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Ex-girlfriend’s Phony Facebook Page Tests NJ Identity... Yesterday New Jersey Superior Court Judge David Ironson refused to dismiss an indictment charging a woman with identity theft for allegedly adversely impersonating her ex-boyfriend...

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The Center for Democracy and Technology Defends Mobile... Last week the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) made a public appeal to gain support for their campaign to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act’s (ECPA)...

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Canadian Supreme Court Protects Free Speech on the... This month the Supreme Court of Canada issued a ruling that protects Website owners who provide hyperlinks to allegedly defamatory content from liability. The facts of the...

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NJ State Senator Will Introduce Online Gambling Legislation... In March Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have made New Jersey the first state in the country to allow online gambling within its borders. He vetoed the law...

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Federal Shield Law in the Senate Currently, 40 states and the District of Columbia have shield laws. Shield laws are important because they safeguard the public's right to know by protecting the rights of...

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Social Media Law News Rss

Missouri Repeals Facebook Ban

Posted on : 23-09-2011 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Buzz, Government, Online Safety, Online Speech, Social Media Policies

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Last month a Missouri judge issued a preliminary injunction against the state, suspending the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, because of its potential “chilling effect” on free-speech. The Act prohibited teachers from communicating privately with students over social media sites like Facebook. Shortly thereafter Governor Jay Nixon called upon lawmakers to repeal the ban in a special legislative session. Today Missouri lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to repeal the ban. However, according to David Lieb’s article, Missouri Lawmakers Repeal Teacher-Facebook Law, “the repeal went a step further by also requiring public school districts to adopt policies by March 1 on employee-student communications, including ‘the use of electronic media,’ in order ‘to prevent improper communications.’” The repeal will take effect when Governor Nixon signs it.

Please read my other articles about Amy Hestir Student Protection Act:

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Cybercrime Epidemic

Posted on : 12-09-2011 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Buzz, Online Safety

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Cybercrime is a worldwide and potentially devastating phenomenon. According to a report released by Symantec, the makers of Norton anti-virus and anti-spyware software, 61% of adults thought they were more likely to become a victim of offline, rather than online crime, in the next twelve months. However, only 15% of respondents surveyed suffered a crime in the physical world, while 44% of respondents surveyed suffered a cybercrime. Globally, the most common cybercrime has been and remains computer viruses or malware (54%), followed by online scams (11%), phishing (10%), and smishing (10%) (i.e. phishing by SMS). While it is important to note that this report was published by a company that has an interest in its outcome, the information is staggering.

The study, which was carried out in 24 countries and included 19,636 interviews with adults and children, reveals the vast reach of cybercrime and its massive cost to consumers. According to the report 14 people fall victim to cybercrime every second, costing the global economy $50 billion more annually than the marijuana, cocaine and heroin global black markets combined. The report also breaks down the cost of cybercrime, in terms of money and time lost. Annually, cybercrime is responsible for $114 billion of lost money and $274 billion in lost time.

Still, many people are unprotected. While 87% of adults say it’s important to use security software to protect their computers 100% of the time, 41% of adults surveyed had either outdated or no security software to protect themselves from cybercriminals. Moreover, as cybercrime occurs across jurisdictions, cultures, ethnic groups, social classes, etc., it is inherently difficult for law enforcement to trace. Law enforcement is further challenged by the absence of a central policing system. Thus, for now, updated anti-virus and anti-spyware software and staying abreast of the most recent cyberthreats is the best way to avoid becoming a victim of cybercrime.

To learn more about Norton’s Cybercrime Report, please read the following articles:

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UPDATE: Amy Hestir Student Protection Act: Protecting Students or Stifling Teachers?

