Has anyone been following the debates surrounding the recent enactment by a number of states of laws that require cellphone carriers to provide police with a customer's location information in case of emergency? I saw a news report today that Missouri is the 8th state to enact such a law. It seems to me like a good idea despite privacy concerns and concerns about possible legal liability of cellphone carriers for disclosing the information. But I suppose a lot would depend on how the laws were actually drafted. What is the best way to draft the concept of 'emergency' to protect civil rights concerns but still allow the police to investigate promptly and effectively in situations where time may be of the essence? Has anyone compared the drafting of the various state acts on this point? I would be interested in your thoughts.
You are on your law school's faculty appointments committee. You and your committee colleagues pull several FAR Forms that merit consideration and discussion, perhaps leading to an invitation to interview with your team at the AALS Faculty Recruitment Conference (memo to self: block out October 11-13, 2012).
At some point during the recruiting process, your team is likely to request a current c.v., teaching evaluations, a law school transcript, a research agenda, a list of references, copies of scholarship, etc.
Will your team ask for a candidate's Facebook password?
If you are the candidate, how will you respond to such a request?
It’s an app that can be interpreted many ways. It is as innocent as it is insidious; it is just as likely to be reacted to with laughter as it is with tears; it is as much of a novelty as it has the potential to be used a tool for rapists and stalkers.
And more than anything, it’s a wake-up call about privacy. * * *
Girls Around Me is a standard geolocation based maps app, similar to any other app that attempts to alert you to things of interest in your immediate vicinity: whether it be parties, clubs, deals, or what have you. When you load it up, the first thing Girls Around Me does is figure out where you are and load up a Google Map centered around your location. The rest of the interface is very simple: in the top left corner, there’s a button that looks like a radar display, at the right corner, there’s a fuel meter (used to fund the app’s freemium model), and on the bottom left is a button that allows you to specify between whether you’re interested in women, men or both.
It’s when you push the radar button that Girls Around Me does what it says on the tin. I pressed the button for my friends. Immediately, Girls Around Me went into radar mode, and after just a few seconds, the map around us was filled with pictures of girls who were in the neighborhood. Since I was showing off the app on a Saturday night, there were dozens of girls out on the town in our local area. * * *
Apparently (see here), it is possible for anyone with a publicly available profile on Facebook to be "checked in" to locations (and thus to Girls Around Me) by a "friend" without knowing it.
[A]s sleazy as this app seemed, Girls Around Me wasn’t actually doing anything wrong. Sure, on the surface, it looks like a hook-up app like Grindr for potential stalkers and date rapists, but all that Girls Around Me is really doing is using public APIs from Google Maps, Facebook and Foursquare and mashing them all up together, so you could see who had checked-in at locations in your area, and learn more about them. Moreover, the girls (and men!) shown in Girls Around Me all had the power to opt out of this information being visible to strangers, but whether out of ignorance, apathy or laziness, they had all neglected to do so. This was all public information. Nothing Girls Around Me does violates any of Apple’s policies.
In fact, Girls Around Me wasn’t even the real problem. * * *
[L]ike many tech professionals, I had taken for granted that people understood that their Facebook profiles and Foursquare data were publicly visible unless they explicitly said otherwise… and like my beardo Diaspora friend, I secretly believed that people who were exposed this way on the Internet without their knowledge were foolish. * * *
Girls Around Me isn’t an app you should use to pick up girls, or guys for that matter. This is an app you should download to teach the people you care about that privacy issues are real, that social networks like Facebook and Foursquare expose you and the ones you love, and that if you do not know exactly how much you are sharing, you are as easily preyed upon as if you were naked. I can think of no better way to get a person to realize that they should understand their Facebook privacy settings then pulling out this app.
Thanks to a pointer from Danielle Citron, I learned about Margot Kaminski's latest ("Reading Over Your Shoulder: Social Readers and Privacy Law"), which deals with the problem of sharing (sometimes rather widely) the contents of a reader's virtual bookbag. This is an issue of obviously large proportions for those concerned with privacy. But for a moment I want to part company with my librarian friends, or maybe it's not so much parting company with them as pointing out the importance of their project: as a historian I like it when we have lists of things Americans have read.
