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Facebook Accused of Funding Terrorist Activity

Facebook is being accused of funding terrorist activity in the West Bank region. A family of Israeli and American citizens have brought forth a lawsuit seeking $1 billion in damages from Facebook for supposedly funding Palestinian military attacks. Palestine and Israel have been in conflict for many decades now and it is an issue that has no end in sight.

There are many underlying factors to the conflict, including religious difference, territorial claim, and regional dominance. Countless lives have been lost from both sides. The plaintiffs too have lost relatives in the conflict and they now seek damages from Facebook because they believe Facebook has supported Hamas in its attacks against Israel. Hamas, which is a pro-Palestinian movement, has been considered a terrorist organization by many nations.

Myriad of Accusations

This is not the first time that Facebook has been accused of such claims. Other such claims against Facebook are that, as a conduit of information, it gives FBI access to its user accounts, or that Facebook has some sort of hidden agenda unbeknownst to the general public. Of course, there is not much evidence to support such claims yet these charges do pop up every now and then. And it is not just Facebook.

Other social media outlets such as Twitter have been under attack too for supposedly promoting terrorism. ISIS, which has been grabbing headlines for the past few months, has been using the Twitter platform as a means of recruitment and sending out its message, and Twitter has seemingly done nothing to stop this.

Facebook and Twitter Comparison

For sake of comparison, the Twitter and Facebook claims have similarities and differences. In Twitter, there is indication that ISIS is using the platform as a vehicle to promote its agenda. However, under the First Amendment, which permits freedom of speech and press, it is hard to charge someone simply for expressing their viewpoints. Granted, ISIS propaganda should be put to a stop but where do we draw the line.

Should constitutional rights be diminished in order to promote national security? The government should not violate First Amendment rights when it can help it. There are times when the government, for security purposes, will make an exception. In any event, the benefit of the doubt will be given to the Constitution. Not all ISIS related posts will be grounds for criminal charge. Hamas Facebook

Likewise, with Facebook, if there are posts on the platform that in some way support Hamas, this is not grounds alone to go after a user, let alone Facebook itself. Under the Communications Decency Act of 1996, service providers such as Facebook and Twitter cannot be held personally liable for content that is published by their users.

The difference between the two scenarios however is that there is no indication that Twitter directly promotes ISIS activity. However, with Facebook, although there is currently not enough evidence, if it was established that Facebook did directly support Hamas through promotional material or other means not associated with user content, then there might be a valid claim. Even then, the First Amendment might prevent such claims. Until more hard evidence actually emerges, it will be very difficult for these grieving families to put up a decent claim against Facebook.

Many times, false accusations are thrown at big corporations such as Facebook in the hopes that that they can snatch the big prize. I am not implying that these particular plaintiffs fall in this category, but false accusations are common, especially against a large corporation such as Facebook. Media conglomerates such as Fox and Time Warner have been accused of such things too. It does not start and end with media industry either. Sometimes, these accusations should be taken with a grain of salt.

Preemptive Measures

People are not yet ready to give up their basic rights. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have either one.” This is a powerful statement that resonates today with all of us.

However, Ben Franklin lived in a completely different time with very different issues at play. Today, international terrorism has become a huge threat and only tightening down on security measures can we hope to combat such a threat. If it means giving up some rights for the greater good, then this is something that we should consider.

And just as these social media outlets are used by terrorist organizations to convey their message, they can also be used to create awareness among communities to unite and stand against such a threat. Social media has been the trigger for many events these past few years, such as the Arab Spring and the Brexit deal.

Social media is a powerful tool that can be used to bring change, for better or for worse. Who uses it and how they use it can have consequences as well. Preemptive measures can be taken through these outlets to combat terrorism and to address other issues as well.

Should Suspected Criminals Expect Any Right to Privacy?

