Sunday, April 07, 2013
DMCA v. ADA: How the Digital Millennium Copyright Act Hinders eReaders in providing ADA Compliant Content
The White House recentlyannounced that individuals should be able to unlock their phones. The announcement came at the response to a We the People Petition on the White House website, which garnered over 100,000 signatures from citizens around the country. The announcement was also a response to the decision by the Library of Congress that the unlocking of a phone constituted a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Under that act, authors and creators of digital content have a vast and varied power to control who, when, and how their copyrighted material is downloaded and distributed. But the flip side of all that protection is that as technology has evolved, the DMCA has expanded its reach over protected content utilizing the newest forms of technology. Each expansion results in growing pains and the latest growing pain hits one of the most vulnerable portions of our society: the disabled.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was and is designed to protect the disabled portion of our population and guarantee access to both the basic necessities of life, as well as prevent discrimination and promote their quality of life. As such, it protects not only access to buildings, roads, education, and medical care, but also information and how that information is disseminated. And it is here, where technology and information dissemination meet in the digital world, that the DMCA and the ADA clash.
The ADA defines the abilities to hear, see, speak, read, think, and communicate as major life activities and protects them accordingly. The DMCA allows publishers, copyright holders, and other digital rights owners to lock their digital content such that without the proper technology or know-how the material cannot be converted into a format that is useable by disabled individuals. The DMCA also makes the act of conversion of this material into ADA compliant forms illegal.
Users of eReaders and iPads who legally purchase written and copyrighted material, such as books, magazines, and newspapers, are prohibited under the DMCA from converting these materials into formats which could be read to the seeing-impaired. Blu-Ray and standard DVDs distributed through the web or streamed on a user’s computer are coded in a manner which prevents researchers and developers from creating closed-caption and other ADA adaptive technologies so that disabled individuals could fully use legally purchased or streaming content. And even when subtitles are included, any hearing-abled individual can tell you that sometimes the subtitles are incorrect, don’t properly translate, or are so far behind that they only serve to confuse the reader. Bypassing such technology is often easy enough done, but the act of doing it opens the user up to DMCA violations, which would likely cost them more than it is worth to risk the conversion in the first place.
As it stands, really, both statutes need to be updated. The ADA needs to be updated to include the new technologies which provide services to disabled individuals, such as the Internet, eReaders, computers, phones, PDAs, etc. The DMCA needs to be updated to reflect the need for adaptive technologies to be an exception, such as fair use, under the DMCA so that as new technologies come along they aren’t by default restricted to only able-bodied individuals. Technology is designed to make an individual’s life easier. But if the legally purchased content is protected to the extent that disabled individuals risk punishment for adapting it so that they can perform major life functions, then technology and the laws need to adapt. The ADA should trump the DMCA when it comes to technology that is designed to make basic everyday functions easier, like reading, communicating, hearing, and thinking. But, until such time as Congress amends the ADA and DMCA to reflect the technology needs of the disabled, the usefulness of some technologies will be out of the reach of many disabled individuals.
Friday, March 22, 2013
LinkedIn Favored in Lawsuit over Hacking
In June 2012, LinkedIn suffered a data breach where a hacker posted over the Internet 6.5 million password hashes and e-mail addresses from LinkedIn users. Of the 6.5 million hashes, 60% were cracked. Angered about the security breach, two premium account users (“Plaintiffs”) filed a class action suit against LinkedIn on behalf of all who also paid an extra fee to the networking server. The complaint included nine causes of action, two of which are relevant for the class action suit: (1) breach of contract and (2) restitution or unjust enrichment. However, before going into the merits of the claim, standing became an issue. To have standing: (1) an injury is concrete and particularized, as well as actual and imminent; (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant; and (3) the injury may be mitigated if given a favorable decision.
The Plaintiffs argued there was standing because they did not receive the full benefit of the bargain for the paid premium memberships. They alleged that in consideration of the extra fees, LinkedIn would take extra measures to protect these premium users’ personal information. The Plaintiffs further argued that if they had known that LinkedIn would not have provided these extra security features, they would not have upgraded their accounts. Federal District Judge Davila of the Northern District of California rejected this argument finding that the additional fees the Plaintiffs paid were not for extra security, but for the advanced networking tools and capabilities. Any alleged promise LinkedIn made to premium account holders were also made to non-paying account holders, and thus when a member purchases this upgrade it is only for the additional networking features. And as such, Davila found that there lacked a causal relationship between LinkedIn’s actions and the Plaintiff’s assertions of alleged harm.
Although it is unfortunate that LinkedIn users’ passwords and email addresses were revealed, these sorts of things happen all the time. As technology advances, so will hacking intelligence. The only way to prevent hackers from infiltrating these private servers is to be a step ahead of them; an impossible task.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Skype: A New Way to Testify
In time, distance and illness may no longer excuse some witnesses from testifying in court. Courts are gradually becoming more accepting of the use of technology in courtrooms to promote efficiency and fairness at trial. However, while using technology, such as Skype, in the courtroom instead of in-person testimony may simply be another progressive step taken by courts into the twenty-first century, it also gives rise to legal controversy.
Rule 804 of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides an exception to the rule against hearsay when a witness is unavailable due to infirmity, unavoidable absence, or forfeiture. Furthermore, the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives criminal defendants the right to “confront” witnesses who testify against them. The defendants have the right to be present and in view while the witness testifies, and also enjoys the right to cross-examine such witness. When a witness is unable to testify in court, the defendant should have had an opportunity to cross-examine the witness in order for the admissibility of testimonial out-of-court statements.
Skype is a web-based service that allows individuals to make free Internet video phone calls. If one has a laptop or mobile phone with a solid Internet connection and a front-facing camera, they could reach another person, or people, almost anywhere in the world for a video phone call.
