The intriguing legal ramifications of Pokémon GO

Recently, there has been a virtual tsunami of articles about the so-called hidden dangers of using the Pokémon GO app. The vast majority of them concern potential violations of the privacy rights of both consumers and landmark-owners. The media’s Chicken Little-like take on this is that augmented reality apps are opening the door to a dystopian future.

However, what has not been widely discussed is the impact of all this on the developers of augmented reality apps. That deserves some space as well.

I am the managing attorney of the Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC, a boutique commercial law firm located in NY, NJ, PA and TX with a focus in intellectual property. Our firm handles a fair amount of work involving apps. This includes everything from licensing agreements and movie and book deals to lawsuits over infringement of our clients’ intellectual property. We have reviewed the Pokémon GO controversy from the developers’ perspective and have come to the conclusion that it raises some very intriguing legal issues. Here are a few.

  1. What sort of access is really necessary in order to utilize the app? Many commentators have complained that signing into Pokemon GO provides “full access” to users’ Google accounts, i.e. gmail, maps, contacts, calendar, etc. See’s excellent article on this concern. But does the app need to require a user to give total access to their Google account or is that simply an unnecessary overreach?

    If not, why stir up the hornet’s nest of privacy concerns when you can simply dial back the access without impairing the app’s functionality? The developer may not have complete control over how the app is downloaded, but that is precisely the point. Indeed, implementing such legal protections might give the developer a marketing edge to sell a more privacy-friendly product when others are not, e.g. end-to-end encryption. On the other hand, many developers have taken the position that no change is necessary since the heightened access level is fully disclosed and consented to by the app users in the terms and conditions and privacy policy. Either way, the developer should enter this legal thicket with eyes open. There is a downside of having the “benefit” of free access to user data.

  2. The web has been rife with articles concerning Poké Stops and Pokémon Gyms located at properties owned by people who have no idea that they have been selected. Notable examples of this have come from such wide-ranging landmarks as the Holocaust Museum andArlington National Cemetery. Setting aside the concern that it can be irritating to suddenly have 50 people show up at a national landmark because it has now become part of a video game, there are serious questions about whether this is also an invasion of privacy.

    State laws differ, but generally, invasion of privacy breaks down into three basic categories. As set forth in the Restatement of the Law, Second, Torts, § 652, they are:

    • Intrusion Upon Seclusion – One who intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the solitude or seclusion of another or his private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.
    • Appropriation of Name or Likeness – One who appropriates to his own use or benefit the name or likeness of another is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy.
    • Publicity Given to Private Life – One who gives publicity to a matter concerning the private life of another is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the matter publicized is of a kind that
      (a) would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and
      (b) is not of legitimate concern to the public.

    It is obvious that any one or all of these could apply to the legal issues raised by augmented reality technology.

    So how can the developer be protected? A good start would be a waiver of liability. It is critical that the terms and conditions for the app waive liability not just for the company distributing it, but the developer, as well. Another important consideration is whether the developer can obtain a suitable insurance policy that would cover these sorts of claims. There is no way of being completely protected, but such measures at least can offer a partial shield to potential liability.

  3. Where does copyright law come into all this? Let’s consider the following hypothetical: the XYZ Candy Company is known throughout the country as being the best place to buy high-end candy and related items in bulk. It has a tremendous Internet presence and has franchised stores all along the eastern seaboard. Its unique building design—which is in the shape of one of its candies—has been copyrighted (Yes, under the right circumstances, a building design can be the subject of a copyright).

    But now, the XYZ Candy Company building also has become a Pokémon Gym. Players from miles around aggregate to that location because the name and logo are depicted in the app as a Pokémon Gym location. At what point does this mean the app is using the copyrighted design in violation of the copyright registration?

    The concern is not just that a developer would lose a lawsuit like that, but that they would be sued at all. Even a successful defense against such a challenge would create all sorts of negative consequences for the developer, e.g. litigation cost; backlash from the fan base; strain on the relationship with the app distributor; etc. If the potential for a copyright suit relating to building design is significant, the developer should consider negotiating license agreements / location releases with the copyright owner to specifically authorize the app’s use of it.

  4. Another legal risk for the developer that should be mitigated by appropriate waivers of liability and indemnification clauses is a slip and fall claim. Believe it or not, there are already proposed laws that would prevent people from walking in public locations while utilizing their cell phone. These laws would penalize pedestrians who use the sidewalk while distracted: something which would only be exacerbated by using a cell phone with an augmented reality location app. (And while we are on the subject, how about liability for using the app while driving?)

    This raises the obvious question of who would be indemnifying the developer in this scenario. Perhaps the user. They could, on the one hand, hold the developer harmless from the user’s own claim for damages caused by the user’s negligence and, on the other hand, indemnify the developer for any claims by others (third parties) for damage that also arose from the user’s conduct. While not foolproof, the best way to try to obtain this protection would be to include it within appropriate terms and conditions for use of the app.

  5. An integral way that augmented reality apps can be monetized is for the property owners to pay (perhaps on a per visitor basis) to be listed as a sponsored location. This can be complemented by such businesses using their status as an augmented reality location to provide discounted services to participants. All of this raises the question of how the developer can maximize the value of the brand and the monetization opportunities. Proper intellectual property registrations and a strong licensing and enforcement regime would be critical to doing so.