What sort of measures should authorities be allowed to take to capture alleged criminals? On June 23rd, a federal judge ruled that the FBI didn’t need to obtain a search warrant before they hacked into the computer of a man who had allegedly viewed child pornography. In his ruling, Judge Henry Morgan argued that the defendant, Edward Matish, had no “reasonable expectation” of privacy in his IP address.

 Should the Government Be Able to Use Any Technology to Catch Criminal Activity?

The case against Edward Matish centered around a child pornography site, Playpen, that was only accessible through Tor, a browser designed for anonymous web surfing. After taking control of Playpen in early 2015 (and arresting its operator), the FBI secretly gathered information about its users through a tool known as a NIT, or network investigative technique, that let investigators see the IP address of each individual who logged on to the site.

Attorneys for Matish said that the evidence gathered by the FBI’S NIT should not be allowed to be presented in court. After all, his attorneys argued, there was no search warrant specifically naming Matish when the FBI hacked into his computer. FBI

However, Judge Morgan took the opposite view, stating that in Matish’s case the government’s duty to protect its citizens superseded any concern over Matish’s privacy in the face of electronic surveillance. In his remarks, Judge Morgan added: “The Government should be able to use the most advanced technological means to overcome criminal activity that is conducted in secret.”

Interestingly, not all cases involving people who were unknowingly put under digital surveillance before being accused of viewing child pornography have ended in a ruling like the one levied against Edward Matish. Federal judges in at least two similar cases have ruled in favor of the defendant, saying that the FBI’s Virginia-issued warrants (which called for the use of the FBI’s NIT) were invalid because the defendant’s alleged crimes did not occur in Virginia.

If the government’s duty to protect its citizens is so powerful, why didn’t federal judges in other cases involving underground child pornography declare the FBI’s NTT warrants valid? Could those other federal judge’s rulings signal that the FBI’s use of digital surveillance techniques is not always the best option in rooting out criminals?

But Shouldnt the Government Do What It Can to Root Out Child Pornography?

One of the issues raised in United States v. Matish was whether the defendant’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government was violated when the FBI hacked his computer. Whether a search is considered reasonable under the law is determined by considering whether the government’s legitimate interests, such as public safety, outweigh an individual’s right to privacy.

In other words, the government has to decide whether a crime’s danger to the public is even more pressing then the alleged criminal’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Judge Morgan cited a Supreme Court decision to bolster his reasoning that the FBI’s actions in Matish’s case amounted topeering into a gap in closed blinds, “which does not violate the Fourth Amendment. Judge Morgan’s choice of words, which conjure up the FBI taking only a quick glance at the underground child pornography site, do not seem to align with what actually occurred in the investigation.

In fact, the FBI gathered Playpen users information over the course of 13 days, using their NIT that some have characterized as “malware.” The FBI has actually taken steps to keep the code to the NIT used in the Playpen investigation secret, calling it a matter of national security.

Judge Morgan’s assertion that Edward Matish had no “reasonable expectation” of privacy in his IP address drew outrage, even in the face of the defendant’s alleged viewing of child pornography. Privacy advocates argued that the implications of Judge Morgan’s ruling were staggering–that it set the precedent for law enforcement to remotely search and seize information from anyone’s computer without a warrant or even probable cause.

While some might argue that the capture of someone who has allegedly viewed child pornography is more important than any concern about the government violating their privacy, a couple of questions cannot be ignored. Does anyone, according to Judge Morgan’s logic, have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their IP address? And what other ways could the government employ the use of NIT in the future?

Pokѐmon Go Privacy Problems: The Legalities of Mobile App Data Collection

Pokémon Go is the most popular mobile game in U.S. history. In the 24 hours after its release last week, it surpassed the daily active users numbers of every other mobile game that has ever existed—attracting nearly 21 million active users at once.  As a user myself, I can say that when the servers of the game are working properly, it’s a heck of a good time.

The game was created by Niantic and the Pokémon Company and allows users to roam the streets catching Pokémon in an augmented reality version of the real world. So successful is the game that Nintendo’s minority share in the game has boosted their market value by $11 billion in the week or so since it hit the market.