Posted on : 02-09-2011 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Buzz, Government, Online Safety, Online Speech

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Earlier this month I wrote an article entitled Amy Hestir Student Protection Act: Protecting Students or Stifling Teachers? detailing the problems with a new Missouri law, set to take effect on August 28th, that makes it illegal for teachers in Missouri to use social media sites or text messaging to communicate with students. On August 19th this law was challenged by the Missouri Teachers Association (MSTA) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Eastern Missouri in separate lawsuits. The MSTA suit was filed in Cole County Circuit Court against the State of Missouri, its governor, and its attorney general. The ACLU suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri against the Ladue School District and members of the Missouri State Board of Education, sought class-action status on behalf of all teachers employed in the state’s school districts. On August 24th, a Missouri judge issued a preliminary injunction against the state, suspending the law. If the provision has not been repealed by the General Assembly by October 14th’s scheduling conference, the court will be forced to determine whether the law is substantially over broad or unconstitutionally vague.

For an exceptional explanation of the legal issues plaguing the constitutionality of this law, please read Rob Arcamona’s article, Free Speech Concerns Could Sink Missouri’s Social Networking Ban for Teachers. In addition to writing about this law’s “chilling effect” on teachers’ speech and the constitutionally-required balance of Free Speech versus student protection, Arcamona exposes the problems with potential amendments to the law that state legislators are likely to face.

Please read the following informative articles to learn more about the questionable constitutionality of banning teachers from using social media sites or text messaging to communicate with students:

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Amy Hestir Student Protection Act: Protecting Students or Stifling Teachers?

Posted on : 19-08-2011 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Education, Government, Online Safety

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After August 28, 2011 Missouri teachers will be breaking the law if they use social media sites or text messaging to communicate with students. This is because of a new law called the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, which is designed to protect children from being molested by teachers. According to Alan Scher Zagier’s article, Mo. Teachers Protest Social Media Crackdown, “The law was proposed after an Associated Press investigation found 87 Missouri teachers had lost their licenses between 2001 and 2005 because of sexual misconduct, some of which involved explicit online messages with students.”

Sponsor Senator Jane Cunningham, who fought for the legislation for five years, named the Act after Amy Hestir. At 13 years old, Amy was manipulated by her seventh-grade music teacher into a sexual relationship that lasted for over a year. Although Amy felt she could not come forward while the abuse was happening, at 40 years old, she bravely testified in front of the Missouri legislature to support her namesake Act before it was passed unanimously by the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Jay Nixon. During her testimony, Amy said, “I support this bill 100% and I am not afraid to tell my story even though it brought so much shame on me for so long.”

The Act has is supposed to protect children in five key ways.

1) Mandatory reporting requirements to the new investigation authority, the Children’s Division.

2) The creation of the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children  (also known as “Erin’s Law”).

3) More thorough background checks and harsher penalties for teachers found guilty of sexual misconduct.

4) The formation of a written policy providing for compulsory information sharing between districts regarding former employees.

5) The establishment of new district-level communication policies and a state-level restriction on the use of various multimedia sources.

The last section has proved to be the most controversial part of the Act. The relevant part of section 162.069 states:

Teachers cannot establish, maintain, or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child’s legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian. Teachers also cannot have a non work-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.”

The Act defines a former student as, “any person who was at one time a student at the school at which the teacher is employed and who is eighteen years of age or less and who has not graduated.” Thus, under the new Act, current and former students are prohibited from using private non-work-related websites to communicate. However, many people find this restriction illogical; questioning why students and teachers are prohibited from communicating privately online or via text messaging but no prohibition exists when it comes to private communication in the classroom or via a phone conversation.

This Act also has a lot of problems when it comes to its constitutionality. In short, it is likely that this Act will not survive First Amendment and Due Process scrutiny, as it is overly vague, too broadly drafted and excessively restrictive.  For an excellent Constitutional analysis of the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, please read Bob Buckley’s article, Law to Protect Students Will Have Unintended Consequences.