    Let’s take the example of a restaurant that advertises itself as a “Poké Stop” and utilizes a game image in connection with the stylized “Poké Stop” mark in its store window. That is arguably an instance of both copyright and trademark infringement. To best enforce those rights, however, it would be important for the game developer to have federally (if not internationally) registered those intellectual property rights.

    But why is it important to inhibit this type of use? Doesn’t it help promote the game? Perhaps, but, on the other hand, once a restaurant can associate itself with the game and the developer for free, the opportunity to sell that right to another restaurant diminishes greatly. Why would Restaurant A pay to be a sponsored location, if Restaurant B is doing it without paying? The value of the license—the amount that Restaurant A might pay the developer for that opportunity—is greatly enhanced by properly policing the intellectual property and not allowing third party infringers to use those rights without permission.

    Moreover, even if the developer is not seeking to make money from these opportunities, it still behooves it to have a license in place. Having a proper license can help the developer maintain brand integrity and quality control.

    As to brand control, for example, if the game is sold and targeted as being family-friendly, it will be important to ensure that the reality-based locations that are associating themselves with the game and its intellectual property, are appropriate venues, rather than liquor stores, places of adult entertainment and so forth.

    Quality control is also critical. A license can help maintain this and ensure that a location using the brand indicia of the game does not inadvertently tarnish it. In other words, if there is a restaurant that has health code violations, terrible reviews and other such challenges, the developer may very well not want to have its game associated with it. A proper license can help to provide an exit strategy and afford the developer enhanced rights.

Augmented reality apps are a quintessential example of disruptive technology. Their impact will extend beyond the digital world and affect other segments of society that may not currently even be aware of their existence. In the past, the law has done a very uneven job of keeping up with the pace of change created by such disruptive technologies… I could provide more examples, but I just saw a Mewtwo run into my law library. Gotta catch ‘em all…

May Copyright Infringement Suits Allow the Use of Blanket Subpoenas to Identify Anonymous Users of Potentially Infringing Internet Content? Originally Published Jan 28, 2014

Is it abusive for a company alleging copyright infringement to uncloak the anonymity of users of adult content in an effort to embarrass them into settling marginal claims? That issue was considered by the Court in Amselfilm Productions v. Swarm, 6A6DC, 12-cv-3865.
In that case, the plaintiff clearly was the object of infringing conduct by persons using BitTorrent – a peer to peer method of sharing content anonymously. The only question was whether the plaintiff could issue blanket subpoenas to obtain the IP addresses of the groups (“swarms”) of BitTorrent users and then coerce these individuals to obtain individual settlements with them. The implication was that if these individuals did not settle, their names would be made public, causing embarrassment over the fact that they potentially had downloaded adult content. This became a particularly important issue because so many of the claims of infringement were relatively unsubstantiated, i.e., how does one prove that any one individual within the larger “swarm” specifically downloaded specific content on a specific day?
The Court found that this was a misuse of legal process and procedure and prohibited employing such subpoenas without more of a showing of a particularized set of circumstances. In other words, there would have to be some level of demonstration suggesting that a particular individual had downloaded specific infringing content.
This case is one of many throughout the U.S. in which the practice of issuing blanket subpoenas successfully has been challenged.
© 2014 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC

Can the Estate of a Person Who is Deceased Enforce that Person’s Right of Publicity? Originally Published May 22, 2014

Marilyn Monroe passed away in 1962.  Her estate has zealously enforced her trademark and other intellectual property rights against those who would infringe upon it.  However, there are other common law rights that might apply, such as the right of publicity, which would likewise bar someone from using her name and likeness.  The question that was before the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in August of 2012 was whether that right of publicity could be applied in Marilyn Monroe’s case.  Archives v. Monroe, 692 F.3d 983 (9th Cir. 2012).

The twist in that case was that the Court had to determine whether Monroe was a resident of New York or California at the time that she passed away. If she had been a resident of New York, she would have no right of publicity since that state does not provide for such a right after death.  If she were a resident of California at the time she passed away, she would have such a right since California amended its law to provide for Monroe’s estate in particular to be able to avail itself of that protection.

The case was decided based upon the legal concept of “judicial estoppel.” Simply put, that principle states that a party cannot take countervailing positions under certain distinct circumstances, such as those presented in this case. Specifically, the Court determined that Monroe did not have such a right since she was a resident of New York at the time that she was deceased. Although she had moved to California and committed suicide there, the estate had taken the position in previous cases that she was a resident of New York.  Therefore under a theory of judicial estoppel, the Court found the estate was not allowed to make a contrary assertion in this later suit just because it was more advantageous.

© 2014 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC

Does the Federal Government Have Trademark Rights Enforceable by the Pentagon? Originally Published May 29, 2014

Does the federal government have trademark rights, and can those rights be enforced by the military? The answer is yes and yes.

In a recent New York Times article it was noted that the Marines have filed trademarks 68 times in the past year “for products like Guadalcanal sweatshirts, meant to evoke the World War II battle against the Japanese, and tip of the spear newsletters, named for the motto of the Marine Corps, First Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion .”

These sorts of registrations are being driven by the fact that returning veterans are seeking to open businesses using terms that are confusingly similar to trademarks belonging to the military. One of the interesting twists is that just because a veteran is violating a military trademark, that does not mean that the military will automatically refuse to allow them to continue doing so. Sometimes the military will obtain licensing fees in return for allowing the trademarks to be used. In fact, as the article noted “since 2009 the Marines have collected $5.4 million in such fees, and last year their trademark’s office turned over $700,000 to a morale, welfare and recreation fund.”

© 2014 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC

County Lacks Trademark Protection for its Official Seal- Originally Published Jun 17, 2014

Does a New Jersey county have trademark protection in its official seal? According to a federal judge, the answer is no.

Judge Kevin McNulty recently ruled that the county could not stop a local citizen from using Union County’s seal in a television program in which she was critical of the county. In that case Union County had sought a ruling that she was infringing on the county’s trademark rights. The court determined that she could not win such a claim because the county did not possess such rights.

© 2014 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC

***WINNER*** 2015 Nissenbaum Internet Law Scholarship Essay – SHEILA A. VALENE (University of Colorado, Colorado Springs)

How Can The American Legal System Improve Its Approach To Policing And Regulating Digital Technology Without Unduly Stifling Innovation And Civil Liberties?  

We now have more information available at our fingertips than during all of collective history. This digital technology encompasses a vast amount of information as well as processing and accessing it. But how, if possible, can we even regulate digital technology? After all, the internet is difficult to police; it’s a public good, an exchange of information, not a physical location that can be patrolled. And even if it were, would we want it to be policed? Or does this violate our free speech and, most importantly, our right to privacy? Despite these concerns, there are some things that can be done to improve internet safety without unduly affecting civil liberties, including establishing international standards, requiring the stringent self-regulation and transparency of intermediaries (such as search engines and internet service providers), setting up a council within the US to address complaints, and lastly, educating the consumers who use this technology.

First of all, it is worth noting that there are many individuals who feel the internet should be self-governing. David Johnson, for example, has been a strong proponent of this, stating that “governing the Internet well fundamentally entails governing ourselves, making sure that more of our time, attention and effort … make society more productive, congruent, ethical, and, yes, interesting, complex and empowering for everyone… It is no light duty to be a good netizen.”[1] While his idea of a benevolent internet citizen, or “netizen,” is optimistic and hopeful, it doesn’t reflect the current reality. There are many violations being committed that require some type of legal intervention to properly resolve them.

And what are these violations? The most common are those committed by criminals, including identity theft, phishing, malware, and fraud. Other common violations are committed at the commercial level and include collecting consumer information to sell or use in marketing without compensating, or sometimes even advising, the consumer. More recently we have become aware of governmental violations of “accidental disclosure,”[2] such as when a government employee’s laptop is stolen as well as the citizens’ information contained within it. This has occurred with other organizations as well, such as major retailers, credit card companies, and health insurance companies. While these infractions don’t occur with the frequency one would expect given the amount of available data, they happen enough to be concerning, and can have serious detrimental financial, psychological, and emotional effects on the individuals involved.

Clearly, then, some type of legal intervention is necessary. However, a large part of digital technology is essentially local access to worldwide information, and there is little worldwide consensus on how this should be handled and who’s jurisdiction it is. For example, someone from Country A is communicating with another person from Country B, and they are using a server maintained in Country C. So, if a problem arises, under which country’s laws is it handled? This can become very tricky, as different countries have different laws. Because of this, the US needs to be part of an international committee whose purpose is to codify a system of “Standards and Practices.” Guidelines regulating the obtainment of information and it’s appropriate usage should be created. Furthermore, penalties for violating this use should also be established, along with an agreement to enforce those penalties. This should reduce violations occurring both criminally and commercially. Of course, not all countries will be willing to participate, but establishing these laws for the majority would be the first step in managing global communications.

The US has the FTC to try and regulate these concerns within its own boundaries, yet the agency is having a difficult time. When it was established in 1914, it’s role was to prevent unfair methods of competition. Then in 1938 it’s role evolved to also “prevent fraud, deception, and unfair business practices in the marketplace.”[3] These provisions were established long before digital technology and simply do not meet the needed current regulation demands. There is just too much information. In 2009, for example, Google processed 24 petabytes (that’s 24 of 108 bytes) of information daily[4]; and that was six years ago. Neither the FTC’s size nor defined scope allow it to properly regulate and investigate the numerous concerns from all of this data. So, if the FTC can’t do it, who can?

One solution has been the required transparency and strict self-regulation of intermediaries; essentially, those companies through which consumers access information. These companies in effect “govern online life”[5] and include internet service providers such as Comcast and search engines such as Google. The problem with this method, however, is that there can be an inherent bias. Does Google prevent a site from being accessed because it has been identified as violating privacy rights, or because the site would compete with Google directly? And how does Google itself collect and use our private information? What is needed is a clear definition of use rules, as the Business Forum for Consumer Privacy has called for, which would “require all organizations to be transparent, offer and honor appropriate choice, ensure that risks to consumers related to use are assessed and managed, and implement security for the information they maintain.”[6Making the intermediaries more responsible for safety and security seems obvious, and clear law defining this monitoring is required. Yet we also need someone to “watch the watchers,” so to speak.

