Richmond Journal of Law and Technology

The first exclusively online law review.

Month: September 2015

Blog: The Growing Problem of E-Waste



By: Ryan Suit,

Lining up to be the first person to get the latest and greatest device has become a cultural phenomenon, and to some it could even be called a religion.[1] Just this past weekend, Apple sold 13 million new iPhones.[2] But when you get that iPhone 6S or 6S Plus, will you throw away your iPhone 6? And what ever happened to your iPhone 5, 4, 3, 2, or even original iPhone? Concern over so-called “e-waste” has lead many jurisdictions to pass legislation to combat the accumulation of technological garbage.[3]

E-waste is the broad term for any piece of technology that has an electric cord or battery that is thrown away. The term is a catch-all for phones and computers to refrigerators and appliances.[4] The problem of e-waste is worldwide. 41.8 Million tons of e-waste were dumped globally in 2014, yet less than a sixth of that was properly recycled.[5] When many people think of e-waste, they conjure images of computer dumps in Africa, China, and India, where old pieces of technology are burned and scavenged for leftover precious metals.[6] That is obviously a huge problem, but the issue is not solely abroad.[7] In 2014, the United States was responsible for 7.1 tons of e-waste, over 1 million more tons than any other country.[8] The need for legislation to deal with e-waste is not just apparent, it is pressing.

Currently, the EPA recommends that e-waste such as phones, computers, and televisions be recycled at your local e-waste collection center.[9] Additionally, the EPA has made it the responsibility of the e-recycler to erase all the data on devices being recycled.[10] One of the most notable problems of e-waste recycling is the risk of identity theft.[11] If old hard drives or devices still have private or personal information stored on them, there is a risk that such information could be recovered.[12] Although the risk of identity theft is present, many recycling centers can wipe storage devices clean, or can destroy the devices entirely.[13] That being said, the EPA’s recommendation has only done so much to curb the threat of identity theft and increase rates of e-waste recycling.

Most e-waste recycling policies are left to the states.[14] To date, twenty eight states have passed legislation to deal with e-waste.[15] Most of the legislation places the responsibility of recycling e-waste on the manufacturers of the products. However, only about 1 million of the 7.1 million tons of e-waste in the U.S. was recycled last year.[16] Such a low rate of e-waste recycling, coupled with close to half of the states in the U.S. still not having any e-waste laws on the books, makes for a bleak outlook.

States have not done enough to combat e-waste. The EPA’s recommendation has fallen short of what it aims to achieve. E-waste is becoming more common, and the constant creation of new tech products only creates more e-waste. Now is the time for federal legislation to tackle the e-waste problem. Pull out your new iPhone to look up where your local landfill is located. If legislation is not passed soon, that landfill may be filled with e-waste.


[1] Philip Elmer-DeWitt, “Welcome to the Church of Apple”, Fortune (Sept. 27, 2015),

[2] James Vincent, “Apple sells 13 million iPhones in opening weekend record”, The Verge (Sept. 28, 2015),

[3] Sophia Bennett, “It’s 2015: Which States Have E-Waste Legislation?”, Electronic Recyclers Internation, Inc. (July 2, 2015),

[4] Id.

[5] Alister Doyle, “U.S., China top dumping of electronic waste; little recycled”, Reuters (April 20, 2015),

[6] Samantha L. Stewart, “Ghana’s e-Waste Dump Seeps Poison”, Newsweek (July 25, 2011),

[7] Id.

[8] Supra note 5.

[9] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Frequent Questions,

[10] Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Computer and Electronics Recycling,

[11] ForeRunner Recycling,

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Supra note 5.

[15] Supra note 3.

[16] Supra note 5.


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Blog: Bad Review or Get Sued?

yelp head but

By: Corinne Moini,

Have you ever posted a bad review of a product or company? Most people do this without a second thought—they feel cheated and want the world to know about it. They have a false sense of security that comes with an online post because many of these posts are submitted anonymously.[1] Whether you tell the truth or tell a lie, anonymously or not, companies are looking for these damaging reviews and those angry words you wrote can come back to haunt you in the form of a lawsuit.

