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Wearable Technologies Push Legal Frontiers

When I was a kid, I remember electric blankets were all the rage. However, after reports of these blankets causing fires, they quickly became a thing of the past. A few years ago, after Google Glass emerged, I couldn’t help but think of the electric blanket—an interesting, novel product, but with a slew of potential legal troubles that may ultimately leave owners getting burned. As it would turn out, Google Glass was merely the tip of the iceberg for the revolution of wearable technology. However, it seems as though concerns over the potential problems of these wearable technologies is entirely warranted. wearable technology

What Is Wearable Technology?

While it may seem like an obvious question, it deserves a bit of an explanation. “Wearable technology” describes clothing or accessories, such as a bracelet or glasses, which utilize computer technology that gives the wear some heightened sense of practicality. An early example of this is a calculator watch. In addition to giving the person the ability to tell time, they could calculate tips or other simple math equations on the fly.

The most talked-about wearable technology is Google Glass. You wear Google Glass just like any other set of glasses, except instead of polarization and UV protection, these glasses offer people the ability to surf the web, check the weather, read text messages, and even make photographs and record video in 720p.

“Smart watches” are also receiving an increasing amount of attention. These devices are similar to calculator watches, in the sense that they keep time in addition to other functions. Where they differ is that rather than just compute numbers (which they can still do), these watches also operate as .mp3 and FM radio players, cameras, GPS navigation systems, and even as a cell phones. Wristband devices can also monitor your heart rate, sleep quality, and how many calories you burned.

Clothing companies have even started entered the wearable technology field. What some of these “clothes”—if you can call them that—can do is astonishing. For instance, BB.Suit has designed a piece of clothing that makes the wearer a walking WiFi hotspot, Studio Roosegaarde has crafted a type of high-fashion dress that becomes ‘see-thru’ as the person’s heart rate increases, and there has even been talk of companies testing prototypes of clothes that can harness solar power.

Why Is Wearable Technology a Legal Concern?

Wearable technologies have the potential for causing serious privacy violations. For example, those equipped with an app called “Winky” could use Google Class trigger the camera mechanism with the blink of an eye. This not only raises concerns over privacy, but also sparks an interesting issue with various wiretapping laws.

Private establishments have every right to maintain some manner of control over the conduct of people entering their premises. Shortly after the first Google Glasses started popping in the San Francisco Bay Area, many establishments began posting signs that asked wearers to remove their glasses before entering due to privacy concerns of other customers. Casinos in Las Vegas have banned them outright.

Law enforcement has been having trouble regulating the use of Google Glass. In October of 2013, a San Diego woman was ticketed for wearing her glass while driving. Ultimately, the case was thrown due to a lack of evidence that the glasses were actually on and in use while the woman was behind the wheel. But the statement was already made: Don’t Google and drive. In other parts of the country, legislatures have made efforts to get the Google Glass put in the same category as a cellular phone.

Smart watches pose many of the same problems as Google Glass. If glasses are causing a ruckus by being able to send texts, access the Internet, and capture images in the wink of an eye, it is not unreasonable to see how the exact same privacy concerns arise over a watch that can do the exact same thing with the flick of a wrist. Similarly, using smart watches to text and talk while driving will force legislatures and law enforcement alike to figure out ways to control the use of these devices, many of which look like normal wrist watches.

Aside from criminal issues, there are also concerns over health and safety. “Fitbit,” who manufacture an athletic wristband, recalled one of its models after users began to complain of skin irritation. As the popularity of wearable technology grows, so will the lawsuits over design defects and harm caused by them.

The Legal Community Should Encourage Innovation

Regardless of the potential legal problems the legal community, it is exciting to see how much technology has grown in the last twenty years. If watches that double as phones and temperature regulated jackets are today’s hot item, it’s mind boggling to think of what type of gadgetry the next twenty years will bring us. When developing laws to regulate new technologies, the legal community should be careful to not impede future innovations.