The establishment of a consumer-based council which would watch over the intermediaries and ensure they are complying with this model is necessary; this council could then file reports with the FTC after having conducted an investigation. Furthermore, the council could adhere to a strict confidentiality agreement to help maintain individual privacy; it could withhold individual names and identifying information from the FTC or any other government agency. This would eliminate the concern that “enforcement of privacy rights against enterprises would have the effect of exposing data to the government that otherwise would be forbidden to see.”[7] Thus privacy is maintained, and justice can still be meted out.

But creating laws and regulations and committees to enforce them is only part of the solution. Educating consumers is of the utmost importance. People need to be aware of where and how they are accessing information. Logging into a bank account from a random server while at a mall, for example, probably isn’t the safest way to look up that bank balance. It’s also critical to inform people of the unlikelihood that mailing $500 to a foreign country will result in the winning of an overseas lottery, and that they will probably never meet that attractive individual from a dating website whom they’ve been sending money. Additionally, people need to be educated on the importance of anti-virus protection, what malware does, and that Trojan describes more than a resident of ancient Troy. A safety study conducted in December 2005 discovered that 81% of personal home computers did not have “first-order protection measures such as current antivirus software, spyware protection, and effective firewalls.”[8] This is a scary statistic to be sure, and clearly the public is not receiving adequate information on how to utilize the internet safely. Another reality that needs to be reiterated to consumers is that once information is put out on the internet it becomes a public good, and can be retained there indefinitely. A series of public service announcements over the media, including television, radio, and even in print, would help educate individuals. Also, periodically noting safety suggestions on internet homepages would serve as a good reminder whenever people are online.

And what of privacy? Even according to the US Privacy Act of 1974, “the increasing use of computers and sophisticated information technology, while essential to the efficient operations of the Government, has greatly magnified the harm to individual privacy that can occur from any collection, maintenance, use, or dissemination of personal information.”[9] The bottom line is that consumers are essentially exchanging some level of privacy for the freedoms of communication, accessing information, and commerce that the internet provides. This is inescapable and inherit in design; the system is more “for flexibility…than security.”[10] This needs to be made clear to consumers through a variety of medium. Yet creating a private domestic council that would maintain privacy and assist the FTC, as well as establishing an international committee, are crucial to regulating digital technology. Furthermore, neither of these would unduly infringe upon civil liberties, allowing us as law-abiding consumers to continue to express our individuality and creativity.


[1]  Johnson, David R. “Democracy in Cyberspace: Self Governing Netizens & a New, Global Form of Civic Virtue, Online.” The Next Digital Decade: Essays on the Future of the Internet. Berin Szoka and Adam Marcus. Washington D.C.: TechFreedom, 2010. . Accessed May 2015.

[2]  Downes, Larry. “A Market Approach to Privacy Policy.” The Next Digital Decade: Essays on the Future of the Internet. Berin Szoka and Adam Marcus. Washington D.C.: TechFreedom, 2010. , pg 515. Accessed May 2015.

All preceding information contained within the paragraph regarding the types of misuses of data are taken from the author cited.

[3] Federal Trade Commission, About the FTC, Our strategic goals, . Accessed May 2015.

[4]  “MapReduce”. Retrieved 16 August 2009. . Accessed May 2015

[5]  Pasquale, Frank. “Trusting (and Verifying) Online Intermediaries‘ Policing.” The Next Digital Decade: Essays on the Future of the Internet. Berin Szoka and Adam Marcus. Washington D.C.: TechFreedom, 2010. , pg 348. Accessed May 2015.

[6]  Downes, Larry. “A Market Approach to Privacy Policy.” The Next Digital Decade: Essays on the Future of the Internet. Berin Szoka and Adam Marcus. Washington D.C.: TechFreedom, 2010. , pg 524. Accessed May 2015.

[7]  Ibid, pg 523.


[9]  Pub.L. 93–579, 88 Stat. 1896, enacted December 31, 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a

[10]  Zitrrain, Johnathan. “Protecting the Internet Without Wrecking It: How to Meet the Security Threat.” The Next Digital Decade: Essays on the Future of the Internet. Berin Szoka and Adam Marcus. Washington D.C.: TechFreedom, 2010. , pg 92. Accessed May 2015.

***WINNER*** 2015 Nissenbaum Internet Law Scholarship Essay – JAMES D. HAYES (Seattle University School of Law – Anticipated Graduation Date: May 2017)

How Can The American Legal System Improve Its Approach To Policing And Regulating Digital Technology Without Unduly Stifling Innovation And Civil Liberties?                                                                                                                          

As globalization increases at an unprecedented rate and technology sprouts from nearly every nook and cranny of our daily lives, and increasingly so, the growing phenomenon carries a handful of questions and issues as outdated laws struggle to keep it in place. In particular, digital technology poses many questions, as it is becoming a grounds for illegal distribution, copyright infringement, and a free-riding resource that takes copious amounts of time, energy, and labor to create. In response, the American legal system can improve its regulation and policing of digital technology by ensuring digital technology is taken seriously, valued and affordable.