Recently, there have been a few instances in civil and criminal cases, where courts have allowed the use of Skype so a witness could testify. In one instance, Law Technology News reported that an out-of-state witness was allowed to testify against the government via Skype in a criminal case because the defendant could not afford the witness’s travel costs. There were a few technological glitches during the witness’s testimony due to a few brief Internet disconnections, yet there was a large flat screen television set up in the courtroom for the jury, and others in the courtroom, to see. This decision by the Georgia Superior Court raised Confrontation Clause issues because the witness’s testimony was technically made out of court. However, since the defendant is calling this witness to testify via Skype, his confrontation rights were not at risk. In another instance reported by the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, a bedridden man looking to extend a protection order against his estranged wife was allowed to testify from his home using Skype. The lawyer used his iPad for the Skype call so the judge and opposing attorney could watch the call. In spite of some connection issues during the testimony, those involved found that using Skype was more efficient and cost-effective than the accommodations needed to bring the witness into court.
It was only a matter of time before court adopted this advance in technology. Attorneys use information from Facebook and e-mail as evidence, for example, so it is not surprising that video conferencing technology is slowly being implemented into courtrooms. While it is understandable why some may hesitate to accept the use of such technology for evidentiary or constitutional reasons, courts already find some forms of video technology acceptable in pleas, depositions, and testimony from children. Furthermore, when one makes a Skype call, attorneys for both parties may direct or cross-examine the witness as they normally would during testimony in court, thus the Confrontation Clause argument is weakened. The use of Skype may also help in saving money for all parties by limiting travel or special accommodation expenses. However, some money is necessary in equipping courtrooms with adequate technology and service connections to make Skype calls run more smoothly. Nevertheless, if courts are able to work out the technological kinks in making Skype calls to out-of-court witnesses, this may be an effective and economical solution to problems of getting certain witnesses into the courtroom.
Wednesday, March 06, 2013
U.S. Considers Economic Sanctions against Chinese Hackers
The United States Executive Branch is considering enacting economic sanctions against individuals and countries that attempt to hack U.S. networks. Other policies that may be considered include visa restrictions, military action, and State Department diplomacy efforts. Intellectual property concerns are the main motivation in the White House’s consideration of the issues of cyberattacks and cyber theft. White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel is the official responsible for developing a strategy to address the internet issues between US data owners and hackers.
The policy considerations seem to be in response to recent news alleging that a military unit of Chinese hackers based in Shanghai have been attempting to hack into U.S. companies’ data. The administration has not named China specifically in these policy discussions, but the news, along with hacker attacks involving The New York Times, The Washington Post, Apple, and other companies, are part of the backdrop of this initiative. The White House is encouraging Congress to develop legislation surrounding sharing information about cyber threats, fortifying cybersecurity measures, and establishing law enforcement tools for such crimes. The Commerce Department has also been involved in setting standards for cybersecurity.
These measures are part of an ongoing struggle regarding intellectual property between U.S. innovators, and entrepreneurs in countries such as China that borrow U.S. designs and technologies without regard to ownership. While the U.S. is clearly concerned about innovation and innovators’ rights, more needs to be done before China will respect property rights as the U.S. and inventors desire.
Tuesday, March 05, 2013
Drone Strikes Threaten Due Process
Edited on: Tuesday, March 05, 2013 10:02 PM
Categories: Court, Misc., Robotics
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, recently said that she will review proposed legislation that would create a special court, analogous to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, tasked with reviewing drone strikes ordered by the executive branch. A push for such legislation comes during an administration that has utilized drone strikes more than any other. During the Bush administration, less than 50 drone strikes were executed, while during the Obama administration more that 360 have been launched. Of the many people killed in these drone strikes, at least 4 have been U.S. citizens—Anwar al-Awlaki being the most notorious.
This recent course of action raises an interesting constitutional question: do drone strikes targeting U.S. citizens violate the due process clause of the Constitution? The Fifth Amendment precludes the government from depriving a U.S. citizen of life without due process of law; essentially meaning that if the executive branch orders the death of a U.S. citizen without judicial approval, they have violated the citizen’s constitutional right to due process.
Michael Isikoff of NBC News acquired a Department of Justice white paper that illustrates the U.S. government’s position with regard to lethal force against senior operational leaders of al-Qaida, who are also U.S. citizens. According to the white paper, the government may order the death of such a target when a high level U.S. government official, informed of the facts, determines: 1) that the target poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States, 2) that capturing the target would be unreasonable, although this option is continually monitored in the event that it becomes reasonable, and 3) that the operation would not violate relevant principles of the laws of war. The U.S. government’s position is that when these circumstances have been met, the target has received sufficient due process and that the constitution has not been violated.
This standard, however, does not apply a typical interpretation of the word “imminent.” According to the white paper, imminence does not require the threat of violent attack to take place in the immediate future because the nature of terrorist attacks requires a broader interpretation. This broader interpretation calls for incorporating the window of opportunity for the attack, the mitigation of collateral damage, and the likelihood that the use of lethal force will prevent an attack against the United States. Theoretically, this definition allows the government to launch a lethal drone strike against a U.S. citizen at anytime, regardless of how close the target is to realizing a violent attack against the United States.
This raises many questions. Who is this high-level U.S. official in the government determining whether or not this standard has been met? What standard is used to determine if due process has been satisfied if the targeted U.S. citizen is not a senior leader of al-Qaida? These are the very questions that have led the public and Congress to consider whether or not judicial oversight of these lethal drone strikes is necessary.
A promising form of judicial oversight could be a special court tasked with reviewing the facts of a proposed drone strike and approving the strike or denying it. This court could be similar to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that was created in response to concerns that the executive branch was abusing its authority to conduct domestic electronic surveillance in the interest of national security. Typically, if the government wants to engage in domestic electronic surveillance, one of eleven judges on FISC must review each application in a closed hearing and grant the warrant. However, if the government believes an emergency situation exists that would preclude the government from following this procedure in time, it may act without a warrant so long as it reasonably believes that the surveillance is constitutional and a judge on the FISC is notified, among other requirements.
