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: