Category Archives: Law

Foreign-Born Americans

I live in a place where 51.7% of the population was born in another country. But I know that is not typical. I had in fact vaguely imagined that in much of the rest of the US the overall fraction of the population that was was foreign-born was shrinking. According to this interesting chart (p.3 of the presentation), that seems not to be the case.

It seems I vastly over-estimated the immigrant population in the 60s and 70s — perhaps because everyone my grandmother knew in New York seemed to have been born abroad. Indeed, if one assumes that the charted trends depicted above continued for six more years to 2016, then for the bulk of the population alive today the percentage of immigrants around them is at a lifetime high, even if it has not yet reached its late 19th century/early 20th century modern peak.

Being first generation, and generally pro-immigration, I’m more than fine with this, but it does perhaps help explain why anti-immigration policies have had some traction — just like they did in the 1920s. Last time around that animus led to the Immigration Act of 1924, setting up strict quotas on immigrants, and basically barring Asians.  (In addition to its many many other defects, that statute, as amended, would later come to bite my father when he sought to regularize his visa status in the wake of the Chinese Revolution and his loss of a student visa caused by successfully defending a PhD.)

Posted in Immigration | 2 Comments

Drone Shooting in the News

Looks like my article, Self-Defense Against Robots and Drones (written with Zak Colangelo) isn’t a minute too early. ArsTechnica reports Man shoots downs neighbor’s hexacopter in rural drone shotgun battle.

The parties in Joe v McBay differ as to where the drone actually was when it got shot. Plaintiff says it was on his land, defendant says the GPS data shows it wasn’t. The Judge from the Stanislaus County Court Small Claims Division didn’t care:

Court finds that Mr. McBay acted unreasonably in having his son shoot the drone down regardless of whether it was over his property or not

We don’t agree in our article that the drone’s location is irrelevant. If the drone was not on the defendant-shooter’s land, then he ought to be liable for the damages. But whether he should be liable if the drone was trespassing is a surprisingly complicated question that we address at some length in our article. It depends in large part on what the shooter reasonably thought the drone was doing, and whether the act of shooting the weapon, or any subsequent drone crash, would put anyone else at risk.

Basically, in an urban area it will almost never be reasonable to shoot down even a trespassing drone unless it clearly threatens physical harm to a person or perhaps very major property damage. In a rural area where the dangers of errant shots and crashing drones may be much less, many other factors come into the calculus of reasonableness, including whether it reasonably appears that the drone may be on a spying run, and how valuable the drone looks.

Posted in Robots, Tort | 3 Comments

A New Online Dating Scam

Bentham’s Gaze:

We identified three types of scams happening on [Chinese dating site] Jiayuan. … Another interesting type of scams that we identified are what we call dates for profit. In this scheme, attractive young ladies are hired by the owners of fancy restaurants. The scam then consists in having the ladies contact people on the dating site, taking them on a date at the restaurant, having the victim pay for the meal, and never arranging a second date. This scam is particularly interesting, because there are good chances that the victim will never realize that he’s been scammed — in fact, he probably had a good time.

Would be a nice tort problem if I taught fraud (and I should).

Spotted via via Schneier on Security: Online Dating Scams.

Posted in Internet, Tort | 3 Comments

First Amendment Note Topic

American Airlines claims it can ban photos of its staff at the airport.  I get that federal law requires passengers to obey staff while on board the plane, but what authority could there be for this on the ground?  Is it contractual?  If so, why is it enforceable?  Does it violate a public policy?

Also, some airports are owned by public bodies.  Is there a heightened First Amendment claim in those spaces?

 

Posted in Student Note Topics | Leave a comment

Looking for a Good Student Note Topic?

I think this qualifies: FTDI Removes Driver From Windows Update That Bricked Cloned Chips (via Slashdot).

As Ars Technica explains:

Hardware hackers building interactive gadgets based on the Arduino microcontrollers are finding that a recent driver update that Microsoft deployed over Windows Update has bricked some of their hardware, leaving it inaccessible to most software both on Windows and Linux. This came to us via hardware hacking site Hack A Day.

The latest version of FTDI’s driver, released in August, contains some new language in its EULA and a feature that has caught people off-guard: it reprograms counterfeit chips rendering them largely unusable, and its license notes that:

Use of the Software as a driver for, or installation of the Software onto, a component that is not a Genuine FTDI Component, including without limitation counterfeit components, MAY IRRETRIEVABLY DAMAGE THAT COMPONENT

The license is tucked away inside the driver files; normally nobody would ever see this unless they were explicitly looking for it.

The result of this is that well-meaning hardware developers updated their systems through Windows Update and then found that the serial controllers they used stopped working. Worse, it’s not simply that the drivers refuse to work with the chips; the chips also stopped working with Linux systems. This has happened even to developers who thought that they had bought legitimate FTDI parts.

Nice four-hander here: the rights of the end-user, the rights and duties of the vendor, the rights and liabilities of the legitimate parts maker, and the potential liabilities of Microsoft for serving up the malware-to-counterfeits via Windows Update.

Heck, it could be an article.

Update (10/28/14): Good semi-technical background info on this at Errata Security: The deal with the FTDI driver scandal.

Posted in Law: Internet Law, Student Note Topics, Sufficiently Advanced Technology | Leave a comment

Tip of the Iceberg

The NYT has a great story today, Miss a Payment? Good Luck Moving That Car on sub-prime loans for cars requiring that buyer accept installation of an immobilizer that can be operated by remote control by the lender’s agents. The article concentrates on ways in which these are being abused, e.g. immobilizing cars in traffic, far from home, when payments are not in fact late, and more.

It also hints at a group of legal issues, notably privacy (the GPS technology on which the immobilizer relies makes cars trackable by the monitoring company), and whether state laws on repossession — which require more notice, or more time between a missed payment and authorized action by the lender — should apply to a ‘virtual repossession’ or not. (Attention: Student note topic seekers. Doing this analysis in just one state would be a fine topic, and a social good.)

Then there’s the sociological aspects,

Beyond the ability to disable a vehicle, the devices have tracking capabilities that allow lenders and others to know the movements of borrowers, a major concern for privacy advocates. And the warnings the devices emit — beeps that become more persistent as the due date for the loan payment approaches — are seen by some borrowers as more degrading than helpful.

“No middle-class person would ever be hounded for being a day late,” said Robert Swearingen, a lawyer with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, in St. Louis. “But for poor people, there is a debt collector right there in the car with them.”

Missing, though, is the first thing that occurred to the cypherpunks when this technology first got mooted over a decade ago: How long until it is hacked? What happens when some bad guy starts war driving with a black box immobilizer causing accidents or other harms? And to what extent will the makers of the immobilizer be liable for those harms? Another good student note, at the very least.

[Note: Edited to add italicized line in second paragraph, which mysteriously got cut out before posting.]

Posted in Cryptography, Law: Privacy, Student Note Topics | Leave a comment