Executive Order #12333: The Legality of the Most Expansive Domestic Surveillance Program Ever

Posted By: Rob Pollock

Big BrotherFor privacy advocates and civil liberties watchdogs, the year 2016 was a bad year. Executive Order #12333, signed into law over 35 years ago and largely forgotten, has been resurrected in late 2016 with a series of hair-raising executive agency procedures passed by the Obama administration citing the obscure executive order as authorization. This relatively-benign executive order was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on December 4, 1981, and regarded the relationship between intelligence agencies in how they share information with each other. However now, the executive order is not so benign, and its use as justification for intelligence information collection could represent one of the most egregious violations of the Fourth Amendment and privacy protections we’ve seen in the intelligence community for a long time.

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Twitter and Electronic Surveillance: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Big Brother

Posted by: Emily Weiss

Big BrotherOn April 6th, 2017, online microblogging site giant Twitter filed a complaint against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Twitter sought the court’s aid in preventing the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol from obtaining information about one of its users – the user who ran the account @ALT_USCIS. Twitter argued that the summons that CBP was using to obtain the information was inapposite, and did not apply to the kind of information CBP actually sought. As a result, Twitter argued, the summons violated the First Amendment and Twitter did not have to comply with it.

Less than a day later, DHS and CBP dropped the summons for information, and Twitter likewise dropped the suit. The American Civil Liberties Union called this a “big victory for free speech and the right to dissent.” But was it? This is not the beginning – nor the end – to Twitter’s apparent commitment to protect its user’s privacy.

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Altering the Scope of Section 230 Immunity: Should Social Media Companies be Responsible for Child Safety?

Posted By: Rob Pollack

laptopHow We Got Here:

In the mid-1990’s, Internet service providers who hosted content on their websites were being held to the same standards as traditional publishers in many lawsuits, leading to a situation in which these Internet companies were forced to spend considerable resources and time policing content on their sites and removing objectionable posts. This high standard was retarding Internet growth and stymying one of the advantages of the Internet: that it was a place for freedom of expression and thought and a place where a vast amount of information could be mined.

If ISPs and interactive content providers were required to police their sites diligently by finding and deleting objectionable content, they would be in court quite often if they allowed for largely free expression on their sites, or more likely, they would stop allowing such free expression on their sites and the users would not be allowed to utilize the Internet in the way Congress wanted the Internet to be utilized. Without taking these steps, the ISP’s would be subject to liability for every single post on their websites and so websites would start to resemble more print-magazines than the Internet we know today. Like print newspapers, everything that is posted would be highly scrutinized, curated, and filtered for content without much room for error. This is not how Congress wanted the Internet to function, and so they decided that they had to take action legislatively to protect ISPs, but has that legal protection gone too far at the detriment of minors? This is the question we have to decide after more than 20 years of Communications Decency Act (CDA) dominance in the legal landscape.

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The “Copyright Deadlock:” ContentID, Fair Use, and Derivative Works on YouTube

Posted By: Emily Weiss

Jim Sterling has a thriving YouTube channel. His videos include reviews of video games, along with longer video essays on the state of the games industry. Unlike a lot of other YouTubers, Jim refuses to monetize his videos, and instead supports himself through his Patreon page. But this doesn’t always prevent his videos from being monetized.

YouTube’s ContentID system, which came into being after a multitude of copyright disputes, was intended to allow copyright holders to “fingerprint” and claim their copyrighted material when it was used in other videos. As a result, some third parties, like Nintendo, could claim their copyrighted content through the ContentID system and monetize the video themselves.

Jim didn’t like this. So he decided to put copyrighted footage in his videos from multiple companies. Lo and behold, they claimed their content through the ContentID system. But since different companies had different ideas about the monetization of the video, the end result was that Jim’s videos ultimately remained without advertisements. Jim called his solution the “Copyright Deadlock.” But was his solution legal?

