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October 8, 2018

A 'Kavanaugh Special Episode' of 'What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law'

Episode 28 of the podcast "What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law" explores the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation process, and constitutional rules pertaining to justices, including how and when one might be impeached.

September 18, 2018

Episode 27: "Treason"

Episode 27 of "What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law" looks at treason, a topic that has come up a lot in recent months, in relation to President Trump's own behavior and because he tweeted "Treason?" after that anonymous New York Times op-ed that the Times attributed to a senior administration official. The episode provides historical context through the case of Bill Blizzard, a 1920s union organizer charged with treason against the state after leading an army of West Virginia coal miners into battle against non-union forces, including the local sheriff.

 

August 21, 2018

Episode 26: "Roe"

Ep. 26 of "What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law" looks as Roe v. Wade as it relates to President Trump, his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and the Constitution. This episode also examines the unusual trajectory of Roe plaintiff Norma McCorvey's life in the decades following the 1973 Supreme Court decision.

 

July 17, 2018

Eps. 24, 25: 'Taking the Fifth,' 'Justice Kennedy'

By Elizabeth Joh

Anthony M. Kennedy's announcement in late June that he was retiring from the U.S. Supreme Court merited a special edition of the podcast "What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law." Episode 25, "Justice Kennedy," is devoted to Kennedy, the mostly conservative justice who delivered swing votes in key decisions on abortion, LGBTQ rights and affirmative action.

The special episode followed closely on the heels of episode 24, "Taking the Fifth." President Trump says it makes people look guilty. Yet he and people associated with him have done it. This episode traces the practice of pleading the Fifth back to the Cold War and the Hollywood Ten, who probably should have invoked the Fifth instead of the First Amendment.

June 11, 2018

President Twitter and the First Amendment

by Elizabeth Joh

Can Trump block people on Twitter? It turns out, the First Amendment has something to say about that. Episode 23, "President Twitter and the First Amendment" of What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law podcast is now available.

More about What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law: Professor Elizabeth Joh teaches Intro to Constitutional Law and most of the time this is a pretty straightforward job. But with Trump in office, everything has changed. Five minutes before class Professor Joh checks Twitter to find out what the 45th President has said and how it jibes with 200 years of the judicial branch interpreting and ruling on the Constitution. Hosted by acclaimed podcaster Roman Mars (99% Invisible, co-founder Radiotopia), this show is a fun and casual Con Law 101 class that uses the tumultuous and erratic activities of the executive branch under Trump to teach us all about the US Constitution. Proud member of Radiotopia from PRX.

January 24, 2018

What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law: Defamation

By Professor Elizabeth Joh

[Cross-posted from "What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law."]

President Trump likes to threaten the press with libel lawsuits. What does the Constitution have to say about defamation and the press? Find out more in "Defamation," the latest installment of "What Trump Can Teach Us about Con Law," a podcast featuring Professor Elizabeth Joh with Roman Mars, host and creator of "99% Invisible." The podcast aims to "take the extreme actions of the President of the United States and channel that chaos into learning our Constitution like we never have before."

 

March 4, 2016

Outcome of FBI fight with Apple will affect your privacy

Cross-posted from the Sacramento Bee.

The legal dispute between the FBI and Apple over a locked iPhone is clouded in technical details that are hard for many to understand, an unclear area of law, and a terrible tragedy in San Bernardino that provokes unease and fear.

To make matters worse, the FBI and Apple are engaged in a very public battle using open letters, blog posts and hearings before Congress with terms like patriotism, marketability and backdoors.

The outcome of the case will affect everyone's ability to keep their personal information safe on their smartphones and all their electronic devices. And it will test what limits exist on the government's ability to force unwilling and innocent third parties to help it investigate crime.

A federal judge has issued an order forcing Apple to help the FBI "unlock" the iPhone used by Syed Farook, who with his wife Tashfeen Malik, shot and killed 14 people and seriously wounded 22 in the December attack in San Bernardino.

The issue is not whether Apple should help the government in its criminal investigations; the Cupertino-based company has assisted the government many times in the past, and even in this particular investigation. Instead, Apple objects to the order issued by the judge because of the unusual nature of the request.

The government is asking Apple to create something that does not now exist: a custom-built version of Apple's operating system that would sidestep security features on the iPhone.

Without Apple's assistance, the FBI claims that it is unable to access information that exists only in the phone itself. In addition, because the iPhone would not accept this customized software update without Apple's digital signature - which would otherwise vouch for the software's trustworthiness - the court order compels Apple to do this, too.

How does this affect you? If Apple is forced to create the means to hack into its own products, the issue does not end with this case. As FBI Director James Comey confirmed in his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, there are other phones that the government would like Apple to unlock.

Local police departments are also eager to seek similar orders from Apple if it loses the San Bernardino case. Indeed, the prospect of forcing Apple to create a permanent in-house hacking department for police purposes was one of the reasons a federal magistrate judge in New York on Monday denied the government's request to compel Apple to unlock an iPhone in a different criminal case involving a drug investigation.

Once Apple creates the means to bypass the security features it has created to ensure the security of the information on its phones, that software will be prized not only by law enforcement officials, but also by organized crime rings, identity thieves and foreign intelligence agencies. That's where all of our interests come in.

As the U.S. Supreme Court described them recently, smartphones could easily be described as "cameras, video players, rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, televisions, maps or newspapers" - all at the same time.

That leads to the second issue: the extent to which the government can force an innocent third party to create something for law enforcement purposes.

