Richmond Journal of Law and Technology

The first exclusively online law review.

Month: September 2017

Cyberstalking: Enabled by Cheap, Accessible Technology

By: Brooke Throckmorton

 

With the frequent use of technology today, it should come as no surprise that its reach is abused. While technology can be entertaining, helpful, and time-saving, it can also be terrifying, intrusive, and ultimately enabling to those who want to intimidate or harm others.

In 2009, 14 out of every 1,000 people, age 18 or older, fell victim to stalking.[1] One in four of these stalking victims reported some form of cyberstalking (83% by e-mail, 35% by instant messaging).[2] Stalking is often defined by its effect on the victim, namely, the fear it produces.[3] Stalking creates a type of “psychological prison” for victims that includes feelings of fear, paranoia, shame, isolation, depression and in severe cases, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).[4] Stalking is legally defined as “following or loitering near another” to “annoy or harass that person or to commit a further crime such as assault or battery.”[5] Some statutes incorporate additional elements such as requiring the victim feel “distressed” about their own personal safety or the safety of close friends or family.[6] The definition of cyberstalking adds the element of intimidation through the use of e-mails or the Internet to place “the recipient in fear that an illegal act or injury” will be inflicted upon the recipient or a member of that person’s family or household.[7] The rise in availability of cheap technology has allowed cyberstalking to replace traditional approaches to stalking.[8]

Advanced technology allows stalkers to constantly terrorize their victims by “tracking and monitoring them” as they move throughout the world with their smartphones, computers, and I-pads.[9] In addition to GPS tracking systems installed in virtually every smartphone, social media plays a huge role in enabling abusers to reach their victims. With multiple social media outlets to choose from, it allows stalkers multiple options to observe and intimidate their victims. For example, a 2017 feature introduced on the Snapchat app, called Snap Map, allows your “friends” to view your location at all times if you are “opted-in”.[10] If a user chooses to opt-in and share their location with “friends”, these “friends” can view the user’s location at all times, even if the user is not chatting with them in the app or sending them snapchats.[11] The biggest concern with this new feature is that some users may not understand the implications of turning on their Snap Map location.[12]  In turn, they may be inadvertently sharing their location at all times with potential cyberstalkers.

You may be asking how the law deals with cyberstalking. Good news! There is a federal statute that specifically speaks to the crime of cyberstalking.[13] The statute is titled “Stalking” but contains a provision that refers specifically to using “any interactive computer service or electronic communications service or electronic communication system of interstate commerce” with intent to do harm or place a person under surveillance for such harm.[14] A Virginia man was recently charged, convicted, and sentenced to 41 months in jail under this statute in March of this year.[15] Richard Killebrew, a resident of Norfolk, Virginia, used a computer and cell phone to communicate threatening messages, some of which contained death threats, to multiple victims in Nebraska.[16] As for the state law frontier, some states have enacted specific cyberstalking statutes. Others continue to rely on their stalking statutes and apply the terms to electronic communications.[17] This can be problematic given the unique nature of cyberstalking.[18]

While there are laws in place to bring relief to victims of cyberstalking, you can be proactive by monitoring your own Internet activities. For example, if you have Snapchat, ensure that you are either opted-in or opted-out of Snap Map. If you have a smart phone, you can monitor which apps are using your location. You can find location services in your privacy settings. In these settings, you can view if you are sharing your iPhone location. You can also scroll down to view which apps are using your location, indicated by “never”, “while using”, or “always.”

While the federal government and select state governments have expanded their statutes to explicitly include cyberstalking, all states should have such a provision. Since cyberstalking can be done at any and all times, there should be unique statutory language to speak to the solely electronic communications. While cyberstalking is not wholly preventable, there are means that you can monitor your online activities that can make you less susceptible to cyberstalking.

 

 

[1] Katrina Baum, Shannon Catalano, Michael Rand, Stalking Victimization in the United States, U.S. Dep’t of Just., (Jan. 2009), https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/ovw/legacy/2012/08/15/bjs-stalking-rpt.pdf.