The game is free to play but features a number of available microtransactions—digital offerings within the app itself—to bring in money. However, like many mobile games, this is not the only source of revenue.  The app also collects personal information from its users, which it then strips of identifying information and sells to would-be advertisers.

In the last few days, this data collection has drawn the concern of not only users, but also U.S. Senator Al Franken. He has gone on record with serious concerns about the overreach of the privacy policy of the app—especially considering how many children it counts as users. The whole kerfuffle began in response to a blog post revealing that among the permissions you granted Niantic by creating an account was—for iPhone users using a Gmail to sign in—full access to your Google account.

The Pokѐmon Privacy Policy

The concerns, now known to be slightly alarmist, suggested that the permissions gave Niantic read/write permission for your emails, access to your Google Drive, and even the ability to pilfer your Google Wallet. This came as a heck of a shock to users, because, although the Pokѐmon Go Privacy Policy is available online, there was no indication such access was being granted when users made an account.

Since the initial accusations a few days ago, it has been established that Niantic did indeed get full access to your Google Account, however it was not quite the insidious plot that was initially insinuated. Pokemon Go

Niantic issued a statement that the overreach in permission was a mistake and the access had never been taken advantage of—an assertion that Google has verified.  What’s more, while the permissions did give Niantic potential access to a substantial amount of biographical information such as your email address and phone number, they did not have access to any emails, Google Drive, or Google Wallet.  Niantic patched the access out of the app days after the concerns were raised.

However, don’t let these developments completely send your privacy concerns over Pokѐmon Go blasting off again. If you have not yet updated the app, do so in order to patch out the access to your Google account.  What’s more, it is important to stay informed about exactly how much information you agree to share by making an account or clicking “yes” to those Terms & Conditions.  Pokѐmon Go is still collecting a staggering amount of information on you for later sale.

By using the app, you are accepting that Pokѐmon Go will collect data from you and use it in accordance with their posted privacy policy.  As it stands, they collect your Internet Protocol (IP) address, browser type, operating system, the web page you visited before going on Pokѐmon Go, anything you click on or go to while using Pokѐmon Go, how long you stay on pages you go to, search terms, and more.  Also, because Pokѐmon Go uses GPS tracking to determine where you are and thus which Pokѐmon are around you, the app collects where you go, where you left from, how long you take to get somewhere, and how long you stay at any given location.

Once this data is collected Niantic, per their privacy policy, strips identifying information from the data and pools it together to sell to advertising companies.  If the company or Pokѐmon Go is ever purchased, all this information is part of what will be purchased.

This probably seems like an incredible amount of information for strangers to know about you—and it is. Unfortunately, the only way to avoid this data collection (as with many apps) is stop using Pokѐmon Go.  What’s more, the practice is both common and perfectly legal when done carefully.

Mobile App Overreach: An Ongoing Problem

The Federal Trade Commission requires that mobile apps clearly disclose their privacy policies and what sort of information they collect. They also require that businesses give users an option to decline collection—although that can just mean letting them choose not to use an app.  Failure to do any of these things, or to comply with your own privacy policy, can give rise to an FTC charge of deceptive practices.

For example, Runkeeper is a jogging app that has recently been in hot water for tracking your location—when the app is not active. This information is then sent to advertisers.  In 2012, a social media app called Path got in trouble for taking its users’ entire address book without their knowledge.  They settled an FTC charge, paying $800,000.

Apps that seek overreaching permissions, a perfectly legal practice, unless state law says differently, when properly disclosed, are also common. In 2015, it came to light that quite a few third-party flashlight apps were asking for a lot more permissions on your smartphone than they needed.

Many of the apps has the ability to read phone status and identity, view Wi-Fi connections, modify system settings, obtain full network access, and determine your precise location via your phone’s GPS, among other permissions. This was quite an ask for an app that is primarily for finding your keys when they fall under your car seat.

