21st Century Problem: Authentication of Prisoner Facebook Status Updates

by Eric Maloney, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff

Thumbnail-Eric-Maloney.jpgFacebook has become a part of everyday life for people around the world. According to Mark Zuckerberg and Co., over one billion people (yes, with a “B”) are active on Facebook every month, with an average of more than 600 million active users every day in December 2012. Disregarding bogus or duplicate accounts, that means roughly one-seventh of the entire human population is active on Facebook every month (with the world population currently sitting somewhere in the neighborhood of seven billion people).

Apparently, Facebook has become so commonplace and ingrained in the daily routine of some that they feel the need to use the social networking service from the privacy of their prison cells.

A Harlem gang member named Devin Parsons has decided to cooperate with the government against fellow members of his gang, and is currently incarcerated while trial is pending. Instead of having the usual prison contraband smuggled in, he obtained a mobile phone and used it to post Facebook status updates under an assumed name. According to Trial Judge William H. Pauley III:

In some posts, Parsons reflected on his life in jail:

“everybody wanna live but don’t wanna die”;
“Life is crazy thay only miss yu ifyu dead or in jail”; and

In others, Parsons posted about his cooperation:

“I’m not tellin on nobody from HARLEM but I can give up some bx n****s that got bodys”; and
“be home sooner then yaH hereing 101[.]”

While not exactly “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Parsons was surprisingly bold about disclosing the fact of his cooperation and about the risk of getting caught with a banned cell phone by the prison administration. The gang against which Parsons is testifying is charged with multiple counts of narcotics trafficking and murder, among other things.

One of the defendants in the case, Melvin Colon, sought to compel the disclosure of these postings under the Brady rule, which requires the government to release evidence to the defense before trial if the evidence is favorable to the defendant. Judge Pauley held that the government was not obligated to turn these postings over to Colon; for various reasons, the government was never in actual possession of the Facebook statuses and therefore had no duty to disclose under Brady.

This case highlights the continually growing relevance that Facebook and other social media data has in legal proceedings. In fact, this is not even the first ruling about Facebook in this case; the defendant Colon had earlier moved to suppress his own Facebook postings which the prosecution sought to introduce. Judge Pauley denied this motion as well, holding that Colon’s sharing of the postings with his Facebook “friends” meant he lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in them.

A background issue in this case was the idea of authenticity of the Facebook poster; because Parsons was posting under a fake name, both sides were unaware of his conduct until after the account had already been deactivated. While not contested here, ensuring that the Facebook information originated from the user is an increasingly important evidentiary consideration as more and more of this data is used in both civil and criminal contexts.

Professor Ira P. Robbins laid out a possible framework for authenticating social networking evidence in his Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology article “Writings on the Wall: The Need for an Authorship-Centric Approach to the Authentication of Social-Networking Evidence.” While voicing significant concerns about the current lack of a required nexus between the online content and its real-life poster, he proposed detailed admissions criteria for social network postings. He offered several factors to be examined by judges in making rulings about such data, including who owns the account, how secure the account is, and how / when the post in question was created.

As Facebook and other social networking information becomes increasingly important to the outcomes of legal cases, a framework like this is essential to bring our procedures in line with the nature of 21st century evidence and to ensure our system continues to meet Due Process standards. Digital evidence is largely unexplored territory for jurists and scholars alike, and it’s my hope that evidentiary standards like those proposed by Professor Robbins are seriously considered by the legal community.

Will the Good Deed of Respondent John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Go Unpunished?

by David Hanna, MJLST Lead Article Editor, UMN J.D./M.S. in Chemistry Joint Degree Candidate

Thumbnail-David-Hanna-II.jpgOn February 7, 2013, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. [“Wiley”] announced that it would make 12,200 Online Books available in eighty developing countries through the Research4Life initiatives of HINARI (the World Health Organization’s Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative.), AGORA (Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture) and OARE ( Online Access to Research in the Environment). With Wiley’s contribution, Research4Life can now boast an impressive number of almost 30,000 peer reviewed scientific journals, books and databases made available to developing countries for free or for low cost access. With the Supreme Court of the United States [“SCOTUS”] currently deciding the fate for Wiley in a pending case against petitioner Supap Kirtsaeng d/b/a Bluechristine99 [“Kirtsaeng”], could Wiley’s charitable contributions come at a more convenient time?

