Links to nowhere: 404 Errors

The December 2013 issue of the A.B.A. Journal has an interesting report on the “subtle scourge of link rot.” According to the author, L. Ray Jackson, internet hyperlinks which ultimately lead to unavailable webpages (or nowhere) plague the internet in the form of “link rot.”Jackson opines broken links are not only frustrating, but create an underlying concern he calls “reference rot.” Reference rot is when the link exists but the referenced information is no longer present, especially problematic for practicing lawyers to locate legal precedent.

The article cites a study co-authored by the chief information officer at the John Marshall Law School of Chicago that found nearly one-third of the websites cited by the U.S. Supreme Court were dead links. Mostly to government or educational domains. Another similar study by Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain reports the number of obsolete links was as much as fifty percent. While some are crying link rot is destroying stare decisis as we know it, others are advising tactics to prevent link rot. Such as downloading reference material to be attached to court submissions.

Admittedly, I have mixed feelings about link rot. Having written law review articles relying on news reports from the internet, I have experienced the “scourge” of link rot first hand. I will say, however,┬ámany of the links in my paper were not reference material or used for citing legal authority. In fact, relying heavily on authority which only exists on the internet just doesn’t fit well with me. Whenever possible, print out your authoritative sources and site it appropriately. In Louisiana, if the courts cannot easily access the reference material it may order the lawyer to furnish hard copies. Since Louisiana has a strict page limitation, it is probably best to retain the copies indefinitely.

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Should courts be televised?

What appears to be a progressive move, the court of appeal in England and Wales is expected to begin videotaping courtrooms while court is in session. On this side of the pond there has been some reticence to allowing court proceedings to be recorded for public consumption, especially after the sensationalism of the infamous O.J. Simpson trial. However, concerns surrounding broadcasting the British court are much more practical than the worry that judicial proceedings will be reduced to reality T.V. Among them are the possibility of profanity-such as reading testimony or statements that include language that may be inappropriate for some viewers. Protection of trade secrets, confidential, proprietary, information as well as the identity of witnesses who wish to remain anonymous (beyond the court room) is another concern. To address these matters the courts have simply placed the video journalist under the jurisdiction of the court, and must obey court orders. Including whether to pause or to enjoin the video of sensitive witnesses. Read more about the televising of courts in England on the Guardian’s website.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of the United States has opposed video taping of any kind for decades. In fact, it is a federal crime to do so since at least 1946. On numerous occasions legislators have attempted to pass laws that would permit oral arguments to be documented by video, a move they say would increase transparency. Here is an interesting timeline on C-Span’s attempt to gain approval to record court proceedings which have been roundly rejected. Why is our Supreme Court so resistant to this technology? One reason is the fear that oral arguments will be reduced to “sound bites” rather than substance. There are plenty of articles available online about technology, and the Supreme Court of the United State’s adamant refusal to allow video in the court room.

At some point the Supreme Court will hopefully yield on this issue. The highest court in the free world regularly decides cases that impact broad swaths of the population, such as gay marriage, healthcare reform, and the impact technology has on Fourth Amendment protections. Counselors in most court rooms across the country are routinely recorded in both state and federal courts. It seems like a double standard to permit citizens and lawyers to be subject to video recording while the Supreme Court justices hide behind a veil of privacy.

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ABC dubs former national security aid an “internet troll.”

A former director of the non-proliferation section of the National Security Staff at the White House was fired for being an internet troll. ABC News defines a troll as “anonymous Internet users who intentionally provoke others by writing inflammatory posts. They can be found in the comments sections of sites like YouTube and congregating in the darker corners of the Internet, on sites like 4chan.com.” Jofi Joseph was reportedly fired after making inflammatory anonymous remarks about senior administration officials on twitter. The article attempts to answer the age old question-why would someone squander such an elite position to be a petty internet troll?

