Projects and Cases

The Samuelson Clinic engages in client advocacy, policy-based research and academic scholarship in many areas of technology-related law. Faculty and students working with the Clinic have represented clients in legal matters before the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Elections Commission, the Sixth, Ninth and 11th Circuit Courts of Appeals, the California Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court, the California Assembly and Senate, and in technical standard-setting matters before the Internet Engineering Task Force and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards. Samuelson Clinic students and faculty have written and contributed to reports on behalf of clients, on matters of voter privacy, digital rights management technology, the relation of intellectual property laws to the manufacture and import of HIV anti-retroviral medications, the privacy issues in electronic benefit systems used to deliver financial aid to the poor, and the effect of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act on speech, competition and innovation. In addition, the Samuelson Clinic has collaboratively developed an online resource center, Chilling Effects, to assist the public in dealing with a variety of legal issues arising on the internet, including copyright, trademark, and patent infringement. For further information on these projects and copies of some of the reports and briefs produced by the Clinic, please explore this section.

Copyright

The Clinic undertakes many projects aimed at maintaining a balanced copyright regime. These projects include public education, amicus brief work, and participation in technical standard setting bodies. In addition, the Clinic has completed several projects related to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).  

Digital Rights Management

The Clinic is involved in many projects related to Digital Rights Management (DRM). These projects range from public education, to amicus brief work, to participation in technical standard setting bodies.

Free Speech

The Clinic is committed to furthering free speech and free access to information. We are involved in many projects that provide opportunities to positively affect policy decisions and protect the public’s right to free and open communication.

Intellectual Property

Technology increasingly impacts our lives in the modern world — from websites and mobile devices that provide education and entertainment to life-saving drugs and medical devices that contribute to our health and safety. Intellectual property laws such as those governing patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets play a key role in providing both incentives to innovate and promote these technologies as well as protections and permissions for the public to enjoy them. They also protect and provide artistic content that we often experience and enjoy using technology. The Samuelson Clinic focuses on working to resolve the tensions that arise from this system of private rights and public interests with the goal of promoting social advancement as well as social justice. For example, as more and more people use technology to communicate and create, to learn and explore, and to express and expound, the intellectual property laws that govern these technologies often control what we can say, what we read and watch, and even what we can learn. Thus, our very rights to freedom of speech, expression, and education are implicated in how these laws are written and regulated. The Clinic’s advocacy focuses on identifying the impact of these laws on individual and consumer rights in order to ensure their perseverance while remaining committed to adequately rewarding creators and innovators for their inventions and artistic contributions. This includes examination of new technologies such as Digital Rights Management (DRM) and community-based efforts at innovation such as free and open source software projects. Intellectual property laws can also dictate who has access to life-saving medicines or the latest scientific knowledge. While there must certainly be rewards for companies and individuals who provide us with these resources and discoveries, there must also be opportunity for a wide array of the world to enjoy their benefits. The Clinic’s work in this area strives to help disadvantaged groups and the organizations that serve them increase access to essential medical technologies in order to improve public health and social well-being.  

Privacy

Individuals’ ability to control the use and disclosure of personal information changes dramatically as new technologies emerge and social norms evolve. These changes can empower institutions over individuals, or free individuals from coercive powers of the private or public sector. The Samuelson Clinic is focused on several problems arising from these changes, with the goal of promoting a public interest vision for privacy.

Critical to understanding these dynamics is the idea that privacy creates breathing room for important values in a democracy. Privacy is a necessary condition for ability to associate freely, to speak freely, and to engage in unencumbered intellectual exploration. While well-intentioned, video surveillance cameras, identification systems, and profiling systems can affect how we participate in democracy. They can empower the government to sort individuals according to terms that are discriminatory or political. The Clinic’s advocacy connects privacy and democratic values, with the goal of accommodating legitimate needs of law enforcement while preserving individuals’ rights.

The private sector has less coercive power than the government, but in recent years, information sharing collaborations between the private and public sectors point to the need to rethink whether commercial collection poses similar risks as when the government obtains personal information. Databases of consumer information are becoming richer, more predictive, and are used in more contexts, thus affecting individuals’ autonomy. The Clinic’s advocacy is focused on identifying these developments and empowering individuals to access, correct, and limit reuse of personal data.

The Clinic also focuses on the problem of security breaches and identity theft. Professor Mulligan, in collaboration with now California Senator Joseph Simitian, developed AB 700, known popular as SB 1386, which established a duty among businesses and California government agencies to give individuals notice of security breaches. The Clinic is exploring the effects of these laws in institutions. The Clinic is also focused on the problems posed by identity theft: how can we reduce the incidence and severity of this crime? How can costs of identity theft passed on to consumers be internalized by thieves and credit grantors who enable the crime?

Security

As networked computing devices become both more pervasive and more central to infrastructure and daily life, the potential for harm to result from security failures is increasing rapidly. Already, successful attacks have crippled large networks and exposed personal and financial information to misuse. But networks are beginning to connect far more than computers and cell phones; automobiles, building materials, and home appliances are getting ready to go online. At the same time, adversaries have become highly skilled, efficiently organized, and motivated by financial or even political gain.

This dynamic of greater connectivity, escalating reliance on networked systems, and the gains to be made from attacking these systems has made security a critical technical and policy issue. In particular, making systems more secure can put other values — privacy and functionality, for example — at risk. With funding from the NSF-funded Team for Research in Ubiquitous Secure Technologies (TRUST) and from the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection (I3P), the Samuelson Clinic is investigating how technology and policy interact in the realms of research, the government, and the marketplace.

Sensor Networks

Networked sensors will revolutionize how information is gathered and transmitted in both highly technical, scientific applications as well as objects that will touch people in their everyday lives. While this technology holds great promise for society, sensor networks also have the potential to be highly invasive, collecting personally identifiable or otherwise private information in new contexts.

The Clinic is actively studying privacy in emerging sensor networks, such as video surveillance systems, and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) enabled objects. Though this work we aim to influence the design of sensor technologies in socially appropriate and privacy respecting ways.

Voting

Electronic voting poses unique challenges in computer science and public policy involving a complex mix of interest groups, technical requirements and policy constraints. Many of the issues we see today in electronic voting are issues of the future in other areas where privacy and transparency are directly conflict. The Clinic is engaged in a number of research-focused projects involving the law and policy of voting technology. A founding member of the NSF ACCURATE center, the Clinic enjoys close connections with voting technology experts and officials at all levels of government. Projects range from policy research on the theory and methods of auditing voting systems, to white papers on issues of concern to election officials to regulatory comment and testimony meant to thread the complex public policy needle of voting technology.