CourtHack: Tech comes to the courts

The CourtHack hackathon is an initiative by the National Center for State Courts in Utah and HackerNest. The purpose is to address the growing digital divide between information from the legal system (law enforcement, legal representation) and the court system (trials cases, judges, courthouses) that needs to access it.

The recent Netflix documentary Making a Murderer demonstrates how the inability to easily access data and communicate with the court system can contribute to systemic failures. Popular television shows aside, there is continuous talk about the failures of our justice system. Punishment is not deterring future crimes; there are far too many police officers in certain neighborhoods and not enough in others. According to UTNews, non-violent criminals are being incarcerated at alarming rates, producing a 60% chance that they will go back to prison once released. Although there are many reasons why these issues are plaguing our justice system, all experts agree that the current strain on the court system to meet the public needs is a threat to our rights to fair and speedy trials.

CourtHack seeks to use hackathons to create innovative and efficient solutions to flaws in the U.S. justice system. As one of the first ever court-related hackathons, CourtHack hopes to serve as a symbol of how the legal system and technology can be brought together to produce positive results.

Approximately 100 participants will form teams and compete for sizeable cash and non-cash prizes, mentorship opportunities, key meetings with industry decision-makers, and a demo spot at a major court technology conference. The event is completely free, although there is a $20 registration fee that will be refunded when you arrive on the day of the event. The hackathon will take place at:
Matheson Courthouse
450 State Street
Salt Lake City, UT

Legal minds, technologists, entrepreneurs, and concerned citizens are encouraged to compete in this epic, 22-hour hackathon. There will be an expert panel of judges that range from court administrators to judges to CIOs from around the country.

CourtHack Challenges

The team at CourtHack has made a set of challenges meant to inspire teams to build the things that will have an immediate benefit on people’s lives. Teams are not limited by the challenges; they are meant to inspire and shape the understanding of the needs that currently exist.

1. Accountability: Predictive Analytics to Target Court Oversight

Courts are supposed to oversee estate assets, including those that are willed over to family members. There are instances where a guardian may be presumed to be stealing money from the person that they are supposed to protect, but the court may be backed up with other cases. Lack of time and lack of resources makes this process difficult to manage. Therefore, there is an opportunity for technology to better manage these cases, and make abuses of the system more transparent.

2. Public Access to Justice: Apps, Tools, and Processes to improve access to justice and allow the public to resolve disputes efficiently

The court system is terribly behind in web technologies. This means that simple things such as paying a fine, or showing proof of license or insurance for a ticket are not usually possible via the web. Simple mobile applications that would enable citizens access to complete these transactions would dramatically improve the speed and efficiency of the court.

3. Legal Speed: Remote dispatch of emergency protection orders

Speeding up the flow of court information to and from the public is a major need. Circumstances such as domestic violence and abuse would be greatly facilitated if there were an easy way to send information to law enforcement and the court system. Getting restrictive orders can take time do to the need to present information in court. An application that would allow this data to be sent over the web, along with video conferencing with expedite this process.

4. Wild Card: Gaps in the Court System

There are many existing gaps in our legal system that could be aided by technology. Minor issues that are currently being handled in court may be able to be done remotely if there was a web portal and mobile app for access. Even the need to ask questions to the court could be facilitated by web technologies. There is a lot of opportunity to help make the court system more efficient in its ability to serve the public and fulfill its duties.

Article via University of Texas News, 1 June 2015; The New York Times, 12 March 2012

Photo via CourtHack


Uber defends driver screening

Uber is back in the news for yet another controversy concerning their drivers. The tech company recently settled a suit with customers who accused the company of less rigorous background checks than was advertised. Now their driver screening process is being scrutinized again as Jason Dalton, an Uber driver,  confessed to a Saturday shooting spree in Kalamazoo, Michigan while picking up customers.

Uber Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan said that Mr. Dalton had no prior criminal background and no red flags that appeared during his background check that would have cause the company to be concerned. “No background check process would have flagged and anticipated this situation,” Sullivan said.

Until Saturday there were no complaints with Jason Dalton’s driving record with Uber. He had given more than 100 rides since starting with Uber at the end of January and had a rating of 4.73 out of 5. The only indications that he may be dangerous didn’t come until last Saturday, when several riders including one passenger complained of erratic driving. According to the Michigan police, Dalton then started a shooting rampage at 6pm where he wounded 9 people, killing 6. Michigan police state that Dalton started at 6pm by shooting a woman multiple times in a parking lot, and then drove around for hours randomly gunning down innocent bystanders. There have been no connections made between the driver and his victims.