A special court empowered to review the executive branch’s decision to execute a lethal drone strike is an appropriate safeguard, consistent with our traditional governmental structure. The need for such a court is further solidified by allegations made by former top U.S. officials such as Stanley A. McChrystal, former leader of the Joint Special Operations Command, and Michael V. Hayden, former C.I.A. director, who suggest that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen are now more frequently targeting low-level militants. This suggests that the administration is becoming increasingly more liberal with use of drone strikes, which could certainly increase the risk for collateral damage. Also, this increase in targeting low-level militants does not instill confidence that the executive branch will apply the standard illustrated in the white paper when U.S. citizens are the targeted low-level militants. The white paper only justifies targeting U.S. citizens who are senior operational leaders of al-Qaida and who are continually planning attacks against the U.S. Since low-level militants are less likely to fall within the definition of an operational leader, yet attacks on low-level militants are becoming more frequent, it is not clear what standard the executive branch uses to determine if a U.S. citizen who is a low-level militant has been afforded due process. This ambiguity suggests that an independent court is necessary to ensure that the executive branch affords all targeted U.S. citizens due process.
The government’s stipulation that the three-point standard for killing a U.S. citizen in a foreign country provides a citizen with sufficient due process is not adequate. The nature of terrorism and the threat it poses to the United States does not outweigh the substantial interest a U.S. citizen has in their own life. By ordering the death of a U.S. citizen without judicial approval, the executive branch is exceeding the power afforded to it by the constitution by taking the life of its own citizen without due process of law. To prevent future instances of these unilateral decisions, a special court, similar to the FISC, should be established to review and approve any executive branch decision to execute lethal drone strikes targeting both U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens.
Friday, December 21, 2012
The Science of Constitutional Rights
Eroding the third trimester standard established in Roe v. Wade in 1973, the Idaho legislature passed the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” in 2011, prohibiting abortions based on neuroscientific findings that pain sentience in fetuses may occur before viability. Roe v. Wade insisted on viability as the critical point where the fetus’s life might outweigh the mother’s right to privacy, but Idaho, along with several other state legislatures, is fighting against the Supreme Court’s standard.
As the basis for the stricter abortion standard, Idaho’s “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” cites findings that pain receptors are present throughout “the unborn child’s body no later than sixteen (16) weeks after fertilization” and that “the unborn child reacts to touch” by eight weeks after fertilization. Anti-abortion proponents support the pain-capable fetus protection acts, and former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has voiced his agreement with such measures: “I will advocate for and support a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion.”
Unsurprisingly, not everyone is on board with the contraction of abortion rights. In defending an Idaho woman who was arrested for inducing her own abortion and a related suit involving the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, attorney Rick Hearn, M.D., questions the government’s use of science to circumscribe the constitutional right to privacy and thus abortion. William Egginton, a philosophy professor and guest columnist for the New York Times, attempts to discern the relationship of pain sentience to personhood for abortion purposes in an entry for the NY Times’s Opinionator blog. Egginton opines that scientific findings are facts that can inform thinking but mere data can neither provide an absolute definition of personhood nor generate an airtight argument for a particular variation of constitutional rights.
Frankly, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts are inconsistent with the standard established by Roe v. Wade. These statutes prioritize the possibility of the fetus’s pain over that of the mother’s right to privacy, a framework the 1973 Supreme Court rejected in favor of valuing the mother’s freedom to choose until viability. Pain sentience is simply not the standard set forth by Roe v. Wade, and the use of pain as a guideline for limits on abortion would greatly limit women’s life choices.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
U.S. Urges Federal Judge Not to Unfreeze Megaupload’s Assets while It Fights to Extradite the Site’s Founder
The U.S. is advising a federal district court judge to reject Megaupload’s attempts to get its assets unfrozen while the site’s founder, Kim Dotcom, fights extradition from New Zealand. Megaupload’s argument is that having its assets frozen is causing it irreparable harm. The U.S. countered by arguing that even if it were to regain control of its assets Megaupload would not be able to resume its business operations. The freezing of Megaupload’s assets raises due process concerns and may lead to the firm going out of business regardless of whether they are found guilty of the charges alleged by the U.S.
Megaupload.com was a 50-petabyte online file storage website. It was a free online storage solution in the “cloud” for files that were too large for email. Megaupload generated about $25 million a year in revenue from ads and $150 million from its paid premium service. At its peak, 50 million people visited Megaupload each day. Megaupload handled about 4 percent of global Internet traffic. The company maintains that it was a legitimate data storage business used by millions of individuals including employees of NASA and the FBI. However, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) maintains that the legitimate storage business was a front. The real money was made providing a virtual fence for $500 million in pirated material.
The DOJ further maintains that Kim Dotcom, Megaupload’s founder, ran the criminal swap meet with impunity from the safety of his $24 million New Zealand mansion, protected by guards, guns, and CCTV. New Zealand Special Forces carried out Operation Takedown, which was overseen by the FBI via video link. Operation Takedown was a dramatic raiding of the Dotcom Mansion via helicopter. Dotcom was captured by the New Zealand Special Forces in a panic room hidden behind a secret door located in one of the many closets of Dotcom’s mansion. If all goes according to federal prosecutors’ plan Dotcom and his six executives would be extradited to the U.S. to face a Virginia judge and the possibility of 55 years in prison.
Megaupload argues that by freezing its assets the government is subjecting it to ongoing irreparable harm similar to a criminal conviction following full criminal process. The company further argues that because it has not been convicted of anything the freezing of its assets violates its right to due process of law. The U.S. has countered this argument by saying that Megaupload and Dotcom have contradicted each other because Dotcom has stated on several occasions that he has no intention of re-launching Megaupload. Even if Megaupload regained control of its assets the site would have many issues trying to operate with a possible prosecution hanging in the air and would require years to regain the market position it enjoyed prior to the arrest of Dotcom and the freezing of the company’s assets.
The U.S.’s seizure of Megaupload’s assets raises fundamental due process issues. Without access to its servers Megaupload cannot maintain a steady cash flow. Companies cannot survive without a constant cash flow. Megaupload will likely not be able to recover from the criminal proceedings even if the company and its executives are acquitted of all criminal charges. Although it is likely possible at this point, regaining its previous market share would take many years for Megaupload as many customers have likely migrated to other file-sharing services and are likely wary of going back to a service that they see as vulnerable to prosecution. This is concerning because it raises the question of what is stopping the government from shutting down other businesses through freezing their assets rather than actually bringing a valid claim against them. The result appears to be the same whether the government can prove its claim or not.
For more information: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2012/10/us-slow-legal-proceedings-are-megauploads-fault-dont-unfreeze-assets/
Saturday, December 15, 2012
Online Impersonation Laws Could Mean Felony Convictions for Unsuspecting Teens
Ever make up a fake email address pretending to be someone else to mess with your friends? Seems like a pretty benign thing to do, but if you live in the state of Texas, you could be headed towards committing a felony. In 2009, Texas passed the Online Impersonation Law, which makes it a felony to pretend to be someone else online with the intent to harm another. Louisiana also passed an online impersonation law, making it a misdemeanor to impersonate another online without permission and with the intent to harm. New York and California both have similar laws.
The first arrest under Texas’s Online Impersonation Law was made in July, 2012 and the defendants were two middle school girls, aged 12 and 13. The girls were purportedly using the persona of the victim on Facebook to cyber bully her. The defendants allegedly made threats towards other students under the name of the victim, which the victim’s mother contends severely socially damaged her and nearly lead to a physical confrontation. The local sheriff described the law as similar to identity theft. Identity thieves pretend to be someone else for financial gain while online impersonators use someone else’s identity “to try and get back at [someone] and ruin them socially.”
While 12 and 13 seem like very young ages for defendants of cyber bullying, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney noted that that there has been a visible increase in the punishment of minors due to infractions relating to social media.
A popular defense to social media infringements is the 1st Amendment’s right to free speech. In 2012, the ACLU began representation of three Indianan students expelled for using their Facebook walls as a conversation space to talk about another classmate. The school found the defendants’ actions to violate a provision of the school student handbook that disallowed bullying, intimidation, and harassment. The ACLU contends that because the conversation did not take place during school hours or cause disruption at school, the defendants are protected by the 1st Amendment’s guarantee to free speech.
Facebook representatives have reported they believe that approximately 83 million Facebook profiles are duplicates or fakes and they are taking action. Facebook announced that it will begin to delete accounts deemed to be fake. A user whose account got deleted would have to obtain special permission from Facebook before being allowed to open a new account. This is not a reaction to the possible illegal nature of the act, but an effort by Facebook to maintain accurate user information for advertising purposes.
As new laws are passed in an effort to regulate uses of social media, attention should be given to the type of defendant that is likely to break the law. Is it appropriate to label an act that is common for school aged children offline, a felony if committed online? Children will probably always engage in bullying. Should the act of moving bullying to an online forum constitute a felony when it is likely many of the defendants will be children? Or does it not matter who the likely defendants will be? In 2006, a Missouri teen took her own life after a MySpace relationship she had with an impersonator unraveled. If the result is suicide, a felony punishment for impersonation seems more acceptable. Creating a punishment that fits the crime will be the job of many state legislatures as the online venue is continually used in ways to harm others. Lawmakers will also have to navigate around the 1st Amendment in order for the laws to withstand Constitutional muster.
Monday, December 10, 2012
The Making of the Next John D. Rockerfeller: Are Vertical Integrations Setting the Stage for Technological Monopoly?
Google has proven its ability to amaze us over and over again with products like Google Earth, Google Voice, Google driverless car and much more. While many are pleased that this continued innovation comes from a socially responsible corporation, others are concerned that its ambitious expansion could turn into a technological monopoly.
Not including the recent false reports on acquisition of WiFi provider ICOA, Google has actually acquired more than one company per week on average since 2010. Google’s rapid growth has triggered a chain of products, acquisitions and partnerships that extends well beyond pure web search engine. Its products range from various applications, Android mobile operating system to Google Chrome OS browser operating system. It owns several websites that top the most visited website list, along with Google, such as YouTube and Blogger. In 2012, Google began to establish its presence in the hardware industry by partnering with major electronics manufacturers on its “Nexus” series and its acquisition of Motorola Mobility. Google also initiated the Google Fiber broadband Internet service project with the construction of fiber-optic infrastructure in Kansas City.
Google has reached the height of vertical integration. It has purchased sufficient vertically integrated companies in its supply and production chain to prevent hold-up problems. Google and its subsidiaries now essentially control the hardware, software, and marketing of its product and possibly even an independent wireless network. It is worth noting that Google is not the only player in the race to vertical integration. Apple controls the design of its iPad and iPhone hardware and software, and sells its own products directly to consumers. Samsung has also thrived by making everything from LCD panels and televisions to processors and smartphones.
Although a vertically integrated company can benefit consumers with improved product quality and reduced production costs, critics argue that Google has subjected itself to scrutiny in light of all the monopoly accusations and FTC investigations. For example, Google could theoretically give Motorola its latest versions of Android exclusively and place other handset makers at a competitive disadvantage. Similarly, Google could use its ownership of YouTube to disadvantage competitors’ search results. One cannot help but wonder, is Google using vertical integration to eliminate its competitors?
Unlike horizontal monopoly, a vertical monopoly is not considered anti-competitive so long as there are opportunities for others to operate in the line of business. Search is the critical gateway by which users navigate the Web and Google already dominates search and search advertising. Google is now broadening its search-dependent products and services, which reinforces its dominance in the field. It is almost impossible for the government to challenge a vertical merger or acquisition between two companies that are not direct rivals. However, consumers can expect to face higher prices and reduced innovations, something that Google once promised would never happen.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Creepin’ on your Internet, Surfin’ over your Shoulder
When it comes to the internet, you are never alone. Nor, for that matter, is anything you do or say really private. At its most basic level, the internet now functions as a phone call to the world, telling it exactly what you are thinking, buying, listening to, and reading. And for most people this is the best part of the internet. They can log in to their social media account and announce their inner-most thoughts, tell that funny story about the co-worker with the crazy cats, or share the cutest baby photos in the blink of an eye. Yet for all the willingness to share every instant of your life, the price you pay for this ability is steep: your right to privacy. The Fourth Amendment guarantees that individuals, their homes, and their papers are protected from unwarranted search and seizure. But now that everyone lives their lives simultaneously off- and online, there is a question of how much privacy we really expect online when we share everything anyway?