Why the Gun Control Issue Is Absurd on Both Sides

On the topic of gun control, Americans completely lack common sense.

gun controlIn Washington, D.C., the nomination for Surgeon General is delayed because the candidate, Dr. Vivek Murthy, wrote on Twitter that guns are a healthcare issue. The nomination block is rather extreme given that most Surgeon Generals, including President Regan’s appointee, Everett Koop, believed guns were a healthcare issue. Actually, most medical associations, such as the American Medical Association, support gun regulation. Common sense dictates that guns are a healthcare risk. Shooting a bad guy will put the bad guy in poor health; that’s the very reason gun owners want guns for self-defense!

Of course, the 2nd Amendment is only a right if you’re an adult. Ten year old Nathan Entingh was suspended from school for three days for a “Level 2 Look Alike Firearm” – his fingers. Nathan had put his fingers up to another student’s head and said “Boom!” A teacher saw him and sent Nathan to the principal’s office. Ohio has a zero tolerance policy and students at Devonshire Alternative Elementary School had been repeatedly warned against gun related behavior.

What do these two stories have in common? In the former, Dr. Murthy is criticized for talking about guns. In the latter, Nathan and his fellow students are prohibited from engaging in gun related behavior, such as making paper guns. To overgeneralize for a moment, it seems as though nobody in the United States is allowed to talk about guns.

The context of each incident is completely different, of course. Dr. Murthy is in a job interview with the Senate while Nathan is playing around. The adult is being grilled because Senate Republicans, and some Democrats, believe they are protecting the 2nd Amendment. The NRA fears that an anti-gun right Surgeon General could do to guns what past Surgeon Generals have done to tobacco. Warning labels and public education campaigns about the health risks of tobacco have greatly restrained what the tobacco industry can do today.

Nathan was suspended because the school fears for student safety. I don’t have to mention the number of school massacres to show why Ohio has a zero tolerance policy on guns in schools. Many judges would probably defer to the school on matters of school safety, even if those same judges doubt that zero tolerance is the best approach.

In both cases, an institution seeks to protect something important. Gun rights advocates are trying to silence Dr. Murphy to protect gun rights. Gun restriction advocates want to silence students to protect student safety. It’s ironic that opposing sides of a debate have reached the same conclusion: they can win if everyone walks around on eggshells whenever the topic is brought up.

Still, it is extremely jarring to see a doctor attacked for a position most doctors hold and a ten year old boy punished for something most ten year old boys do.

Alien Enthusiasts Help Us Understand Legal Relations with E.T.

In today’s global village, everything is possible, especially if we are to believe longtime alien enthusiast Paul Hellyer. The former Canadian Defense Minister, Mr. Hellyer is confident that at least four species of aliens have visited our planet. Even more incredibly, he recently stated at the Citizen Hearing On Disclosure in Washington, D.C. that the U.S. government has at least two aliens on the payroll.

paul hellyer aliensPaul Hellyer is not the only respectable person who believes in aliens. Recently, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland seriously addressed possible issues related to alien interactions.

Taking the conclusions drawn by Mr. Hellyer and the World Economic Forum at face value, here is a brief overview of the law-related myths about extraterrestrials that must be dispelled:

  • Myth 1: If extraterrestrial contact ever occurs, it will be centered on issues related to high technology.
  • Response: While high-tech gadgets may play a role in understanding extraterrestrials, our communications with E.T. should center on understanding shared legal principles. This will ensure that interactions are regulated and peaceable.
  • Myth 2: “If the aliens are here, I’d absolutely expect them to call me to have their currency printed,” one Davos dinner member said.
  • Response: Our new legal framework should not fail to include a non-currency mediums of exchange. Besides, as society evolves, sophisticated forms of barter will dominate human commerce.
  • Myth 3: Lack of communication indicates that extraterrestrials either do not exist or are simply not interested in chatting. Another Davos member states, “I’d love to establish links with extraterrestrials. So far no messages on my cell phone.”
  • Response: The fact that one cannot or does not see a text message on one’s cellphone doesn’t mean that the message doesn’t exist. In fact, (according to Mr. Hellyer) English is the language of choice for our alien friends.