One of the projects I'm working on (slowly right now, but I hope to return to it with some vigor soon) is a study of the reading habits of southern college students before the Civil War. I'm interested in what uses students (and faculty, too) made of ideas in books. Sometimes I get at this in pretty direct fashion -- for instance by going back to the books that they cite and seeing what they pull out and cite and what's left behind. I'm going to be talking some about this at the University of Florida next week when I discuss Thomas Cobb, a law professor and later Confederate general, who wrote a proslavery legal treatise. Cobb brought a lot of sources together to create a zealously proslavery vision of human history. And one of the many sources he turned to were histories of Egypt, as well as treatises on reform of employment law in England. Cobb drew on a lot of different sources to create the sense that slavery was ordained of God, natural, and could not be ended without demographic and economic catastrophe to the white south. And of course one of the great virtues of legal treatises for those of us who work on the "history of the book" is that we can tell where judges took their ideas. Then we can compare judges' opinions on similar issues to make some kind of assessment of differences between judges' reasoning styles. Or you can see the authors and works that orators refer to -- never ceases to surprise me how much one can learn from paying attention to the ideas that come out of people's mouths or off their printing presses.
But at other times I want to come at the question rather differently -- not by using a single text and asking what sources were poured into it (and what ideas were left out). I want to know which books someone read. And therein lies the issue -- how much I enjoy snooping over the shoulders of students to see the books they borrowed from the college literary society libraries, for the records of several college literary societies have survived that have the books students borrowed -- not just the books in their catalog, which is valuable in itself, but actually what books the students borrowed. I get completely that this is a huge issue of privacy, but for precisely this reason, the lists of books that a student borrowed are helpful -- because we can begin to formulate a picture of the mind.
A resident of Allegheny County, New York is suing a fertility clinic and medical lab in Texas on the grounds that the clinic used his stolen sperm to inseminate his girlfriend. (For a copy of the complaint, see here.) Jamie Pressil alleges that "[d]ue to the unexpected birth of his children caused by Defendants, Pressil suffered severe mental anguish and incurred economic harm due to substantial child support payments.
The factual background is a bit murky, but the alleged basic storyline appears to be this: Mr. Pressil's former girlfriend and domestic partner, Ms. Anetria Burnett, supposedly secreted Mr. Pressil's used condoms to a fertility clinic, which then used Mr. Pressil's sperm to inseminate Ms. Burnett. Ms. Burnett subsequently gave birth to twins. Mr. Pressil took a DNA test that proved he was the father and then began paying child support of $800 per month. Related news reports are here, here, and here.
The clinic reportedly has a copy of a consent form allegedly signed by Mr. Pressil, as well as the results from bloodwork allegedly performed on Mr. Pressil around the time of Ms. Burnett's insemination. The costs of the fertility services were charged to Mr. Pressil's credit card. See news stories here and here.
In a separate action, Mr. Pressil has been charged with assaulting Ms. Burnett in 2010 (see news story here).
No doubt, there are several factual issues to be resolved. But if the clinic did in fact use the sperm without Mr. Pressil's consent, might the clinic have violated Mr. Pressil's constitutional rights (assuming one could show state action)? Glenn Cohen has suggested a constitutional right not to become a parent in his Stanford Law Review article, The Constitution and the Rights Not to Procreate. And if Ms. Burnett did take Mr. Pressil's discarded condoms, did she steal his "property"? Does it matter how and where the condom was discarded? Does any "theft" only become legally significant if stolen sperm is "converted" into children?
Margaret Hu, a visiting assistant professor at Duke Law School, has posted over at the ACS blog on U.S. v. Jones. Margaret's research focuses on immigration and surveillance policy. She previously served as special policy counsel on immigration-related discrimination in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Is Representative Anthony Weiner a sexual harasser? I think not, based on what we know so far. Here's how I see it:
Some stupid people are sexual harassers.
Some sexual harassers are stupid people.
Not all stupid people are sexual harassers.
Not all sexual harassers are stupid people.
By stupid people, I mean those who are susceptible to making or proven to have made mistakes of judgment, especially in the realm of sexualized communications. Is there any among us who has not made a mistake of judgment, even if not in the particular nature or realm of Rep. Weiner's?
Let's be clear that sexual harassment is not simply communication of a sexual nature. It is intimidating or unwelcome speech or action of a sexual nature that impacts someone's work or educational environment. If one adult wants to "sext" another in a non-work/non-education context, that may be stupid and it may reflect on the sender's poor judgment, but it's not sexual harassment, in my opinion.