To begin, digital technology must be taken seriously; this is to say the limitless accounts, usernames, and information – which seem largely scattered about in the digital space – must be regulated to better identify individuals on the internet. Currently, there is a digital spider web of genuine, false, and somewhere-in-between accounts; many individual users do not have accounts, while other individual users have multiple accounts, some with conflicting information – this must be better regulated. The legislature needs to propose that everyone, somewhat like their social security number – but not the identical number for security purposes – has a digital security number. From this, all users must use their digital security number to create an account on any digital technological software, interface, etc. By doing so, digital technology will be better policed because all individuals knows that their digital security number will always trace back to them and thus this will serve as a self-policing deterrent.

Further, it not only gives the government an idea of how many internet users we have, but also it allows further innovation because there is less security risk of pirating, given the increased surveillance on accounts. While this may seem intrusive at first, it proves no more invasive than a social security number itself, and much like a social security number the negatives of stolen identity, fraud, and others come with this; however, it will help clear up the digital spider web and pave a clear path to additional secure innovation, while simultaneously reducing the number of individuals who use the digital world as a playground on others’ hard work and privacy. Additionally, while this only applies to residents of the United States, due to jurisdictional reasons, it seems this may be one of the largest pirating categories of individuals; after all many countries have created their own versions of digital technology. Most importantly, it allows digital users to take their digital identity as serious as their actual identity, and this leads me to my next point; by taking digital technology and identity more serious, one can find the value in the product.

Secondly, digital technology must be valued. One way to accomplish this is for legal entities to raise awareness to the public demonstrating the time, energy, hard work, and effort into making the digital technology. Often times, those who fail to notice the value in a product, do not see it as worthy of the price and are not confident in paying for it. If we can increase individual perceptions on the value of the product, we can further increase the likelihood individuals will confidently buy the products as they see them as a product of hard work and worthy of the price. Additionally, Peer-to-Peer sites must be more heavily regulated. By having countless expensive products suddenly free at one’s fingertips it not only takes away the value these products have, but it also allows one to free-ride on others’ product of intensive labor and time. With this in mind, to make digital technology further valued and confidently paid for, it must be appropriately priced and made more readily available.

Thirdly, another self-policing technique is making digital technology more affordable. Programs such as Photoshop, Microsoft Office, and After Effects are quite expensive based on a minimum wage salary – some even costing more than entry-line computers. Given this, many resort to pirating of software because purchasing the digital technology poses too great a burden to bear, demonstrating that even if a product is highly valued, if it is not affordable, individuals simply cannot make the purchase. Further, many countries allow programs central to computer functioning, such as Microsoft Office, to be installed as part of the factory settings, not all computers do this in the United States; this leads to both individuals becoming more apt to pirate such programs and individuals not valuing a product properly, due to lack of exposure to the product. If more knew about technology such as Photoshop, more would know the value of the product, and if it were more affordable, more would buy it confidently. The legislature could mandate that computers are to come installed with basic software free for both the purpose of exposure to the products and cheaper costs to the customers. For example, it could be mandated that computer companies are to pay software companies a given amount per computer, which has their product installed, and as a result, the computer company could receive a small amount back per computer purchased – this not only benefits individual consumers, because the digital technology price is fixed into the computers price and also because it is purchased via manufacturer-to-manufacturer at wholesale, but also the software and computer companies.

In sum, the American legal system often faces difficult tasks of balancing freedom and regulation, but one alternative is self-policing. To achieve further self-policing in the world of digital technology, if said technology is taken seriously, valued, and affordable, it is likely more individuals will front the cost because they are more confident in doing so. After all, we all know few things in life are free, however, we also know that when one is not confident in buying an expensive product, which one does not take seriously, it seems highly unlikely one would accept the burden. To conclude, digital technology seems to be on a strong positive curve of ever-expanding and ever-increasing, action must be taken, but rights are to be protected, as a solution to the American legal system approach, we need to aim for deterrence, confidence, and self-policing through affordability, digital security numbers, and valued products.

***HONORABLE MENTION*** 2015 Nissenbaum Internet Law Scholarship Essay – ZENZELE OJORE (Rhode Island School of Design- Anticipated Graduation Date: 2018)

How Can The American Legal System Improve Its Approach To Policing And Regulating Digital Technology Without Unduly Stifling Innovation And Civil Liberties?

As digital innovation grows and internet access is becoming easily accessible to people from and the world, more individuals are invested in creating technology that not only makes the lives of its users easier but provides electronic material that is more advanced than what currently exist. Yet, as there will always be a steady rise in digital innovation there will always be legal concerns to where innovation ends and the need for and legal protection for its users begin. As the internet is this unlimited means to information, communication, and creation there are concerns as to if there should be limitations to its abilities, that might in turn stifle the ability for digital creatives to design products that help to move the nation further in advancements. Creation of digital media such as social media sites and blogs allow easy access to communication with people from every corner of the world but also allow for malicious members to gain access to other people’s information and private lives. In regulating such sites, is it ok to disrupt the innovated ability of quick communication because there are individuals who seek to use it with negative intentions? If anything there will always be people who choose to one up the system and go around the true intentions of digital technologies for malevolent objectives. The legal system might do better in understanding that these issues will occur and seeking to develop methods to weed out persons or companies that use media with negative intentions while still allowing people to create and distribute their innovated material to the world.