You must be thinking to yourself—how is this possible? How can a company sue me for speaking my mind and exercising my constitutional right of freedom of speech? Many unhappy customers like Jennifer Ujimori felt the exact same way when she was served with a lawsuit for the online reviews she posted on Yelp and Angie’s List.[2]

Like the dog training company in Ujimori’s lawsuit, companies are able to sue customers for these reviews by sneaking non-disparagement clauses deep into the fine print of sales contracts. These clauses prohibit a consumer from posting or commenting about their purchase on social media sites.[3] For the most part, a non-disparagement clause is unenforceable:[4] partially because they allow businesses to intimidate customers into silence,[5] and partially because they contradict the basics of contract law by being one-side and lacking consideration.[6]

Ujimori is not the only person who believes non-disparagement clauses stifle a person’s ability to freely express themselves. In 2014, the state of California adopted a ban on non-disparagement clauses and threatened violators with a monetary fine.[7] Stressing the importance of protecting First Amendment rights, two California representatives introduced the Consumer Review Freedom Act, which makes non-disparagement clauses in companies’ sale contracts illegal.[8] The act does not hinder a business’s ability to sue consumers for deceitful reviews but only prevents them from bullying truthful consumers into silence.[9]

If the Consumer Review Freedom Act is enacted consumers will be free to post honest, negative online reviews. However, if the act fails to pass, then be wary—and keep your angry reviews as a draft on your computer.





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[1] See Mathew S. Adams, Business Owners Beware: Avoid the Temptation to Post Fake Reviews or Feedback Regarding Your Competition on Social Media or Elsewhere on the Internet, Above the Law (Feb. 12, 2015),

[2] Jennifer Ujimori was unhappy with the dog obedience class she paid for and posted negative reviews on Yelp and Angie’s List to alert other consumers. She wrote, “in a nutshell, the services delivered were not as advertised and the owner refused a refund.” The dog obedience company did not offer her a refund but instead served her with a defamation lawsuit for $65,000 claiming statements were false and destroyed her business reputation. See Justin Jouvenal, Negative Yelp, Angie’s List reviews prompt dog obedience business to sue, Wash. Post (Mar. 25, 2015),

[3] See Id.

[4] See Jim Hood, Non-disparagement clauses: a new way to get nothing for something, Consumer Affairs (June 24, 2014),

[5] See Id.

[6] Hood, supra note 4, at 1.

[7] See Tim Cushing, Legislators Introduce Bill Calling For Nationwide Ban On Non-Disparagement Clauses, Tech Dirt (May 8, 2015),

[8] See Herb Weisbaum, Can a company stop you from writing a negative online review? Not if Congress passes this bill, Today Money (Sept. 24, 2014),

[9] See Id.

Blog: Sarbanes-Oxley Act Being Used Outside of the Original Scope


By: Brandon Bybee,

What does a drug dealer deleting text messages off of his phone have in common with an international corporation failing to retain emails regarding a business transaction? Interestingly, both may fall under the application of certain provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. While many assume that Sarbanes-Oxley only applies to businesses (and some believe exclusively publicly traded companies,) specific sections pertaining to criminal activity apply to not only private companies, but in recent court decisions individual citizens.[1]

Sarbanes-Oxley was enacted in 2002 as a result of the corporate scandals of 2001 and 2002 (Enron and WorldCom). The act was passed by Congress to “deter and punish corporate and accounting fraud and corruption.”[2] Contained within the act under Title VII is §1519, commonly referred to as the anti-shredding provision. This provision makes it a criminal act to destroy or conceal, “…any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States…”.[3] §1519 violators can be fined and imprisoned up to 20 years for what has been deemed as an act of anticipatory obstruction of justice.

While the application of §1519 to corporations concealing documents seems an obvious utilization of the statute, perhaps a more difficult application to anticipate would be charging an individual citizen. In the case of United States v. Keith[4] the FBI determined that the defendant had been utilizing the Limewire downloading interface to search for and download child pornography. As agents approached the defendant’s home he deleted some of the illegal materials that he had downloaded. Among other charges, he was found guilty of violating Sarbanes-Oxley §1519 for anticipatorily obstructing justice by deleting the files. Since the case was under investigation by the FBI this constituted a “…department or agency of the United States…”[5]. The defendant was sentenced to 240 months in prison. This case exemplified the broad application of §1519, even to individual private citizens.