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If Privacy Were an Species, It Would Be an Endangered One

Posted by: Macaulay Christian

April 20, 2015


town-sign-83730_640If you were to swipe the lock screen on your smartphone, yours, like almost everyone else, would contain a variety of apps, and at least one of those apps would be a social media account, one you use frequently…why else would it be on your phone? Perhaps you’re documenting your life, one selfie at a time with Snapchat, or maybe mean tweeting celebrities with Twitter, stalking classmates on Facebook, or casually swiping people’s faces one direction or another on Tinder. Regardless of why you are on social media or what you do on it, the digital world many of us have grown up in, seems to harken us, collectively, back to a time when there weren’t these walls of solitude erected between me and you. For all of the ways in which computers and the Internet have revolutionized the lives of most of the planet’s seven billion inhabitants, perhaps the most striking, or, certainly the most controversial, seems to be the ever increasingly publicity of the average person’s life for all to see, comment, like, and share.

It is curious to think that a hallmark of human civilization’s technological progression is having an effect on the social and personal relationships of individual people, reverting, in a sense, the nature of those relationships to a status the hasn’t existed for more than a century. It is an interesting line of thought, one put forward by Vint Cerf, who characterized privacy as something of an “anomaly”. Continue reading

Our Changing Perception of Privacy

Posted by: Vikram Amritraj

April 19, 2015

town-sign-83730_640 Today, we generally think about the concept of privacy as something of an inherent right. Just the thought of others having access to our intimate actions or thoughts invokes a sense of intrusion and unrest. However, this was not always the case, and the social notion of ‘privacy’ as we know it may be a relatively new development, a function of new technologies and a changing society. Given this context, is the current battle over privacy in cyberspace a reasonable one? I would argue that it is, mainly because privacy is a fluid, societal concept and we need to figure out what it means to us in today’s interconnected world. Continue reading

Duke University has Sent You a Friend Request?!

Posted By: Ryan Bethell

facebookRecent surveys from U.S.News suggest that Universities are increasingly looking at Facebook, Linkden, and other social network profiles to help make admissions decisions. Using Facebook in admissions criteria may implicate certain obvious (government actors accessing private information) and non-obvious (admissions officers making fun of applicant essay topics online) privacy concerns, though these issues have been discussed at length elsewhere. A novel question exists, however, of whether or not a public University’s using Facebook to gain information about its applicants creates conflict between new laws banning race conscious admissions in public Universities. Assuming such bans survive the Supreme Court’s scrutiny, will examining a student’s Facebook page, and subsequently discovering their race, violate these statutes? If not, will universities be able to use Facebook to actuate their interest in preserving a diverse learning environment without directly “asking” about race? Continue reading

Cybersquatting on Social Media

Posted By: Jeremiah Chin


twitterSocial media began as a way for people to interact across the internet, communicating with friends, family and new people in new ways. Companies have quickly caught on to the heavy use of social media, establishing their brand on Twitter, Facebook and other sites in order to create good will with fans, and ensure that their company is properly represented on the web. For new companies, or those who are simply late to the game, finding a good social media branding can become difficult as usernames may be already taken. Continue reading

Apple Hopes to Stay on Top with Topsy

Posted by: Brooks Siegel


twitterRecently the Apple Corporation purchased a Twitter analytical firm named Topsy. Topsy provides in depth analysis of anything Twitter related. Anything from trending topics, patterns of behavior, or grass roots ideas; Topsy has a hand in analyzing such Twitter data. Topsy also keeps an inventory of any Tweet that has existed to provide a thorough database for research and reference. What is interesting about the purchase however is Apple’s motive. Continue reading

AFP v. Morel in Plain English

Posted By: Justin McKay


twitterCopyright law has protected artistic expression for hundreds of years, but it wasn’t until recently that Copyright law had to deal with the likes of Twitter and other social media outlets. Below is a summary of a recent case that shows how Copyright law applies to the images we share in the digital age. Pay special attention to the importance of the terms of service in this case!

Brief Fact Summary

Daniel Morel, a professional photojournalist, took pictures of the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake and posted the pictures on Twitter. Minutes later, Lisandro Suero took those pictures and posted them on his Twitter account, claiming them as his own. AFP, a news agency, took the photos posted by Suero and transmitted the photos to Getty, an imaging licensing company. Those images were credited to Suero instead of Morel, labeled as “AFP/Getty/Lisandro Suero.”

Morel’s attorney notified Getty and AFP about the issue, but the photos were never fully removed or credited to Morel, resulting in this lawsuit. Continue reading