Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Robots Are Coming

A. Michael Froomkin & Zak Colangelo, Self-Defense Against Robots, We Robot 2014 Conference Draft (2014).
Michael Froomkin

Michael Froomkin

Deployment of robots in the air, the home, the office, and the street inevitably means their interactions with both property and living things will become more common and more complex. This paper examines when, under U.S. law, humans may use force against robots to protect themselves, their property, and their privacy.

In the real world where Asimov’s Laws of Robotics1 do not exist, robots can pose—or can appear to pose—a threat to life, property, and privacy. May a landowner legally shoot down a trespassing drone? Can she hold a trespassing autonomous car as security against damage done or further torts? Is the fear that a drone may be operated by a paparazzo or a peeping Tom sufficient grounds to disable or interfere with it? How hard may you shove if the office robot rolls over your foot? This paper addresses all those issues and one more: what rules and standards we could put into place to make the resolution of those questions easier and fairer to all concerned. Continue reading "The Robots Are Coming"

WordPress 3.9 and Theme 1.15 Updates

A. Michael Froomkin Regulating Mass Surveillance as Privacy Pollution: Learning from Environmental Impact Statements (draft, 2014).
Michael Froomkin

Michael Froomkin

Personal privacy in developed countries is disappearing faster than the polar ice caps. The rapid growth in the number and breadth of databases, the continuing drop in the costs of information processing, the spread of cheap sensors and of self-identification practices, all have combined to make this the era of Big Data. Much like global warming, drift-net data collection and collation creates widespread harms substantially caused by actions not visible to most of those affected. Both the private sector and the government find value in collecting vast amounts of information about everyone: firms collect personal data for marketing and revenue maximization; governments collect personal data for everything from efficiency to security. Practically nothing and nowhere is exempt: Data are collected in the home, from cell phones, online, and in public spaces. Market failures, information asymmetries – including, we have recently learned, a stunning lack of government transparency about domestic surveillance – and collective action problems characterize many aspects of the current privacy crisis, much as they did the environmental problem in the 1960s.1

Modeling mass surveillance disclosure regulations on an updated form of environmental impact statement will help protect everyone’s privacy. Mandating disclosure and impact analysis by those proposing to watch us in and through public spaces will enable an informed conversation about privacy in public. Additionally, the need to build in consideration of the consequences of surveillance into project planning, as well as the danger of bad publicity arising from excessive surveillance proposals, will act as a counterweight to the adoption of mass data collection projects, just as it did in the environmental context. In the long run, well-crafted disclosure and analysis rules could pave the way for more systematic protection for privacy – as it did in the environmental context. Effective US substantive regulation will require the regulator to know a great deal about who and what is being recorded and about the costs and benefits of personal information acquisition and uses. At present we know relatively little about how to measure these; the privacy equivalent of the environmental impact statement will not only provide case studies, but occasions to grow expertise. Continue reading "WordPress 3.9 and Theme 1.15 Updates"

WordPress 3.9 and Theme 1.15 Updates

A. Michael Froomkin Regulating Mass Surveillance as Privacy Pollution: Learning from Environmental Impact Statements (draft, 2014).
Michael Froomkin

Michael Froomkin

Personal privacy in developed countries is disappearing faster than the polar ice caps. The rapid growth in the number and breadth of databases, the continuing drop in the costs of information processing, the spread of cheap sensors and of self-identification practices, all have combined to make this the era of Big Data. Much like global warming, drift-net data collection and collation creates widespread harms substantially caused by actions not visible to most of those affected. Both the private sector and the government find value in collecting vast amounts of information about everyone: firms collect personal data for marketing and revenue maximization; governments collect personal data for everything from efficiency to security. Practically nothing and nowhere is exempt: Data are collected in the home, from cell phones, online, and in public spaces. Market failures, information asymmetries – including, we have recently learned, a stunning lack of government transparency about domestic surveillance – and collective action problems characterize many aspects of the current privacy crisis, much as they did the environmental problem in the 1960s.