Fertility and taxes are seemingly unrelated topics with surprising intersections. Consider this example. Taxpayers can exclude up to $250,000 (if single) or $500,000 (if married and filing jointly) of gain on the sale of a principal residence, if certain requirements are met. A homeowner who moves too early or too often gets no benefit … unless the move is motivated by “a change in place of employment, health, or to the extent provided in regulations, unforeseen circumstances.” One unforeseen circumstance is the birth of twins, according to the Treasury Regulations.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (here), approximately 4.6% of total U.S. births are the result of ovulation stimulation medication alone (without in vitro fertilization). 22.8% of all multiple births in the U.S. in 2005 resulted from ovulation stimulation medication (used alone, without IVF). Although multiple births are “unforeseen” according to the IRS, the CDC stats suggest otherwise. Even so, I’m not sure I’d want the IRS to start doing a facts-and-circumstances inquiry every time the parents of multiples try to avail themselves of the tax benefit under IRC Section 121.
Over at Wired there's an interesting story describing what happened when a 20 year old found the FBI's GPS tracker that was surreptititously placed on his car. At right is a picture of the device courtesy of the Wired story. Apparently the target of the surveillance brought his car in for an oil change. The mechanic saw a wire sticking out from underneath the car and pulled out the device. The target of the surveillance posted photos of the device on-line to find out what it was. It turns out the device is an Orion Guardian ST820 an older model GPS tracking device. Not surprisingly, it didn't take long for the FBI to show up at the target's door demanding their device back.
The target of the surveillance is Yasir Afifi, a U.S. born citizen, business student and son of an Islamic-American man who died in Egypt last year. The ACLU has jumped onto the case declaring to Afifi "This is the kind of thing we like to throw lawyers at." According to the report, "Brian Alseth from the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington state contacted Afifi after seeing pictures of the tracking device posted online and told him the ACLU had been waiting for a case like this to challenge the ruling."
I've been recently following the case of the Rutgers student who committed suicide last week after videos showing him engaging in a homosexual encounter were posted on the Internet by his roommate and another student. Of course, the case raises many issues about cyberbullying and invasions of privacy. But what particularly interests me - and others may be able to illuminate the law on this - is that New Jersey appears to have very strong privacy laws and hate crime laws which enable state prosecution based on both the invasion of the student's privacy and the fact that the conduct may have been motivated by animus against homosexuals. According to the MSNBC coverage, the hate crime laws come into play at the time of sentencing, rather than as a separate cause of action, to raise the penalty for the criminal conduct under the privacy laws. This would seem to make the laws easier to enforce than in some other states (and at the federal level) where many hate crime laws require proof of an intent by the perpetrator to cause harm to the victim. I'm also under the impression than many existing harassment and bullying laws also require a credible threat of immediate harm to the victim. Thus, New Jersey's approach seems to be particularly stong in comparison. Does anyone know anything about the history of the New Jersey criminal laws on privacy and hate crime and why they seem to be different to the laws in many other states, assuming I'm correct about that?
In a prior post I discussed a change to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court's Rules of Procedure. Marc Ambinder, writing at The Atlantic and Steven Aftergood at Secrecy News both posted responses (thanks to both for the comments and traffic). Ambinder tied my post to recent developments in the Ninth Circuit, noting:
"Just yesterday, the 9th circuit court of appeals preserved the executive
branch's ability to assert the State Secrets Privilege in cases where
national security could be jeopardized by even the discovery phase of a
trial. The only consideration that mattered to the court is whether the
information's release could actually damage national security... But the FISC, which regularly deals with highly classified information
involving sources and methods, now wants to positively assert that it
has the authority, in determining when and whether to release
information about cases, to order the executive branch to figure out the
appropriate redactions. Before, the executive branch could redact
whatever it wanted. Now, the court wants to decide whether the executive
branch can redact whatever it wants."
Aftergood, on the other hand thinks both Ambinder and I misunderstand the Court's change in language, and he even goes so far as to say that my reading is "hasty and likely erroneous." I won't go that far in critiquing Aftergood's reading, rather I think the fact that we disagree about this highlights the problem with the rule and the need for clarity (a point echoed by Robert Chesney here).