Amazingly enough, psychologist have a theory about what makes a troll. You may be aware the anonymity of the internet is often attributed to lowering a person’s inhibitions. But, a hidden identify is not the sole cause of troll behavior. Researchers believe a troll’s behavior escalates over time if there is no negative repercussion for objectionable conduct. Consistent with this theory, Mr. Joseph publicly stated he originally intended to create an account that illustrates or mocks the “DC culture.” And at some point the mockery progressed to mean-spirited and inappropriate statements.

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When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object: the intersection of law and technology.

In May the ABA posted an article about the various advantages legal practitioners hope to gain by leveraging technology. No doubt, standing by the trendy new mantra “access to information is access to power.” Lawyers, law firms, and search engine titans are increasingly mining information resources, crunching numbers, and analyzing data for the purpose of strategically implementing it in the legal field. The result is interesting to say the least, and if proven to be pragmatic, will likely spearhead the trend of perusing data troves for lawyering. From reading the article it appears the lion’s share of practical application of all this information is in the form of predictions. One such example is using data mining to help predict whether prospective hires will be a “good fit” for a company (One hopes this will improve the arena of law office management beyond the mere Google, Facebook, and Twitter profile searches).

Other helpful predictions include charting what the “going rate” or the standard fee is, to ensure that a firm’s rates are “competitive.” The article even references information services that predict the viability of a winning (or losing) lawsuit, to predicting whether a particular motion will be granted or denied. Perhaps future technology developments will predict how jurors will decide in a particular case. One cannot help but ask what impact this information will have on discovery procedures.

At any rate, watching the intersection of technology with the legal industry always has its redeeming qualities, even if it is purely for entertainment purposes. Whether the edge of having access to “big data” will be a privilege vested with a few larger firms with bigger resources. Or whether the information revolution will trickle down to meager lawyers that still have to pick their cases manually (or on their own merits); we will have to see.

 

 

 

Driver-less cars: not if but when.

In 2007 I first saw an article in Science Daily advocating the possibility of cars that drive themselves. Always cognizant of the inherent danger we face on a daily basis-through driving our vehicles-the prospect of safer smarter cars resonated within me. I carried this in the back of my memory, without circumstance, until the past couple years. Notably, with the relatively recent news headlines that Google has developed such a vehicle. According to what I’ve read, this cutting-edge vehicle (Too bad the name Google Drive is already taken) is no longer beyond the realm of possibilities, but that the question seems to be if rather than when. While we are closer than ever to creating the technology to make the “driver-less car” possible, the concept is still very foreign to many people. I still remember my 65 year-old neighbor gawking at the idea of a car that he couldn’t “hit the gas” in.

After thinking about this prospect for a few years, some ideas have come to my mind. First, relinquishing control of a particular mode of conveyance is not so alien. Every subway, bus, taxi, plane, or boat that I’ve ridden in has always been controlled by someone other than myself. Obviously, in a personal motor vehicle the “chauffeur” is not a human being but the computer or technology itself. Consequently, this raises even more complex issues regarding insurance, fault and liability.

A recent column in Bloomberg News juxtaposes the speed of growing technology with the lag of regulations. Technology is perceived to be growing at an exponential rate, while regulators and legislators are mere human beings. Laws are subject to the democratic process, requiring votes, committees, tabling, quorums, and convening on a quarterly basis. These technologically advanced vehicles are developing at a rate that is unmatched by which our government is capable of reacting. Bloomberg even suggests the federal government step in to regulate these innovations. This strikes directly into the heart of issues of federalism and state sovereignty. Traffic laws are traditionally considered “police power” which the United States Constitution vests in the authority of the states.┬áThe Bloomberg article hits on all these points and more, including the federal government’s role in overseeing vehicle safety, the states’ regulation of insurance and licensing of drivers, how to assign liability and responsibility to inanimate objects rather than a person driving.

The future of driver-less cars appears to be certain, even though the logistics haven’t been hammered out yet. Fortunately, regulators are embracing innovations which could revolutionize the safety of the automobile industry. I look forward to learning more on this polarizing and multifaceted subject as it develops.