The Supreme Court has yet to answer this question directly. In Katz v. United States, the Supreme Court held that because society recognized an expectation of privacy while in an enclosed telephone booth, the recording of telephone conversations inside from microphones planted on the outside violated the Fourth Amendment.389 U.S. 347, 353 (1969). The Court found that the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places, which goes hand in hand with its acceptance of the fact that society recognizes that privacy can exist in public places, like the enclosed telephone booth at issue in the case. Id. at 351. The recognition that privacy wasn’t attached to a stationary object, like a house or apartment, but traveled with an individual, was a novel idea that has helped to shape some of the current concepts of privacy that we have today. And while you may not expect privacy in a phone booth anymore because they are, for all intents and purposes, defunct, thanks to this opinion you might have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of your cellphone. Maybe.
In Kyllo v. United States, the Supreme Court found that the warrantless search of a private home through the use of infrared cameras to detect the presence of marijuana growing violated the Fourth Amendment. 533 U.S. 27, 40 (2001). The Court’s opinion in Kyllo though hinged on the belief that the Fourth Amendment “draws a firm line at the entrance to the house.” Id. This was a step back in terms of privacy because the Court retreated to a position where privacy afforded to individuals depends upon the location of the search. While expectation is still part of any analysis of whether a search or seizure implicates the Fourth Amendment, after Kyllo the conception of privacy afforded individuals seems rooted to the home and traditional conceptions of private places.
So what does this mean today, eleven years later, when we, as a society live almost as much of our life online as we do offline? The answer is unclear. Many would presume that because certain social websites allow you to make certain aspects of your online profile “private” that this gives you, the user, some sort of privacy. But the truth of the matter is that the second you connect to the internet, your expectation of privacy is being undermined (unless you have employed one or more of the nifty anti-tracking tactics discussed in this New York Times article). The distinction between the phone booth in Katz, the private home in Kyllo, and an individual’s activities on the internet boil down to one simple fact: a user of social media and email puts information out there to be read by at least one other person. The act of communicating to someone on these sites seems to undermine the very expectation of privacy that society has come to expect. In fact, the mere fact that an individual is talking with someone else further weakens the expectation of privacy because it is difficult to control what another person will do with private information. True, there may be a difference between posting a status update for only certain friends or family to see as opposed to posting the same sentiment on a public message board or on the front page of a well-traveled website. But that difference may be more artificial than actual because of one detail: the user voluntarily put that information on the web to be seen. When phone booths existed, the recognition of privacy while using them was simple to understand: a person went in, shut the door, and had a conversation away from the prying ears of the public. And the same rationale applies to a person’s home: what people do there is done away from the eyes of the public.
When the Court eventually deals with this issue, and at some point it will, the question will turn on what kind of expectation of privacy a user has in a post they have voluntarily put out on the internet to be seen by others. It will also turn on whether the Court recognizes that with an individual’s online and offline lives seamlessly merging into one, the expectation of privacy must depend less on society’s expectations in physical places and more on society’s expectations of privacy in electronic media and communication. But with people sharing more and more of their ostensibly private lives online, the real worry is this: does anyone actually expect privacy online?
Saturday, November 24, 2012
IT Human Capital Flight
Immigrants make up one-tenth of the overall U.S population and have made significant scientific and economic contributions to the country. According to recent studies of immigration statistics, the disparity between the large number of skilled professionals waiting for visas and the small number that can be admitted to the U.S is creating a possible reverse “brain-drain” effect of highly skilled labor, particularly in the field of high technology and bio-technology, driving both the talents and their businesses back to their home countries.
Human capital flight, more commonly known as “brain drain”, is the large-scale emigration of a large group of individuals with technical skills or knowledge. The U.S has enjoyed a “brain gain” in the IT, bio tech, aerospace, and entertainment industries since the 1990’s, due to its high wages, comfortable living standards and stabilized system of government. Aside from permanent U.S resident visas, the government introduced the H-1B visa program that allows U.S employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations, subject to numerical limits. Each year, over one million highly skilled professionals compete for the 120,000 permanent U.S resident visas and the 65,000 regular H-1B visas.
With the recently tightened immigration law and the thriving economy in other countries, the best and brightest talents are no longer begging to be let into the U.S. This is an alarming trend because immigrants have founded over 50 percent of Silicon Valley’s companies, including Yahoo!, Google, eBay, YouTube, Intel and Sun Microsystems. Most large IT companies have hired immigration specialists and spent millions of dollars on visa administrations in an effort to prevent losing overseas talents and creativities.
One’s loss is someone else’s gain. For the first time, immigrants have better opportunities outside of the U.S as the advantages in entrepreneurship in their home countries outweigh the burdensome visa application process. China and India, two countries that suffered the most from “brain drain” in the past few decades in the field of high technology, are currently benefiting from this reverse brain-drain effect. Studies show that things are good enough economically in these countries that there is little incentive for IT talents to come to the U.S, let alone stay.
Both candidates for the 2012 presidential election highlighted the importance of immigration reform in an economic context, suggesting changes designed to help retain IT talents and innovative businesses. Experts have recommended an expansion of visa programs to increase the number of visas for highly skilled professionals, creating a modern electronic visa system, and more importantly, addressing American workers’ concerns about impacts of immigration on the unemployment rate. Unless the U.S regains immediate access to these talents, it will soon find itself struggling to compete in the global technology industry.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
(Dis)Like: Facebook, Censorship, and the First Amendment
The First Amendment to the Constitution protects, among other things, the right of individuals to express themselves. In the hierarchy of protected speech, none is considered more deserving of protection than political speech. Say what you will about the election and the candidates because it is all fair game and it is all protected. Well, protected from governmental interference or censorship, anyway. Once outside of the public arena the protection afforded speech is controlled less by “the marketplace of ideas” and more by the private entity providing the forum.
One week before the 2012 presidential election, Facebook found itself awkwardly at the center of a censorship controversy concerning election memes. According to Slate, Facebook removed a meme posted by a group of anti-Obama Special Ops members on their group page, Special Operations Speaks (SOS). The meme accused Obama of calling on S.E.A.L.s when he needed Osama bin Laden, but claimed that when the S.E.A.L.s called him for backup he denied their request. After posting the meme, Facebook removed it and informed SOS that it was removed for violating terms of service, specifically the statement of rights and responsibilities. SOS re-posted the meme anyway. Facebook responded by not only removing the meme for a second time, but also freezing the SOS account for 24-hours, preventing the group from posting anything further. After conservative website Breitbart.com picked up the story, Facebook released a statement saying that the removal of the meme was not an act of censorship but rather an error on their part. Removing a meme once for violations of terms of service may be an error, but removing it a second time and freezing the poster’s account for 24-hours seems less so. SOS’s page is now up and running again and the meme, along with the story about its removal, has gone viral.
