According to Manhattan’s District Attorney, smartphone data encryption hinders criminal investigations in state courts. Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 8, 2015 in an effort to advocate legislation allowing law enforcement officials to access private phone data with judicial authorization.

Vance, Jr. cites that 71% of phone evidence in his office comes from Apple or Android devices. As a result, Apple and Google’s move to fully integrate data encryption in their next devices will significantly affect prosecution processes in state courts.

State courts adjudicate over 90% of all criminal cases annually, which means over 100,000 cases for Vance’s office alone.

“To investigate these 100,000 cases without smartphone data is to fight crime with one hand tied behind our backs,” he asserts.

Vance does not support bulk data collection or surveillance without authorization. Civil liberty and privacy advocates are still wary, however, and endorse data encryption overall. This sentiment is in relative accordance with statements from Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and FBI Director James Comey. They say that the Obama administration has no current plans to mandate companies to provide federal agents encryption keys for their products, but they also recognize that companies should not make their devices “warrant-free zones” that impede law enforcement’s authorized access to criminal evidence.

Article via Legaltech NewsAugust 10, 2015

Photo: IPhone via Jorge Quinteros [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

Larry Lessig is a lawyer, political activist and scholar on a mission to bring important legal research to light. Legal scholars spend many years researching deep topics, such as who is really financing political campaigns, that never make it to the public consciousness. In order to change that, an  event called Hacking iCorruption was created. This is a hackathon meant to attract accomplished programmers, scientists, journalists and academics together to push this research to the internet and into the hands of the public at large.

Lessig launched Safra Research lab in 2010. Since then, the lab has amassed a data from legal research that he believed should be involved in political debate. This mission, combined with investigative reporter Brooke Williams idea for a hackaton, was the spark that created Hacking iCorruption. In the article Williams states, “A lot of us had simple problems that required a technical solution, but we had no budget or ability to hire an expert to solve it.” It became clear that having a hackathon would be the way to bring together the diverse group that they needed.

Due to the success of this hackathon, new ones are springing up. WeCott is a hackathon that has been created to help people organize boycotts and receive crowd funding. Hackathons are a movement according to the organizers of WeCott, and they are focusing on efforts to keep the momentum going in their communities.


Article via ABAJournal, 1 September 2015

Photo: Hackathon via Ferderacao das Industrias do Estado de Sao Paulo[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

Robert Ambrogi of the blog Law Sites believes “that crowdsourcing can help democratize legal research and enable free research sites to become more viable alternatives to paid sites.” Unfortunately for those who believe strongly in the impact crowdsourcing can have upon the law profession, most websites focused on sharing legal issues have failed. Crowdsourcing relies on users to contribute freely to the conversation at hand, whether that be by posing questions about certain law practices, sharing new insights or research that can educate others, or arguing hypothetical cases. Due to the fact that users are posting of their own free volition and not because they are looking forward to being paid, they need an incentive to keep coming back to the site and adding to the growing bank of knowledge. In the past, as shown by a multitude of legal crowdsourcing websites that have disappeared or gone dormant, finding the right incentive can been difficult. As Apoorva Mehta, the creator of one such failed enterprise, explains“I didn’t know anything about lawyers when we started. Turns out, they don’t like technology, and they don’t like to share things.”

Even though many have failed in the past, crowdsourcing legal research could still be effective at accumulating knowledge. Three sites—Casetext, Wex, and CanLII Connects—are proof that lawyers can collaborate using technology. Each site has a slightly different way of encouraging lawyers to contribute. For example, Casetext has created little niches called Casetext communities that allow lawyers with similar interests to discuss and network together online, prompting discussions and drawing more users to the communities. Additionally, Casetext provides an outlet for lawyers who love writing about law without the added worry setting up an individual blog or analyzing SEO. This publishing platform, called Legalpad, even comes with built in readers from the Casetext communities. Wex approaches incentivizing a bit differently by narrowing down the type of crowdsourcing it hopes to generate and focusing on becoming a sort of legal Wikipedia. Those that contribute to Wex articles are then listed as one of the authors. Lastly, CanLII boasts a bit of exclusivity by only allowing registered members the ability to engage in crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing websites have to focus on what is going to make people want to contribute and how to make those contributions useful to others. Though sites are still trying to pin down exactly how to accomplish the former, the free availability of legal research that Ambrogi dreams of may not be just a dream much longer.

Article via Law SitesAugust 10, 2015

Photo: The Rotherhithe Picture Research Library via Chris Guy [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]