On October 29, 2012, SCOTUS heard oral arguments on behalf of petitioner Kirtsaeng and respondent Wiley in a case involving the first-sale doctrine in copyright law which enables owners to sell or transfer copyrighted items to other parties without seeking permission from the original copyright holder. In the case, SCOTUS is deciding on the particular issue of whether the first-sale doctrine applies to copies of copyrighted works made and legally acquired outside the United States and then imported into the United States.

How does the “good guy” fit into the picture? Wiley brought a copyright infringement suit against Kirtsaeng, a graduate foreign student currently in the United States who had been receiving textbooks produced by Wiley Asia from his family and friends outside of the United States and then selling them for a profit on eBay. In responding to Wiley’s suit, Kirtsaeng presented the first-sale doctrine as a defense. Both the District Court and Second Circuit denied Kirtsaeng the “first sale” doctrine and ruled that the defense did not apply to foreign-manufactured books.

The Minnesota Journal of Law Science & Technology’s recent publication, “John Wiley & Sons, Inc. v. Kirtsaeng: The Uncertain Future of the First-Sale Doctrine,” identifies the important implications of SCOTUS’s upcoming decision on the U.S. economy. Author Benjamin Hamborg states, “In an already struggling economy, the last thing that the country needs is precedent giving companies a further incentive to move manufacturing plants overseas.”

Will Wiley’s recent contributions cast a positive light on the company while SCOTUS decides whether to uphold the lower courts’ holding which denied a first-sale doctrine defense to Kirtsaeng? Will SCOTUS consider the implications of the case on this country’s disintegrating economy? Now, Kirtsaeng has to worry not only about his pending copyright infringement case before the superior court of the land but also about his opponent’s charitable good deed. Perhaps, Kirtsaeng might find it in his best interest between now and the time SCOTUS releases its decision to make a charitable donation from some of the profits earned from his book buying and selling business.

Improving Healthcare Quality: Electronic Prescribing

by Johanna Smith, UMN Law Student, MJLSTStaff

Thumbnail-Johanna-Smith.jpgA new study published online on February 20, 2013 in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association found that when hospitals used electronic prescribing, it prevented 17 million drug errors–and if implemented more widely and consistently, it could prevent more than 50 million drug errors. But as of 2008, only about one in three acute care hospitals used electronic prescribing. Although there are various methods suggested to improve healthcare quality, one of the simplest is to make medical errors public. If hospitals, and the general public, were more aware of the safety benefits of electronic prescribing, this could lead to increased use and standardization. Another option to increase the use of electronic prescribing is to connect funding or reimbursement to the use of electronic prescribing.

An article in the January 23, 2013 Journal of the American Medical Association reported that once Medicare and Medicaid stopped reimbursing costs due to certain medical errors, the number of times a foreign item was left in a surgical patient dropped by half. The authors note that this number may not be truly accurate, since the hospitals would have financial incentives to hide the errors. Currently, reporting relies mainly on self-reporting by the hospitals, which is not always accurate. A new article in the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science, and Technology (MJLST) by John R. Grout, John W. Hill, and Arlen W. Langvart entitled “Mistake-Proofing Medicine: Legal Considerations and Healthcare Quality Implications,” discusses how to mistake-proof medicine and looks at healthcare quality on a broader level, including electronic prescribing. The MJLST article highlights that many hospital administrators are concerned more with the finances of the hospital than with patient safety. Connecting these two items increases the probability that patient safety will become a priority for hospitals. Although electronic prescribing is not a complete fix for incorrect prescriptions, it is an important part of improving the process. Compared to the cost of medical errors–including incorrect prescriptions–mistake-proofing is generally less expensive.

And the Patent Goes To…… The First to File

by Emily Puchalski, UMN Law Student, MJLST Notes & Comments Editor

Thumbnail-Emily-Puchalski.jpgIn just about one month the most monumental provision of the America Invents Act (AIA) will take effect. As of March 16, 2013 patents will be awarded to the first to file rather than the first to invent. This first to file system will bring the United States in accord with many other countries of the world. However, it is important note that the first to invent rule will still apply to patent applications filed before March 16th 2013.

