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Archive for April, 2013

Who has your back?

Companies’ responses to government requests for user data is a critically important, but historically overlooked, component of privacy and data security.  At least in the U.S.  I’ve been told that Europeans are more sensitive to government overreach in this regard given their experiences in World War II.

A few years ago, I began working with companies to consider ways to respond to government requests.  At the time, it wasn’t always considered very significant nor important to users.  Sometimes, I was shot down for these reasons by folks that I considered to be progressive thinkers.

But like so many dimensions of the privacy conversation, the issue is no longer obscure nor as minimized.  I just read the EFF’s report entitled “Who’s Got Your Back?,” which illustrates this point.  For me, it was fascinating to see how much has changed over the last few years.

For any company considering how to address government requests, this is a valuable set of data points.  Because often times, C-suite executives want to know what other companies in their space are doing before they commit to a certain path, especially when dealing with nebulous and cutting-edge issues like privacy.  It’s too bad though, because a lot of companies that have taken the lead here have reaped the rewards in terms of marketing and goodwill.

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Lately, I’ve spent some time thinking about personal vulnerability.  And what it means to really live your life as you want to, not how you are “supposed to.”  A myriad of pressures, expectations, and influences align to keep us living a certain way even when it’s not what our soul really feels or longs for.  It’s scary to live truly honestly, let it all hang out, and damn the consequences.

Given this mindset, I was particularly touched by Jason Collins’ outstanding letter in Sports Illustrated today, which is getting a lot of coverage.  I can’t say I had ever heard of Jason Collins before today but his words deeply moved me.  I believe it is one of those sacred shared human experiences to yearn to be true to our deepest selves and to live our lives fully even when it seems daunting.  With all the recent press coverage around the vulnerability that will likely surround the first professional male athlete(s) to come out, all I heard in Jason’s voice was strength.  And pride.  And peace.

I was really proud to be a former Stanford varsity athlete today.  Way to go, Jason!

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I haven’t blogged for a while, and several recent items have sparked my desire to write.  One is to say how much I enjoyed speaking at the recent Robots Conference at Stanford Law School.  I am by no means a robotics expert (either legally or technologically), but it was interesting to me to see how so many of the most cutting edge legal issues really come down to traditional legal concepts like agency and product liability, which are age old, while also fueling conversations around some of the most current legal topics like privacy and data security.  Professor Ryan Calo chaired the conference and always puts on first-rate legal conferences.   Anything he organizes is worth attending in my view.  I am glad to see that even with his recent hire at University of Washington, he is still gracing Stanford’s Law School with his thinking and presence.

Which reminds me of Professor Eric Goldman’s Section 230 conference from a few years ago, which was the best legal conference I have ever attended.  I had meant to blog about it at the time but the time got away from me.  So here it goes, better late than never:  It was amazing for both it’s depth and breadth.  The day opened with a conversation with one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Wyden, explaining the environment in and strategy under which he introduced the bill.  Then the audience was treated to discussions of the significance and impact of this law from the perspective of  judges, lawmakers, in-house counsel, litigators, and academics, with each constituency comprising its own panel.

Apart from Sen. Wyden’s opening, the highlight for me was hearing from Kenneth Zeran, a man who sued AOL over  postings he wanted taken down.  I don’t remember the specifics of his case, but I vividly recall him sharing, from a true first-person perspective, how a free internet that includes an ability for platforms to avoid liability for third party postings directly and personally impacted his life.  While his views were directly contradictory to many in the audience, and his thinly veiled opinions contrary to the political sensibilities of many in the Bay Area, it felt to me that most everyone in the audience appreciated his perspective, his passion, and his authenticity, not only despite his position, but because of it.  I found it very powerful to both hear him speak and witness how the audience held him and his message.  It took a lot of courage to bring that message to this assembly of folks.

iTunes has the videos from the conference available for free download.  For anyone interested in internet law, these are worth watching.

Moving on to my day-to-day practice.   I was intrigued by a term that was recently introduced to me:  TaaS, or Talent as a Service.  A colleague sent me an article, which suggests that geographically distributed, highly specialized, on-demand, as-needed labor is the wave of the future.  It certainly is how I run my practice, so I found this somewhat validating.  While I’m not sure all the ramifications are good for workers, I certainly am intrigued by the proliferation of this trend and what it means for people searching for alternatives to the cubicle experience.  It would be great if this trend was a win both for the workers and the corporations and other entities hiring them.

Finally, pulling together my interests in both FLOSS and privacy, there was a recent article in TechCrunch about the latest efforts in Europe to promote open data.  While I strongly support openness, I will be watching closely to see how they address reidentification concerns, which are notoriously tricky.

Cheers.

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