Additional recent applications of §1519 have included an attempt to convict one of the alleged conspirators of the Boston Marathon Bombings.[6] The alleged defendant is accused of deleting pertinent material from his computer relating to the planning of the bombings. Among other illegal actions prosecutors are attempting to charge the conspirator with a violation of §1519. On multiple occasions police officers have been charged with violating §1519. In United States v. McRae[7] a police officer was charged under §1519 for burning a car and a victim’s body as well as falsifying a police report. In United States v. Moyer[8] another police officer was charged for falsifying a report.

An even more popular recent newsworthy issue has brought §1519 into the national spotlight. The Hillary Clinton email deletion scandal has brought §1519 into play as any charges that would be brought against her by the state would likely include an anticipatory obstruction of justice charge.[9] (No charges have been brought against Mrs. Clinton.) Even if former Secretary Clinton deleted files exclusively from her personal computer §1519 has been shown to extend to private citizens.

Finally, and perhaps most disturbingly, some circuits have found that there is no need to establish a connection between the deleting of data or destruction of evidence and the knowledge of a possible criminal investigation in the future. United States v. Moyer[10] asserts that §1519 does not require the government to prove that the defendant knew the obstruction at issue was within jurisdiction of federal government, nor is the government required to prove nexus between defendant’s conduct and specific federal investigation. By asserting that the government need not define a correlating nexus between the defendant’s conduct and a specific federal investigation the case broadens the application of §1519 once more.

What does this mean for the typical American citizen? Essentially, any document, digital file, or tangible item that could be involved in an investigation by a government agency at any time should not be destroyed. If the item is destroyed, technically an individual could be charged with an anticipatory obstruction of justice. While it seems likely that the application of §1519 would only apply to those who knowingly engage in criminal activity, the broad nature of its utilization does bring cause for concern of anyone in possession of large amounts of digital files. It will be interesting to see how broadly the court systems allow the application of §1519 to extend.




[1] See generally Robert F. Mechur, Esq., Yes, Sarbanes-Oxley Applies to Private Companies. Boylan Code Law Library: Articles,; United States v. Keith, 440 F. App’x 503 (7th Cir. 2011).

[2] Christopher R. Chase, To Shred Or Not To Shred: Document Retention Policies And Federal Obstruction of Justice Statutes, 8 Fordham J. Corp. & Fin. L. 721, 740 (2003) citing President’s Statement on Signing the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, 38 Weekly Comp. Pres. Doc. 1286 (July 30, 2002); David S. Hilzenrath, Anderson’s Collapse May Be Boon to Survivors, Wash. Post, Aug. 24, 2002, at E01 (stating that that passage of the law was in response to the accounting scandals).

[3] Sarbanes-Oxley Act 18 U.S.C.S. § 1519 (2002).

[4] United States v. Keith, 440 F. App’x 503 (7th Cir. 2011).

[5] Sarbanes-Oxley Act 18 U.S.C.S. § 1519 (2002).

[6] United States v. Tsarnaev, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134596 (D. Mass. Sept. 24, 2014).

[7] United States v. McRae, 702 F.3d 806 (5th Cir. 2012).

[8] United States v. Moyer, 674 F.3d 192 (3d Cir. 2012).

[9] See generally Ronald D. Rotunda, Hillary’s Emails and the Law. The Wall Street Journal (September 17, 2015 10:15 AM)

[10] United States v. Moyer, 674 F.3d 192 (3d Cir. 2012).


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Blog: #FoodPorn in the US – Is it Illegal?