In the San Bernardino case, the government relied upon the All Writs Act of 1789, a federal law intended to provide courts with the power to issue orders to carry out their duties. The act allows a court to issue orders that are "necessary or appropriate" when "agreeable to the usages and principles of law." No one is quite sure what the outer limits of the act may be, but the Apple case is testing those limits.

Does this include the power to force Apple to create an iPhone hack?

Comey, the FBI director, argues that the San Bernardino tragedy demands it. The problem is that we don't think of law enforcement power simply in terms of its objectives or the gravity of the crime in question. In our legal system, we take the reasonability of the means into account. If Apple is compelled to do this in a terrorism investigation, must it also do so in a drug case? A prostitution case? A delinquent property tax case? What the government seeks, in the words of one friend-of-the-court brief filed by a group of technology companies Thursday, is a demand "unbound by legal limits."

The extraordinary law enforcement means of today, if left unchecked, become the routine methods of tomorrow. And if the government is permitted to compel a technology company to create deliberate vulnerabilities in a phone today, very soon it may apply that power to the growing Internet of Things: the world of Internet-connected "smart" thermostats, televisions, toothbrushes and even Barbie dolls.

Apple's loss may mean that the FBI could one day force a company to deliver malicious security updates to one of the many smart devices you will own. These are products of convenience, not general consent to government surveillance. Do we want this case to pave the way for routine compulsion of private companies to watch us through our connected devices?

We should expect that the FBI and every other law enforcement agency would want to try every means necessary to prevent and investigate crime. But when those means exact a heavy cost upon our information security and privacy, we've struck the wrong bargain.

 

April 2, 2014

From Anti-drone Burqas to Face Cages: What Artists Are Showing Us about Surveillance and the Law

Cross-posted from The Life of the Law.

Remember pagers? As outdated as they seem now, these were once seen as the technological tool of choice for drug dealers (to say nothing of doctors). The police also used to rely on “bumper-beepers” to track suspects in criminal investigations. There has always been an arms race of technology in crime and policing.

Today, most people have some passing familiarity with the rapidly changing world of surveillance: the revelations about the NSA’s bulk phone metadata collection, the emergence of unmanned drones, and the growing sophistication of biometric technology.

The problem is that most people aren’t well-versed in the Fourth Amendment’s third party doctrine, or the “business records” provision of the Patriot Act. The complexity of the law in these areas–and the fact that the concepts aren’t that intuitive–makes public debate about the appropriate scope of government surveillance difficult.

That’s where the artists come in.

There are a small but growing number of visual artists and designers who have raised questions about the tools of government surveillance in direct, provocative, and accessible ways.

Case #1: Brooklyn-based designer Adam Harvey has created a series of wearable objects that draw attention to the tools of mass surveillance. His Stealth Wear line of “anti-drone” clothing is made of a special fabric intended to thwart thermal imaging devices that could be mounted on unmanned police surveillance drones. (The FAA is in the midst of crafting regulations for a future in which unmanned drones will occupy our public airspace.) The state of the law on drones is changing. Although the Supreme Court’s Fourth Amendment cases probably don’t require the police to obtain a warrant for their use, many state legislatures are considering statutory limits. What Harvey’s work highlights in a direct and arresting way, however, is that the prospect of sophisticated eyes in the skies might force us to change our public habits, even our clothing, if we wish to retain some anonymity or privacy.

Case #2: The police and Facebook alike are becoming interested in the capabilities of facial recognition technology. This biometric computer software can scan a picture of a face and compare it to a database of stored information. The computer algorithms in the software typically focus on the areas around the eyes, nose, and mouth. Artist Zach Blas’s Face Cages takes this idea and makes it literal: a painful metal mask that represents the areas targeted by facial recognition technology. Scanning faces in a crowd, like the use of unmanned drones in public spaces, is a murky legal area. The Supreme Court’s Fourth Amendment cases probably don’t provide individual protections against these biometric technologies. But Blas’s work suggests how such technologies may be “trapping” us in ways that nevertheless threaten widely held beliefs about privacy.

Case #3: New York based artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s Stranger Visions project takes on another cutting edge technology: the growing capacity of government to collect and analyze our genetic information. The art involves extracting DNA from discarded items Dewey-Hagborg finds in public spaces, such as cigarette butts and chewing gum. She then has the DNA extracted from these discarded items analyzed for specific genomic sequences associated with physical traits like hair and eye color, and creates life-size three dimensional masks of the persons she has “identified” from their garbage. Dewey-Hagborg’s faces are a best guess about the source of the DNA (although a recent scientific paper suggests that predictive modeling based on unidentified DNA samples could one day soon be a reality). The point isn’t accuracy, though. The Stranger Visions project asks us to confront directly how we feel about the fact that we are leaving genetic information behind everywhere we go. Should that information be considered as devoid of privacy expectations as the literal trash we throw away? Do we feel comfortable that third parties—both governmental and commercial—might be able to identify who we are from our genetic traces? The law here, too, is unclear at best.

Enormous technological changes are making it possible for us to be identified, watched, and listened to in ways that were once unimaginable. What we should do about these changes is difficult because the surveillance is sometimes surreptitious, often complicated to understand, and undetermined with regard to is regulation.

Art has the power to question, provoke, and reveal new truths to us. These artists are opening up the conversation about the place of surveillance and the law in our lives to anyone willing to watch and to listen.

Feature photo: Anti-drone burqa, Adam Harvey