Please read the following articles to learn more about Amy Hestir Student Protection Act:

Also, please read my previous article about Teachers and Social Media:

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The ACLU Stands Up for Sex Offenders Right to Social Media

Posted on : 16-08-2011 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Buzz, Government, Online Safety, Online Speech

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In June, Governor Bobby Jindal signed House Bill 55, introduced by Representative Ledricka Thierry, D-Opelousas, which makes it a crime for certain registered sex offenders to access social networking sites. The new law, which passed unanimously in the House and Senate, was one of 233 new laws enacted during Louisiana’s 2011 spring session. The law applies to registered sex offenders convicted of indecent behavior with juveniles, pornography involving juveniles, computer-aided solicitation of a minor or video voyeurism; or those previously convicted of a sex offense of a minor victim. First time offenders can face up to 10 years in prison without the possibility of parole and $10,000 in fines. Two time offenders can face up to 20 years in prison and $20,000 fines. While the law provides for exceptions based on the discretion of probation officers, parole officers and judges, it does not specify any procedures for obtaining said exceptions.

Now the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana has filed suit in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge, requesting that the court ban enforcement of the law on the grounds that it violates the First Amendment right to free speech and the Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection and due process. The main controversy lies in the meaning of “social networking websites, chat rooms, and peer-to-peer networks.” The law defines social-networking websites as a site that allows users to create their own profiles or “offers a mechanism for communication among users, such as a forum, chat room, electronic mail, or instant messaging.” The ACLU argues this definition is so broad that it restricts access to any site where a user can read or post comments. In a press release, ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman stated that “Reasonable restrictions to prevent future crimes are appropriate in the interest of public safety. However, banning access to all sorts of online information, without any connection to a crime or access to children, is using a bulldozer where a trowel would do.”

According to various reports, Jindal, who was named as a defendant in the case, said, “I will fight this with everything I have. If these people want to search the internet for new victims, they can do it somewhere else.” The other named defendant, Louisiana Attorney General James Caldwell, and Rep. Thierry have not publicly commented on the suit.

The anonymous plaintiff is a registered sex offender, living in East Baton Rouge Parish. Convicted of possessing child pornography, he served four years in prison. Since his release in 2006 he has worked as a computer repair technician but will be unable to do his job under the new law’s restrictions. Additionally the new law will force him to shut down his online Veterans Association profile,  G-mail account and blog which will severely limit his ability to communicate with family, friends and fellow veterans.

While the government’s reason –- protecting children — for this ban is righteous, the law is overly vague and restrictive. The law not only bars sex offenders from using Facebook and Twitter, more reasonable targets, but it also prohibits offenders from accessing  news sites, job-search sites, email services and any site that allow users to interact and make comments. As a result it is likely that the Court will agree with the ACLU and find this law unconstitutional. It seems reasonable that a modified law that prohibits sex offenders from accessing social media sites that are specifically geared toward minors, or are known to be used by minors, is more likely to be upheld.

To learn more about Louisiana’s banning of sex offenders on social media or ACLU’s lawsuit please read the following articles:

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NYPD Establishes “Social Media Unit”

Posted on : 12-08-2011 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Buzz, Government, Online Privacy, Online Safety, Online Speech

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On the heals of the London riots which were exacerbated by Facebook, Twitter, and Blackberry Messaging users, the New York Police Department (NYPD) announced the establishment of a “Social Media Unit.” According to New York’s Daily News, the new unit will “track troublemakers who announce plans or brag about their crimes on Twitter, MySpace and Facebook.” Thus, the new unit will not only use social media to track down evidence and perpetrators of crimes, but it will also seek out and monitor social media in an effort to prevent potential crimes.

