Category Archives: Law

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

Best Disclaimer Ever?

The TV version of this otherwise endless and pointless commercial for KFC contains what may be the best disclaimer I have ever witnessed in the wild:

Professional. Do not attempt to eat chicken while doing a backflip on a motorcycle. You may choke.

Imagining that some lawyer got paid a lot of money for writing that just makes it funnier.

Posted in Tort | 2 Comments

Rental Cars as a Civilization Advance (Herein Also of the Valuation of Locks)

The ubiquity of rental cars are one of the great advances of human civilization. Think about it for a moment: you sign your name (and if you’re a member of a rental car company’s membership program, not even that) and you are given the keys to a vehicle that costs usually $20,000 or more. No questions asked. That’s a real hallmark of trust in markets and highly developed institutions.

via View from the Wing

I’ve wondered sometimes how we should treat the costs of locks.

On the one hand, you buy a lock, that is counted as part of GDP. Well-used locks genuinely make you safer; they add to your welfare function. A world in which you are allowed to have a lock, and can afford locks when you need them, is for you a better world than one in which you are not allowed locks, or they are priced out of your reach.

On the other hand, a world in which you need a lock is not as good a world in which, all other things being equal, you do not need a lock. If you could rely on something free — magic, social conditioning, hardwired biological morality — to secure your places and possessions, then you could save all that lock money and spend it on something else, raising your utility even further. So in this view, each expenditure on a deadbolt is a deadweight loss, a sign of a social and economic failure, a waste of resources that could more profitably be employed for something else.

Posted in Econ & Money, Law | 11 Comments