[2] Katrina Baum, Shannon Catalano, Michael Rand, Stalking Victimization in the United States, U.S. Dep’t of Just., (Jan. 2009), https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/ovw/legacy/2012/08/15/bjs-stalking-rpt.pdf.

[3] See Melvin Haung, Keeping Stalkers at Bay in Texas, in Domestic Violence Law 282, 284 (Nancy Lemon ed., 2013).

[4] Id. at 285.

[5] Stalking, Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014)

[6] Id.

[7] Cyberstalking, Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014).

[8] Supra note 3, at 282.

[9] Id.

[10] See What’s the Deal with Snap Map?, Tech. Safety (Sept. 21, 2017 3:13 PM), http://www.techsafety.org/blog/2017/7/6/whats-the-deal-with-snap-map.

[11] See id.

[12] See id.

[13] See 18 U.S.C. 2261A(2).

[14] Id.

[15]  Virginia Man Sentenced for Cyber Stalking, U.S. Dep’t of Just., (Mar. 13, 2017), https://www.justice.gov/usao-ne/pr/virginia-man-sentenced-cyber-stalking.

[16] Id.

[17] Is There a Law Against Cyberstalking or Cyberharassment?, HG.org, https://www.hg.org/article.asp?id=31710.

[18] Id.

Image Source: https://www.google.com/search?q=cyberstalking&rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS706US706&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjFvNCsl7fWAhWLKyYKHYZbCXwQ_AUICygC&biw=1184&bih=590#imgrc=l49WQTiho3FbHM

Reproductive Technology Creates More than Just Children

By: Hayden-Anne Breedlove

Married couples often do not think about custody issues in the event of divorce. Many couples with children get caught up in the moment and fail to plan what to do in the event of a divorce. With today’s advances in reproductive technology, new legal issues are arising in custody disputes that involve children that have not yet been born.

Recent innovations in reproductive technology allow individuals, who at one time were unable, to become pregnant. The egg, sperm, and womb needed to make a baby can be provided by three separate people or after a person’s death. However, new legal and ethical issues have arisen with the new technology that extend beyond the standard of which parent is more “fit” to act as custodian of the child. Judges are now left with the question of deciding who has custody over a frozen egg post-divorce.

Take for example a married woman diagnosed with a form of cancer that would eliminate the possibility of her getting pregnant after her treatments. What if she chose to have her eggs inseminated by her husband’s sperm before her cancer treatments and then frozen for the couple’s use at a later time? What if the couple gets divorced before they can use these eggs? Who gets to keep them or should they just be destroyed? Should the wife be allowed to birth her ex-husband’s children? If not, the woman would not be able to have any more children since her cancer treatments left her sterile. These issues grant the court both a moral and ethical dilemma in deciding cases.

Davis v. Davis was the first case that addressed this topic.[1] During the marriage, the couple attempted to conceive through in-vitro fertilization.[2] The couple later got divorced, thus giving rise to the dispute at bar.[3] The dispute arose over what to do with the eggs. The wife initially wanted the frozen pre-embryos implanted in her but then decided she wanted them to be donated to childless couples.[4] The husband wanted the eggs to be discarded.[5] The court ruled in favor of the father, allowing for the eggs to be discarded and destroyed, citing the rationale that his interest in not becoming a parent outweighed the interest in the wife who wished to donate the embryos.[6]

The court held in Litowitz v. Litowitz that embryos could not be implanted in the wife post-divorce without the husband’s consent.[7] In this case, a couple was unable to have a child since the wife was unable to produce eggs or give birth.[8] They got eggs from a third party egg donor and fertilized them with the husband’s sperm.[9] Through this process, they had one child, but later got a divorce.[10] After the divorce, the mother sought to have the eggs implanted inside her in order to have another child.[11]

The court seems to be ruling in favor of the party who chooses to have the eggs destroyed, perhaps as a consideration under the Fourth Amendment’s right to privacy.[12] The right to privacy of the parent choosing to not go forward with having a child is stronger than the right of the other parent to have a child.[13] As reproductive technology advances and becomes more common for couples facing challenges with childbirth, the court will continue to have to rule on cases involving this issue.