One reason for the emphasis on Uber’s driver screenings is because they have missed criminals before, and they were able to use their job with the service to offend again. Houston is one of the few cities the requires Uber drivers to pass a FBI fingerprint check after an ex-con Uber driver allegedly raped one of his passengers. The city did not believe that Uber’s driver screenings and background checks were thorough enough, since the driver was able to pass Uber’s checks, although he had served 14 years in prison. Prosecutors in California have also questioned Uber’s driver screenings after a driver was found to have been convicted of murder, but Uber’s background check failed to reveal the criminal history.

Critics say that Uber would catch more of these criminals if they ran fingerprints in their background checks. The company currently runs the names of potential drivers through seven years of county and federal courthouse records, a multi-state criminal database, national sex offender registry, Social Security trace and motor vehicle records. Uber rejects anyone with a history of violent crimes, sexual offenses, gun-related violations or resisting arrest. But in light of the recent events, Uber seems to be leaning toward introducing fingerprint identification as part of their process.

Article via CNet, 22 February 2016

Photo via Newsday.com


Apple refuses to hack into terrorist iPhone

Apple is being criticized by a British solider’s family for refusing to hack into an iPhone linked to December’s terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California.

Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook spoke out against the court order on Wednesday, calling the demand “chilling” and saying that compliance would be a major setback for online privacy. Many digital rights groups agree.  The federal government’s attempts to capture data from tech companies has been met with apprehension and fear. Just a few months ago, several tech companies started standing up to government data requests. But not everyone agrees with Apple’s stance on this issue.

Major tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Apple all want to protect their customers’ data by securing it at the highest levels. But, federal governments like the US and the UK want these companies to find ways to hack into customer hardware and accounts, arguing that privacy should not come at the expense of national security. This ongoing battle over encryption puts tech giants on one side, and law enforcement and intelligence on the other.

Fusilier Lee Rigby was off duty and walking down the street near his barracks in Woolwich, England, in May 2013 when he was the victim of a brutal attack by two men who told witnesses they were avenging the killing of Muslims by British soldiers.  Ray McClure, Rigby’s uncle, believes that Apple is doing nothing more than “protecting a murderer’s privacy at the cost of public safety.”

“Valuable evidence is on that smartphone and Apple is denying the FBI access to that information,” McClure said, arguing that a warrant to search a smartphone should be no different than a warrant used to search a property.

In the court order handed to Apple, the company was told it must assist the FBI in unlocking the iPhone linked to San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook. In addition to unlocking the phone, The FBI wants Apple to build a new version of its iOS mobile software that would be able to bypass the iPhone’s security so that the agency could hack any device remotely. In an open letter published on Apple’s website, Tim Cook stated that Apple has been working with the FBI, providing data and advice on how to move forward. But the creation of software that would allow the FBI to bypass Apple’s security simply doesn’t exist. “The US government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create,” said Apple CEO Time Cook.

Article via Cnet, 18 February 2016

Photo: Apple CEO Tim Cook by Mike Deerkoski [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Yahoo sued for gender bias by male employee

Yahoo is being sued by a former employee that claims that he was discriminated against for being male.

Gregory Anderson, who was employed in Yahoo’s media division was fired in November 2014.  He filed a lawsuit against the tech giant, alleging the company’s performance management system was arbitrary and unfair. Anderson “alleges that Mayer encouraged and fostered the use of the QPR Program to accommodate management’s subjective biases and personal opinions, to the detriment of Yahoo’s male employees.”

The QPR Program at Yahoo is the controversial quarterly performance review program that ranks employees and then fires the lowest ranking ones. In the Media division, where Anderson was an editor, the complaint says that when male and female employees got equally low scores (anything under 3), the women were favored and the men were fired. What’s worse, in the case that both male and female employees got the same score, the men were fired and the female employee took over the male employees job.