By: Jenni Lyman,

The salmon roe and sweet red onion crème fraiche topped with salmon tartare, molded into a dome resembling a scoop of ice cream, placed into a cone-shaped black sesame tuile, and served to diners in a standing rack is uncontestably picture worthy.[1] But, in Germany, restaurant goers are prohibited from capturing their plate’s aesthetics through the lens because “Food Porn” is banned.[2]

Food porn is the visual experience of something that other people can smell and taste.[3] Amateur food photography is a new cultural phenomenon dictated by those who wish to document their restaurant visits or kitchen creations on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.[4]

Globally, many chefs around the world believe food porn is more sinister than the innocuous vibrant rainbow of macaroons or the “pillowy gnocchi” that skulks one’s newsfeed.[5] New York’s, David Chang, owner of Momofuku Ko, prohibits food photography in his restaurant.[6] French chef, Giles Goujon, claims, “[food porn] takes away the surprise, and a little bit of my intellectual property.”[7] Some chefs proffer more practical reasons. British chef, Daniel Doherty, tweeted, “I don’t mind…but if said [pictures] take [ten minutes] and you complain food is cold…”[8]

In Germany, it is held that the cook is regarded as the creator of the work for food that is carefully arranged in a famous restaurant.[9] Prior to posting the photo on social media, the diner must ask permission of the master chef—or anticipate a possible copyright warning notice.[10]

Here, in the United States, diners have valid defenses against most intellectual property claims alleged by irate chefs.[11] Food is not protectable under copyright law, therefore, snapping a food photo of uncopyrighted work does not lead to an unauthorized derivative.[12] Secondly, even if a chef claims trade dress in respect to his food plating, a diner’s post of their plated moules-frites on Instagram would be considered nominative fair use under trademark law.[13] Finally, patent infringement does not lend itself to a cause of action against food porn because the diner does not, “make, use, offer to sell, or sell” the patent product.[14]

For now, restaurant goers in the United States can rejoice and have their cameras ready because food porn is legal.





[1] Cathay Y. N. Smith, Food Art: Protecting “Food Presentation” Under U.S. Intellectual Property Law, 14 J. Marshall Rev. Intell. Prop. L., 2014, at 1, 2.

[2] Katie Amey, ‘Food porn’ censored: Why it’s ILLEGAL to upload pictures of meals to Instagram in Germany, Daily Mail, Aug. 18, 2015,

[3] Cari Romm, What ‘Food Porn’ Does to the Brain, The Atl., Apr. 20, 2015,

[4] Smith, supra note 1, at 22.

[5] Romm, supra note 3.

[6] Cathay Y. N. Smith, Food Art: Protecting “Food Presentation” Under U.S. Intellectual Property Law, 14 J. Marshall Rev. Intell. Prop. L., 2014, at 22.

[7] Id.

[8] Xanthe Clay, Is it wrong to photograph your food in restaurants?, The Tel., Feb. 19, 2014,

[9] Helena Horton, Could your Instagram ‘food porn’ posts actually be illegal?, The Tel, Aug. 19, 2015,

[10] Id.

[11] Cathay Y. N. Smith, Food Art: Protecting “Food Presentation” Under U.S. Intellectual Property Law, 14 J. Marshall Rev. Intell. Prop. L., 2014, at 23.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

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Blog: Are you sick of telemarketers and robocalls?


By: Biniam Tesfamariam,

How many of you find it troublesome when a condition to using a company’s service is answering to their programmed machines via telephone? Usually these phone calls will take longer than expected upsetting customers in the process. For more than two decades, Congress and The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) have sought to protect consumers from the nuisance, invasion of privacy, cost, and inconvenience of autodialed calls and prerecorded artificial voice messages (robocalls).[1]

Congress found that consumers consider these kinds of calls, “regardless of the content or the initiator of the message, to be a nuisance, are an invasion of privacy, and interfere with interstate commerce”; and that banning such calls except when made for an emergency purpose or when the called party consents to receiving the call, “is the only effective means of protecting telephone consumers from this nuisance and privacy invasion.”[2]

In 2012, the FCC revised its Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) rules to require telemarketers (1) to obtain prior express written consent from consumers before robo calling them, (2) to no longer allow telemarketers to use an “established business relationship” to avoid getting consent from consumers when their home phones, and (3) to require telemarketers to provide an automated, interactive “opt-out” mechanism during each robocall so consumers can immediately tell the telemarketer to stop calling.[3] The FCC enforces the TCPA by conducting investigations and taking enforcement actions against violators.