A step that would allow policing of digital technology to be carried out fairly is the creation of an Internet database that would allow individuals to reveal their concerns about certain technologies that they believe might be taking away certain rights and raising confidentiality issues. In the creation of this site people could file claims and these accusations could be investigated as to whether the legal assistance is necessary or not. Also, if the laws were directly geared towards just allowing the community to be informed about the limitations and possible privacy concerns about certain digital technologies and sites, individuals would be able to pick and choose which ones they might decide to use. This would allow advancement to continue while giving people the ability to see if certain sites would go against their privacy concerns from the beginning, consequently resulting in everyone having an understanding of what liberties and protection might be available to them. Individuals would not be able to state that they weren’t fully informed of what they were signing up for and people would have more access to information.

For example, in the most recent case of social media vs. civil liberty: Facebook has created a bit of a stir with the creation of something that have made many people feel like they were losing rights. In creation of Facebook’s new Messenger App that allowed their users to use a separate App from the original Facebook one to communicate with their friends via their phone; many people found issue with the App’s ability to share one’s information and location. This appeared to many as an invasion of privacy, although Facebook stated it was implemented to create a better service for its consumers. The program made many feel that their privacy was being imposed on and that innovation was more important than their rights.

This issue shows the problem that arises when modernization is met with a legal barrier that is in place. I believe the American legal system could go about situations like this and more by regulating technologies ability to access and manipulate it’s viewers information by requiring them to label the steps they are taking to protect the consumers privacy somewhere on their digital website or product. If a company were to state how they plan to protect one’s information at the start it’d be easier for a consumer to decide if it were the right type of product for them or not. Also, it is important for technology creators to let their consumer know if their information will be changed or updated, providing this information somewhere that is easy to read. Digital providers should also detail whether any changes will result in a change in privacy guidelines and they should state this upfront before the change begins, allowing people the chance to delete their account if they are uncomfortable.

Sometimes when sites update or change the way they have going about something they neglect to inform the consumers about all the changes that will be implicated. These results in anger from those consumers who feel they don’t have enough of a say in something that they are investing money and time in. Also, when sites evolve or upgrade their privacy settings are changed in result, in requiring that these changes be stated upfront people would be informed to what is happening to their information and whether they are ok with continuing to use this technology. Communication between creators of technology and those that use these products are essential to a society of well-informed citizens. Allowing the American Legal system to serve as a middleman between the law, technology advancement, and customer concerns would allow for a brighter future generation and progress in digital innovation to continue to thrive.

The advancement and progress of digital technology is reaching a point where many feel that one most choose to accept innovation while giving up their rights to privacy and civil liberty but the implication of certain limitations to this will not only allow advancement to continue but allow consumers to rest assure that they will not lose their rights to privacy.

***HONORABLE MENTION*** 2015 Nissenbaum Internet Law Scholarship Essay – SARA A. SIWIECKI (Chapman University- Anticipated Graduation Date: 2018)

How Can The American Legal System Improve Its Approach To Policing And Regulating Digital Technology Without Unduly Stifling Innovation And Civil Liberties?

A person is staring at you from outside your bedroom window. When people do this, we usually call the police and report a stalking incident. A different situation: A person is not staring at you directly from your bedroom window, but from a security camera at the building across the street, or maybe even the camera on your laptop, or the camera on your Xbox or PlayStation gaming system. This is just as scary as the person physically standing outside your window. However, the government is the person stalking you. It would not make sense to call the police on this one because the police are connected to the government. So, what do we do? The government has access to all of our calls, texts, emails, and even cameras in certain situations. Is this ethical? Who knows. Meanwhile, you are also terrified of a bomb being dropped on top of your house or someone coming to your town and shooting thousands of people. So, the government solves this problem by monitoring our digital technological devices in attempt to find information about planned attacks and prevent them from happening. No one likes to feel constantly monitored, but everyone wants to feel safe and secure, here lies the problem with digital technology. This problem can be somewhat fixed by improving the use of drones, Internet laws, and number of cameras and ridding of the tracking and storage of information without warrants.

One way that the government monitors its citizens is with the use of drones. Instead of using up lots of time and money to send people up in a helicopter on surveillance missions, search and rescue missions, and other activities, drones are more efficient because they do not need people to physically be in the craft and are able to fly faster than a helicopter. However, drone utilization can be abused when the government uses them without warrants and retains information that violates privacy liberties. Drones should not be used without warrants or without any probable cause. Flying drones around randomly is not an efficient use of technology. Drones also should not capture and retain unnecessary information that has nothing to do with crimes. They should not retain pictures or conversations without search warrants or other good reason because that is invading people’s privacy and inefficient for the government because they can get this information from conversations elsewhere, like phone calls or the Internet. The government can improve upon this regulation of digital technology by setting clear guidelines as to when drones need to be used and retain the information they capture in order to protect people’s civil liberties and improve upon efficiency of the legal system. Drones should be used with purpose and not for overbearing worry.

