Recent Court Decisions Provide Some Clarity in Ever-changing Techlaw Landscape

As every CIO knows, today all business is digital business.  From the corner mom and pop bodega using Square to process credit cards up to Cisco Systems global network of devices supporting Zetabytes of data over an increasing number of devices.

What began as largely static website e-commerce at the turn of the millennium is now every day operations across multiple devices and the many different brands of platform and content delivery network.  In case you missed it, two recent cases will have a wide impact regardless of industry period

Law Enforcement Access To Cell Phone Location Data Requires Warrant

In the case of Carpenter v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement must obtain a warrant to have access to location and other data contained on a suspect’s cell phone.  In case you’re not familiar with the case, the facts in the Carpenter case are worth mentioning. In 2011, the government, conducting a criminal investigation in Detroit, obtained months’ worth of time-stamped records known as cell-site location information (CSLI) for suspects.  Wireless carriers produced CSLI for petitioner Timothy Carpenter’s phone, and the Government was able to obtain 12,898 location points cataloging Carpenter’s movements over 127 days—an average of 101 data points per day.  Carpenter moved to suppress the data, arguing that the Government’s seizure of the records without obtaining a warrant supported by probable cause violated the Fourth Amendment.  The District Court denied the motion, and prosecutors used the records at trial.  Carpenter was convicted, based in part on the cell-site records, and he appealed. holding that the government’s acquisition of historic cell-site location information (HCSLI) – at least to the extent it includes 7 days or more of cell-site records – was a search and thereby required a warrant.

In reversing the conviction, a majority of the Court has recognized that individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the whole of their physical movements and a warrant is required only in the rare case where the suspect has a legitimate privacy interest in records held by a third party.  The Court downplayed the significance of its ruling, calling its decision “a narrow one” that “does not express views on “real-time CSLI” or question the application to … a range of other information-gathering tools, such as security cameras.”

What this means for business.  While pundits are wisely praising the decision as a victory for privacy, I for one, do not believe it applies that broadly. Even so, there is a tangible benefit for corporate counsel at technology companies, especially those that maintain location information about their customers. Lawyers and compliance pros will feel some relief knowing that they do not have to scramble, prevaricate or litigate with law enforcement when a company receives a subpoena or other demand for location data without a warrant attached.

For additional views on this decision, please see an article from the International Association of Privacy Professionals here, and another from the Electronic Frontier Foundation here.

States Can Now Require That Internet Retailers Collect Sales Tax

The other notable decision to come down from the Supreme Court involves the long-simmering issue of state taxation on internet sales.

The decision, in South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc., was a victory for brick-and-mortar businesses that have long complained they are put at a disadvantage by having to charge sales taxes while many online competitors do not. And it was also a victory for states that have said that they are missing out on tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue.

The South Dakota Legislature enacted a law requiring out-of-state sellers to collect and remit sales tax “as if the seller had a physical presence in the State” to address the erosion of its sales tax base causing a corresponding loss of critical funding for state and local services (“Act”).  The Act covers only sellers that, on an annual basis, deliver more than $100,000 of goods or services into the State or engage in 200 or more separate transactions for the delivery of goods or services into the State.  Top online retailers with no employees or real estate in South Dakota who met the Act’s minimum sales or transactions requirement, but do not collect the State’s sales tax opposed the Act. South Dakota filed suit in state court, seeking a declaration that the Act’s requirements are valid and applicable to respondents and an injunction requiring respondents to register for licenses to collect and remit the sales tax. At trial and on appeal, courts held that the Act is unconstitutional.

The ruling effectively overturned a system that it created.  In 1992, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution bars states from requiring businesses to collect sales tax unless they have a substantial connection to the state. That case was Quill Corporation v. North Dakota.  The Quill decision helped pave the way for the growth of online retail by letting companies sell nationwide without navigating the complex patchwork of state and local tax codes.

