information -- should the credit cards issuers and processors immediately notify the affected consumers, and offer them new cards? Or can they wait until unauthorized purchases are made? FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry argues that the answer should be yes -- and explains how a California lawsuit and several proposals currently in Congress are trying to achieve this goal.
Wednesday, Jul. 13, 2005
Websites That Charge Different Customers Different Prices:
Is Their "Price Customization" Illegal? Should It Be?
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the legality of websites' charging different customers, different prices based of individualized profiles of their spending habits and price tolerance. Drawing on a recent report on the topic, Ramasastry notes that most customers believe such practices are illegal, but -- analyzing relevant law -- she concludes that they often are not. Ramasastry argues that the best remedy is a disclosure regime to out those sites that engages in these practices, and allow customers to decline to patronize them, if they object to "customized" pricing.
Monday, Jun. 20, 2005
The Proposal to Reauthorize and Expand Parts of the USA PATRIOT Act: Why It's Unnecessary and, In Some Respects, Dangerous
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry offers a critique of the PATRIOT Reauthorization Act (PAREA) -- which is currently being considered by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Ramasastry argues that the provisions being renewed trample on Fourth Amendment and privacy rights, and thus should not be made permanent, as PAREA would do, without substantial modification. She notes the provisions' tendency to replace evaluation of subpoenas and warrants by judges, with a simply vouch by an executive branch official -- and takes issue with the new PAREA provision that would add to the PATRIOT Act by expanding the government's power to secretly - and without getting a court's approval - demand people's private records, even though they aren't suspected of terrorist acts.
Tuesday, May. 31, 2005
Can We Stop Zabasearch -- and Similar Personal Information Search Engines?: When Data Democratization Verges on Privacy Invasion
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses Zabasearch.com -- a new search engine that allows the searcher to find a person's phone numbers (even unlisted ones) and addresses going back up to ten years, and to click to see satellite photos of the person's house. Even some celebrities and public figures' information can be found. Ramasastry explains why the search engine is legal -- but considers whether, and how, sites like this ought to be regulated to preserve privacy.
Thursday, May. 12, 2005
The Important But Flawed USA Patriot Act: Why Congress Should Allow Certain Provisions to Expire This Year
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry pinpoints several USA Patriot Act provisions that, she argues, ought to be either substantially amended, or allowed to expire naturally at the end of this year, pursuant to the Act's sunset provision. The provisions with which Ramasastry takes particular issue are Section 218, which broadened the government's ability to conduct surveillance connected to intelligence-gathering so that even domestic crimes can be investigated without Fourth Amendment compliant; and Section 215, which broadened the government's power to subpoena materials that trigger free speech, privacy, and religious freedom concerns. Ramasastry also covers a leading proposal, the Security and Freedom Enhancement (SAFE) Act, that would address some of the problems she raises with the Patriot Act as it currently exists.
Wednesday, Apr. 20, 2005
Stopping Banks from Hiding Human Rights Abusers' Money:
A Recent Settlement by Riggs Bank Highlights the Issue
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses some of the legal mechanisms that can be used to try to stop banks from hiding human rights' abusers money -- money that rightfully should belong to their victims. Ramasastry explains the role of Spanish criminal law, the U.S.'s Alien Tort Claims Act, and the International Criminal Court. In doing so, she covers cases involving, among others, victims of former dictators Augusto Pinochet and Ferdinand Marcos.
Monday, Apr. 04, 2005
Do Banks Have a Legal Duty to Notify Customers About Specific Computer Viruses?
A Miami Suit Raises the Question
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses an interesting Miami case in which a bank customer is seeking to recover from his bank an amount in excess of $90,000 which appears to have been stolen by hackers. As Ramasastry explains, the theft seems to have been made possible by a "coreflood" computer virus that resided on the customer's personal computer system -- raising the issue of whether the bank should be held responsible, given that its own computer system was not compromised.
Thursday, Feb. 10, 2005
Why A Utah Court Was Right to Hold That, Under Utah Law, Pop-up Ads Are Not "Spam"
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a recent, important Utah appellate decision holding that pop-up ads do not count as spam for the purposes of Utah's now-repealed anti-spam law. As Ramasastry explains, though the Utah Act is no longer on the books, the questions of how to regulate pop-up ads, and of whether, in particular, they should be treated like spam, still remain.
Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2005
In Virginia, Ohio, and Maryland, Kingpin Spammers Go to the Slammer:
State Laws Rightly Criminalize Fraudulent Bulk Spamming
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses both federal and state anti-spam laws -- with a focus on Ohio's new bill, soon to become law, and Virginia's pathbreaking law, now the source of several prosecutions in that state. Ramasastry sketches the statutes' reach, and their limitations, and argues that all the other states should follow the lead of Virginia, Ohio and Maryland, in going after spammers with both criminal and civil penalties.
Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2004
Privacy, Piracy and Due Process in Peer-to-Peer File Swapping Suits:
A Federal District Court Strikes a Good Balance
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a recent ruling in the ongoing battle between the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and online peer-to-peer file swappers and downloaders. As Ramasastry explains, a Pennsylvania federal district court held that Internet users must be give notice, and a chance to respond, before their ISPs comply with RIAA subpoenas to reveal the names connected with their IP addresses. Ramasastry discusses how this ruling combines with a prior, important D.C. Circuit ruling to change the rules in RIAA/downloader clashes.
Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2004
Why the Court Was Right to Declare a USA Patriot Act Provision Dealing with National Security Letter Procedures Unconstitutional
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the historic first judicial decision to strike down part of the USA Patriot Act. As Ramasastry notes, the provision at issue involving the issuance of National Security Letters -- subpoenas signed by FBI agents but not reviewed by a judge -- to Internet Service Providers and email service providers. Ramasastry argues that the judge was correct to enjoin the issuance of NSLs in his district, on the ground that the provision violates both the First and Fourth Amendments.
Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2004
As the November Election Draws Near, Congress Should Require That Electronic Votes Leave a Paper Trail
Using a recent Maryland case as her starting point, FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry examines the perils -- in practice and in theory -- of electronic voting. As she explains, while California and Ohio will keep paper receipts of e-votes, other states, such as Maryland, will not -- and even California and Ohio's programs do not take effect until 2006. In light of this situation, Ramasastry argues that Congress should require each state to keep paper receipts in November's election -- to avoid computer bugs, fraud, and hacking.
Tuesday, Sep. 28, 2004
The Proposed Federal E-Discovery Rules:
While Trying to Add Clarity, the Rules Still Leave Uncertainty
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the proposed new amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that would more specifically address issues of e-discovery -- that is, of the exchange of information during civil litigation, when the information exchanged takes the form of electronic data. Ramasastry explains how e-discovery differs from traditional discovery of paper documents -- and critiques the way the proposed new rules address these differences.
Wednesday, Sep. 15, 2004
Are the Law's Lessons Also Life Lessons?:
A Review of Winning Every Time: How to Use the Skills of a Lawyer in the Trials of Your Life
FindLaw book reviewer and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry assesses a new self-help book by attorney and Fox News and NPR legal analyst Lis Wiehl. In the book, Wiehl contends that legal strategies can work outside the law, too. As Ramasastry explains, Wiehl offers an eight-step approach to winning arguments, that is drawn from the approaches lawyers use to win court cases. Wiehl also provides practical applications of how these steps can be used in everyday life.
Friday, Aug. 27, 2004
The Anti-Phishing Act of 2004:
A Useful Tool Against Identity Theft
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry explores the current federal laws -- and the proposed new federal law -- that could be applied to address the phenomenon of "phishing." As Ramasastry explains, phishing is a particularly pernicious type of Internet identity theft scam --one that involves fraudulently copying legitimate businesses' emails and websites in an attempt to extract information from the business's customers on false pretenses.
Monday, Aug. 16, 2004
Do Stores That Offer Loyalty Cards Have a Duty to Notify Customers of Product Safety Recalls?
A Recent Suit Raises This Novel Question
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses an interesting new Washington state case that raises the issue of what duty a company has to warn its customers of known and certain risks as to the products it sells. The case arose when a Washington consumer discover that the ground beef she and her family had eaten, had been recalled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture because of the risk it might carry Mad Cow Disease. The consumer says the grocery store where she bought the meat should have warned her of the recall -- especially since, due to her "loyalty" card with the store, it had her name, address, and purchasing records on hand.
Thursday, Aug. 05, 2004
A Swiss Court Decides to Allow Gypsies' Holocaust Lawsuit to Proceed:
This Important Ruling Shows the U.S. Is Not the Only Forum For World War II Human Rights Claims
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a recent appellate ruling in a Swiss suit brought by five plaintiffs who are gypsies against IBM. The plaintiffs allege that IBM was complicit in Nazi conduct during World War II that resulted in their parents' deaths. IBM denies responsibility. Ramasastry explains the suit's significance -- not only in attempting to achieve reparations for gypsy Holocaust victims, but also in showing that U.S. courts is not the only possible forum for international human rights claims bassed on current and past conduct.
