Last Week in Tech Policy: #45 Inspection of Electronic Devices and Passwords

(By Gabrielle Daley, Colorado Law 2L)

NASA scientist and U.S citizen Sidd Bikkannavar flew back into the United States on January 30th, 2017 and was detained by U.S customs and border patrol agents.  Mr. Bikkannavar was detained upon his arrival at the Houston airport by agents who stated the reason for the detention was to ensure that he was not bringing anything dangerous into the country. However the agents never searched Mr. Bikkannavar’s luggage. Instead he was handed a document entitled “Inspection of Electronic Devices” and asked for his cell phone and cell phone password.

Mr. Bikkannavar was reluctant to hand over the phone because as it belonged to his employer, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratories. However, agents insisted on access to the phone and password, and eventually Mr. Bikkannavar gave an agent both. The agent then left the room with the device. Mr. Bikkannavar has no idea what the agent did with the phone outside of his presence, but in a Tweet last week confirmed that JPL is running digital forensics on the phone to try and determine what may have been taken—or left—on the phone.

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Last Week in Tech Policy #43: The Educational Materials Copyright Debate

(By Lindsay Bombalski, PhD, Colorado Law 2L)

For those not involved in the publication of scientific papers, it may come as a surprise that once a new scientific finding is published in a scientific journal it often becomes the intellectual property of that journal. Access to the article describing the finding is usually available in three ways:

  1. By purchasing an individual or institutional license through the journal;
  2. Purchasing individual articles after reading the abstract through various search engines; or
  3. Finding the article in a version of the publication that is open-access.

Individual licenses often run around $500/annually for access to up to 250 articles in up to 25 journals with the purchase of a scientific membership—for example, though the American Chemical Society. Institutional agreements can run as high as $25,000 per journal. Alternatively, individual articles can be purchased for $32-$60.

For a student researcher at a university that does not receive funding for journal subscriptions, this means a paper with a reference list of 30 citations from the same journal could require on the order of $600 in subscriptions or $960 in individual payments in order to pass a peer-reviewer in the examination prior to publication. For real articles, the cost can be even higher because many more articles need to be accessed to develop the science in a new article. These figures make clear that the cost of scientific literature research—on top of the cost of materials, chemicals, equipment, and measurements devices makes scientific research—can be out of reach.

A new web site called Sci-Hub was created to lower the cost of educational scientific materials. Sci-Hub, in turn, has raised significant debate about open access to scientific materials and related intellectual property issues.

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Last Week in Tech Policy #41: FMExit—Norway’s Transition from FM Radio to Digital Audio Broadcasting

(by Zach Goldberg, Colorado Law 2L)

Norway has begun phasing out analog FM radio by shutting down broadcasts in certain parts of the country. The switch began at 11:11 am on January 11 Nordland, a county in northern Norway, and within a year, the Norwegian government plans to transition the entire country to Digital Audio Broadcasting (“DAB”). Under this new regulatory scheme, only 200 or so small local stations will be permitted to broadcast on FM frequencies.

This post explores the past, present, and future of the transition.

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Last Week in Tech Policy Vol. 27: Space, the Final Frontier…

(by Savannah Schaefer, Colorado Law 3L)

In policy circles, we spend a lot of time talking about unintended consequences and how new pieces of legislation or regulation balance economic efficiency against other pieces of the public interest. Often, we see aspects of old issues recycled when new technologies and circumstances emerge and must determine whether and to what extent new issues require new treatment.

As we turn to space—the final frontier—and encourage our peers to boldly go where no one has gone before, we must consider just how different extraterrestrial expansion is from continental and what lessons to keep in mind as we launch.

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Last Week in Tech Law and Policy, Vol. 23: The Rise of eSports

(by John Dubiel, Colorado Law 2L)

In August of 2015 teams from around the world competed for a total prize pool of $18,429,613 with the winners taking home over $6 million. A competition called The International 2015 took place at KeyArena in Seattle, Washington, with a live audience, all for a video game, DOTA 2.

This was the largest prize pool ever for an eSports competition, but competitive gaming has existed since the early 1980’s. One of the first games to be played competitively for money was Swordquest: Earthworld. The prize pool there was a jeweled talisman, valued at $25,000. Now there are eSports tournaments for League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Starcraft 2,  DOTA 2, and others taking place almost hourly. As  interest in eSports has grown, legal challenges have become more apparent; players now have contracts, people are betting on every game, and every game involves intellectual property. Continue reading “Last Week in Tech Law and Policy, Vol. 23: The Rise of eSports”

Last Week in Tech Law and Policy, Vol. 19: Utilizing and Regulating Cryptocurrencies

(by Dustin Rickett, Colorado Law 3L)

This week’s blog post will focus on how cryptocurrencies and their underlying technologies are making their way into mainstream financial markets.  Last week nine major banks announced that they are researching ways to utilize ledger technology—an integral underlying technology found in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin—and the Commodities Future Exchange Commission brought its first case against a cryptocurrency firm for illegally trading in Bitcoin.

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Last Week in Tech Law and Policy, Vol. 9: International Hacking

(by Jeff Ward-Bailey, student technologist)

Government surveillance has been a frequent news items ever since the summer of 2013, when Edward Snowden leaked his first set of documents to journalists, explaining the software tools the NSA uses to monitor communications in the United States and abroad. But governments have employed shadowy means to gather intelligence about their own citizens and those of other countries, and have even attempted to disrupt the operations of governments perceived to be hostile to their interests, for many years.

In 2008 a sophisticated piece of malware called “Regin” began spying on governments and individuals in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, and a handful of other countries. Security researchers didn’t notice Regin until 2014, but the software hadn’t done any damage to infected systems: it had simply run in the background, watching its targets. Researchers initially surmised that Regin had been written by the US, Israel, or the UK to gather intelligence on foreign governments, and further investigation suggested that the British GCHQ spy agency had written the malware.

In 2010 the Stuxnet computer worm was discovered, which targeted industrial controllers in Iran and caused centrifuges used for the enrichment of nuclear material to tear themselves apart. It’s still not known for certain who wrote Stuxnet, but in 2011 Wired reported that it was “believed to have been created by the United States,” and in 2012 The New York Times reported that it was the product of a joint US-Israeli intelligence operation.

 Earlier this year security researchers uncovered a suite of surveillance platforms nicknamed EquationLaser, EquationDrug, and GrayFish. Circumstantial evidence suggests that the tools may be connected with the NSA (for example, the tools in the platforms match the names of tools in an NSA spy tool catalog leaked in 2013). Five Iranian companies who were previously infected by Stuxnet were also infected by the “Equation Group” tools.

Few would argue that when a government intentionally infects another government’s systems with malware in an effort to spy on them that practice is, at least, in an ethical grey area. But is such cyberspying (some would call it cyberwarfare, especially when the destruction of property is involved) necessary to protect against attacks? Does the potential for mitigating harm outweigh the ethical implications of spying? And does a government’s mandate to protect the safety of its citizens justify the practice of hacking or spying on other governments?