This isn’t the first time that Facebook has been accused of censorship though. Back in May a journalist posted a story on TechCrunch about a blogger’s inability to comment on a Facebook post because his comments were deemed to be “irrelevant or inappropriate.” At that time the inability to post was chalked up to an error in the code that searches for inappropriate comments and prevents them from being posted to Facebook. But while it appears that Facebook is merely trying to prevent violations of their terms of service, many users look upon such preemptive action as censorship by the social networking behemoth. In August 2012, Forbes.com reported an accusation of Facebook censorship, stating that an artist’s work was removed for being too graphic to post on the site (it depicted a “misted” image of a nude woman). Like with the S.E.A.L. meme, Facebook eventually relented and allowed the image to be posted. One Facebook user has gone so far as to document, via a website called FacebookCensorship.com, the instances where Facebook has either inquired about posts or outright prevented him/her from posting content, which includes posts as recent as the end of October 2012.
Though some may be up in arms about how Facebook’s potential censorship of material on their site violates their First Amendment right to free speech, it is wise to remember that the First Amendment only protects individuals from government interference. The Supreme Court has yet to find that private entities, like Facebook or Yahoo!, act like the government when they open their space to individuals to use as public forums for discussion. Until such time as the government sees fit to regulate websites that are the Internet equivalent of the Boston Common or your local town square, the private owners of such sites are free to censor your conduct and speech so long as it may violate their terms of service (which all users agree to abide by in order to access the site).
While it is sad that Facebook seemingly inserted itself into the election less than a week from Election Day by censoring an anti-Obama meme, the company was within their rights as a private entity to do so. Remember, private websites are a bit like the Eagles’ song, Hotel California: you can post your speech anytime you like, but they don’t have to leave it up.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Google v. Government: Cell Phone Manufacturers Increasingly Resistant to Unlocking Suspects’ Personal Devices for Law Enforcement
Edited on: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 5:23 PM
Categories: Internet, Misc.
At this point in the age of the internet everyone has heard of the horrors that can befall a person who doesn’t carefully guard their digital information. Pictures on Facebook have cost people job opportunities, credit card transactions have revealed infidelity, and YouTube videos have led to criminal charges. But what happens when the information isn’t on the internet – but on your phone?
Requests under the Freedom of Information Act by The American Civil Liberties Union have revealed that law enforcement officials will often ask cell phone manufacturers to aid in a criminal investigation by unlocking a suspect’s password protected phone.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, law enforcement often has the tools to access information stored on a password protected phone without the help of the owner or manufacturer. In circumstances where they can’t, however, the law surrounding access to the information is grey. Suspects have a Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves, so if a suspect feels information on the phone may be incriminating they have an affirmative right not to provide the password to police – even if the police have a subpoena. That’s when law enforcement often turn to manufacturers.
The “Third Party Doctrine” allows police to obtain information from a third party, putting all information stored on “the cloud” clearly within reach of police. But manufacturers unlocking suspects’ password-protected phones (which often include call logs, emails, photographs, and browsing history) enters a murky area between a search and a wiretap.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
New Bill Requires Law Enforcement officials to obtain a search warrant for email and cell tracking.
Edited on: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 5:42 PM
Categories: Computers, Legislation, Misc.
On September 25, 2012 Representative Zoe Lofgren introduced a bill called the ECPA 2.0 Act of 2012 requiring that police must get warrants to access suspects’ emails and track their cellphones. The bill is supported by a number of large technology companies including Apple and Google. The U.S. Justice Department will likely oppose the bill.
Lofgren’s bill, if passed, amends the1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”). The ECPA is criticized for being outdated and difficult for judges to follow. The ECPA did not have cloud computing or social networking in mind when it was written and thus computer users currently have more privacy rights over their locally stored data.
The new act will make the ECPA easier for judges to follow and requires law enforcement officials to obtain search warrants to access private communications and the locations of mobile devices. Lofgren claims that the bill’s purpose is to prevent excessively broad government surveillance and to provide Americans greater measures of privacy. The bill’s introduction will not have an immediate effect, as there will be a continuing dialogue extending into 2013 when the bill will be reexamined.
Despite the support of many technology companies, the bill may have a difficult time passing. The U.S. Justice Department will likely oppose the adoption of the bill arguing that requiring warrants for emails and cell tracking would have an adverse effect on criminal investigations. Furthermore, similar privacy legislation has been unsuccessful in the past due to police opposition.
To successfully pass the bill, Lofgren will likely have to show that emails and cell phone tracking is protected under the Fourth amendment. The Fourth Amendment only protects individuals when they have a legitimate expectation of privacy. A party proves that he has a legitimate expectation of privacy by showing he has a subjective expectation of privacy and by showing that it is an expectation society is prepared to recognize as reasonable. Showing that individuals have subjective expectations of privacy in their emails and cell phone tracking will likely not be an issue. Lofgren will most likely be challenged by proving that society is prepared to recognize citizens’ expectation of privacy in their emails and cellphone tracking as reasonable by showing that an individual’s expectations of privacy in these communications outweigh the adverse effects such legislation would have on criminal investigations.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Massachusetts ‘Right to Repair Act’ Sent to the Legislature
Photo entitled "Duct Tape and Cars: A Global Standard" by David Edenfield on Flickr
On January 17, 2012, the 2012 version of the Motor Vehicle Owner’s Right to Repair Act was introduced to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The Act, better known to most as the “Right to Repair Act,” seeks to remedy situations in which consumers and independent automobile repair shops cannot access the necessary information to properly diagnose and repair a vehicle. Recently, groups supporting the Right to Repair Act in Massachusetts collected more than 80,000 signatures in support of offering the question to voters as a ballot initiative.
The Right to Repair Act was first introduced as legislation over 10 years ago, when it was introduced to the United States Congress as H.R. 2735, the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act of 2001. The Act was created in response to a growing trend in the independent repair industry in which independent repair shops were forced to turn away customers because they were unable to access the vehicles’ on-board diagnostic systems.
