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Recurring Myths About the Legal Obligations of Online Platforms

In recent months, some copyright holders, pharmaceutical companies, and state attorneys general have made allegations against Internet companies that help users find and share information. In short, they claim that because some users engage in copyright infringement, sell counterfeit products, or otherwise encourage potentially criminal activity on the Internet, the users’ Internet platforms should be held responsible for these misdeeds. That is, Google should be punished for any user’s copyright infringement on YouTube, Facebook for any user’s harassing post, and Twitter for any user’s slanderous tweet. According to the critics, that is, these companies should screen all users’ speech and take on the role of editors or publishers, rather than being open platforms for the speech of millions.

Madness And Privacy Harm

Recent research suggests a new trend among paranoid schizophrenics: they believe they are secretly being taped by hidden cameras for purposes of a reality show. I don't know quite what to make of this "fascinating cultural illness," to use Carla Casilli's eloquent label. This population is presumably going to pick some premise for their delusion; what does it matter whether their imagined antagonist is a demon or a director?

My Dinner with General Alexander

On July 30, 2013, I had the pleasure of having dinner with General Keith Alexander, Director of the National Security Agency. Just a few weeks earlier, NYU Law Professor Christopher Sprigman and I had called the NSA’s activities “criminal” in the digital pages of the New York Times, so I thought it was particularly gracious of him to sit with me. [more]

Why Opt Out Of Tracking? Here's A Reason

The Stanford Center for Internet and Society, where I am an affiliate scholar, is a thought leader on consumer privacy and a source for potential solutions. The CIS Cookie Clearinghouse, for instance, intends to publish lists of tracking cookies to block or allow based on objective, balanced criteria informed by consumer expectations. According to recent work by Daniel Solove and CIS affiliate scholar Woodrow Hartzog, Federal Trade Commission privacy enforcement is also trending toward upholding what consumers have come to expect regarding their data. Violating consumer expectations around privacy is probably itself a sufficient reason for intervention. Consumers who take steps not to be tracked, or who rely upon representations that they are not being tracked, shouldn't be. My new project, however, asks a different question: Why should consumers worry about being tracked in the first place? What exactly is the harm here?

Initial Thoughts on POTUS surveillance reforms

During a rare mid-afternoon late summer Friday press conference, President Obama outlined several actions that he believes will help restore American citizens' trust in the government's assorted electronic surveillance programs.  

The NSA/DEA Team-Up vs. Enemies Foreign and Domestic

The latest chapter in the ongoing tale of NSA overreach may be the most troubling one yet. Reuters has revealed that NSA has been sharing information with a secret group within DEA to help them launch criminal investigations against American citizens, and apparently the IRS has been in on the game as well. Furthermore, law enforcement officers involved in these cases were instructed to conceal the use of these NSA information sources to both prosecutors and courts.

This week’s revelations expose an ongoing subversion of the tools of national defense for the purpose of domestic law enforcement. These actions strike closer to home than any of the previously-uncovered NSA programs. While the individual mechanics may not be as stunning as the headlines suggest, taken in the aggregate they highlight two specific points: 1) the technology we use to hunt terrorists is so flexible and powerful that other federal agencies are “clamoring” for it, regardless of whether it is the right tool for the job, and 2) by its nature, NSA technology allows for a greater bifurcation between investigation and prosecution than ever before.

Give Me Complicity or Give Me Death: Lavabit Chooses Death

Today, Lavabit, an email service provider that promised its customers better privacy and security than other publicly available services, shut its doors.  Reading between the lines of a cryptic message posted on the site’s homepage, about six weeks ago the service was served with some kind of demand for user information, as well as a gag order preventing the company from disclosing both the details of that order as well as its very existence.  Rather than cooperate, owner Ladar Levison has decided to close the doors on his 10-year-old company.  In his letter

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