Modeling mass surveillance disclosure regulations on an updated form of environmental impact statement will help protect everyone’s privacy. Mandating disclosure and impact analysis by those proposing to watch us in and through public spaces will enable an informed conversation about privacy in public. Additionally, the need to build in consideration of the consequences of surveillance into project planning, as well as the danger of bad publicity arising from excessive surveillance proposals, will act as a counterweight to the adoption of mass data collection projects, just as it did in the environmental context. In the long run, well-crafted disclosure and analysis rules could pave the way for more systematic protection for privacy – as it did in the environmental context. Effective US substantive regulation will require the regulator to know a great deal about who and what is being recorded and about the costs and benefits of personal information acquisition and uses. At present we know relatively little about how to measure these; the privacy equivalent of the environmental impact statement will not only provide case studies, but occasions to grow expertise. Continue reading "WordPress 3.9 and Theme 1.15 Updates"

Rethinking the Role of Agencies in Private Regulatory Enforcement

David Freeman Engstrom, Agencies as Litigation Gatekeepers, 123 Yale L. J. 616 (2013).

Over the past several decades, many scholars have weighed in on benefits and detriments of authorizing private parties to sue to enforce federal regulatory standards. They often take either of two opposing positions: Some argue that private enforcement is necessary to supplement underfunded and perhaps captured agency enforcement mechanisms; others contend that private enforcement undermines social welfare or even statutory goals by sacrificing officials’ prosecutorial discretion not to pursue cases that, while technically justified, would not further regulatory goals. Few scholars, however, have written about the trade-offs triggered by a choice between public and private enforcement.

In Agencies as Litigation Gatekeepers, David Engstrom views the issue as one of when and how agencies should control the use of private enforcement. He is not the first to write about vesting agencies with such gatekeeper functions. But, others who have written on the subject generally have done so within the context of a particular regulatory program or litigation regime. Agencies as Litigation Gatekeepers views the structure and control of private enforcement as a unique kind of regulatory problem that extends potentially to every regulatory program. Doing so allows the article to develop some theoretical insights into how private enforcement might be structured and how agencies might best further the use of private enforcement mechanisms. Continue reading "Rethinking the Role of Agencies in Private Regulatory Enforcement"

Employer Retaliation Policies and the Retaliation Catch-22

Deborah L. Brake, Retaliation in an EEO World, 89 Ind. L.J. 115 (2014).

Whistleblowers and workplace retaliation victims continue to make headlines in the national media. From Edward Snowden to NFL players Chris Kluwe and Jonathan Martin, employees who speak out against what they perceive as employer or coworker wrongdoing often generate significant disagreement among the public. Professor Deborah L. Brake has done as much as anyone in legal scholarship to highlight some of the limitations of workplace retaliation law. Her most recent article on the subject sheds light on a relatively unnoticed limitation.

One of the more frequent criticisms of the courts’ handling of retaliation claims is the standard to which retaliation plaintiffs are held. An individual who is retaliated against for opposing unlawful discrimination need not establish that the conduct opposed was actually illegal under federal law. Instead, the individual must simply establish that she reasonably believed that the conduct complained of was unlawful. If a reasonable employee would not have believed that the employer’s conduct was illegal, the employee’s conduct is unprotected under the law and the employer is free to retaliate against the employee for the employee’s opposition. As Brake notes, much of the criticism to date has focused on the fact that courts tend to hold retaliation plaintiffs not to the standard of a reasonable employee, but to that of a reasonable employee who has taken a law school course on employment discrimination, thus leaving many employees unprotected when they oppose what they believe to be discriminatory conduct. Continue reading "Employer Retaliation Policies and the Retaliation Catch-22"

The Supreme Court Flunks Again

John H. Langbein, Destructive Federal Preemption of State Wealth Transfer Law in Beneficiary Designation Cases: Hillman Doubles Down on Egelhoff, Vand. L. Rev. (forthcoming, 2014), available at SSRN.

Nearly twenty-five years ago, Professor John Langbein published an article with the arresting title The Supreme Court Flunks Trusts. The article critiqued the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101 (1989), a decision which, as Professor Langbein explained, “rest[ed] on an elementary error in trust law” (P. 208) producing “a nonsense reading of ERISA” (P. 209). The article’s reasoning was compelling, and particularly devastating was the article’s conclusion (PP. 228-9):

. . .Bruch is such a crude piece of work that one may well question whether it had the full attention of the Court. I do not believe that [the justices] would have uttered such doctrinal hash if they had been seriously engaged in the enterprise. . .

I understand why a Court wrestling with the grandest issues of public law may feel that its mission is distant from ERISA. The Court may increasingly view itself as having become a supreme constitutional court, resembling the specialized constitutional courts on the Continent. If so, the time may have come to recognize a corollary. If the Court is bored with the detail of supervising complex bodies of statutory law, thought should be given to having that job done by a court that would take it seriously. . .