Many patent lawyers and their clients have already began thinking about what the first to file system will mean for the American patent system. For example, a group of patent attorneys have already outlined some strategies that could be employed by inventors and predictions for how the new system will operate. Patent lawyers are not the only ones thinking about what the new systems will look like. Universities, for example, which can derive significant revenues from the patented inventions of its faculty, have implemented strategies for dealing with the new system. The University of North Dakota, for example, has stressed that the changes in the law as of March 16th govern towards immediate disclosure of any invention to the school’s intellectual property office to make sure that it can obtain patent rights on the invention, if desired, by filing an application as soon as possible with the Patent and Trademark Office.

Despite the prominence of the first to file provision of the AIA, it is important to remember that the AIA has many other important provisions aimed at changing the American patent law system. The AIA has also significantly changed the review available after a patent has been granted. The AIA both strengthens existing review procedures and creates new ones as well. In her article published in Issue 14.1 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, “The Post-Grant Problem: America Invents Falling Short,” author Kayla Fossen provides an in-depth description of the post-grant review process under the America Invents Act. Fossen also takes a look at whether the new post-grant proceedings can effectuate change on the American patent system where patents are frequently invalidated in infringement litigation. Interestingly, Fossen proposes a pre-grant review process that could be used in addition to the post-grant proceedings under the America Invents Act to ensure that patents issued are strong enough to survive validity challenges in any infringement litigation. Even though March 16, 2013 will mark a big change in US patent law, it is important to evaluate the big changes that the America Invents Act has already made, one of them being post-grant review. Luckily, Fossen’s article does just that.

Time for a New Approach to Cyber Security?

by Kenzie Johnson, UMN Law Student, MJLST Managing Editor

Kenzie Johnson The recent announcements by several large news outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg News, and the Wall Street Journal reporting that they have been the victims of cyber-attacks have yet again brought cyber security into the news. These attacks reportedly all originated in China and were aimed at monitoring news reporting of Chinese issues. In particular, the New York Times announced that Chinese hackers persistently attacked their servers for a period of four months and obtained passwords for reporters and other Times employees. The Times reported that the commencement of the attack coincided with a story it published regarding mass amounts of wealth accumulated by the family of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

It is not only western news outlets that are the targets of recent cyber-attacks. Within the past weeks, the United States Department of Energy and Federal Reserve both announced that hackers had recently penetrated their servers and acquired sensitive information.

This string of high-profile cyber-attacks raises the need for an improved legal and response structure to deal with the growing threat of cyber-attacks. In the forthcoming Winter 2013 issue of Minnesota Journal of Law, Science, and Technology, Susan W. Brenner discusses these issues in an article entitled “Cyber-Threats and the Limits of Bureaucratic Control.” Brenner discusses the nature, causes, and consequences of cyber-threats if left unchecked. Brenner also analyzes alternative approaches to the United States’ current cyber-threat control regime, criticizes current proposals for improvements to the current regime, and proposes alternative approaches. As illustrated by these recent cyber-attacks, analysis of these issues is becoming more important to protect sensitive government data as well as private entities from cyber-threats.

States Move to Implement Health Insurance Exchanges

by Brianna Rohne, UMN Law Student, MJLST Articles Editor

Thumbnail-Brianna-Rohne.jpgProponents of the Affordable Care Act breathed a collective sigh of relief in June 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of the law in its decision in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius. As Minnesota Lawyer reports, the health care law will have a major impact in 2013 as state and federal agencies rush to implement the ACA’s key features.

Chief among those features are the Health Insurance Exchanges, which are insurance marketplaces designed to help carry out the ACA’s key feature–the individual mandate–by simplifying the process for purchasing health insurance for consumers and small businesses in every state. As Kathleen Sebelius comments, the Exchanges will provide “one stop shopping for health insurance with better information about plan benefits, quality and cost.” The Exchanges, which will be administered at the state level, must be ready for open enrollment in October 2013 and full operation on January 1, 2014.