To the substance. Aftergood first argues that a change in wording from "Opinions (which 'must' be reviewed)" to "an 'order, opinion, or other decision' (which 'may, as appropriate' be subject to review)" somehow doesn't mean exactly what it says. His argument is premised on the fact that the mandatory "must" language was changed to the discretionary "may" language for not only "opinions" but also "orders" and "other decisions." On it's face this change in language modifies both the discretionary nature of the review and the scope of the review. Basic canons of statutory construction reinforce this point, as the Supreme Court has said:
"...in interpreting a statute a court should always turn first to one cardinal canon before all others. . . . [C]ourts must presume that a legislature says in a statute what it means and means in a statute what it says there. When the words of a statute are unambiguous, then, this first canon is also the last, judicial inquiry is complete.’” (Connecticut Nat’l Bank v. Germain, 503 U.S. 249, 253-54 (1992)).
There's not much less unambiguous than the distinction between may and must. Granted, it's not the legislature we're dealing with here, but the same rule of construction should apply. Even more on point, specifically with regard to the word "may" in a review process, the Second Circuit has held that “The use of a permissive verb — ‘may review’ instead of ‘shall review’ — suggests a discretionary rather than mandatory review process.” (Rastelli v. Warden, Metro. Correctional Center, 782 F.2d 17, 23 (2d Cir. 1986).)
Now, I admit that the change in language may result in an absurd reading when applied to scheduling orders and
other minutiae, but it's discretionary as to both, so the absurdity argument doesn't apply. What's absurd (in the ordinary sense of the term) is that Executive Branch review is also discretionary as applied to opinions, which are my central concern (although I imagine some orders may also have information which the Executive Branch may want an opportunity to review before publication). I'll concede Aftergood's best point, which is that the Executive Branch doesn't need to review scheduling orders. That still doesn't change the fact that the plain text of the proposed rule shifts a mandatory review by politically accountable officials to a discretionary review by unaccountable officials. A judge who was inclined to favor disclosure and transparency over secrecy may read the rule in the exact way that I'm reading it. Unclear rules lead to uncertain results, and when dealing with matters of national security I see this rule change as an unnecessary risk. Once information is released there is no way to pull it back, and that's why I favor keeping the rule mandatory. Contra Aftergood's suggestion, my concern is not "scheduling matters" and "page limits" rather my concern is (as I stated in my prior post) to ensure that every opportunity to catch a mistake is undertaken. That may not favor the end of immediate transparency (a sometimes laudable goal which Aftergood has advocated for), but it does favor national security.
Let me end on this point. If reasonable people like Aftergood, Ambinder, and I can disagree on the meaning of this rule change, I imagine reasonable judges and Executive Branch officials could also disagree. That is why the rule should be clarified. Rather than arguing over the meaning of "may" and "must" the FISC could make the following changes:
For opinions, maintain the existing language "Before publication, the Opinion must be reviewed by the Executive Branch..."
For orders and other decisions the Court should place a 72 hour (or some other reasonable period of time) embargo on publication, with automatic publication at the end of the period unless the Executive Branch makes a request to the contrary.
This proposal clarifies the meaning of the rule and strikes an appropriate balance between national security and transparency.
It looks like I'm getting to substance more quickly than I expected. I received a call from a reporter today on a legal ethics issue, I'd love to hear comments from the collective wisdom of the blogosphere.
Here are the facts:
A District Attorney in California has announced that he will no longer return calls from the media or offer public information about pending cases. The DA claims that media sensationalism in two high profile cases forced a change of venue and his new media policy.
The reporter wanted to know:
Can the DA decide to not talk to the press?
Is the prosecutor obligated to disclose public information?
What are the ramifications of this policy?
What recourse does the media have?
What can the voters do?
My sense of this is that the prosecutor is on very firm ground. As most of us know, the criticism that we more frequently hear is that prosecutors are undermining a fair trial by arguing the case in the media. So from the perspective of fair administration of justice, this could be deemed commendable conduct. The critique here seems to be grounded in open government principles. Let me start with the ethical issues.
First, recall what Justice Holmes wrote over 100 years ago: "The theory of our system is that the conclusions to be reached in a case
will be induced by evidence and argument in open court, and not by any outside
influence, whether of private talk or public print." Patterson v. Colorado, 205 U.S. 454 (1907). This theory, or principle informs a prosecutor's
decisions to speak to the media and protects a defendants rights by ensuring
the case hinges on the evidence, not sensationalism.
Second, it's ethical for a prosecutor to not speak to the press because it's a fairly well settled principle that publicity has an adverse impact on jurors who may
try and conform their verdict to public sentiment, rather than the law. Moreover, in jurisdictions with elected judges, those judges may (improperly) worry about elections or future judicial appointments, especially in high profile cases. A prosecutor who refuses to talk about pending cases makes it less likely that the case will receive detailed press coverage by not feeding the fire of speculation and arm chair quarterbacking that seems to surround high profile cases. (Although the unique nature of the prosecutor's silence may ---at least in the early stages of the policy---generate more scrutiny, rather than less).