“Paperless in One Hour for Lawyers”

Going paperless is not only a trendy movement, it’s also a highly practical step to achieving an efficient law office. Many large law firms are already there. However, if you are a sole practitioner and you don’t have your own IT department to carry out the technicalities, then going paperless probably sounds more like a hassle than a revolution.

paperless in one hour for lawyersPaperless in One Hour for Lawyers” by Sheila M. Blackford and Donna S. M. Neff provides a quick and easy guide that is specifically intended for solo practitioners and small firms. Ms. Blackford, a paperless attorney in Oregon as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Law Practice magazine, clearly explains the benefits of going paperless. For example: “It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is an enormous loss of productivity when you spend even fifteen minutes a day searching for a specific document. If your billable rate is $200 an hour, the cost of fifteen minutes of unproductive time is $50 a day…or $13,000 a year.”

Important information found in “Paperless in One Hour for Lawyers” includes a guide to the essential hardware and software you will need, a review of the apps that are available, and an overview of the business practices that should be implemented. The sections are easy to follow and graciously concise. Read the book in one sitting—in one hour—and you’ll be good to go.

Religious Freedom vs. Women’s Rights

The Hobby Lobby Case: An Accidental Battle between the First Amendment and Women’s Rights

“Stand up for religion!” “Corporations are not people!” “War on women!”

hobby lobby birth controlThese dime-a-dozen slogans have been dominating the news lately over what is commonly being referred to as the “Hobby Lobby” case. If you aren’t sure what that is, here is a quick run down.

Not long after the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was passed, challenges to the Act’s contraceptive mandate of the law started to file in. A contraceptive mandate, put simply, is a requirement that some type of contraceptive option be offered in an insurance plan. The first lawsuits to make their way through the legal system were the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation, and they are both claiming the contraceptive mandate infringes on their First Amendment right to the freedom to exercise their religion. Their matters were consolidated and are now commonly referred to as the Hobby Lobby case.

Basically, the owners of these businesses hold religious principles that conflict with the use of contraceptives. As a result of their religious beliefs, they do not want to provide their employees with insurance that would include access to contraceptive methods. If they do not prove such insurance, then they would be subject to a “tax”—per employee—for opting out of Obamacare.

The Supreme Court heard argument on this issue, and will be handing down a decision in June of 2014. While at the core of the case can be summed up in the slogans at the top of this article, the real issues delve much, much deeper.

Corporate Rights

In the Hobby Lobby case, the court is essentially forced to examine whether corporations now have religious freedoms. To some degree, this question has already been answered—after all, churches and religious organizations qualify as tax exempt, and Obamacare has already provided for contraceptive exemptions for those entities.

To be more specific, these companies are asking the court to respect the freedom of religion of the owners of these companies, under the guise that the owner’s religious beliefs are also the company’s. The families that own these corporations are essentially arguing that because this law substantially burdens their own personal religious beliefs, and because the government doesn’t have a compelling reason to create that burden, as a result they will be forced to make difficult business decisions that will be costly.

This notion—that a company can represent personal beliefs—creates an uneasy tension between individual liberty and corporate personhood. For example, as an attorney for a corporation, my client is the corporation, and not the owners, and therefore my loyalties and advocacy will almost always fall to the company, and not the owners. Likewise, while a qualifying church will not be taxed by the government, the reverend for a church must still pay taxes.

The First Amendment vs. Women’s Rights

The claims by Hobby Lobby create an even more uneasy tension between the freedom of religion and women’s rights. After all, the term “contraceptive mandate” didn’t start showing up until corporations began trying to prevent female employees from obtaining access to birth control. While corporations are fighting for religious freedoms, they are fighting against women’s rights.  

At the core of the Hobby Lobby litigation, it is clear that this isn’t a First Amendment case. This isn’t even a contraception case. This is a partisan case of people trying to chip away at law that affected a powerful, very wealthy insurance lobby. Unfortunately, the First Amendment is being implicated when it really shouldn’t be.

The reality of this legal struggle simply highlights one fundamental truth: when the First Amendment and Women’s Rights cross paths, there are no real winners.