[1] Recent Case Law on Division of Frozen Embryos in Divorce Proceedings, http://www.divorcesource.com/research/dl/children/03mar54.shtml (last visited Sept. 18, 2017).

[2] Davis v. Davis, 842 S.W.2d 588 (Tenn. 1992).

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Litowitz v. Litowitz, 146 Wn.2d 514, 515 (S.C. Wash. 2002).

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] See supra note 2; See also supra note 7.

[13] See supra note 1.

Image Source: http://www.istockphoto.com/photo/happy-family-gm515779948-88654551.

Why Smartphones Have Not Outsmarted the Sun

By: Hayden-Anne Breedlove

 

As the summer months wind down, many last-minute vacationers try to squeeze in one more beach trip for a relaxing, work-free vacation. However, with today’s all-encompassing access to email, messages, and online work databases, it is easy to “forget” what a vacation is all about. Instead, many professionals spend more time replying to work emails than soaking up the sun. Lawyers’ use of smartphones is basically universal, with most attorneys using them for simple tasks like conducting legal research or scanning documents in depositions.[1] This makes work life easier by allowing attorneys instant access to much needed information. However, for the Vitamin-D deprived individuals who decide to multitask and try to do work on either a cell phone or computer on the beach, they are faced with the pestering problem of being unable to see their smartphone in the bright sunlight. Why is it that in a world where smartphones are a common accessory that have been around for years, technology companies have never implemented a system of viewing a phone screen in the sun?

The technology is out there, as seen in Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite, an e-reader that sells itself based on the feature that the screen can be easily viewed in the sun.[2] This e-reader employs an E-Ink brand electronic paper display that features sixteen shades of gray, making the text resemble a book, and ultimately making it easy to read in the sun.[3] E-Ink is an old partner of Amazon and a holder of many patents on the technology surrounding the Paperwhite.[4] However, to make it its own, Amazon developed a layer of plastic that sits on top of the E-Ink display and shines light down on it, thus making the E-Ink display look better and easier to read.[5]

In 2016, E-Ink, along with multiple e-reader producing companies, including Sony Electronics, Sony Corporation, Barnes & Noble Inc., BarnesandNoble.com LLC, and Amazon.com Inc., faced litigation over patent rights against Research Frontiers, Inc. (RFI).[6] RFI is a corporation that has worked exclusively on “developing suspected particle technology applicable for use in display and light control applications.”[7] RFI alleged patent infringement on three patents involving the particle technology.[8] RFI alleged that E-Ink infringed upon their “491 Patent,” entitled “Light Valve Employing a Film Comprising an Encapsulated Liquid Suspension, and Method of Making Such Film.”[9]

E-Ink made a motion for summary judgment, arguing a lack of dispute of material facts, claiming they were not infringing upon Patent 491.[10] The Court looked towards other patents and the basis of the contested patents.[11] Through this, the Court determined that there were genuine issues of material fact in dispute, thus denying the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.[12]  This case serves as an example of the litigation and importance of patent violation and implementation in technology.

The question still remains why this technology has not been implemented into cell phone display screens. There seem to be issues which involve the implementation of this technology with full color display technology.[13] However, Amazon has the technology through its patent with E-Ink that could lead to the development of a fast, high contrast display.[14] This will be an interesting topic to follow as technology advances, thus leading to the implementation of already existing technology into a device that already makes our lives simpler. Overall, too much sunshine might no longer be a valid excuse to not answer a work-related email.

 

 

[1] Legal Research and Law Library Management (Law Journal Press 2015).

[2] Id. at 6.

[3] Id.

[4] See Christopher Mims, Amazon is Working on Displays that Apple and Samsung Can’t Match, Quartz (Aug. 06, 2013), https://qz.com/112444/amazon-is-working-on-displays-that-apple-and-samsung-cant-match/.

[5] See id.

[6]  See id.

[7] Research Frontiers, Inc. v. E Ink Corp., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44547, 2, 2 (2016).

[8] Id. at 3.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 41.

[12] Id.

[13] See supra note 4.

[14] Id.

Image Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/saltzman/2017/07/15/how-use-your-smartphone-beach-and-bright-sunlight/477693001/

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