Third, witnesses may be hesitant to testify if there is a
lot of media attention or they may reassess or even change their testimony in light of other
information they hear or read about the trial.
Separate from these policy considerations and value judgments are rules governing attorney conduct. The Model
Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 3.6 which is substantially similar to
California Rule of Professional Conduct 5-120, Trial Publicity directs (I'm paraphrasing throughout this post) that a
lawyer "who is participating or has participated in the investigation...of
a matter" may not make out of court statements that the lawyer knows will
have a likelihood of prejudicing the case.
This doesn't prevent the prosecutor from making statements, but it does inform the prosecutors judgment in what to say if he or she chooses to speak. Furthermore, the rules explicitly allow (but don't require) attorneys to make statements in seven circumstances.
The prosecutor may
make statements about:
offense or defense involved and the identity of the persons involved
info in the
the fact that
an investigation is in progress
the schedule of
the investigation and trial
the fact that
assistance in obtaining evidence or information is needed
a warning of
danger concerning the behavior of a person involved, when there is reason to
believe there is a risk of harm to the public or an individual
may also release info related to: i) the identity, residence, occupation and
family status of the accused; ii) if the accused is at large, info needed to
apprehend that person; iii) the fact, time and place of arrest; iv) the
identity of investigating and arresting officers or agencies.
On the flip-side, the commentary to the Model Rules also state what are
essentially "no go" statements that are "more likely than not to
prejudice" a criminal case. Those are statements about:
credibility, reputation or criminal record of a party, suspect in a criminal
investigation or witness, or the identity of a witness, or the expected
testimony of a party or witness;
of a plea of guilty to the offense or the existence or contents of any
confession, admission, or statement given by a defendant or suspect or that
person's refusal or failure to make a statement;
or results of any examination or test or the refusal or failure of a person to
submit to an examination or test, or the identity or nature of physical
evidence expected to be present;
any opinion as
to guilt or innocence of a suspect
information that the lawyer knows or should know is
likely to be inadmissible if disclosing it would prejudice an impartial trial;
the fact that a
defendant has been charged with a crime, unless there is included therein a
statement explaining that the charge is merely an accusation and the defendant
is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
Ultimately I told the reporter that it seems that the ramifications of this policy are more fair trials and
a lot more work for members of the media, and the only critique is grounded in open government principles. (I'm guessing he didn't like that comment). The media does not have much recourse other than critiquing the policy
on the grounds that this is contrary to principles of accountability and transparency. However, the needs for open government do not
outweigh the defendant's right to a fair trial. Of course, the voters can
exercise the greatest influence over the DA's judgment by voting him out of
office, or making such an issue of this that he rethinks his self imposed gag
order. But short of those democratic means of persuasion, I don't see much that supports the media's case.
For those who might be looking for books to assign to new law students interested in getting some accessible background perspectives on the criminal justice system, I would recommend two recent publications of the New Press.
The first is Let's Get Free by Paul Butler.
Butler is a prof at GW Law and has previously been a federal
prosecutor. He provides interesting perspectives on the criminal
justice system both from the point of view of a federal prosecutor and
as an African-American. The book is short and accessible and can easily
be read in a day - it's actually kind of hard to put down. It's a
great introduction to racial issues in the system, how new technologies
might impact on future criminal processes, and what criminal procedure might learn from Hip Hop culture.
Another good book is Lynn Powell's Framing Innocence. This is an account of a situation some years ago in Ohio where criminal (child pornography) charges were brought against a woman, Cynthia Stewart, who had taken nude photographs of her 8 year old daughter in the bathtub. The book is written by Stewart's friend and neighbor, Lynn Powell, who conducted detailed interviews with many of those involved in the proceedings. Again, this is an easy read that is hard to put down.
It shows up issues inherent in the criminal justice system and Child Services system involving family law, constitutional law and criminal law - and addresses the difficulties of fairly enforcing criminal laws based on "community standards" of unacceptable behavior.
Both of these books look at the law and legal processes from different perspectives and both would be engaging reading for those embarking on a legal career.
