Author: Danielle Citron

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The GPS Device: Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret?

This Sunday, the New York Times reported on a recent trend–prosecutors’ growing use of a defendant’s Global Positioning System device (e.g., cell phone, car, among others) to prove the defendant’s location. For instance, prosecutors in suburban Chicago used data from a defendant’s GPS device in his car to place the defendant at the scene of a murder. To be sure, tracking a person’s location is common-place in criminal investigations. But my colleague Renée Hutchins (who is quoted in the NY Times article) cautions that law enforcement should be allowed to acquire GPS data only by getting a warrant. In her recent UCLA Law Review article entitled Tied Up in Knotts? GPS Technology and the Fourth Amendment, Hutchins develops that argument.

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Reputation Under Fire

As Dan Solove brought alive in his superb book The Future of Reputation, online reputations are fragile and can easily be destroyed by determined individuals. Steve Rattner, a Managing Director at DLJ Merchant Banking, recently learned that lesson the hard way. The New York Times reports that in 2003, Mr. Rattner had an affair with a married woman in London. Even though the affair and the woman’s marriage ended years ago, the woman’s ex-husband began a campaign to destroy Mr. Rattner’s reputation over the summer. On a half a dozen websites, the ex-husband accused Mr. Rattner of using his firm’s money to pay for prostitutes and trying to “steal” the man’s wife with exotic trips and expensive gifts. He included these accusations in emails to Mr. Rattner’s colleagues, clients, and reporters. When asked why he waited five years to respond to the long-ended affair, the ex-husband explained that he needed to get his life “together” in order to address his wife’s betrayal. Although Mr. Rattner admits the affair, he says that the ex-husband’s claims are “either untrue or gross exaggerations.” According to Mr. Rattner, the online accusations have spread like a virus, and he has since resigned from his job.

The Rattner incident demonstrates that online accusations are difficult to contain and even more difficult to counteract. Although it is certainly possible that Mr. Rattner’s work troubles had more to do with the beleaguered market than the online accusations, his situation demonstrates the broader problem that misinformation considerably affects our thinking, no matter how much we protest its influence. We also often forget the collateral damage that can accompany online attacks. Another Wall Street financier has the same name as Steven Rattner–he reports fielding panicked calls from friends and investors who learned of the story. That Steven Rattner, too, had to spend time rehabilitating his online reputation. As in Shusaku Endo‘s terrific novel Scandal, having a doppelgänger is not always easy.

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The Clear and Present Danger of Cyber Warfare

Malicious hacking and denial of service attacks are potent weapons of twenty-first century warfare. Recently, Russian and Georgian hackers attacked vital websites in each other’s countries as troops fought on the ground. They shut down government portals. Hackers defaced government websites (e.g., routing visitors to the Georgian President’s website to a site that portrayed him as a modern-day Hitler). Although cyber attackers have not yet significantly disrupted or destroyed government systems in the United States, they have stolen sensitive information about weapon systems from the U.S. government and its defense contractors. Cyber attackers invaded the State Department’s highly sensitive Bureau of Intelligence and Research, posing a risk to CIA operatives in embassies around the world. Online espionage is a serious problem—attacks on military networks were up 55% last year. U.S. officials reportedly believe the attacks come from the Chinese government.

The United States seems to appreciate the dangers of cyber warfare. According to Business Week, the U.S. is engaged in a classified operation to detect, track, and disarm intrusions on the government’s most critical networks. President Bush signed an order known as the Cyber Initiative to overhaul the government’s cyber defenses at a cost in the tens of billions. However, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, National Intelligence Director McConnell asserted that the “federal government is not well protected.” He warned that attackers can enter information systems and destroy data and systems related to the “money supply, electric-power distribution, and transportation sequencing.”

Despite attention to the matter in the U.S., the better part of the world does not take cyber warfare seriously, leaving their networks increasingly vulnerable to attack. This is not unusual—few appreciated the importance and potency of propaganda campaigns at the beginning of World War II until the power of such propaganda became readily apparent and deeply rooted. Broad attention should be paid to cyber attacks. Online sabotage compounds the dangers inherent in national conflicts. Nations may be unable to decelerate tensions through online communications. Cyber attacks convey inaccurate information that can inflame public option, limiting leaders’ political room to defuse tensions. The dangers of cyber warfare thus should not under-estimated.

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With thanks

I am so grateful for the opportunity to join the CoOp chorus for September. I have long learned from the discussions here and hope to continue in that tradition. I will be posting about a variety of issues, including e-voting, automated systems, information privacy, cyberbullying, and e-Rulemaking. And with that, I am off to write my first post!