Department of Health and Human Services rulemaking has stressed flexibility in the creation and operation of the Exchanges, encouraging each state to take the lead in shaping their Exchange in a way that best accommodates local needs and market conditions. For example, states may choose the type of entity to operate the Exchange, limit the insurance plans eligible to participate, and partner with other states to establish regional Exchanges. HHS also offers support in the way of formal partnership, grant funding, technical assistance, and guidance on key topics.

HHS also allows states to opt out of Exchange planning altogether, leaving it up to the federal government to implement Exchanges in those states. As of early January, the New York Times reported that 23 mostly Republican-run states had indicated that they will not set up their own Exchanges. Another 17 states and the District of Columbia are moving to set up their own Exchanges and seven states have asked to collaborate with the federal government.

Ensuring health coverage and subsequently affordable health care for millions of uninsured and under-insured Americans is an ambitious undertaking, fraught with challenges that states and the federal government are just beginning to work through. In a recently published article from the current issue of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science and Technology titled Developing a Durable Right to Health Care, Erin C. Fuse Brown discusses the momentous shift in policy accomplished by the ACA’s statutory right to health care. She goes on to warn that the ACA’s right to health care is fragile–especially early in its lifespan–and faces significant political and market challenges. Ultimately, the success or failure of the ACA’s most ambitious goals may become apparent as the federal government and states begin its roll-out over the next few years.

Chimeras in DNA Forensic Testing: What to do?

by Ryan J. Connell, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff

Thumbnail-Ryan-Connell.jpgThe answer as suggested in an essay titled Chimeric Criminals by David H. Kaye in the current issue of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science and Technology is not to worry about it too much.

The article criticizes the book Genetic Justice: DNA Databanks, Criminal Investigations, and Civil Liberties by Sheldon Krimsky and Tania Simoncelli. The book has latched on to a particular genetic anomaly referred to as chimerism. Chimerism denotes the presence of two genetically distinct cell lines in the human body. The authors of Genetic Justice want to use this rare condition to show that the supposed assumption that DNA profiling is infallible is incorrect.

Think for a moment about what DNA evidence has done in criminal law. Do not just think of the convictions, but think of the acquittals, and think of those freed from incarceration by innocence projects around the country that can be attributed to the use of DNA evidence. To call DNA evidence into question over such a rare and insignificant condition such a chimerism stretches the confines of reasonableness. Genetic Justice proffers that there is a 1/2400, 1/10, 1/8, and 1/1 incidence of chimerism. Other estimates are no better. A 2010 article in the Globe and Mail entitled “The Dark Side of DNA” called DNA evidence into question and offered that chimerism may be present in anywhere from a tiny population to ten percent of the population. If an entire science is going to be called into question some better statistics might be advisable first.

This book and other sources, such as “Expert evidence: the genetic chimerism and its implications for the world of law” by Daniel Bezerra Bevenuto assume that if genetic evidence is gathered and then does not match the defendant’s DNA that the courts and lawyers will simply dismiss the case. I think courts can handle whatever problems chimerism presents. If DNA is recovered at a crime scene and identifies person X and said person is chimeric and the reference sample he provides doesn’t match the sample recovered at the crime scene the court will rightly be concerned. The natural and simple remedy to this solution is just to test again. Normally chimeric cells are isolated so a second reference sample taken from the suspect should resolve the anomaly.

Chimerism does not preset the problem that the authors of Genetic Justice suggest. It is a rare occurrence that a DNA sample recovered at a crime scene doesn’t match the DNA of the suspect it identifies. And even in those rare circumstances where the DNA doesn’t match it is an easy fix. For a more detailed analysis of this issue please read the article by David H. Kaye in the Minnesota Journal of Law Science and Technology.

The full issue of MJLST in which David Kaye’s article appears can be found here.