Satisfactory customer service is a major pillar in any successful business. Recently, companies such as Lyft (similar to Uber) and First National Bank have been put on notice for violating federal telemarketing rules.[4] There are obvious benefits for businesses for coercing consumers to using autodialed messages as part of their telemarketing advertisement scheme. For starters, these businesses do not have to pay someone consistently to perform this task and it allows one to advertise their products at a low cost. Unfortunately for these businesses, the risk of litigation associated with practicing these telemarketing advertisement schemes has risen in recent years. TCPA litigation has trended upward by 63% between 2011 and 2012.[5] Rises in litigation seemed to be fueled by factors such as: an increase in consumer use of cell phones as primary phones, an increased eased of filing TCPA class actions, and defects in consent all contributed to rises in litigation.[6] For businesses, it would be best to make amendments to their operation agreements to remove such practices.

As time and technology progressed, it’s fascinating and productive to see laws being enacted to protect consumers from the nuisance and privacy issues of telemarketing advertisements. More and more consumers are taking advantage of the regulatory process by submitting public complaints on telemarketing. Just last year the FCC received up to 215,000 complaints from the public regarding telemarketing and robocalls.[7] On the Federal Trade Commissions -Bureau of Consumer Protection webpage the first thing you will find is either the option to file a general complaint or information regarding robocalls. As more consumers become knowledgeable on these issues and the options they have to have their voices heard, it will be interesting to see if the numbers in complaints drop in the next couple of years.

[1] See S. Rep. No. 102-178, 1st Sess., 102nd Cong., at 2, 4-5 (1991), reprinted in 1991 U.S.C.A.N. 1968, available at

[2] Id.

[3] 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200

[4] Brian Fung, Lyft Automatically Opts you into Receiving Robocalls. That Doesn’t sit well with the FCC (Sept. 11, 2015, 3:11 PM),

[5] Doug Smith, Andrew Smith, Robocalling and Wireless Numbers: Understanding the Regulatory Landscape (May 2013),

[6] Id.

[7] Brian Fung, Sick of Telemarketers and Robocalls? FCC is Poised for a Crackdown. (May 27, 2015),

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Blog: Anonymity Online, But Not in the Courtroom: Problems with Ashley Madison Class-Action Lawsuits

ashley madison pic

By: Meghan Murphy,

“Life is short. Have an affair”: the estimated 37 million users exposed in the recent Ashley Madison hack know this slogan intimately.[1] On July 15, 2015, a group calling themselves “Impact Team” hacked extramarital affair site Ashley Madison, and exposed customer information of millions of users, not to mention the emails of Noel Biderman, CEO of Ashley Madison parent company Avid Life Media Inc.[2] The released data shows a wide breadth of users, including some using government email addresses.[3] While some have light-heartedly enjoyed the schadenfreude of (potential) extramarital cheaters being exposed for their sins, the hack has also had devastating consequences: as of August 24, Toronto police are investigating two suicides believed to be linked to the hack.[4]

Two of the largest complaints from hacked users point to Ashley Madison’s mediocre data security system and the company’s failure to fulfill promises of permanently deleting customer data. Impact Team has claimed that the “Full Delete” service offered by Ashley Madison for a $19 fee to permanently wipe a customer’s account from the database was a fallacy, with the company retaining all of that customer’s information—including credit card numbers and home addresses.[5] If this is true, and Ashley Madison negligently (or willfully) retained customer information after promising to permanently destroy the data, the company could be in even deeper waters. Coupled with the “Full Delete” fallacy, Ashley Madison’s negligence in protecting such sensitive customer data points to a high probability of either damages or a huge settlement paid to the exposed users.[6]