It’s not surprising that people were sensitive to potential privacy issues with Pokѐmon Go given the history mobile apps have with overreaching permissions and privacy law violations. A huge portion of apps include data gathering of some kind as part of how they make their money—especially free to use apps.

Even if you trust a business with this information, that same information makes them a target for hackers. The sheer popularity of Pokѐmon Go, combined with its ability to track your location, means that it is going to be capable of nearly unprecedented data collection.  While Niantic has a solid privacy policy and has complied with FTC privacy regulations, it still can be a privacy risk given how much information is going to pass through its hands.  Don’t let this stop you from catching them all—just remember to know what you’re getting into with Pokѐmon Go and any app you use.

Waitress Told to Wear a Skirt and Look More Feminine Wins Sex Discrimination Case

In Scotland, an eighteen-year-old part-time waitress was asked to wear a skirt and makeup so she would be “easy on the eyes” to male customers.

The young woman claims that she was offered a full-time position as a waitress at the restaurant, but was pulled aside by the manager and told to wear a skirt, makeup, and her hair down to look more feminine and attractive to the customers. After she complained, she was told her existing hours would be cut and that she was no longer offered the full-time waitressing position. She decided to file a sex discrimination lawsuit.

A judge at an industrial tribunal, who makes decisions in legal disputes regarding employment law, awarded her $4,372 for discrimination and lost wages.

Would a case like this prevail in America?

What is Sex Discrimination?

Sex discrimination includes any unequal treatment on the basis of sex. The treatment must not only be different, but also unequal, and therefore lead to inequality between the sexes. For example, designating male versus female bathrooms for each gender does not rise to the level of sex discrimination. However, an employer who pays a woman less for the same work a man performs does constitute sex discrimination because it is unfair. Waitress

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides protections against sex discrimination in the workplace. The Act makes it illegal for employers to either:

  1. fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation terms, or privileges of employment, because of that individual’s sex; or,
  2. limit, segregate, or classify employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise affect that person’s status as an employee because of such individual’s sex.

In laymen terms, all employees or applicants must be given equal opportunities for employment and advancement within the company organization. Further, no person can be deprived of any employment opportunity based on his or her gender.

Sexual harassment is also a form of sex discrimination. Generally, sexual harassment may be found if an employee experiences unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

Can An Employer Require Female Employees Wear Skirts?

The short answer is “yes.” Generally an employer can impose a dress code that requires female employees to wear skirts. However, the employer must have a legitimate business necessity for this requirement and it must be reasonably related to the employer’s business needs.

For instance, if the employer wants to foster a professional atmosphere, the employer may require more formal dress, which includes a requirement that female employees wear skirts while their male counterparts wear slacks. There have been some cases where employers have been found guilty of sex discrimination against women for requiring them to wear skirts and not having any equivalent policy (such as wearing slacks) for men.

While it is generally admissible for employers to impose dress codes, it must be done with sensitivity and strict adherence to the law. A dress code cannot impose a greater burden on one gender than another. Referring back to the previous example, it would be sex discrimination require female employees to wear skirts, but have no formal dress code requirement for male employees.

Further, the employer must be careful about sex discrimination and stereotyping claims. Therefore, it is advised that the employer create exemptions in some cases to the dress code, or to forego a dress code altogether to avoid claims of sex discrimination.

Just as an employer is entitled to establish a dress code that requires female employees wear skirts, they may also require female employees wear makeup. However, the employer cannot pass up a female employee for advancement, or terminate a female employee because she did not wear makeup.

D.C. Vote Leaves Accident Victims in Dismay

Washington D.C. council has postponed a vote to change the city’s contributory negligence laws to comparative negligence with regards to automobile-bicycle collisions. This decision has frustrated bicyclists and pedestrians because under the current contributory negligence framework, the victims of such accidents are not entitled to recovery. Under contributory negligence laws, if the victim is viewed as being at least partially responsible for the accident, they will not be awarded damages.