Today is "Quit Facebook" Day - a day of protest where a group of disgruntled Facebook members are encouraging others to get off the social network site. Many of the concerns of the users have been about ways in which Facebook manages user data and doesn't make it particularly easy for users to control their own private information, despite recent moves by the company to improve its privacy settings. While the number of people deleting their profiles from Facebook forever may not do much immediate damage to the company - and may be largely ineffective for personal data which has already found its way into the hands of third parties - it does squarely raise concerns about privacy on Facebook (again).
Some of you may have read about the controversy swirling around the Lower Merion School District, on Philadelphia's affluent Main Line. In the last two years, the district decided to issue each and every student his or her own laptop. (What? Your school district doesn't do that?) In order to stop theft (or perhaps assist students who'd lost their machines), the school installed surveillance software that allowed a school technician to remotely snap photos using the computer's camera. You get the idea: when a computer is stolen, the school would presumably provide the cops with photos of the thieves. Of course, the school district didn't tell all the kids and parents that the computers offered this feature.
Unfortunately, the school didn't have total control of its surveillance process. Among other things, we've recently learned that the school didn't have formal procedures for authorizing the technicians to take the pictures. Sometimes, they forgot to turn off the surveillance even after the laptop was found. And they used the cameras not simply in cases of theft but also, in at least one case, to track the computer of a person who'd failed to pay the mandatory $55 insurance fee.
All this got Lower Merion in hot water. A couple of months ago, Blake Robbins - a student - sued the school district for allegedly spying on him. In this complaint, he claimed that an assistant principal confronted Robbins in school, accusing him of improper behavior at home, and cited the content of a photo that had been snapped with this surveillance system.
Now it turns out that in the last two years, the surveillance system was used 146 times and captured 56,000 photos. While most of these were probably within the officially intended scope of the program, technicians failed to stop the surveillance even after several of the computers were found. In fact, 13,000 of the pictures were snapped after computers had been located. The district assures everyone that nothing really inappropriate was photographed. No need to worry, folks. But hey - we did notice that your wallpaper is peeling in the corner!
In an effort to curb online bullying and online predators, a British child protection agency is apparently working to convince Facebook to institute a virtual "panic button" that would allow Facebook users to immediately alert authorities if a suspected predator was online. See story here.
In light of the recent privacy debacle involving the Plain Dealer and Judge Saffold (see previous post), a number of news media outlets are reconsidering their policies relating to the anonymity of those who comment online about news stories. I am indebted to my colleague Elizabeth Rowe for bringing this new article to my attention from The Gainesville Sun. The article surveys the approaches taken by different news services to the anonymity of postings by online commenters. Some very interesting points are made in the article. One is the issue raised by the editor of the Plain Dealer, Susan Goldberg, who has suggested that anonymity should be regarded as a habit in this context, rather than a guarantee. Another interesting aspect of the article is that it notes that a number of news services are considering revised approaches to their online commenting policies along the lines of either doing away with anonymity altogether and requiring people to post comments under their own names, or instituting a ratings system for commenters so readers could give more or less weight to certain comments. This is a difficult issue indeed and I suspect we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg with respect to the privacy conundrums likely to be generated on these websites.
For anyone teaching - or interested in - bioethics, property rights in human tissue etc, I can recommend The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which I've just read on recommendation by a number of colleagues. Rebecca Skloot's account of the development and use of the immortal "HeLa" cell line, derived from cancer cells of a woman named Henrietta Lacks, is a terrific interweaving of the human interest story of Henrietta Lacks' life, death and family alongside the scientific developments over many decades involving the use of the cell-line. The author spent years interviewing Lacks' family as well as members of the scientific community and has written an engaging and accessible account of the science and bioethics concerns surrounding the use of human tissues in medical research. She also deals with difficult race relations issues that have arisen, particularly in the medical science field over the last 50 years or so, particularly with respect to medical experiments conducted on disadvantaged populations without effective consent, as well as general access to health care issues. It's a small, easy-to-read book that covers a variety of interesting subjects with intelligence and even-handedness. Skloot gives her readers much information but appears to be trying her best not to be judgmental or to be seen to be "taking sides". Thus, the book easily provokes discussion of a number of health care and bioethics issues, and may well be useful for law and policy courses in these areas.
Recently, a class action lawsuit was filed in the Northern District of California alleging a series of privacy law violations against Facebook. It's an interesting action for all the claims it raises, including right of publicity claims raised by individual Facebook users, misappropriation claims, unjust enrichment and some criminal claims. A press story is available here and the text of the complaint can be viewed here.