In 2013, the Supreme Court flunked again, this time with the laws of succession and restitution. The case was Hillman v. Maretta, 133 S.Ct. 1943 (2013). Professor Langbein has again penned a valuable and withering critique. It is a must-read. Continue reading "The Supreme Court Flunks Again"

Vanishing into the Ether: Link Rot and Disappearing Precedent

Every first-year law student is taught the importance of citing to the materials relied upon to make a legal argument. Opposing counsel and the judge should be able to retrieve the materials cited and determine whether the materials support the argument put forth. At first blush, citation to materials on the internet would seem to make retrieval easier. Lawyers no longer have to go to a library or dig through a database to find the cited materials. However, a fairly high number of these citations are being lost to link rot, that annoying instance when you click on a link and what you are looking for is no longer available.

Raizel Liebler and June Liebert conducted a study of internet links contained in Supreme Court of the United States (hereinafter “SCOTUS”) opinions from 1996–2010 and found that, shockingly, 29% of links in the opinions either led to nothing or did not lead to the information discussed in the opinion. With stare decisis as a foundational principle of American law, it is disturbing to consider how the underlying basis of court opinions may be disappearing at a rate much higher than anticipated. The consequences for lawyers and researchers seeking to understand the legal analysis contained in a court opinion are profound. Continue reading "Vanishing into the Ether: Link Rot and Disappearing Precedent"

Empirical Link Rot And The Alarming Spectre Of Disappearing Law

Something Rotten in the State of Legal Citation trumpets an important alarm for the entire legal profession, warning us that given current modes of citing websites in judicial cases create a very real risk that opinion-supporting citations by courts as important as the United States Supreme Court will disappear, making them inaccessible to future scholars. The authors of this important and disquieting article, Raizel Liebler and June Liebert, both have librarianship backgrounds, and they effectively leverage their expertise to explicate four core premises: Legal citations are important; web based legal citations can and do disappear without notice or reason; disappearing legal citations are particularly problematic in judicial opinions; and finally, to this reader’s vast relief, there are solutions to this problem, if only the appropriate entities would care enough to implement them.

Denoting the disappearing citation phenomenon with the vivid appellation “link rot,” Liebler and Liebert explain that the crucial ability to check and verify citations is badly compromised by link rot, and then demonstrate this with frankly shocking empirical evidence. According to their research: Continue reading "Empirical Link Rot And The Alarming Spectre Of Disappearing Law"

“The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself”: How Physicians’ Exaggerated Conception Of Medical Malpractice Liability Has Become The Real Problem

Myungho Paik, Bernard Black, & David A. Hyman, The Receding Tide of Medical Malpractice Litigation:  Part 1—National Trends, 10 J. Emp. Legal Stud. 612 (2013) available at SSRN.

Physicians continue to talk about the “Medical Liability Crisis” and physician-funded advocacy groups continue to push for additional and further-reaching liability-limiting reforms.  Yet although the prize advocates seek (tort reform!) has remained the same for decades, the justification for why tort reform is needed has undergone a subtle metamorphosis.  For a while, reformers argued that liability limits were needed because the problem of medical injury was grossly exaggerated—medical injury was a problem mostly ginned up by plaintiffs.  But then, the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM’s) groundbreaking 1999 study, To Err is Human, came along.  Estimating that between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die in hospitals each year as a result of preventable medical errors, the IOM’s study took the wind out of that argument’s sails.  Undaunted, reformers changed their tune.  Tort reform was needed, reformers insisted, because, even if medical injury is all too real, medical liability is random, as decisions are untethered to the underlying merits of claims.  In 2006, however, that argument encountered a major setback.  David Studdert and co-authors published a groundbreaking study of 1,452 medical malpractice claims which convincingly debunked the litigation lottery story.  Some claims that don’t involve errors are indeed filed, they found.  But such claims do not typically result in payment.  Undeterred, another reason to resist medical liability has taken center stage:  the problem of defensive medicine.

