Sexy Texting May Further Test 4th Amendment Protections

Nate Anderson at Ars describes a case that could test some interesting 4th Amendment issues around use of a newer technology. The suit is being pressed by a SWAT Sgt. Jeff Quon against the city of Ontario, CA. At issue is whether the city had any right to read through the texts the cop sent with his city issued pager. City officials were prompted to pull the records in the face of repeated overages, despite the fact that Quon paid all the fees. The records revealed a mass of intimate messages sent and received by Quon, far outstripping an average of about three work related messages a day.

The issue will be heavily informed by the fact that Quon was using a device that was owned by the city. Traditionally this has been much more clear cut then monitoring of privately owned devices. Anderson has a good point in his conclusion, one that has little to do with the rampant criticism of the seeming technology illiteracy exhibited by some of the judges during oral arguments.

If the norm is moving further towards workers making consistent, partial personal use of corporate assets, does that beg at least some minimal expectation of privacy? If the judges answer even a bit in the affirmative, that could significantly reshape the contours of privacy in the workspace.

A Couple of Poorly Conceived Tech Policy Bills

Mike Masnick at Techdirt quickly sketches out problems with a couple of new legislative proposals. One, advanced by Senators Schumer and Graham, is nominally aimed at immigration concerns but unfortunately looks set to re-commit the sins of the poorly thought out and ultimately rejected Real ID. In some of my other reading, I seem to recall Schumer explaining there would be no central database behind the national ID cards this bill would institute. Not at first, perhaps, but we’ve definitely seen government mandated fixtures of one sort co-opted and put to uses for which they are ill suited if not outright dangerous. *cough* SSNs.

The other bill he mentions is one of two cyber security bills. The problematic one, introduced by Senators Rockefeller and Snowe, would set government standards that schools and technology companies would have to meet. This is being hotly debated not just amongst vendors concerned about the government’s snail pace when it comes to technology but also among academics. There is no real consensus across the current curricula of computer science departments so it is a bit mystifying what exactly Congress expects here in terms of training and certification.

Hopefully both bills will die in committee. For the latter, in particular, I expect the outspoken tech and academic communities to weigh in heavily.

Judicial Tech Illiteracy, Amazon and the Public Domain, and More

  • Radio Berkman podcast episode on anonymity and limits on free speech
    As I do not already listen to enough podcasts on legal matters. But I am grateful to TLF’s Adam Thierer for bringing this to my attention, especially this particular episode on an excellent subject that is very relevant to recent stories about anonymous speech circulating through the blogosphere. I will warn you that while there is an Ogg version of the podcast, the file I checked had a panning issue; sound only on the right channel.
  • New language on the JVM from Google
    The name, short for “No Operation”, sounds like a joke, but the piece I found via Hacker News appears to be legitimate. I understand the reasoning behind the laundry list of features but wonder, as I usually do, if their efforts would have been better served helping Scala or Groovy rather than creating a whole new language.
  • Amazon delaying public domain submissions for the Kindle
    Although the piece doesn’t say explicitly, I suspect that the Orwell incident is a large part of their reasoning. What they have said is suspicious, as the letter including in this article makes clear. At least they are not singling anyone out.
  • Tech illiteracy’s impact on judges’ rulings
    At Techdirt, Mike Masnick shares a good example of a case where illiteracy yielded an outcome one hundred and eighty degrees from how things would have gone if the judge were more clueful. It echoes the question I consider a while ago.
  • Big Content whines to FCC to perserve its internet filtering plans
    I really am not at all surprised by Nate Anderson’s coverage at Ars of another FCC workshop on their broadband plan in which the entertainment industry took over with flimsy rhetoric, easily debunked, intending to shore up their desire to deputize ISPs to police for infringing content.
  • An overreaching patent from Google on reading lists
    RWW supposes this may be a key patent underlying the Bundles feature in Reader. Further, they detail a response from Winer which seems to have the right of it, that at least judging from the abstract on the patent, there is a load of applicable prior art.
  • Ruling further limits interpretation of the CFAA
    According to Jacqui Cheung at Ars, in this instance the ruling on appeal was for a case around ex-employees accessing former employer’s data. It reins in another of the problematic, broadening claims brought to bear under the already overly vague and dangerous Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.