Another surveillance tactic that the government uses is the monitoring of the Internet. The Internet is used by basically everyone nowadays and people are willing to document their whole lives on the Internet in applications such as: Facebook, Instragram, and Twitter. Specifically on social media, many things that are said and done would not be acceptable in face-to-face life. The government should make what I like to call “Internet laws” that say what people can and cannot do/say on the Internet. Currently, there are some laws like this called “Netiquette”, but they are not very circulated on the Internet and few know about these etiquette rules. Threats are made online that go unnoticed and lots of bullying happens on the Internet that would not be tolerated if it were said out loud. While the government and police do take Internet threats seriously, there should be clear laws about what is and is not allowed, like how in real life people cannot shout “bomb” in an airport or “fire” in a crowded room, or pose as people they are not, such as a police officer or government official. If laws were laid out clearly, then the government could do a better job at tracking key words to catch people committing crimes and deter people from posting inappropriate things online, while not invading everyone’s privacy.  This could prevent many crimes from happening, including human trafficking, online prostitution, and imposters. These Internet laws can be implemented on TV public service commercials and ads on the Internet. Also, in terms and conditions of certain websites, it should be made clear that by going online, a person is submitting himself/herself to be monitored by the government so that everyone knows they are being tracked. The Internet is a useful tool for many, a tool of proactivity and entertainment, but also a tool that should be taken seriously.

Lastly, the government can improve on its use of cameras. If there are more cameras placed in high-violence areas, then it might deter many from committing crimes in that area and it would allow more evidence for crimes that are committed. While this might seem that it brings more of the “stalking” I referred to earlier and violates many civil liberties since we would literally be constantly watched, as long as there are postings of camera surveillance so the public is aware of it, it would actually be violating less liberties. If there are more cameras outside in public, then less private information, like texts, calls, and emails would need to be monitored because the government would have sufficient evidence from cameras to convict people of crimes and would have no real need to monitor private information. More cameras would prevent crime, provide more evidence for crimes that happen, and protect people’s personal information.

One thing that the government can completely rid of to protect people’s civil liberties and improve the efficiency and reputation of the government is the constant tracking of private information without warrants. The government can continue to monitor public information, like what people post on public social media pages, but abstain from viewing people’s private information, like texts, calls, and emails, unless they have a search warrant or other plausible reason. The police are not allowed to just open anyone’s mailbox at any time and read their mail, so they should not be able to monitor and store people’s information online. Also, the government should not have constant access to people’s personal medical files or other incredibly personal data that a person may not want shared. Only information collected after a warrant should be monitored constantly. The warrant allows the government to go back and retrieve the evidence they want, rather than constantly monitoring everyone all of the time. To be efficient and not stifle innovation, the government should only track and store information from people who have committed crimes previously or who are suspicious and have probable cause to track and store information has been established. People deserve to have their liberties respected in a country that was founded upon personal freedom.

To improve the status of the American legal system without defacing civil liberties and averting innovation, the government needs to use drones efficiently, establish clear Internet laws, create zones of high camera surveillance, and abstain from storing people’s personal information without probable cause.  America was founded on freedom and this freedom should be protected at all times. However, living in a safe country is as important as being free. All in all, it is nearly impossible to have a safer security system without sacrificing liberties. While some liberties may be sacrificed, innovation can be the way to find ways to make bigger and better technology that protects citizens yet allows for freedoms so that all will benefit. Perhaps someday we can even invent this technology that finds a way to protect everyone’s personal information by making that information only available to robots that protect America’s security. The future of innovation is imminent.

***HONORABLE MENTION*** 2015 Nissenbaum Internet Law Scholarship Essay – NICHOLAS JAMES GOLINA (University of Akron)

How Can The American Legal System Improve Its Approach To Policing And Regulating Digital Technology Without Unduly Stifling Innovation And Civil Liberties?

In today’s age of digital proliferation the forces of Internet democratization demand further regulation and policing. However, the dilemma is that this will undermine the very fabric of the interconnectedness of the digital world. The solution is that our policies must maintain a commitment to the principle of balance to allow for digital proliferation to be channeled through efficient regulation and policing. So in order for the American legal system to improve the regulation and policing of digital technology it must improve checks and balances against the National Security Agency and other law enforcement agencies, oppose net neutrality and focus on antitrust law, upgrade technological capacities of law enforcement agencies, and promote international coordination on cyber issues.

The balance between security and digital privacy is necessary to ensure the maximization of the key values within the social contract. Security and liberty were shown to remain in balance by John Locke in his second treatise on government who noted that “he will have to part with as much of his natural freedom to provide for himself as is required for the welfare, prosperity, and safety of the society.” Thus the philosophical construct that was envisioned was a balance of power between maximizing the common good along with the necessary checks and balances in place to prevent the unjust violation of liberty. This is an important theory in US legal practice and the formal term for it is called Equilibrium Adjustment. Orin Kerr of the Harvard Law Review explained in 2011 that in 4th amendment cases when technology proliferates and expands police powers judges normally try to expand protections to reflect the balance that was set before proliferation.

The issue with equilibrium adjustment is judges often have incomplete information on the scope of the technology. When programs are set up often times the checks that are meant to serve judicial functions are weak. The National Security Agency demonstrates this phenomenon in three ways. First, there is a clear violation of the principles set by the Supreme Court in Katz Vs. United States and United States Vs. District Court. David Sirota of the International Business Times elaborated in 2013 that the FISC (aka Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) allowed the NSA to have an ongoing warrant to obtain digital communications, which is a violation because prior judicial consent is required to obtain digital communications under the 4th amendment. The second is that the FISC lacks the hallmarks of traditional judicial oversight. In a D.C. District Court ruling Judge Richard Leon observed that judges operate best in an adversarial setting and the current FISC only hears the governments take on the law and the constitution. This is evidenced by the fact that the FISC only denied .03% of all requests for access and this is according to the Stanford Law Review in 2014.