The Bayou Corne Sinkhole: A New Test for the Gulf Region’s Post-Deepwater Strategy?

by Chris Evans, UMN Law Student, MJLST Executive Editor

Thumbnail-Chris-Evans.jpg Less than 200 miles from the site of 2010’s Horizon Deepwater blowout, another environmental disaster threatens a community in the Gulf Coast region. In early August, 2012, a massive sinkhole opened up beneath the Bayou Corne near a small residential community in Assumption Parish, Louisiana. Filled with brine, oil, and natural gas, the sinkhole has since grown to 8 acres, forcing the evacuation of 300 residents, and officials apparently don’t know when (or if) the area will again be habitable.


Below the Bayou Corne, the country’s largest independent brine (used in a variety of industrial processes) producer, Texas Brine, had been removing brine from an underground salt cavern for over twenty-five years up until June 2011, when it plugged the cavern. Texas Brine also, with the permission of Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, deposited naturally-occurring radioactive material in the cavern. The USGS has determined the collapse of the cavern caused the sinkhole. Although Texas Brine has been working with authorities to monitor and remedy the disaster, the company sought an injunction against an order to drill new wells to install additional monitoring equipment. Texas Brine dropped that lawsuit when Louisiana agreed to instead require the company to perform 3D seismic imaging to evaluate the cavern.

This unprecedented disaster and the torpid response by state officials and Texas Brine is an example of what Daniel Farber called the Gulf region’s “witch’s brew of chronic environmental harm, acute pollution, and threatened communities.” In The BP Blowout and the Social and Environmental Erosion of the Louisiana Coast, Farber described the threats to the region posed by both the Deepwater oil spill and the chronic unpreparedness of the region for such catastrophes.

Farber notes hopefully that “the acute crisis of the spill has helped mobilize attention to the Gulf, which may help catalyze responses to the Gulf’s chronic ills.” Indeed, in October 2010, President Obama established the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force to develop a regional response to the Deepwater spill, which it released in December 2011. The strategy–one of several post-Deepwater reforms discussed by Farber–is built around four main goals: restore and conserve habitat, restore water quality, replenish and protect living coastal and marine resources, and enhance community resilience.

The Bayou Corne sinkhole has remained mostly unnoticed by national media, so despite its impact on the local community and lack of historical precedent, this disaster is unlikely to mobilize new attention to the Gulf region. But Bayou Corne presents a useful test for the Restoration Task Force’s strategy: can this framework help mitigate the effects of the sinkhole? The strategy’s focus on the coast, the Gulf, tourism, fishing, and oil and natural gas drilling make it a less than optimal source of salvation for the unusual problem of the Bayou Corne sinkhole. But displaced residents would be wise to tap any available Deepwater-related resource aimed at the region. Even if the Deepwater-inspired reforms provide no relief for Bayou Corne, local pressure will improve the state, regional, and federal framework for dealing with (or preventing) the next disaster

Searching for .08: Marijuana Laws and the Problem of Detecting “Drugged Driving”

by Nathanial Weimer, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff

Thumbnail-Nathanial-Weimer.jpgWe’ve all seen the commercial. Some car comes swerving down the road, veering in and out of the proper lane and generally wreaking havoc on the neighborhood. Upon being pulled over, the driver is visibly intoxicated and the police officer quickly notices. The officer breathalyzes the driver, and if alcohol is found takes the driver back to the station for blood testing. If the driver’s blood alcohol level reaches .08, it creates a presumption that the he or she was driving under the influence of alcohol. The law enforcement process is simple and mostly effective, even if the car wasn’t actually filled with the driver’s drink of the night.

The recent passage of laws in Washington and Colorado legalizing the recreational use of marijuana will obviously increase the number of “drugged drivers” on the roads. At first glance, this might not seem like an issue–after all, police have a fairly simple method for measuring whether, and to what extent, someone is intoxicated by alcohol. Seemingly, they could employ a similar system for marijuana (driving under the influence of marijuana is, of course, still illegal). It turns out, however, that detecting the influence of marijuana presents a different set of challenges that law enforcement will have to grapple with.

The legal question for a drug DUI is whether or not one’s driving was impaired by the influence of the drug. One prominent marijuana detection method is the blood test, which measures the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component in marijuana, in the blood. If some amount is found, that indicates recent use. There are problems with this test, though. First of all, THC blood levels don’t indicate the time of use because THC remains in the blood for a long period of time, according to DUI Blog. Some say it remains for days, while others claim the period can be weeks or months. Regardless, the point is that THC may be present while the effects of the drug are not; since the legal standard is impairment, a THC finding of a certain level does not necessarily meet that burden.