Thursday, Jul. 08, 2004
Can Utah's New Anti-Spyware Law Work?
Why the Law is More Promising than Some Critics Claim
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry describes both the advantages, and critiques, of Utah's new anti-spyware law. (As Ramasastry explains, spyware is "software that tracks a consumer's online activities, and uses the data it collects to choose targeted pop-up advertisements and other promotional messages, which are then displayed to the user.") In the end, Ramasastry contends, the law is a measured, reasonable response to a serious problem troubling both individuals and businesses.
Tuesday, Jun. 01, 2004
Is Being a Webmaster for Controversial Islamic Websites A Crime?
A USA Patriot Act Prosecution Raises the Issue
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a recent USA Patriot Act prosecution that raises constitutional issues. As Ramasastry explains, the Act expanded the definition of "conspiracy to support terrorism" to also encompass "expert advice or assistance." Did that give defendants sufficient notice that posting, or moderating a chat room that included, material advocating jihad could fall within the Act? And even if it did, what if that material was First Amendment-protected? Can helping with its posting or moderating it still be a crime?
Monday, May. 03, 2004
Can Suing -- Not Just Indicting -- Be a Weapon Against Terrorists?
A Review of Civil Litigation Against Terrorism
FindLaw book reviewer and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry assesses a recent collection of essays and other materials that address the question: Can U.S. civil lawsuits be a part of efforts against terrorism? Ramasastry surveys the current state of the law, as described in the essays, and explores the theoretical arguments made by Professor Ruth Wedgwood, and the collection's editor, Professor John Norton Moore.
Friday, Apr. 30, 2004
A New ACLU Lawsuit Challenges "No Fly" and "Selectee" List Procedures:
Do These Government Watch Lists Violate Due Process?
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a recently-filed ACLU lawsuit challenging the procedures by which government airline passenger watch lists -- both the "no fly" list, and the "selectee" list -- are administered. Ramasastry explains the procedural issues with respect to the current lists; discusses how they can be remedied, and notes that these issues, already affecting thousands, may affect even more given the number of other watch lists that exist, or will soon exist.
Tuesday, Apr. 13, 2004
A Death Knell for Airline Passenger Profiling?
Two Government Reports Highlight the Problems Plaguing CAPPS II
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses two reports that may well deal the final blow to the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System II (CAPPS II) -- at least as currently envisioned. CAPPS II attempts to both ensure that air passengers are who they say they are, and to divide them into categories of risk: "acceptable," "unacceptable," and "unknown." Ramasastry discusses privacy, effectiveness, and error correction, and other concerns raised by the two reports, which are authored by the GAO and the DHS, respectively.
Wednesday, Mar. 17, 2004
Can a City Require Surveillance Cameras in Cybercafes Without Violating the First Amendment?
A California Court Rules on the Issue
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses an California appeals court case that asked whether a city runs afoul of the First Amendment when it addresses gang-related violence by mandating that cybercafes install video cameras. Ramasastry argues that the dissenting judge was correct to insist that a cybercafe is more like a public library than like a retail store -- and that the First Amendment interests here are very important indeed. She also notes how the "digital divide" could intersect with the regulations to force those who cannot afford home computers to use the Internet only under surveillance.
Thursday, Feb. 19, 2004
The Safeguards Needed for Government Data Mining
The Department of Defense Inspector General's Recommendations, and Beyond
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the lessons of a recent report by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Defense relating to the now-junked Total Information Awareness "data mining" program. Ramasastry explains why the report's recommendations are still relevant, in light of other data mining government initiatives, and adds her own recommendations as to how data mining and privacy rights can be reconciled.
Wednesday, Jan. 07, 2004
Mad Cow in the USA
Why Additional Safeguards Must Be Added Very Soon To Bolster Trade and Protect Health
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry takes on some of the issues arising from the discovery of the U.S.'s first case of Mad Cow disease/BSE. Ramasastry discusses a 2002 government report that suggested that the current system for screening for Mad Cow disease is highly flawed; summarizes the report's recommendations; and argues that these and other measures must be taken soon if the U.S. is to protect health and prevent trade relationships from suffering.
Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2003
Why the New Federal "CAN Spam" Law
Probably Won't Work
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry assesses the new Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003, also referred to as the "CAN Spam Act." Ramasastry explains the Act's provisions, and also explains why she and others believe it may not be effective in actually eliminating spam.
Wednesday, Dec. 03, 2003
Why We Should Fear The Matrix
The "Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange" Program Threatens To Revive Total Information Awareness
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry parallels a new multi-state data mining program nicknamed "The Matrix" with the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program that Congress ultimately rejected. Like TIA, Ramasastry explains, the Matrix will allow dossiers of individual Americans to be compiled from data taken from government and commercial (for profit) databases. She explains the programs harms to privacy, and its risk of "false positives," in which innocent persons could be mistaken for suspected terrorists.
Wednesday, Nov. 05, 2003
Airline Passenger Profiling Based on Private Sector Data:
Why It Raises Serious Privacy Concerns
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the potential legal ramifications of airline JetBlue's release of passenger itineraries to a defense contractor, Torch Concepts -- which then matched up the itineraries with other individual data from another private sector database. Ramasastry also discusses privacy and due process issues relating to another, similar program -- the proposed Enhanced Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening System (CAPPS II).
Wednesday, Oct. 01, 2003
Privacy and Poverty:
Why The Proposed Federal and Local Homeless Tracking System Raises Serious Privacy Concerns
Wednesday, Sep. 03, 2003
Why the ACLU Is Right To Challenge The FBI's Access to Library, Bookstore, and Business Records Under the USA PATRIOT Act
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a recent suit filed by the ACLU, on behalf of six Arab-American advocacy and community groups, against the federal government. The suit challenges the constitutionality of a key provision of the post-September 11 USA PATRIOT Act; Ramasastry argues that the First and Fourth Amendment concerns the provision raises are very real indeed, and that legislation to amend this provision ought to be enacted.
Wednesday, Aug. 06, 2003
A Flawed Report Card:
How DOJ Mishandled the Post-September 11 Detention Process
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry surveys the conclusions, and fact findings, of two important reports issued this summer the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Justice. The OIG's reports, as Ramasastry explains, are highly critical of the processes and methods used to detain 762 immigrants after September 11. The second, and most recent report also details allegations of civil rights violations that occurred during the mass detentions.
Friday, Aug. 01, 2003
When Does A State's Regulation of Private Companies Interfere with Foreign Affairs?
A Recent Supreme Court Ruling Gives the Wrong Answer
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses an important end-of-Term Supreme Court case. There, in a 5-4 decision, the Court struck down a California law requiring insurance companies doing business in the state to reveal information relating to Holocaust era policies issued by themselves or their affiliates. The Court held that the law conflicted with the federal government's policy of pursuing an internationally-negotiated settlement, not litigation, with respect to Holocaust era insurance claims. Justice Ginsburg offered an impassioned dissent.
Wednesday, Jul. 02, 2003
Third Party Data Monitoring and Collection on the Internet:
Is it Illegal Wiretapping?
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the legality of data monitoring companies' collecting personalized information about users of their clients' websites. Ramasastry discusses several recent cases involving challenges to such conduct under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, and explains why even users who do not have valid ECPA suits against such data collection may still be able to avail themselves of other remedies.
Wednesday, Jun. 04, 2003
Should the U.N. Intervene in a Transnational Internet Defamation Case?
An American Journalist Sued in Australia Files a Petition Seeking Help
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses an unusual move by a defendant in a landmark Internet defamation case. The case has been brought in Australia against an American journalist and his American publisher, on the ground that Australians could download the allegedly defamatory article. The journalist has sought the U.N.'s help, arguing that the Australian court's finding of jurisdiction violates a treaty, to which Australia is a signatory, guaranteeing his free speech rights.
Wednesday, May. 07, 2003
Toppling Saddam, Not His Statues:
Why it is Important to Stop the Looting of Medical Supplies, the Theft of Cultural Artifacts, and Other Economic War Crimes
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry explains several principles of international law that may surprise observers of recent events in Iraq. First, Ramasastry contends, international law requires Coalition forces, in their role as occupiers of the territory they control, to use their best efforts to stop looting and other forms of property destruction. Second, even the toppling of statues of Saddam Hussein -- a form of property destruction -- violates international law.
Tuesday, Apr. 22, 2003
What Happens When GI Jane Is Captured?