The third way is that the NSA relies on flawed interpretations of the Patriot Act. In fact the Patriot Act’s own author has expressly said that the NSA’s interpretation of section 214 and 617 of the act is very abusive as it justifies the potential seizure of every American communication. It does this through the three-hop system, which the Guardian Newspaper notes that it evaluates the seizure of communication based on the people that are affiliated with the suspect and those affiliated with the affiliates. That’s why CNN reported in 2015 that a recent court ruling found that the NSA’s interpretation of the Patriot Act was found to be illegal.

There are two ways we can reform the system bearing in mind the current state of surveillance. We need to incorporate greater congressional oversight as they are politically speaking mandated by the American people to ensure efficient oversight. Second, we need to commit to structural reform of the FISA Court to allow for a more adversarial process along with a codifying of strict rules on the NSA’s boundaries in surveillance. This is needed to assure the American people that the NSA will not go beyond statutory boundaries as the NSA violated its own rules 2776 times and by the end of 2016 the Forrester Foundation reported that US technology sectors stand to lose 180 billion dollars in lost profits from the dilution of trust in US services. So the NSA’s failed attempt at digital regulation is representative of the larger trends including net neutrality.

Net neutrality regulations represent a continual trend among government agencies to implement what is called procedural opportunism. According to the Boston College Law Review the Federal Communications Commission’s procedural opportunism is defined as the use of policy mechanisms to expand the agencies scope of power. This is problematic in the area of net neutrality because such regulations could stifle innovation. According to the same report the FCC seeks to characterize broadband Internet providers as common carriers under Title II of the Federal Communications Act. In addition, the FCC wants to enact rules that will provide disincentives to charge content providers and block out content. Unfortunately despite these good intentions according to a study by Oxford University these regulations could result in higher prices for consumers and stifle the development of broadband Internet. As policymakers we can’t let that happen because according to CNN News the Supreme Court has ruled three times against this expansion of FCC power and in a study by the Public Policy Institute of California broad band Internet services are important to local economic growth. This is especially true for Internet entrepreneurs. In contrast to regulation we must focus on the recommendations of the Mercatus Center, which focus on anti trust law, which would move toward a better balance between promoting innovation and having proper regulation in place.

The motives of the agencies focus on the need for policing the Internet of terrorism and crime. Despite the criticisms I presented earlier, there are other ways that we can improve these aspects without endangering civil liberties and innovation. The controversies of the FCC and the NSA are representative of the larger trends that focus the need to upgrade capabilities of law enforcement. These would be preferable because under equilibrium adjustment technology has surpassed the ability of agencies to keep up with crime. One of the ways that we do this is to upgrade the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act to regulate existing technological services as it only partially regulates the wide array of telecommunications technology that exist today. The Brookings Institution explained in 2014 that this would give the government a basic level of access to new mobile technology in order to attain warrants for the arrest of criminals. We must be cautious in its application though because the Center for Democracy and Technology analyzed that the government is now trying to expand its capabilities beyond the legislation’s original scope. Thus the necessary checks and balances must be put in place or else the Harvard Policy Center explains that the US could relapse into a system of preventative law enforcement, which is contrary to our founding principles.

The most important part to ensure the balance between security, civil liberties, and innovation (which would prevent the relapse into preventative law enforcement) is to promote international coordination on cyber crime and terrorism with application of existing frameworks of international law. The need for is apparent because Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution calculated that cyber warfare has produced the largest transfer of wealth in the history of civilization. The Center for Strategic Studies explains that these actors are not constrained by checks, which make very hard to bust in the event of an attack that takes place. This is why coordination on these issues is essential to prevent a disunited front against these actors on the Internet. What is essentially happening right now is that other regions of the world are creating their own regulatory regimes for dealing with Internet regulation and cyber issues. This includes according to the Guardian a new plan to regulate the Web by the EU. This is the exact opposite of what should be happening because when the NSA tries to crack Tor or when nations act alone without consensus it risks tearing the Internet apart. Therefore what must happen is an abandonment of domestic oriented policy in favor of a strengthening of international initiatives to keep the Internet united while dealing with cyber issues under the checks of a strong international legal regime. This includes regulation under customary and human rights law, which appeal to the broader argument that initiatives must be expanded with moderate restraint.

In 2014 I wrote an article by Student World Report, which explains “in 1971, the Philosopher John Rawls of Harvard University envisioned a theory of Justice where the actions of states would be governed by consideration for the long-term interests of future generations. With a geopolitical application, these actions should involve a respect for a wide array of national interests in the international community. Only with this can we build a world order based on social capital between states with norms that govern the actions of the multitude of these states.” The challenges for this strategic vision are that we must reform the domestic aspects of our policy including the policies of the NSA, FCC, and law enforcement. In the realm of the international sphere the American legal system promote the idea of multilateralism to create the balance between innovation, civil liberties, and security in our policing and regulation. This will prevent an already looming catastrophe of the breakup of the Internet but will ensure that we have restraint over our actions. As noted by Dani Rodrick of Princeton University a democratic system of constitutional liberalism cannot promote the common welfare without the proper institutions in place to prevent us from becoming the enemies that we seek to destroy.