Assistant Commissioner Kevin O’Connor, a 23-year veteran known for his success in online sex crime policing, will manage the unit under the Community Affairs Bureau, which will also educate officers about social media and organize community outreach programs. The goal is to maximize the unprecedented access to information social media provides. This, however, is not the first time that police have used social media to solve crimes. The New York’s Daily News’s article, NYPD’s Social Media Unit Will Track Criminals On Facebook, Twitter details 3 instances where the NYPD’s use of social media has helped solve crimes:

  • In March, 18 year old Anthony Collao, was fatally beaten in an anti-gay attack at a house party advertised on Facebook. Calvin Pietri, one of six arrested, bragged about the murder on Facebook.
  • Also in March, an argument over a $20 loan started on Facebook and ended when 18 year old Kayla Henriques, allegedly stabbed 22 year old Kamisha Richards to death.
  • In May, a junior high reunion drew hundreds of unexpected guests when the invitation went viral. During the night gunfire broke out; five people were wounded and 20 year old Dane Freeman died.

Then, in June, an overcrowded house party advertised on Facebook as “Freaky Friday” ended in a shooting that left a 20 year old Donzell Rogers dead.

It is evident that police departments throughout the country are using social media as a tool to both prevent and solve crimes. It is likely that many states will follow NYPD’s lead and institute their own “Social Media Units.”

To learn more about NYPD’s Social Media Unit, please read:

To learn more about the recent riots in London, please read

To learn more about how law enforcement uses social media to prevent and solve crimes, please read the following articles:

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Inmates On Facebook

Posted on : 09-08-2011 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Buzz, Government, Online Safety, Social Media Policies

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With the exception of sexual offenders, no state has outlawed inmates’ use social media. Consequently, inmates are using social media to evade limitations on their access to the outside world. Many inmates use social media to communicate with family and friends, making innocuous posts about day to day life in prison. However, others have been using social media to seek out new victims and/or continue to monitor and harass past victims. Additionally inmate gang members use social media to share information and coordinate criminal activity inside and outside prison.

Last year, in California, an inmate convicted of child molesting used a contraband cell phone to find the MySpace and Facebook pages of his victim. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) found out about the harassment when they received a call from the victim’s mother. After returning from a family vacation, the family discovered several pieces of mail from the incarcerated molester containing several accurate drawings of the 17-year-old victim. Investigators later discovered the inmate used a cell phone to access the victim’s Facebook and MySpace pages.

Although California inmates are permitted to retain social media profiles created before imprisonment, according to Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes, “[Facebook] will disable accounts reported to us that are violating relevant U.S. laws or regulations or inmate accounts that are updated by someone on the outside.” Yesterday the CDCR announced “. . . it has begun reporting Facebook accounts set up and monitored by prison inmates to the Facebook Security Department.” It is unclear why it has taken the CDCR a year to take this action, however it is crystal clear that this should protect countless potential victims.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons National Gang Intelligence Center has reported increasing instances of inmates with active Facebook accounts. The majority of inmate social media accounts are maintained by inmates via contraband mobile phones or by someone outside the prison acting on behalf of the inmate. Making matters worse, The CDCR reports a massive influx in the number of confiscated contraband mobile phones. More than 7,284 contraband mobile phones were confiscated in the first six months of 2011, as opposed to the 261 devices confiscated in 2006. Unfortunately this provides inmates with “Access to social media,” which CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate admits, “allows inmates to circumvent our monitoring process and continue to engage in criminal activity.”

Apparently prison employees, who do not have to submit to searches when entering prisons, are the primary source of contraband phones. According to US News corrupt prison employees can make up to $1000  for each contraband mobile phone. While it is a violation of prison rules to smuggle a phone inside and pass it to an inmate, it is not illegal. However, the Los Angeles Times reports that a pending bill in the state Senate would make smuggling a phone to an inmate a crime punishable by a $5,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

The CDCR encourages members of the public to report any instances of suspected inmate Facebook use by either an inmate, or on behalf of the inmate, to contact CDCR’s Office of Victim and Survivor Rights & Services, toll free 1-877-256-OVSS (6877) or via e-mail victimservices@cdcr.ca.gov.