Several motor vehicle industry players have long voiced strong opposition to the Right to Repair Act, with one industry advocate going so far as to call it, “a solution in search of a problem.” The Bill purports to make information more accessible to repair shops in the independent automobile industry by requiring manufacturers to, “maintain a diagnostic and repair information system which shall enable the owner of the motor vehicle or the owner’s designated independent repair facility, the capability to utilize such system” and which is composed of, “the same diagnostic and repair information, including technical updates, which the manufacturer makes available to its dealers.”
The information will not be free, however, with a statutory proclamation that the system be available to the aforementioned parties, “on a hourly, daily, monthly or yearly subscription basis at cost and terms that are no greater than fair market value and nondiscriminatory.”
Unfortunately, even if the problem of wholly-inaccessible information were to exist today (and by most accounts, the NASTF has reduced nearly all information gaps of that nature), the Act would still fall short of its goals. Most independent repair manufacturers today that are unable to repair vehicles due to computer-related shortcomings are unable to do so not because they cannot “potentially” access the information, but rather because the acquisition is too expensive.
The issue lies in the diverse number of makes and models that are repaired by independent repair shops, as compared to authorized factory dealers. Typically an authorized dealer will repair a limited number of brands—usually those within the family sold by the dealer. An independent repairer, however, fixes whatever the next patron owns. The expense of purchasing a computer designed for a Mercedes vehicle, then, could be split amongst hundreds of cars by a Mercedes dealership, but might be split between a handful of cars at an independent repair shop. The implication is simple: it will likely continue to remain economically infeasible for independent repair shops to acquire the information and technology utilized by authorized dealerships.
The 2012 iteration of the Right to Repair Act is titled, “An Act to Protect Motor Vehicle Owners and Small Businesses in Repairing Motor Vehicles,” and has been assigned bill tracking number H.B. 3882.
Friday, February 17, 2012
Photo titled: "Obama propone penas de cárcel obligatorias con un mínimo de tres años para los hackers" by jediadame on Flickr
On February 6th, 2012, CNET.com confirmed that the Internet security giant Symantec offered to pay a hacker or hacker group $50,000 for a promise to not release its valuable security code on the Internet. Specifically, CNET reports that beginning in early January of this year, a hacker known as “Yamatough” reached out to Symantec in an extortion attempt. Yamatough claimed to be part of the “Anoymous” hacker group that has attracted headlines in recent months, both for their attack on local, state, and federal government websites and its support of the Occupy Movement.
The object at issue is Symantec’s source code. Source code is the text written using the format and syntax of the programming language (computer language) that is specifically designed to facilitate the specific program it supports. Source code is significant because it is useful to a user, programmer, or system administrator to better understand how a program works, or more importantly, modify the program. Symantec identified the source code as that for Symantex Endpoint and Symantec Antivirus 10.2. Evidence at the time suggests that the hacker(s) may have obtained the code after breaking into servers run by Indian military intelligence.
Although Symantec publicly stated that its customers have no significant security threats due to this situation, a rational person would of course be worried. Although Symantec can and most likely has adapted its programs to this security threat, there is great reason for alarm. The source code obtained by the hackers can give them extra knowledge of Symantec projects and procedures, along with the ability to manipulate the code to best serve their interests. In addition, and perhaps most important, the threat to expose the source code to the Internet as a whole exponentially increases this risk because there will likely be no way to track the source code once it is released.
In fact, as of approximately 9:00 p.m. on February 6th, 2012, a 1.2 GB filed labeled “Symantec’s pcAnywhere Leaked Source Code” has appeared on The Pirate Bay, a large bit-torrent file sharing site. Symantec has not yet confirmed whether this is the source code at issue. What does this mean for your average attorney? Basically, its time to add another area of concern for attorneys, along with issues such as conflicts of interests, fiduciary duties, and professional responsibilities. If an Internet security giant is breached in this manner, then it may be time for attorneys, who are entrusted with confidential and sensitive personal and professional information, to be even more careful with this type of data. As technology becomes a more crucial part of an attorney’s arsenal of tools, events like this remind the profession why some times, having a simple lock and key safe may be the better bet in protecting a client’s information.
Monday, January 09, 2012
Massachusetts Lawmakers Approve Human Trafficking Bill
On November 15th, Massachusetts’ House and Senate approved a Human Trafficking Bill that has been urged by human rights advocates. The bill imposes life sentences for pimps and other traffickers found guilty of coercing children into sex and forced labor. The bill also confronts the important matter of treating children as well as adults forced into prostitution as victims and not as offenders. Additionally, the bill will create a panel to study approaches to prevent trafficking. The sex trade is an increasing problem in Massachusetts, yet the state is one of three states that have yet to enact an anti-trafficking law.
While slavery is often considered obsolete, the exploitation through forced sex and labor is estimated to include trafficking of 27 million people around the world. This modern slavery has evolved through the use of the Internet, which conveniently allows traffickers to recruit and sell victims over websites, taking prostitutes off of the streets and out of the view of the public and law enforcement and placing them into hotel rooms.
Much attention has been given to advertising websites and their “adult” sections, which are intended as a means for consenting adults to find other consenting adults. Inevitably, the advertisements have been used for soliciting sex and in some instances sex with minors. When Craigslist banned sexually related advertising in the US in 2010, a majority of this activity found a new home on BackPage.com. The site has recently received demands from anti-trafficking advocates, including the fifty-one attorneys general and an interfaith social justice group, to remove the section in order to stop the online advertising for prostitution, emphasizing the exploitation of minors made possible through listings.
The letter from the attorneys general states that efforts made by BackPage.com to reduce trafficking of both adults and children have been unsuccessful, and more than 50 instances of trafficking or attempting to traffic minors through the site have been discovered. The letter provides an example of how a trafficker, in Dorchester, MA used the site to exploit a minor by “forcing a 15-year-old girl into a motel to have sex with various men for $100 to $150 an hour” and found the customers by “post[ing] a photo of the girl on BackPage.com.”