Large-scale class action lawsuits have already been filed in California, Missouri and Texas, with the largest filed in Canada by Eliot Shore, seeking $578 million in damages.[7] While Shore has conveniently taken the fall for his fellow Ashley Madison users, all of the class-action complaints filed against the company in the United States list John or Jane Doe as the plaintiff.[8] Due to the sensitive nature of the lawsuits, it may be difficult to find an individual class representative willing to expose themselves like Shore, as there is no guarantee that a federal court will permit the plaintiffs to remain anonymous.[9] If forced to reveal themselves, plaintiffs run the risk of further damage to their reputation and immense embarrassment. Anonymous or not, plaintiffs will regardless face possible jury bias, as most already see the exposed users in a distasteful way.[10]

Exposed data is always a touchy subject, but even more so in this case due to the scandalous nature of the hacked website. Most likely, the Ashley Madison suits will lead to a settlement like those currently underway regarding the recent Sony hacks. Whether judge and jury will look more harshly on the plaintiffs bringing suit against Ashley Madison remains to be seen—and whether the courts will allow anonymous plaintiffs in such a suit could change the course of litigation and settlement. It’s easy to be comfortably anonymous online, and not so easy in a courtroom under national scrutiny—a cautionary tale for all in an increasingly digital age.

For more information on the consequences of cyber-cheating, please see Micala MacRae’s post “Virtual Adultery: The World of Cyber-Cheating” here on the JOLT Blog (



[1]Simon Thomsen, “Extramarital affair website Ashley Madison has been hacked and attackrs are threatening to leak data online,” Business Insider (July 20, 2015),

[2] Id.

[3]Dave Boyer, “Thousands of Ashley Madison clients used government email addresses,” Washington Times (Aug. 19, 2015),

[4] Chris Baraniuk, “Ashley Madison: ‘Suicides’ over website hack,” BBC (Aug. 24, 2015),

[5] Thomsen, supra note 1.

[6] Paul Callan, “Ashley Madison: Costly end of the affair,” CNN (Aug. 25, 2015),

[7] Kim Zetter, “Ashley Madison hit with $500 million in lawsuits,” (Aug. 25, 2015),

[8] Austin Siegemund-Broka, “A Tale of Two Hacks: How Ashley Madison’s Legal Woes Differ From Sony’s,” The Hollywood Rep. (Sep. 4, 2015),

[9] Id.

[10] Callan, supra note 6.


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Blog: Malware infecting jail broken iPhones stole 225,000 Apple account logins

By: Biniam Tesfamariam,

pirate iphone

On August 30th , Palo Alto Networks reported KeyRaider, a newly discovered malware, infected 225,000 jail broken iPhones.[1] Apple users that recently had their accounts hacked have found their accounts to be frozen until the users pays a ransom or unauthorized purchases charged to their credit cards. [2]Jail broken iPhone users in seventeen countries including the United States, China, France, Russia, Japan, and the UK all have been bugged with this malware.[3]

Consumers privacy information are also at risk from the malware. With a victim’s Apple account and password, attackers can launch all kinds of additional attacks. A hacker could control the device through iCloud, thus compromising the victims private data contained in their iMessage logs, contacts, photos, emails, documents and location. [4]

If you do not have an iPhone or are unfamiliar, jail breaking essentially hacks into the Operating System to allow a consumer to download any application they choose, including those not authorized by Apple. In the process, Jail breaking ones iPhone eliminates security layers designed to protect personal information.

There are a plethora of federal statues in effect, which are designed to protect consumers from such instances. Major businesses such as Apple, have warranties to assist its consumers from malware and other viruses that attack their products.

From the business perspective it would seem in Apples best interest to assist consumers who jail broke their iPhones despite Apple warnings. Often times a user may be subject to a virus on their iPhone whether or not the device is jail broken. Any malfunction on a consumer product would be bad for business, which could affect future purchases.

Also, such issues certainly can put Apple at a huge risk of negative public perception of the quality of their products, just last year hackers revealed over hundreds of private female nudes for the world to see.[5] Even more so, regulatory investigations from the FTC, FBI, and other similar agencies alike are likely to occur. Based on the consistency of these hacks, the problem remains of the deterrence effect of federal laws enacted to protect consumers.