D.C. has a “pure” contributory negligence system, which means that even if the victim of the accident is 1% at fault, they may not recover from either the driver or insurer. This is a very strict standard and in most circumstances denies any form of compensation to victims of such accidents. The only time the damaged party may recover is if their behavior which led to the accident was non-negligent (meaning entirely free from fault) and that the driver was negligent. It is very difficult to establish non-negligence.

Transition Phase – Contributory to Comparative Negligence

In general, the United States as a whole has been transitioning from a contributory negligence framework to that of comparative negligence over the last few decades. Aside from D.C., only four states have stayed with the contributory negligence system. Under a comparative negligence approach, the victim can be compensated even if they are partially at fault; however their recovery will be deducted by the percentage for which they are at fault. This seems like a far more reasonable approach than the other more stringent standard that is slowly fading out.

For the driver and the insurance companies, contributory negligence is ideal because they will not be held liable whatsoever. This of course is a double-edged sword.  Victims prefer the comparative negligence standard, but there is a nefarious element to this. Victims surely will be awarded damages under the comparative framework. Bicycle

However, there have been instances where bicyclists and/or pedestrians have intentionally come into the crosshair of the driver simply to recover damages. One of the reasons contributory negligence exists is because politicians and congressmen such as D.C. Councilmember Kenyan R. McDuffie want to provide safeguards against such acts. The driver should not always be held responsible, for there are times when the victim is in fact the perpetrator.

News reports and various statistics, including one from Gallup, show that states which enforce the contributory negligence standard have far fewer cases of automobile-bicycle accidents than states with comparative negligence.

Obviously, statistics only provide a glimpse of the truth but they should be given some thought. This statistic implies that bicyclists under this framework are more wary of accidents because of the fact that they will not be awarded damages, and it also has a deterrent effect on those “particular” bicyclists/pedestrians that want to fill their pockets by intentionally engaging in vehicular accidents.

Comparative Negligence Discrepancies

Of course, even under those states that apply comparative negligence, they are not all uniform. There are variations on comparative negligence; for example, there is something known as “pure” comparative negligence and another common variant is the modified comparative negligence scheme.

Under the “pure” comparative system, which is the typical approach, the victim may recover, but recovery will be reduced based on the degree of fault. In the modified system, there are two approaches. One is if the victim is 50% or more at fault, then they cannot recover whatsoever. The second approach is that if the victim is 51% or more at fault, then they cannot recover. The difference between the two approaches is a mere 1%. In general, the modified system is far less favorable to the damaged party than is the pure comparative system.

Impact – How It Will Affect Both Driver and Pedestrian

Just to reiterate what has already been stated, D.C. transitioning from one system to another can have drastic implications. For one, as mentioned above, the comparative system favors the victims and the contributory framework benefits the driver and/or insurer. The people of D.C. are unhappy that the vote came out the way it did, as they would prefer to be compensated in the case of an accident. They don’t want the insurers walking all over them. The contributory negligence framework allows for this and gives the insurance companies an excuse not to cover the damages.

At its core, these two diverging systems provide a mechanism that a defendant can invoke if he or she is sued. On the other hand, there are nuances to the law that prevent full protection for one party or the other. Ultimately, the law of the state will determine how both perpetrators and victims of accidents will be treated.

The country is headed towards a comparative approach but as is the case here in D.C., not all legislators are ready to give up on contributory negligence. There are repercussions that go beyond benefiting the insurance companies. The comparative negligence framework might lead to increased insurance premiums and this potential effect is not ideal for the many decision-makers that want to maintain their seat on the throne.

The comparative negligence approach seems like the more reasonable approach because it gives the victim of an accident some form of remedy. It gives certain remedies to the driver and the victim depending on the circumstances. The driver may not be penalized fully if the damaged party was somewhat responsible and the victim will be rightfully compensated.



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