While shutting down the advertising will put an end to trafficking on those sites, with the Internet’s infinite domains, any setbacks for traffickers will be minor and clients will merely be required to use some extra effort to find other sites. Sadly, if traffickers are capable of physically abusing, controlling and exploiting children, they are also capable of looking elsewhere and creating other means to continue making a profit off of forcing others to work for it.
The recent Massachusetts bill approval is a great start to shed light on the fact that there is a problem and treating the victims as criminals is not the solution. The bill places the blame where it belongs: on the trafficker. Arguments have been made that not all adult prostitutes are trafficked, and it is a nice theory that a consenting adult has a right to make a living selling their body. However, prostitution by choice is not the rule but the exception. Children are trafficked as young as eleven and twelve years old and often remain in the sex trade into adulthood, demonstrating that even adult prostitutes are unlikely to have chosen this life for themselves. The reality is that all trafficking victims are controlled by fear, coercion, and violence, and the Internet is allowing this activity to go unseen. By shifting the current social stigma surrounding prostitution to victimization, trafficked individuals are more likely to seek help from the medical community and from law enforcement.
The bill, which will more likely than not soon become law, is important in officially recognizing there is a problem that needs to be addressed. A significant part of the bill is the establishment of a panel to study ways to prevent trafficking. Educating young people at risk of being trafficked as well as the entire public is essential. Eliminating the role of the Internet in trafficking is to be expected as a major issue in prevention to be addressed by this future panel.
Monday, November 21, 2011
Ban on French Cop-Watching Website
Photo titled "Anti-Sarkozy Demonstration & Riots (28) - 06May07, Paris (France)" by Phillipe Leroyer
Following French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s call for a more “civilized Internet,” a French court recently placed an immediate block on French website Copwatch Nord Paris, which monitored controversial actions of the French police. The website offered various images and videos of police officers while arresting suspects, including such acts as allegedly taunting protestors and committing acts of violence against members of ethnic minorities, reports the NY Times.
The French police welcomed the court’s decision, believing that the site was responsible for inciting violence against the them. Jean-Claude Delage, secretary general of the police union, Alliance Police Nationale, told Agence France Presse that the court “analyzed the situation perfectly,” stating the court had “made the right decision.”
Free speech activists, on the other hand, find the ban on the website to be an unacceptable censor, but consistent with the French government’s policy of imposing strict control over the Internet. Amnesty International issued a report in 2009 which criticized France for its police brutality, which it noted, is rarely investigated. The recently banned cop-watching website was an attempt to expose these alleged injustices.
The cop-watching movement and corresponding websites originated in the United States and have been protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Unfortunately for French advocates of free speech on the Internet, there is no equivalent to the First Amendment in French law. Given that no such protections exist for the French, the court was able to help Sarkozy in his attempt to clean up the Internet while free speech went by the wayside.
For further reading see:
Eric Pfanner, Court Orders French Cop-Watching Site Blocked, N.Y. TIMES, Oct. 16, 2011, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/17/technology/court-orders-french-cop-watching-site-blocked.html?_r=2&ref=technology.
Police Abuse Goes Unchecked, AMNESTY INT’L, Apr. 2, 2009, available at http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/police-abuse-goes-unchecked-france-20090402.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
A New Litigation Tactic: Use of the Ipad
Image by Malabooboo
As one of the latest technological revolutions, the Ipad is making headway into the legal system. Initially, the Ipad demonstrated its use in the classroom, corporate presentations and even in the medical field. Recently, the Ipad has showcased its practical use during witness examination and closing argument.
Traditionally, evidence has been presented on blow-up foam boards illustrating charts, pictures, etc. As the technological boom in the mid to late nineties occurred, the practice to present evidence to jurors with the latest technology became customary. In 1996, inData introduced TrialDirector software, enabling trial teams to exhibit documents and video depositions on a projection screen. The capabilities of this technology have since expanded to aid in the trial preparation process.
Each aforementioned method has their downfalls. Foam boards can become overwhelming to jurors when a large quantity of evidence must be presented. TrialDirector may require an IT professional on-site in case complications arise. To avoid these issues, some attorneys are turning to the Ipad as their solution.
What makes the Ipad more practical than other trial presentation methods is the versatility that its applications and features offer. The Ipad offers three trial presentation applications: RLTC Evidence, Exhibit A and TrialPad. Through these applications, evidence is seamlessly presented onto a projection screen from the Ipad’s display screen. All of the Ipad’s features (such as the ability to zoom in and out with fingers scrolling on the screen) are available for use with these applications. For example, as the user zooms in on the Ipad, the same occurs on the projection screen. This enables the user to focus in on a particular point at any moment, providing an opportunity to effectively articulate argument coupled with support that is easily viewed on the projection screen by jurors. Similarly, words or phrases can be effortlessly highlighted, further drawing the jurors’ attention to necessary information as attorneys read documents aloud.
The Ipad is distinguished from its trial presentation competitors through the flexibility of the device itself. The Ipad has brought sophisticated computer technology to a portable, lightweight device. Attorneys can walk around the courtroom with the Ipad in hand, and with a 10-hour battery life the concern for the Ipad crashing is non-existent.
As Ipad technology and the presentation applications that it offers develop, its use in the courtroom will expand. Ipad has already released an updated version of the TrialPad presentation application, “TrialPad 2”, which among other features now allows for PDF’s, video files and split-screen displays. The Ipad offers an impressive, user-friendly and effective method to present evidence during witness examination and closing argument. The sky is the limit for the Ipad.
Friday, June 24, 2011
Supreme Court Paves the Way for Changes to Expert Discovery
Categories: Guest Entry, Legislation, Misc.
Picture titled "Transparent Chemistry Glass Tubes Filled with Substances" by Horia Varlan
In "Supreme Court Paves the Way for Changes to Expert Discovery," guest authors, Neil J. Zoltowski & Laura C. Dorner explore the recent changes to Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Going into effect on December 1, 2010, Rule 26 now provides draft protection for testifying experts, as well as certain protections of attorney/expert communications. Throughout the article, the authors give insight into the numerous benefits that the amendments offer including decreased costs, increased efficiency and a more candid atmosphere than under the previous version of the rule. For those heavily involved in litigation, this article is a must read.
Click here to read more
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