[1] Claud Xiao, Keyraider: IOS Malware Steals Over 225,000 Apple Accounts to Create Free App Utopia (Aug. 30, 2015, 6:00 PM),

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Andrea Peterson, Emily Yahr, & Jobby Warrick , Leaks of Nude Celebrity Photos Raise Concerns About Security of the Cloud (Sept. 1, 2014)


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Blog: The Role of Radio in the Rwandan Genocide and How International Humanitarian Law Was Ignored To Allow It

By: Matt Schmitt,

rwanda radio

Nearly twenty-two years ago, the world watched as Rwanda descended into the bloodiest conflict of the late 20th century. The ensuing genocide included the killing of roughly 800,000 Tutsis and news from the crisis was aired all over the world.[1] By late summer 1994, the country had fallen into ruin and the seeds had been sewn for the much more devastating Second Congo War, a conflict that would result in the deaths of millions more. From the genocide’s onset, Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLMC), Rwanda’s Hutu-backed radio station, broadcasted genocide-inciting propaganda and assisted Interahamwe killers in locating victims hidden within the country.[2] Throughout the international community, human rights groups advocated for the jamming of the RTLMC frequency so that communication between death squads would be cut.[3] No United Nations member state, however, including the United States, took such steps and the broadcasts continued throughout the summer, securing the station’s role as a “central feature” of the “highly systematic and synchronized” massacres that occurred.[4]

The biggest roadblock to Western intervention concerning the jamming of RTLMC came in the form of international law, namely whether or not it was legal. The United States government deemed that such activities would violate Rwanda’s freedom of expression[5] and intrude upon their state sovereignty.[6] This legal reasoning does hold some water, especially when applied to the politics of the Cold War, however, the humanitarian law concerning the broadcasts is much more strongly defined. It states that each U.N. member state has the responsibility to protect the populations of the world “from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity,” which includes “prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means.”[7]

The fact that RTLMC continued to broadcast throughout the genocide, unhindered by any United Nations member state, suggesting that deeper political issues discouraged their involvement. First, adequately disabling the hate radio transmissions of the génocidaires would require either to fly an airborne platform over the country day and night, which would be exorbitantly expensive, or to send in numerous teams of well-trained personnel with jamming equipment.[8] The summer of 1994, however, was no time to try and convince a Western country to send troops into a small African country due to the crisis in Mogadishu, Somalia the previous October, in which eighteen American soldiers had lost their lives.[9] The United Nations, especially the United States government, felt that it was simply not worth the risk to make attempts in shutting down the radio, making it clear that widespread humanitarian abuses are “considered secondary to concerns about the political and monetary costs.”[10]

Should laws governing the technological sovereignty and freedoms to express shield a country from the intervention of other world powers in order to deter flagrant human rights violations? The crisis that occurred in Rwanda in 1994 seems to illustrate the strength of international humanitarian law in preventing mass violence and its insurmountable failure in preventing the incitement of genocide, bowing down to the political process rather then relying on the principle that “human rights should be protected by the rule of law.”[11]

[1] Jaime F. Metzl, Rwandan Genocide and the International Law of Radio Jamming, 91 Am. J. Int’l L. 628, 629 (1997).

[2] Allan Thompson, The Media and the Rwanda Genocide 41, 47 (Pluto Press 2007).

[3] Jaime F. Metzl, Rwandan Genocide and the International Law of Radio Jamming, 91 Am. J. Int’l L. 628, 633 (1997).

[4] Id. 630.

[5] U.N. Charter art. 76, para. 1.

[6] U.N. Charter art. 2, para. 1.

[7] 2005 World Summit Outcome, G.A. Res. 60/1, U.N. Doc. A/RES/60/1 (Oct. 24, 2005).

[8] Jaime F. Metzl, Rwandan Genocide and the International Law of Radio Jamming, 91 Am. J. Int’l L. 628, 635 (1997).

[9] Ranger Recalls ‘Insane,’ Deadly Somalia Mission, CNN (Oct. 27, 2001) available at

[10] Jaime F. Metzl, Rwandan Genocide and the International Law of Radio Jamming, 91 Am. J. Int’l L. 628, 635 (1997).

[11] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A. Res. 217 (III) A, U.N. Doc. A/RES/217OII) (Dec. 10,1948).


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