: The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Computer Forensics

I only have a week left of my summer “break” but I think I found one last project to sneak in – making a forensically sound copy of my hard drive – punk rock style.

Law Technology News: Do-It-Yourself Forensics

Texas Attorney General Arrests Convicted Sex Offenders with MySpace Accounts

The Houston Chronicle reports today in MySpace profiles lead to sex-offender arrests that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has ordered the arrest of convicted sex offenders accused of violating their parole by posting profiles on MySpace. More details on this Houstonist post.

Abbott could not say whether any of the men had actually approached, or tried to have a dialogue with, children on the Internet. “That will be information that our ongoing investigation will determine,” Abbott said. “We wanted to arrest these people as quickly as possible.” Some suspects’ computers were seized for further scrutiny, Abbott said.

The development comes less than a month after MySpace agreed to supply attorneys general nationwide with the names of sex offenders who had profiles on its Web site. It also agreed to provide those users’ Internet protocol addresses, e-mail addresses and personal profile information.

Because parolees are technically still serving out their sentences, just in the community rather than in prison, they are subject to restrictions which could not otherwise be made on someone who had served their entire sentence and been released from prison. As the article notes – “Sex offenders are told not to use the Internet while on parole,” according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons.

The conditions that can be imposed on parole may not be unlawful, immoral, or impossible but beyond that are subject only to a broad rule of reasonableness in which the state seems to be given a very wide latitude by the courts. Parolees do have some limited protection under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, a hearing for instance. It will be interesting if any are able to challenge the revocation of parole on constitutional grounds. For instance, in Hyland a requirement that a parolee get permission from his parole officer before making a public speech was a sufficient violation of 1st Amendment rights. Hyland v. Procunier, 311 F. Supp. 749 (N.D. Cal. 1970). It may be that we have reached an age where internet access is such a fundamental activity so intimately attached to free speech that denying it without justification could be construed as unreasonable.That argument would have a modicum of resonance with me, though perhaps not with the kind of judge who has to ask what a website is or who is under the impression that a computer’s RAM is a tangible document that must be turned over as evidence.

That’s precisely the question Nicole Hines seeks to answer in this post on iBlawg, from the Duke Law & Technology Review – Blocking Former Sex Offenders from Online Social Networks: Is this a Violation of Free Speech?”

Isiah Carey’s Insite has details on the original crimes in MYSPACE ARRESTS IN HOUSTON BY THE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE!, all of which involved sexual assaults on young girls. It’s currently unclear whether or not any of these acts involved internet communications.

It should be noted that this is a new activity for both State and MySpace and is not without opportunity for error with serious repercussions. MySpace falsely labeled a woman as sex offender recounts the experience of Jessica Davis, a young woman mistakenly flagged as a sex offender when Sentinel, the company that built the database for MySpace, flagged her account as that of an actual sex offender with the same name and a date of birth two years and two days apart from hers. It raises the spectre of misidentification of innocent persons as sex offenders though it’s unclear that it would get as far as an arrest and the mistaken belief that a parolee had created a MySpace profile when in fact it was created by someone else. It’s unclear what the effect of prisoner profiles created by family and friends on behalf of inmates still incarcerated would be. See USA Today: Inmates go to court to seek right to use the Internet.

If I were MySpace I would be a little uncomfortable with the idea of the State associating any use of my product with recidivism among sex offenders. Judging from the nature of the message-spam I’ve been getting lately, I’m not sure there’s anyone left on Myspace who isn’t a sex offender.

Cell Phone Forensics – Evidence gleaned from Cell Phone used in High-Profile Cases

We had a fact pattern in mock trial last year that used cell phone evidence to place the defendant in a murder case. On one hand it was hard to know what to do with it or how to present it to a jury. On the other, its appeal to cold, hard facts gave it an air of being incontrovertible.

A recent article in Wired Magazine, Courts Cast Wary Eye on Evidence Gleaned From Cell Phones highlights some problems on a trend that’s on the rise.

The afternoon of Sept. 18, 1993, someone set fire to a notorious Los Angeles drug house near the University of Southern California, killing an addict. Four years later, R&B singer Waymond Anderson was convicted of the murder, based on the shaky testimony of two eyewitnesses, and on a third, silent witness whose implacable digital testimony the defense didn’t dare challenge: Anderson’s cell phone.

A police forensics expert told the jury that call logs proved Anderson was in the neighborhood at the time of the murder, and that he even made a phone call through a cell tower located just a quarter-mile from the blaze. Anderson’s lawyer didn’t attempt to question what was then bleeding-edge scientific evidence. “Nobody challenged the officer in the investigation,” says David Bernstein, Anderson’s new attorney. “Probably because cell phones were such a new technology.”

Now down 13 years on a life sentence, Anderson has his first shot at freedom. The two eyewitnesses have recanted. And using information about cell-phone tower locations with some sleuthing on MapQuest, Bernstein recently showed an appeals court that Anderson’s cell phone was in a car driving away from the site of the crime at the time the arsonist was splashing gasoline around the converted garage. The closest transmitter the phone passed was a mile away from the crime, not a quarter-mile as the police claimed; and by the time the fire was hurling black smoke into the south Los Angeles sky, Anderson’s phone was linking with a different transmitter six miles away, in Chinatown.

Based on this new information, a three-judge panel of the California 2nd District Court of Appeal ordered the case reopened last month, and gave the Los Angeles court that convicted Anderson until August to hold hearings on the new evidence, or release Anderson.

Evidence from cellphones has been effective in some high profile convictions as well. If your interested in learning more, check out these Draft Specifications from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Proceed and Permit Letter

via /.Linden Labs Sends “Permit-and-Proceed” Letter. Take note, Pyrrhic lawyers, victory is in the thickness of your client’s wallet. Are you listening RIAA?

UPDATE: NFL are you taking stupid pills? A church? What, couldn’t find an infringing orphanage? or a puppy to kick?

Eben Moglen

The O’Reilly Distributing the Future Podcast turned up this interesting talk at OSCON 2006 by Eben Moglen, professor of law and history of law at Columbia University. Moglen, pro bono General Counsel for the Free Software Foundation and Chairman of Software Freedom Law Center is an unabashed champion of open source software development and staunch critic of patents in software. I’ll let you make your own conclusions, but found his contention that American patent law arose from immigration policy fascinating.

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Eben Moglen ~ Legal Opinions (.mp3)

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