In June of 2012, the European Council approved the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation draft. The soon-to-be-approved final law is an updated version of the EU’s 1995 data protection rules, intended to bolster online privacy rights. The EU’s effort to consolidate privacy laws stands in contrast to the U.S.’s consistent battles with mass data collection by big business and government agencies.

Privacy—a broad and nebulous term—is treated differently in the European Union than it is in the U.S. According to Brian Kudowitz, commercial product director for privacy and data security at Bloomberg Law, privacy is “essentially a human right” in the EU. Whereas the EU has comprehensive law protecting privacy in all its forms—especially with the GDPR initiative—the U.S. deals with the protection of information in a series of laws that regulate different sectors.

The EU’s focus on privacy can be explained in historical terms, Kudowitz added. “You go back to all of the different things that have occurred in Europe over the last 70 years, it’s very easy to see how that perspective developed.”

In a recent Eurobarometer survey, 67 percent of Europeans said they were concerned about not having control over what information was provided about them on the Internet, and 70 percent expressed concern about how companies used their information.

Beyond what everyday citizens think of privacy, businesses and government agencies operate differently in the U.S. than in the EU as well. Organizations protect data proactively in the EU, whereas breaches of privacy are dealt with retroactively in the U.S.

According to Phil Lee, a representative at the multinational law firm Fieldfisher, “[t]his is partially because class action regimes aren’t well developed in the EU. EU countries don’t have a concept of punitive damages in the same way that you do in the U.S.”

Article via Legaltech News, December 22, 2015

Photo: Croatia welcomed to the EU via European Parliament [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

Global security company Northrop Grumman is collaborating with the University of Maryland Baltimore County to analyze health data as part of a five-year program, as announced earlier this year. The program’s goal is to utilize health trends found in large populations to create specific and effective treatments for those suffering from widespread ailments such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.

The National Science Foundation, which funds big data-analytics science and technology projects, is offering $600,000 in grants to the project. Northrop and UMBC already have a cybersecurity partnership; the tools previously used to investigate cyberthreats will now be used to study decades’ worth of medical information stored on electronic health records.

Yelena Yesha, the leader of the project and a professor of computer science at the university, says that information will be pulled from both public and private databases. Records will be used to help doctors practice precision medicine, which is the treatment of people based on their specific genetic makeups. In order to gather such large quantities of genetic data, the project will use a Google-designed cloud-computing platform. Both Northrop and the defense contractor Lockheed Martin foresee precision medicine to be widely practiced in the future.

Article via The Washington Post, April 14, 2015

Photo: Over 500 doctors have completed a three year specialization in family medicine via World Bank Photo Collection [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

WordPress is identified as the best software in terms of digital publishing and managing content. As of November, the popular management system has reached a notable milestone: it powers about 25% of the internet. Statistically, 1 in 4 websites run on WordPress.

This is due to the ease-of-use. It’s great for people that have blogs, small businesses, personal portfolio sites, and basic retailers. Pool all of that together and it entails a great portion of the Internet.

A recent post by Lauren Nguyen of Pantheon, a website management platform, highlights the broadening applicability of WordPress, drawing on a survey of thousands of agencies in their partner network. “We see a trend of enterprise customers across all industries turning to WordPress. Historically, big companies have relied on proprietary enterprise CMS solutions. However, many are getting wise to the fact that open source CMS can give marketing teams the flexibility and agility they need to iterate and improve faster.”

WordPress is known to be simple to use and navigate through but people still list some issues. It isn’t ideal for complex websites, which characterizes law firm websites. However, earlier this year, WordPress announced that what it calls its “JSON REST API” will be part of its core. This allows the WordPress CMS to interact with basically everything — other sites, other software, other interfaces. Opening up with new possibilities will give WordPress the ability to connect with the more complex website and gain even more popularity.

For law firms, this means that:

1. They would be able to better integrate their publishing efforts.

Large law firms agree that publishing independent digital publications is ideal. They run on building reputations and audiences around that specific niche. Using WordPress API, publishers can pull their blogs onto the main website, and run the blog on a separate website. Using WordPress as an underlying CMS will remain a viable choice.

2. Website development companies can lay a custom background over the top of WordPress. 

In the future, as WordPress advances from being a simple CMS and into a full-featured platform, the traditional interface becomes optional. If a company wants to build a custom interface geared towards elaborate law firm websites over the top of WordPress, they can do so.

Article via Above the Law, December 16, 2015

Photo: W for WordPress via Kristina Alexanderson [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

Brazil’s government recently banned the Facebook-owned communication service Whatsapp for 48 hours after the company refused to hand over user data to authorities. Whatsapp is used by 100 million Brazilians, many who prefer the app to standard texting and calling. As a result, the ban was met with outrage. Some called for the impeachment of Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff; others immediately switched to an alternative messaging service, Telegram.

Law enforcement has been in conflict with Whatsapp for months due to Facebook’s refusal to hand over user data from a suspected drug user. The irony, however, is that Brazil condemned the NSA in 2013 after Edward Snowden exposed the surveillance agency’s data collection practices.

