Monday, September 30, 2013

Case Highlight: Google's Right to Read Your Emails Shot Down

Thought your Gmail account was private? It was not before, but it may be now.


Not only did Google admit to reading user emails for content to target its advertising campaigns to its users, but Google argued in federal court that Gmail users had no expectation of privacy regarding their email accounts. Thus, it was total legal for Google to scan Gmail account users' emails without the users' knowledge or permission.

Google argued in its brief: "Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient's assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their emails are processed by the recipient's [email provider] in the course of delivery.'" (Motion to dismiss, Page 19)

Privacy activists, however, rejoiced when Judge Lucy H. Koh rejected Google's argument. In her decision, Judge Koh ruled that reading emails is not a necessary part of Google's business operations and that California's Invasion of Privacy Laws apply to opening and reading online communications without consent.

Or more simply, Google violates privacy laws when it scans our personal emails to determine what ads to show us based on our emails' content.

Though this decision is exciting and new, the real-life implications of this decision have yet to be felt. Google will almost certainly appeal the decision, and there is no reliable prediction as to how federal appeals courts may handle the issue. You can check back in with Student Legal Service's blog in the future for any developments on this case!


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Case Highlight: "Liking" on Facebook is Protected by First Amendment


Everyone knows the First Amendment protects individuals from government censorship of their freedom to speak or express themselves. As Americans, we have the right to peacefully protest or express our ideas in public spaces.

However only recently have courts begun to apply this 200-year-old document to modern technology and the new forms of digital "speech" or "expression" created by this technology.

In a decision last week, Chief Judge Traxler from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a person "liking" another person's page or post on Facebook is protected speech under the First Amendment.

In this particular case, a man named Mr. Carter was fired by his government employer for "liking" the Facebook page of a political candidate. It just so happened Mr. Carter's boss was running for election and Mr. Carter had "liked" the Facebook page of the candidate opposing his boss! Mr. Carter later sued, alleging that his termination was retaliatory and violated his First Amendment right to digitally "like" whichever politician he chooses.

Chief Judge Taxler wrote:
In sum, liking a political candidate's campaign page communicates the user's approval of the candidate and supports the campaign by associating the user with it. In this way, it is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one's front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.
So feel free to "like" UC San Diego's Student Legal Service's Facebook page now that you know you are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution!



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Buyer Beware: Tips for Auto Loans



College is a time when many students purchase their first car. Not surprisingly, college students also tend to have below-average credit scores and credit histories. This makes college students prime targets for predatory lending and bad auto loans!

Having a short credit history or low credit score makes obtaining an auto loan difficult but not impossible. There are plenty of lenders willing to offer auto loans to students with such credit, however, the terms of those loans are usually very unfavorable.

Because a financing contract is like any other legally-binding contract, a person must repay an auto loan on whatever terms they signed and agreed to. So the best thing a student can do before car shopping is to educate themselves on auto loans and which loans not to sign.

Interest Rates

It is common knowledge that lower interest rates are better than higher interest rates. But students should know they have some power in negotiating lower interest rates and should be shopping around to compare rates from different lenders.

A simple illustration to highlight the importance of interest:

Friday, August 23, 2013

New Campus Smoking Policy


This fall marks the beginning of a major change in UC San Diego's smoking and tobacco policy. UC San Diego's previous smoking policy mirrored California state law- smoking was not permitted in any indoors spaces, nor within 20 feet of public buildings.

However, on September 1, 2013, UC San Diego will become a completely smoke-free and tobacco-free campus. This means no smoking will be permitted on any campus property, regardless of how far you are from a building. Even smoking in the middle of the Regents parking lot violates the new policy!

This policy affects both students and staff alike. It will even extend to guests of the university. This means that students or organizations holding any events on the UC San Diego campus must communicate to their guests that smoking is prohibited on campus.

Under the ban, even the on campus use of e-cigarettes will be prohibited. Readers should note that marijuana, even for medicinal purposes, has never been permitted on UC San Diego property.

UC San Diego officials have indicated the University has a right to issue citations and fines to individuals who violate the tobacco and smoking ban. However, at this time the University has not indicated that it will immediately begin to exercise its right to issue these citations. UC San Diego students who repeatedly violate the smoking ban may face chargers under the Student Conduct Code.

For UC San Diego students with the Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP), Student Health Services offers special smoking cessation programs. Additional information for UC San Diego students and staff to quit tobacco products can be found on the Smoke Free UCSD website.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

California Law Highlight: Employer Use of Social Media


California became one of the first states in the country to enact a law prohibiting employers and universities from demanding a person's social media username and password.

What is known as the Social Media Privacy Act is actually comprised of two different laws signed by Governor Brown in 2012 and enacted on January 1, 2013

Employers: California Assembly Bill 1844 prohibits a private employer from requiring or even requesting an employee or job applicant's social media usernames and passwords.  This is meant to protect your privacy from snooping employers (or prospective employers!) who may be looking for information about you beyond your resume.

Additionally, the law prohibits an employer from firing, disciplining, threatening to fire or discipline, or otherwise retaliating against an employee who asserts their rights under this law.

Please note! Any information a person has on a social media website that is viewable by the general public is still fair game. Employers may still use whatever information they can find about a person by just searching them on the internet. This law is meant to only stop employers from requesting access to private accounts.