Women Prisoners of War and the Geneva Conventions
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses how the Geneva Conventions relate to women POWs, in particular -- an especially important topic now that there is at least one female POW held by Iraq, and now that women form a large part of the U.S. military. What conduct could be raised in postwar war crimes tribunals? What can the Red Cross do now? Ramasastry addresses these and other questions.
Wednesday, Apr. 02, 2003
Operation Liberty Shield:
A New Series of Interviews of Iraqi-Born Individuals in the U.S. Is The Latest Example of Dragnet Justice
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry offers perspective on the latest FBI move with respect to the war on terrorism and the war on Iraq: the decision to interview Iraqi-born persons in the U.S., including citizens and permanent residents. Ramasastry discusses the program in the context of earlier interview and registration programs for visitors, and newly-proclaimed FBI power to make arrests not only for crimes, but also for immigration infractions.
Tuesday, Mar. 25, 2003
A Recent Oregon Ruling Allowing Secret Warrants in Domestic Terrorism Cases May Set A Troublesome Precedent
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor comments on a recent ruling by an Oregon federal district judge, denying five suspects in a terrorism case access to the FISA court warrants that led to their prosecution. The ruling may have important Fourth Amendment implications because FISA warrants need not be based on traditional "probable cause." In addition, this is the one of the first tests of the new, revised domestic spying provisions in the post-September 11 USA Patriot Act.
Wednesday, Mar. 05, 2003
A Review of Stuart Eizenstat's Imperfect Justice, An Inside Account of the Holocaust Restitution Efforts of the 1990s
FindLaw book reviewer and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry reviews former Clinton Administration official Stuart Eizenstat's new memoir about the people (including Eizenstat himself) who created the Holocaust restitution settlements. As Ramasastry notes, Eizenstat gives a fascinating insider's view of a process filled with disputes, and plagued by political obstacles, that nonetheless ended in striking success.
Friday, Feb. 21, 2003
The Sequel Why It's Even Scarier than the First Patriot Act
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the Ashcroft Justice Department's draft of its proposed follow-up to the USA Patriot Act. The new legislation is entitled the "Domestic Security Enhancement Act" but nicknamed "Patriot II." Ramasastry outlines what Patriot II would accomplish, if enacted, and warns that it sweeps far too broadly, threatening First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Freedom of Information Act, and privacy rights alike.
Monday, Feb. 17, 2003
Can Europe Block Racist Websites from its Borders?
And If So, Will Hatemongers Seek the U.S.'s Technological Asylum?
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses a new European anti-hate speech treaty protocol that may have a disturbing consequence for the United States. The European protocol criminalizes distributing or making available racist or xenophobic material via computer, and hence may drive some Europe-based hate sites to U.S. servers, and even U.S. locations.
Wednesday, Feb. 05, 2003
WHY WE SHOULD BE CONCERNED ABOUT "TOTAL INFORMATION AWARENESS" AND OTHER ANTI-TERRORISM STRATEGIES FOR THE INTERNET
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses two Internet anti-terrorism measures we are likely to see implemented in 2003. The first is the Nation Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, which will create a new federal network-monitoring center called the Cyberspace Network Operations Center (CNOC). The second is the "Total Information Awareness" project, which will consolidate and combine informational databases.
Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2002
NO CHILD LEFT UNRECRUITED?
THE PROBLEM WITH THE NEW "OPT OUT" SYSTEM FOR PROVIDING HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS' NAMES TO MILITARY RECRUITERS
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the federal law directing high school to release student data to military recruiters. Ramasastry contends that there are serious flaws in the law, which forces parents to "opt out" if they don't want their children's data to be released, rather than asking them to "opt in" if they do.
Wednesday, Dec. 04, 2002
THE FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE SURVEILLANCE COURT OF REVIEW CREATES A POTENTIAL END RUN AROUND TRADITIONAL CRIMINAL LAW ENFORCEMENT WIRETAPS
FindLaw columnist and U.Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry explains
the reasoning, and the likely effects, of a recent decision by the FISA Court
of Review -- the appeals court for issues relating to terrorism- or
spying-related wiretaps. The decision eliminated the traditional Fourth
Amendment "probable cause" requirement for certain wiretaps in this category.
Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2002
THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT IN CYBERSPACE:
SHOULD WEB-ONLY BUSINESSES BE REQUIRED TO BE
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry offers
insight into a new question about the Americans with Disabilities Act: Does
it apply in cyberspace? A federal district court says no, unless the website
has a nexus to an offline business; Ramasastry says yes, even for web-only
businesses. The context is a suit by a blind consumer against a website not
set up to accommodate his screen reader and voice synthesizer.