South Dakota’s attorney general, called the ruling “a big win for South Dakota and Main Streets across America.”  The case should benefit both rural businesses where local businesses have been hit hard by competition from online retailers and municipal coffers as well, because in some states local sales taxes are collected at the state level.  Owners of brick-and-mortar stores like the decision as a means of leveling the playing field because they feel they often missed out on sales of big-ticket items since sales tax could have had an amplified effect on the price.  For consumers, this could mean paying more for products bought online.  Although most have a “use tax” that works like a state sales tax for online purchases, few if any consumers actually pay it.

Since the beginning of my practice in 1999, I suggested businesses take a state-by-state approach when it comes to issues like sales tax, since it can vary widely by jurisdiction.  No business is entirely virtual. All businesses will need to examine their ecommerce strategy to see whether and to what extent this case affects the business model.

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The New Wave of Data-Breach Outrage

You can almost feel it, like a power-line buzz in the air. If 2014 was the year that consumers and legislators woke up to the real threat to privacy and information security, 2015 may be the year that sees a shift in both enforcement and penalties.

On February 5, Anthem, Inc., the country’s second-largest health insurer by market value announced a security breach resulting in unauthorized access to tens of millions of current and former customer and employee accounts, Bloomberg reports.

Of particular concern is that the compromised data included social security numbers and birth dates, etc. Very different than having a credit card number stolen.

Last week, a group of 10 state attorneys general (AGs) sent a letter chastising Anthem for the length of time it took to notify the public of the breach. The letter was written on behalf of Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Some observers have commented that current encryption technology can limit the amount of data that even “authorized users” can view at one time, making it more difficult to compromise massive amounts of data.

In this situation, the breach occurred through misuse of an authorized user’s credentials, so encryption alone would not have worked. While most companies give universal access to data to some employees (senior level or IT), for the encryption approach to work, no one person or set of credentials should allow access to all data.

In the end, the new “best practices” approach may be a combination of encryption plus controls to limit the amount of data that any one set of credentials can access.

When it comes to addressing data privacy risks, it is often difficult to determine whether you should slow down, change course, signal for help, or simply muddle through. Often, teams tasked with managing privacy need to quickly identify potential issues, assess the risk, and implement controls to steer clear of unneeded exposure. The privacy professionals at the Adler Law Group can help you adopt Privacy Impact Assessments – or similar tools – and standardize a methodology for approaching these challenges by setting objectives, determining scope, allocating resources, and developing practices that will efficiently and effective manage privacy, while keeping pace with the business. For a free consultation, call us at (866) 734-2568, send and email to info@ecommerceattorney.com or visit our web site www.adler-law.com.

DATA PRIVACY DAY 

Do You Understand Your Data Privacy Rights?

Data Privacy Day was started in 2007 in response to widespread lack of understanding about how personal data was being protected. Today, 91% of adults “agree” or “strongly agree” that consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies, according to a recent Pew Research Center Survey.

Data is one of the natural resources of the 21st century. It should be treated like all other precious resources. Understanding, responsibility, and accountability are key. Ubiquitous Internet connections, unprecedented processing power and speed combined with staggeringly large databases have the ability to help both the private and public sectors. However, there is a growing split between the benefits of data-driven activities and perceptions of decreased privacy rights needs to be addressed. There is a balance that needs to be found between the responsibility of governments and that of businesses in ensuring an adequate level of protection to citizens and consumers, while supporting technological innovation.

The purpose of Data Privacy Day is raise awareness among digital citizens and empower them with understanding how their data is being collected, stored and consumed. Often, that starts with being educated about the privacy policies of online companies and web properties.

The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) officially kicked off today’s Data Privacy Day events with a broadcast from George Washington University Law School featuring Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen and privacy and security experts from industry and government.

Whether you are a consumer, an application developer, a technology platform provider, consultant, or enterprise that relies on the collection, analysis and commercialization of data (who doesn’t these days) Adler Law Group can help you navigate this emerging area by 1) assessing and prioritizing privacy risks, 2) creating a baseline understanding of data assets, data flows and contractual commitments, 3) developing internal Privacy Polciies and processes, and 4) creating and delivering training programs for executives and employees that increases awareness and mitigate risk.