Defensive medicine refers to instances when physicians, concerned about liability, test or treat despite the lack of medical necessity, as well as times physicians decline to provide particular services or accept certain individuals as patients for fear of liability.  A prototypical example might be a doctor who orders a CT scan, not because he believes it’s medically warranted but because he believes it’s prudent in light of the liability risk.  This behavior, some now say, imposes medical liability’s biggest cost.  Though numbers are hard to pin down (as it’s hard to discern whether that CT scan was really ordered to protect the physician from liability, as opposed to helping the patient or, perhaps, even padding the physician’s paycheck), defensive medicine appears to be widespread.  One recent survey found that 93% of physicians in high-risk specialties reported providing care that they thought was unnecessary.  And, respected academics suggest its price tag is high—roughly $45.6 billion per year.  Pointing to these statistics, some reason:  (1) defensive medicine is a huge problem, and (2) in order to rein in defensive medicine, we need to dramatically reduce medical malpractice liability—or, perhaps, dismantle the present system of compensation for medical injury.  That argument, in fact, appears to be gaining ground. Continue reading "“The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself”: How Physicians’ Exaggerated Conception Of Medical Malpractice Liability Has Become The Real Problem"

Testing blockquote in Intro

John H. Langbein, Destructive Federal Preemption of State Wealth Transfer Law in Beneficiary Designation Cases: Hillman Doubles Down on Egelhoff, Vand. L. Rev. (forthcoming, 2014), available at SSRN.

Nearly twenty-five years ago, Professor John Langbein published an article with the arresting title The Supreme Court Flunks Trusts. The article critiqued the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101 (1989), a decision which, as Professor Langbein explained, “rest[ed] on an elementary error in trust law” (P. 208) producing “a nonsense reading of ERISA” (P. 209). The article’s reasoning was compelling, and particularly devastating was the article’s conclusion (PP. 228-9):

. . .Bruch is such a crude piece of work that one may well question whether it had the full attention of the Court. I do not believe that [the justices] would have uttered such doctrinal hash if they had been seriously engaged in the enterprise. . .

I understand why a Court wrestling with the grandest issues of public law may feel that its mission is distant from ERISA. The Court may increasingly view itself as having become a supreme constitutional court, resembling the specialized constitutional courts on the Continent. If so, the time may have come to recognize a corollary. If the Court is bored with the detail of supervising complex bodies of statutory law, thought should be given to having that job done by a court that would take it seriously. . .

In 2013, the Supreme Court flunked again, this time with the laws of succession and restitution. The case was Hillman v. Maretta, 133 S.Ct. 1943 (2013). Professor Langbein has again penned a valuable and withering critique. It is a must-read. Continue reading "Testing blockquote in Intro"

The Influence of Experts

Mai’a K. Davis Cross, Rethinking Epistemic Communities Twenty Years Later, 39 Rev. of Int’l Studies 137 (2013).

Why do certain ideas gain traction in policy debates? Regardless of one’s field of study, this question cannot be ignored. The challenge is where to look for answers. The 2013 article by political scientist Mai’a Davis Cross, Rethinking Epistemic Communities Twenty Years Later, is one new and relevant resource in this quest. For more than a decade international tax scholars have drawn on the work of international relations (IR) theory and scholarship. In part, this attention by the tax community was out of necessity. Although it was apparent that international tax policy was subject to and the product of the same basic forces animating the classic subjects of IR study (e.g., military, trade, and environmental policy) tax policy formation traditionally has received scant attention from this branch of political science research. Yet the ideas being developed in IR theory would prove important to a serious and sophisticated understanding of “international tax relations.” Thus, international tax scholars began looking across the divide of research fields to consider the value added from the IR theory work of political scientists such as Cross.

Rethinking Epistemic Communities emerges from one broad strand of IR theory, cognitivism, which explores how we know what we want, what we value, and what we seek. That is, even if much of international relations activity concerns the use of power and/or bargaining games to secure “desired” outcomes, how do countries and other key actors determine what they want? Certainly in some cases the parameters of what a country seeks to achieve may seem relatively clear, but in many others the outcome or at least its particular form, is less obvious. Under the broad umbrella of cognitivist theory, scholars devoted increased attention to the concept of “epistemic communities”– the idea of a “community of experts” who through their own internal standards might develop some measure of “consensus” on an issue. Because of the recognized special knowledge of this community, the consensus ultimately would be influential in shaping outcomes sought by decision. The prototypical epistemic community was a science “community” coalescing around a solution to a problem that would form the basis of international agreement among a number of states. But international tax policy seemed a fertile ground for exploring the potential influence of epistemic communities. Who is formulating ideas of successful or sensible international tax policy? When and how do they achieve credibility? Does the epistemic community model fit? Continue reading "The Influence of Experts"