Wednesday, Nov. 06, 2002
AIRPLANE SECURITY RUN AMOK:
TERRORISM PREVENTION OR RACIAL PROFILING?
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry responds
to a troubling report of possible racial profiling by air marshals in the
case of Dr. Bob Rajcoomar. Dr. Rajcoomar was arrested only because he
allegedly "watched too closely" the detention by marshals of an unruly
passenger. Should the law governing air marshals' conduct be revamped?
Ramasastry argues the answer is a definite yes, and points to many other
cases of problems with marshals and other airline personnel.
Wednesday, Oct. 02, 2002
IS THERE AN ALTERNATIVE TO A UNILATERAL WAR WITH IRAQ?
THE POSSIBILITY OF WEAPONS INSPECTIONS AS A SOLUTION
The Bush Administration has recently argued that WMD inspections in Iraq can
never work. But FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita
Ramasastry explains why many commentators, including herself, believe that
they can. In a comprehensive column on the issue, Ramasastry explores the
history of Iraq inspections dating from the end of the Gulf War, discusses
the Carnegie Report's suggestion of "coercive inspections," addresses the
argument that dual-use technologies make inspections futile, and explains how
our resolution of the separate question of biological weapons inspections,
and our ability to address possible WMD in other countries such as Iran,
North Korea, and Syria may be interlinked with the Iraq issue.
Wednesday, Sep. 11, 2002
WHY THE FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE SURVEILLANCE ACT COURT
WAS RIGHT TO REBUKE THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
FindLaw columnist and University of Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry
discusses the unprecedented late August ruling agains the government by the
FISA Court -- a clandestine federal court responsible for reviewing
government requests to spy on terrorism suspects. The ruling took the
Department of Justice and FBI to task for proposing new procedures that do
not respect Congress's intent to separate counterintelligence-gathering
activities from evidence gathering in ordinary criminal cases, and for
violating this divide in the past. Ramasastry explains why the divide
exists, what's at stake, and why she believes the Court was right to rule as
Wednesday, Sep. 04, 2002
DO HAMDI AND PADILLA NEED COMPANY?
WHY ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT'S PLAN TO CREATE
INTERNMENT CAMPS FOR SUPPOSED CITIZEN COMBATANTS
IS SHOCKING AND WRONG
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry explains the facts and law relating to Attorney General John Ashcroft's recent proposal to create internment camps. Under the proposal, those whom the government decides are U.S. citizen combatants against the U.S. in the war on terrorism will be indefinitely detained at the camps, and will be unable to exercise basic constitutional rights of U.S. citizens. Ramasastry discusses the situations of Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla, U.S. citizens who are due to be placed in such camps. She also surveys the relevant Supreme Court precedents -- and the crucial 1971 federal statute that the American Bar Association believes renders the camps illegal.
Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2002
WE DON'T NEED CITIZEN SPIES:
THE PROBLEM WITH THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S PROPOSED
FindLaw columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry critiques the Bush Administration's "Operation Terrorist Information and Prevention System (TIPS)" program, which will go into effect this fall unless Congress blocks it. As Ramasastry explains, in the program's initial stage, up to a million volunteers will be recruited, according to the Administration, from those "who, in the daily course of their work, are in a unique position to see potentially unusual or suspicious activity in public places." Ramasastry raises a host of troubling issues that the TIPS proposal raises, and calls on the Senate to follow the House in attempting to stop it before it starts.
Monday, Aug. 05, 2002
BANKS AND HUMAN RIGHTS:
SHOULD SWISS BANKS BE LIABLE FOR LENDING
TO SOUTH AFRICA'S APARTHEID GOVERNMENT?
FindLaw guest columnist and University of Washington law professor Anita
Ramasastry tackles the difficult question of how much a bank or corporation
must do, and with what state of mind, for it to be liable for the human
rights violations of a foreign government with which it has a business
relationship. Ramasastry focuses on the recent U.S. lawsuit brought by 80
South African apartheid victims against three banks, two Swiss and one U.S..
She also surveys other suits (and Nuremberg proceedings) that have raised
this question with relation to violations ranging from Holocaust atrocities,
to Slobodan Milosevic's participation in genocide, to slavery in Burma.
Wednesday, Jul. 03, 2002
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