This isn’t the first discrimination lawsuit to be tied to a stack ranking system. In the early 2000s, a cascade of cases against Ford, Goodyear, and Capital One, alleged that such systems led to age discrimination against older employees

The lawsuit also alleges that in addition to discriminating against men, Yahoo fires people without just cause and did not give 60 days’ notice to staff affected in mass layoffs. In California, layoffs are defined as terminating more than 50 people at one time, therefore not providing notice violates California law. In addition to the complaint about the way that people were fired, Anderson’s complaint also alleges that there was unfair gender based biased for hiring.  Former Chief Marketing Officer Kathy Savitt, almost exclusively hired women into management positions in Yahoo’s media division.

Under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and also California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, discrimination on the basis of sex is illegal. It doesn’t matter which gender the person happens to be.

“The Anderson lawsuit raises the question of how to correct lingering gender discrimination against women and suggests that the answer is not yet more illegal discrimination,” wrote Anderson’s attorney Jon Parsons in a statement about the lawsuit.

Article via Huffington Post, 4 February 2016

Photo: Yahoo! by Eric Hayes [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


How to use social media evidence in court

In February of 2014, Maria Nucci attempted to sue Target after she slipped and fell on a work shift. In response, Target requested access to her Facebook profile in order to gather evidence on Nucci’s quality of life following the accident.

Saying that she had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” because of Facebook’s privacy settings, Nucci declined, and 36 photographs were removed from her profile two days following her objection.

The case was taken to the Fourth District Court of Appeals for the State of Florida, where in January of 2015, the three-judge panel ruled in favor of Target’s request for Nucci’s Facebook photographs.

“Because information that an individual shares through social networking websites like Facebook may be copied and disseminated by another,’ the expectation that such information is private, in the traditional sense of the word, is not a reasonable one,” the panel ruled.

Courts are still navigating how to use social media as evidence in legal cases. Currently, the main two issues complicating social media’s role in the courthouse are privacy, as in the Target case, and authentication.

Many social media sites require only an email to sign up, and those who require more don’t use any system to verify whether the person creating an account is in fact who they say they are.

Gibson Dunn partner Jennifer Rearden sums up the difficulties in using social media profiles as evidence: “Anybody can put anything on the Internet, and most Internet sites are not monitored for accuracy, so just because you have a print-out of someone’s profile page doesn’t mean you actually have confirmation they are controlling that page.”

 
Article via Legaltech News, November 2, 2015

Photo: Tumblr via Corrado [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Courts and social media: privacy and authentication

On Feb. 4, 2010 Maria Nucci sued Target for the injury she sustained while working at the store. However, when Target requested access to her social media account, Nucci objected. As a result, 36 photos were deleted two days later. However, the Fourth District Court of Appeals for the State of Florida granted Target’s motion with respect to all photographs on the Facebook page that included Nucci. She argued she had a right to privacy, but the judges used that very argument against her.

“Because ‘information that an individual shares through social networking websites like Facebook may be copied and disseminated by another,’ the expectation that such information is private, in the traditional sense of the word, is not a reasonable one,” the panel ruled, partially quoting another Florida case. It also added, “Before the right to privacy attaches, there must exist a legitimate expectation of privacy.”

Using social media in court cases continues to skyrocket. It has been used about 80% of the time. According to John Facciola, the information has to be collected. Second, they have to sorted out into what the attorney needs and does not need. Courts are still trying to figure out what to do with social media in discovery and the privacy rights of those whose profiles are in question. This past year, the arguing has centered on two main issues: authentication, and where the expectation of privacy stops.

Social media is notorious for one particular thing: you don’t have to be who you say you are online. This is demonstrated in parody Twitter accounts and multiple Linkedin profiles. State courts have different standards on the authentication of social media. For example, the Maryland standard is that “the judge had to be ‘convinced’ that a social media post wasn’t falsified or created by another user. On the other hand, the Texas approach stipulated that any evidence could be used “as long as the proponent of the evidence can demonstrate to the judge that a jury can reasonably find that evidence to be authentic.” In United States vs. Vayner, Aliaksandr Zhyltsou accused Vladyslav Timku of providing a forged birth certificate for an imaginary infant daughter to avoid compulsory military service in Ukraine. The key piece of evidence was in the defendant’s social media account. However, the federal agent could not provide authenticity. As a result, Maryland revisited their standard and deemed that the judge has to identify which evidence would be sufficient. In other words, the judge has to determine that “there is proof from which a reasonable juror could find that the evidence is what the proponent is claiming.”

Article via Legaltech News , November 2, 2015

Photo: Affiliated Network for Social Accountability- Arab World via World Bank Photo Collection [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]