In a 2013 speech to the U.N., President Rousseff asserted, “My government will do everything within its reach to defend the human rights of all Brazilians, and to protect the fruits borne from the ingenuity of our workers and our companies.”

Following Snowden’s leak, Brazil even committed to a $185 million project to construct a fiber optic cable transporting data to and from Portugal while bypassing the United States, so that U.S. authorities could not intercept information. U.S. businesses were prohibited from participating in the project.

In response to the suspension of Whatsapp, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said: “I am stunned that our efforts to protect people’s data would result in such an extreme decision by a single judge to punish every person in Brazil who uses WhatsApp.”

Article via Washington Post, December 17, 2015

Photo: Visita de Dilma Rousseff via La Moncloa Gobierno de Espana

[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

On Black Friday, we learned that someone hacked into the servers of VTech, a Chinese toy-maker. He or she obtained the personal information of nearly 5 million parents and more than 200,000 children. This included home addresses, names, birth dates, e-mail addresses, and passwords. Even more, it had photographs and chat logs between the parents and kids.

Furthermore, Bluebox security discovered vulnerabilities in Mattel’s Hello Barbie, the Internet-connected version of the doll. This raises questions. How many of these toy-making companies have secure databases? How many children will be affected from lax security?

The Internet of Things- devices that are connected to each other and the internet- has no real regulations. This is just toys; it includes appliances, cars, and unconnected digital and semi-analog devices. Companies don’t feel obliged to invest time, money, and effort into keeping securing their devices. There aren’t any international guidelines. On top of that, these companies are not required to tell consumers what information they are gathering and how they will protect it. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles had known about their security vulnerabilities with their touchscreen and Uconnect systems yet they didn’t bother fixing the issue until  Wired Magazine and The Post published articles showing how vehicles can be hijacked while the driver was at the wheel. In other words, hacking can be a life-threatening issue.

Children are especially vulnerable to cyber attacks. It is also an emotionally charged attack because parents feel responsible for their kids. Just last year, Fox 19 reported a man hacked into a baby monitor in a home in Cincinnati, Ohio and started screaming “Wake up baby!” at a 10 month old child. The parents were horrified.

VTech did quickly admit that their security was not up to par. However, they had no real incentive to worry about security. VTech earns about 2 billion dollars in revenue and their Internet-connected toys are among the fastest area of its growth. According to Vivek Wadhwa, fellow at Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, a potential solution to prevent breaches from happening is to raise penalties for lax security. Him and his colleagues also researched how they can mandate businesses to create systems that allow the consumer to control their own data. One proposal was that they create a system that allows people to manage their data by connecting their devices to a “personal dashboard”. Similar projects have been implemented such as OpenSensors and Wolfram Connected Devices Project.

Wadhwa concludes that “it is important to set standards now and ensure a safe cyber world for our children and ourselves.”

UPDATE: Police arrested a 21-year-old man on Tuesday as part of the investigation on the hack against Hong Kong-based toy-maker VTech. VTech previously said it is “cooperating with law enforcement worldwide” and that Mandiant is reviewing how the company handles customer information so it can “further strengthen” the security of that data. (Read the full article here)

Article via Washington Post, December 11, 2015

Photo: Vtech Video Painter circuit bent by ASMO via asmo23 [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

When it comes to diversity in the law, the status quo is the reigning champion. At the start of the millennium, 88.1% of lawyers were Caucasian. 10 years later, 88.8% were white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau in the year 2000 and 2010, respectively. In other words, minorities in this profession have increased by less than 1% percent.

Bryan Stevenson’s TED talk discussion about America’s social justice system gained about 2 million views and a standing ovation. He hit 4 key points that are required for social change:

  1. We need to get proximate to injustice. “The only solutions that work are the ones that are developed when one has an up-close view of a problem.”
  2. Change the point of view. “What is really going on when, say, a 14-year-old black boy lashes out and throws a book at a teacher? Is the solution to incarcerate that child or to ask what happens to a child who has lived for 14 years surrounded by violence?”
  3.  Continue to be hopeful. “We give up on issues that we believe are hopeless, wrongs that we tell ourselves simply cannot be righted. ‘Injustice prevails when hopelessness persists.’”
  4. Get out of your comfort zone. “Whether it is the people who led or joined the civil rights movement (or any other movement that created large-scale change), each and every person made a decision at a critical juncture that they were willing to be uncomfortable and put themselves on the line.”

With diversity being the issue to address in the coming years, people should know that it is not self-executing. The solution is to create advocates and mentors to motivate people from all backgrounds to enter the legal profession. Recruiters should diversify their campus searches and seek intelligent people regardless of economic background. No law school hopeful should be turned away because of financial issues.

Without change, the statistics may stay the same. The next three graduating classes will contribute only about 1% more diversity to the profession. However, the generation of Millennials can breathe life into this homogeneity.

Article via Above the Law, December 11, 2015

Photo: Ceremonial Courtroom, Alfonse D’Amato Courthouse, Central Islip via Douglas Palmer [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]