To learn more about inmates use of social media please read the following articles:

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Part 3: Cybersquatting

Posted on : 04-03-2011 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Intellectual Property, Online Privacy, Online Safety, Online Speech

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In her article, Social Media and Intellectual Property Risks, Pria Chetty lists the top 5 intellectual property risks when using social media. The second risk, cybersquatting, refers to registering, selling, or using a domain name with bad faith intent to profit from someone else’s mark. Generally cybersquatters intend to profit from either the goodwill of another’s trademark or the sale of the domain to the trademark owner at an inflated price. The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), enacted in 1999, provides for a civil cause of action for cybersquatting. Under the ACPA the plaintiff must show that the defendant acted with bad faith intent to profit, when he registered, sold, or used a domain name that was identical or sufficiently similar to the plaintiff’s trademark.

Courts consider nine factors in determining whether a defendant has bad faith intent to profit:

  1. the trademark or intellectual property rights of the defendant in the domain name;
  2. the extent to which the domain name consists of the defendant’s name;
  3. the defendant’s prior use of the domain name in connection with the bona fide offering of goods or services;
  4. the defendant’s bona fide noncommercial or fair use of the mark in a site accessible under the domain name;
  5. the defendant’s intent to divert consumers from the mark owner’s online location to a site accessible under the domain name, either for commercial gain or with an intent to tarnish or disparage the mark, by creating a likelihood of confusion as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of the site;
  6. the defendant’s offer to transfer or sell the domain name to the trademark owner or any third party for financial gain;
  7. the defendant’s giving false contact information when applying for registration of the domain name;
  8. the defendant’s registration or acquisition of multiple domain names that are identical to or confusingly similar to the trademarks of others; and
  9. the extent to which the trademark incorporated in the defendant’s domain name registration is or is not distinctive.

In a cybersquatting case, courts may award monetary or injunctive relief. Under “exceptional circumstances,” courts may also award attorneys’ fees.

In People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals v. Doughney, 263 F.3d 359 (4th Cir. 2001), Michael Doughney registered the domain name peta.org and created “People Eating Tasty Animals” website. After People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)’s requests to voluntarily transfer the domain name were denied, they sued Doughney, alleging trademark infringement, trademark dilution and cybersquatting. PETA argued that they owned the “PETA” mark, which they registered in 1992. Doughney argued that his website was a constitutionally-protected parody of PETA. The district court rejected Doughney’s parody defense and granted PETA’s motion for summary judgment, holding that there was a likelihood of confusion because one would have to actually go to the peta.org website to determine that it was not owned, controlled or sponsored by PETA. On appeal, the circuit court affirmed the district’s court ruling.

A few years later in Lamparello v. Falwell, 420 F.3d 309 (4th Cir. 2005), Reverend Jerry Falwell, a nationally known ultraconservative minister sued Christopher Lamparello after he created a website criticizing Falwell’s views under the domain name www.fallwell.com. On appeal, the court found that while Lamparello’s domain name closely resembled Falwell’s domain name www.falwell.com, “Lamparello clearly created his website intending only to provide a forum to criticize ideas, not to steal customers.” Furthermore, “no one seeking Reverend Falwell’s guidance would be misled by the domain name — www.fallwell.com — into believing Reverend Falwell authorized the content of that website.”

Victims of cybersquatting have several options before taking a cybersquatting matter to court. First victims can send a cease-and-desist letter to the cybersquatter. Second, victims can arbitrate under Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)’s Uniform Domain Name Resolution Policy (UDRP). ICANN is a nonprofit organization that oversees the domain name registration system and provides for expedited domain name dispute resolution proceeding. Although UDRP proceeding can be faster and cheaper than an ACPA lawsuits, some parties prefer ACPA lawsuits because they offer more remedies than the cancellation or transfer of the domain name, which are the only remedies available under UDRP proceedings. Additionally, UDRP decisions can be challenged and overturned in ACPA suits. Third, victims of cybersquatting may also submit an InterNIC Complaint Form to initiate help from ICANN’s Support Services.