AEREO LOSES COPYRIGHT CASE

Technology Continues to Test The Bounds of Copyright Law

The Internet is an unprecedented source of disruption. From retail services (e.g. Amazon) to media and entertainment, almost every industry has been forced to rethink its business model due to the accessibility, ubiquity and democratizing force of the Internet. Aereo was positioned to disrupt the traditional media distribution model by giving consumers greater control over what were otherwise “free” over-the-air transmissions.

The Aereo service was premised on the idea that consumers should be able to watch and record over-the-air broadcast television programming via the Internet. Major broadcast networks that owned the content made accessible through Aereo challenged the model on the grounds that Aereo was violating the exclusive “public performance” right guaranteed by the Copyright Act.

Copyright law provides copyright owners six exclusive rights. One of those rights is the exclusive right to publicly perform the copyrighted work. Because this right is a statutory construct, one must look to the statute to determine its meaning. To “perform” and to perform “publicly” means “to transmit or otherwise communicate a performance or display the work to a place … or to the public, by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times.”

While many reacted by asking whether the case would stifle innovation and have a chilling effect on start-ups, this case does highlight the increasing tension between technological advances and copyright law.

From a practical standpoint, one need not be alarmed about the impact of the decision on most types of innovation. For one thing, the Court went to some lengths to craft a reasonably narrow decision, which applies only to broadcast TV retransmitted over the Internet.

As with any type of innovation, there are different types of risk. On the one hand, there is technology risk: the risk that whatever technology is necessary for some business plan simply won’t work. On the other hand, there is legal risk, highlighted by the Aereo decision: the risk that the entrepreneur’s interpretation of some act or case law won’t ultimately prevail. That’s what happened to Aereo.

As an IP lawyer, I am somewhat perplexed. It is hard for me to understand why Aereo made such a bold move. However, at least the district court agreed with Aereo’s interpretation.

Identifying Intellectual Property Issues in Start-Ups – Live Webcast!

Do you work with start-up companies and need a basic understanding of the various intellectual property issues that can arise?

I will be co-presenting in this online seminar that will help you:

  • understand the trademark and copyright problems your client may encounter with branding;
  • learn how to protect your client’s branding once established;
  • familiarize your practice with patents, including what they protect, timing, and strategies to prevent inadvertent loss of patent rights before filing the application;
  • understand trade secrets and the importance of non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements;
  • recognize intellectual property issues relating to technology, including open source code and the cloud;
  • establish a proactive approach toward intellectual property ownership between cofounders, employees, and vendors; understand business names, domain names, promotional issues, and website content concerns.

The program qualifies for 1.5 hours MCLE credit.

I would like to personally invite you to attend the upcoming Law Ed program titled, “Identifying Intellectual Property Issues in Start-Ups,” which I will be co-presenting via live webcast on Tuesday, May 27th.

Presented by the ISBA Business Advice and Financial Planning Section

Co-Sponsored by the ISBA Intellectual Property Section

Success = Scrutiny: recent trends in FTC actions against affiliate/online marketers

Online marketing continues to evolve and affiliate marketing can be a great method of building brand awareness. Online marketers need to stay ahead of legal and regulatory compliance trends. This article looks at recent Federal Trade Commission (“FTC,” “Commission,” or “agency”) activity that impacts online marketing.

Given the lack of a comprehensive federal regulatory scheme, and the increasing awareness of deceptive marketing practices, it is not surprising that the FTC has ramped up enforcement efforts against entities not covered by existing, industry-specific federal regulations over the last decade. Notably, one company has defended itself against the FTC by challenging the FTC’s authority to pursue such broad enforcement.

Jurisdiction

The widely-watched case of FTC v. Wyndham Worldwide Corp is not just about Cybersecurity.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has just won the first major round of its fight with Wyndham Hotels over data security. However, the importance of the case has more to do with the FTC’s jurisdiction, challenged when Wyndham moved to dismiss the FTC’s case. Affirming the FTC’s broad jurisdiction, the federal judge overseeing the controversy noted that the case highlights “a variety of thorny legal issues that Congress and the courts will continue to grapple with for the foreseeable future.”

Affiliate Marketing: A Roadmap for Compliance: Text Message Marketing

The Commission is cracking down on affiliate marketers that allegedly bombard consumers with unwanted text messages in an effort to steer these consumers towards deceptive websites falsely promising “free” gift cards.

For example, in eight different complaints filed in courts around the United States, the FTC charged 29 defendants with collectively sending more than 180 million unwanted text messages to consumers, many of whom had to pay for receiving the texts. The messages promised consumers free gifts or prizes, including gift cards worth $1,000 to major retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and Target.

By now, many in the Affiliate Marketing industry are familiar with the Legacy Learning Systems case. In March, 2011 the FTC settled charges against Legacy — which sells instructional DVDs — that Legacy represented, directly or indirectly, expressly or by implication, reviews of their products were endorsements reflecting the opinions of ordinary consumers or independent reviewers, when many of the favorable endorsements were posted by affiliate marketers who received a commission from Legacy for sales they generated.

Regardless of the form of affiliate marketing – email campaigns or text message campaigns – there are a couple key take-aways here.

First, identify and disclose a material connection between a product user or endorser and any other party involved in promoting the product. A “material connection” is a relationship that affects the credibility of an endorsement and wouldn’t be reasonably expected by consumers. See our article about complying with the endorsement guides here.

Second, set up and maintain a system to monitor and review affiliates’ representations and disclosures to ensure compliance. For example, Legacy looked at its top 50 revenue-generating affiliates at least once a month, visiting their sites to review their representations and disclosures. It has to be done in a way designed not to disclose to the affiliates that they’re being monitored.

Third, understand he requirements for conducting legally-compliant text message marketing. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) makes it unlawful to make any call (other than a call made for emergency purposes or made with the prior express consent of the called party) using any automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice … to any telephone number assigned to a . . . cellular telephone service … or any service for which the called party is charged for the call. The prohibition on calls to cell phones applies to text messaging.

Is Your Company’s Web Site Privacy Policy Compliant With New California Law?

Privacy Law Update: California “Do Not Track” 

Two California laws went into effect at the beginning of the year that  require additional notifications to consumers.  The California Online Privacy Protection Act (“CalOPPA”) requires that web sites, mobile apps and other online services available to California residents (in reality anyone with a web site that may be accessed by a CA resident) post a privacy policy that gives notice to consumers regarding behavioral or interest-based advertising practices (“OBA”).

Disclosures must explain:
1. If a web site operator allows other parties to use tracking technologies in connection with the site or service to collect certain user data over time and across sites and services; and
2. How it responds to browser “do not track” signals or other mechanisms designed to give consumers choice as to the collection of certain of their data over time and across sites and services

In addition, the “California Shine the Light Act” requires that companies (except non-profits and businesses with less than 20 employees) collecting broadly defined personal information from California consumers on or offline either: (a) give consumers a choice as to the sharing of that information with third parties (including affiliates) for direct marketing purposes; or (b) provide notice of, and maintain, a method by which consumers can annually obtain information on the categories of information disclosed the names and addresses of the recipients of that data, and a description of the recipients’ business.

If an e-commerce service offers tangible goods or services, or vouchers for them, to California consumers, it must give certain notices to consumers, including how they can file a complaint with the CA Department of Consumer Affairs.

Are you  concerned about how to disclose how your service responds to “Do Not Track” signals or similar tools and settings, and whether third parties are permitted to collect personally identifiable information about consumer online activities over time and across different websites when a consumer uses that online service? We may be able to help. We can review your policies, your information gathering and sharing practices, and advise on whether there is room for improvement.

Please contact us for a no-fee consultation.