Effectiveness aside, blood tests also fall short from the perspective of administrative ease and individual rights. As might be expected, conducting and interpreting blood tests is time consuming and costly. As also might be expected, it’s a frustration to the driver to have to submit to a blood test taken at a police station, especially if it comes back negative. While traffic safety is clearly an important concern, well worth a few false alarms, it’s clear that a “drugged driving” detection system suffers from the lack of a breathalyzer-like device that can quickly indicate marijuana use and support blood testing of a driver.

Users, too, have a need for a short-term test that can be easily administered and understood. Drinkers of alcohol should have a general idea of their intoxication, at least up to the point where they know they should no longer drive. Most drinks have a known amount of alcohol in them, the alcohol is roughly the same strength, and there is only one way to ingest them. Marijuana on the other hand varies in strength depending on type, has multiple methods of ingestion which also vary the strength of the drug’s effect, and it’s more difficult to keep track of the amount consumed. Legal users who have ingested hours earlier and feel no effects may wonder whether their THC level is acceptable.

Technological development has provided a few solutions to the problem of short term detection. One “new” test (it is currently used in Australia and other places) is the saliva test. According to a blog on The Verge, this test is done by swabbing the driver’s mouth, can be completed within 3-5 minutes, and can measure the presence of marijuana for a few hours after ingestion. This would solve the invasiveness issue and the short-term issue. However, the amount consumed cannot be measured, and there are also accuracy based concerns–the test tends toward reporting false negatives. Still, the saliva test seems to be a promising tool for law enforcement in the future.

Another potential solution is being developed by Intelligent Fingerprinting, which is working on a fingerprint drug screening method. The device would use “high sensitivity detection reagents to identify metabolite substances in the sweat contained in fingerprints”, and would compute results in a matter of minutes. While this test would similarly fail to pinpoint the time of ingestion, or the level of impairment, it could be a very useful roadside tool. This device is still in development, however, and could still be a few years away.

With the new marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington, the pressure is on law enforcement to effectively detect drivers under the drug’s influence. While the ultimate step may be to conclusively link detection to impairment, the current step that must be taken is the development of a non-intrusive, short term device that can accurately measure a driver’s chemical levels. Possibly the saliva test will satisfy this need; possibly inventors have yet to create a viable device. In the meantime, it’s important to be careful while driving–especially if you see a car swerving like it’s in a commercial, and it’s entirely filled with smoke.

While 86% of Americans Oppose Behavioral Targeting of Voters, Campaigns Embrace it

by Bobbi Leal, UMN Law Student, MJLST Articles Editor

Thumbnail-Bobbi-Leal-ii.jpgWith the dramatic 2012 Presidential election behind us, new information about the campaign funds are being released. A recent Huffington Post article outlining the campaign funds allotted toward the mining and analysis of internet data about potential voters. President Obama and Mitt Romney’s campaigns spent a combined total of $13 million dollars on this controversial practice.

The Minnesota Journal of Law Science and Technology’s recent publication, “It’s the Autonomy, Stupid: Political Data-Mining and Voter Privacy in the Information Age,” points out that campaigns utilize data mining as a way to more effectively target voters. The mined data includes information gleaned or purchased from both public and private sources. To make use of the internet’s information on the individual, the campaigns use algorithms that match the attitudes of voters on specific issues with individual behaviors and tendencies. The individual behaviors they might look at include where you shop, which team you root for, which petitions you sign, who your friends are, and even what mobile device you use.

With a continued decrease in the number of undecided voters, the practice of using digital data to target particular individuals is an effective one. Further, online targeting can reach voters who would normally have no access to traditional campaigning, such as those in remote counties.

A study by the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School of Communications revealed that a large majority of Americans (86%) are against behavioral targeting and tailored advertising for political or other purposes. However, privacy practices in the political context are not regulated like in the commercial sector due to protections afforded by political speech.