Please read my earlier articles in this series detailing the intellectual property risks relating to social media, and look for Part 4 coming soon.

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Social Media Assisted Suicide

Posted on : 24-02-2011 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Government, Online Safety, Online Speech

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Today a Minnesota Judge, Thomas Neuville, will hear arguments in the case of a former nurse accused of using social media to help two people commit suicide. While social media has been used as evidence in many different crimes, this is the first case to use social media to prove the crime of assisted suicide.

Last week, the accused, William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, entered a Lothenbach Plea, thereby waiving his right to a jury trial and pleading not guilty to aiding the 2005 hanging of Mark Drybrough, 32, of Coventry, England, and the 2008 drowning of Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ontario. While Melchert-Dinkel does not dispute the evidence against him, he asserts that his speech was protected by the First Amendment and was, therefore, not criminal.

Prosecutors say Melchert-Dinkel, using numerous aliases, posed as a female nurse, sought out depressed people in internet chat rooms and offered them step-by-step instructions on how to commit suicide. Terry Watkins, Melchert-Dinkel’s defense attorney argues that Drybrough and Kajouji were predisposed to suicide and his client’s comments were not a factor in their suicides. Furthermore, he asserts that his client’s online activities were protected speech.

Minnesota’s law against aiding suicide makes it a crime to “intentionally advise[s], encourage[s], or assist[s]” suicide, and those convicted may be sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine. According to court documents Rice County Prosecutor Paul Beaumaster believes the evidence shows, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Melchert-Dinkel intentionally encouraged both victims to kill themselves. Moreover he claims that Melchert-Dinkel admitted his “conversations moved into the realm of sick and perverse advice,” and that “his alter egos became so infamous online that concerned people warned others that he was stalking suicidal individuals.” Judge Neuville will have up to 20 days after the evidence has been presented to determine whether Melchert-Dinkel is guilty.

However, if Melchert-Dinkel is convicted, he could have a successful appeal based on the two issues Watkins raised during pre-trial proceedings. First, Watkins questioned whether Minnesota courts had jurisdiction when the two suicide victims died in other countries. Second, Watkins questioned whether Melchert-Dinkel’s actions were protected by free-speech and therefore weren’t crimes. Melchert-Dinkel is likely to have more success with the latter appeal. Currently the Minnesota statute is very vague and ambiguous. That is, it seems to include protected speech that does not actually lead someone to suicide. In her article, Bench Trial May Not Be the End of Minnesota Assisted Suicide Case, Elizabeth Dunbar quotes Mark Osler, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas, “Minnesota’s law doesn’t specifically address whether someone who writes a song or book encouraging suicide could be charged if what they wrote leads to a suicide death. Are we really willing to extend criminal liability that far? This kind of case does present that kind of issue fairly plainly.”

To learn more about the facts of this case, please read:

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Information You Should Never Post on Social Media

Posted on : 23-02-2011 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Online Privacy, Online Safety

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Despite all the reasons people have to protect their privacy online, many continue to post personal information, thereby making it easier for criminals to commit cyber crimes. This week Matt McKinney posted an excellent article entitled, Protecting Your Privacy in A Social Media World. He lists some of the personal information that Beth Givens, Executive Director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, believes no one should ever post online. Specifically, social media users should NEVER POST their birth date, birthplace, vacation plans, home address and password clues. It is important to note that there are many other personal details that should never be posted online (i.e. any address, compromising pictures, risky behaviors, illegal activities, etc.). Additionally, Given’s exposes how cyber criminals exploit said information. For example, Givens advises social media users to avoid using easy to access information for password security questions, as it makes password hacking easier for cyber criminals. Finally McKinney provides a valuable quiz from the Identity Theft Resource Center which helps determine how susceptible you are to cyber crime.

To learn more about staying safe on social media, please read McKinney’s concise and informative article. Then to learn about protecting your privacy online please read my articles:

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