Wayne County Docket Sheets Available Online

For the non-attorneys out there, this may seem like a small thing, but I’m delighted that Wayne County’s civil and criminal records are available online here. This will save the attorneys a great deal of time and allow us to stay on top of things better. Because Wayne County’s court system is so large, things go wrong in a way they don’t in small courts. The ability to monitor my client’s cases online will be a great help.

Michigan Supreme Court Authorizes E-Filing Pilot Project at Wayne County Circuit Court

On February 1, 2010, the Michigan Supreme Court authorized the Wayne County Circuit Court to go ahead with its five year pilot e-filing project. The pilot project will start with asbestos cases and move out to other civil cases. The order seems to avoid implementing the system on the criminal side. Even though the criminal division and civil division are technically part of one court, the two systems have not been fully merged. For many years, the criminal division was a fully separate court. While the voter’s merged the two system, the filing and computer systems have never fully integrated.

Do We Have a Reasonable Expectation of Privacy in Our Mobile Data?

Smartphones and mobile devices are becoming increasingly popular. Many people keep their emails, documents, and other private information on their Blackberries, iPhones, and iPads. Police officers are aware of this and want to pry.

Two disturbing developments call to the front stage the question of privacy. The first is the California Supreme Court’s ruling in
People v Diaz, California Supreme Court No. S166600 which declined to find any enhanced privacy interest in these devices. In Diaz, the Court ruled that the police could seize and search through these devices as part of an ordinary arrest. Presumably, this includes an ordinary traffic arrest.

Several years ago, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled the same thing with respect to laptop computers.
People v Dagwan, 269 Mich App 338, 711 NW2d 386 (2006). There, the Court said that searching a laptop was ordinarily within the scope of a consent search. E.g. when an officer asks if he should look around the car, you are consenting to him booting up and looking at your emails.

As bad as this ruling is, a company specializing in password breaking software (Data Access) has decided to capitalize on this ruling by releasing a hand held password breaking tool that field officers can use to break into people’s
secured smartphones. Their press release overtly capitalizes on the Diaz ruling. This raises a disturbing problem for individuals who carry confidential data for a living. Is it ethical to carry privileged communication on your Blackberry or iPhone?

The California Bar Association just released an
ethics opinion suggesting that we (meaning lawyers) may need to leave these devices at home in order to protect client privacy. While this was not what they intended, they said that lawyers have to take steps to protect client privacy and be aware of the technology which makes our client’s data vulnerable. Now that we know that police can use a pretextual speeding ticket to pry into our client’s data, this may be the net result. Many years ago in Whren v United States, 517 US 806 (1996), the United States Supreme Court upheld the use of pretext based traffic stops. The combination of these rulings could be scary.

For a nice analysis about why courts are getting it wrong when they fail to recognize the unique privacy interests in electronic devices, see M.
Leach, Flyers Beware: The NInth Circuit Decision in United States v Arnold, Granted Customs Agents Access Into Your Laptops, 26 Cooley L Rev 307 (2009)
(requires fee to access article).

Is it Ok to Read the Next Table's E-mails?

There is an interesting discussion on the CSO website about whether it is legal to sniff the next table’s packets next time you are out to a Starbucks. The Court’s may have shot themselves in the foot on this one.

In November of last year, a program was released called Firesheep which allows someone on the same network to intercept Facebook feeds and even impersonate that person online. The program works by monitoring the packets on an unsecure network. While instinctually you want to prosecute the creep that does this, Courts may have given them a free pass.

Privacy law and search and seizure law normally require a putative snoop to invade an area or place which a person enjoys a reasonable expectation of privacy that society is prepared to enjoy. The problem comes that when a court wants to help a police officer out on a bad search, they declare there is no reasonable expectation because the person did not take adequate measures to protect the privacy interest. The rub comes in that since invasion of privacy law has the exact same test, the same court is ill prepared to apply a different test without looking like a complete hypocrite. Since Courts have generally found that there is no privacy interest in an unprotected computer network (again to help the police), they have inadvertently also helped the hacker.

There is an old truism that “bad facts make bad law.” Well meaning, but results oriented judges, may have dug themselves into a hole on this issue.

SCOTUS 2.0: A New Website for a New Century?

On Friday, the United States Supreme Court unveiled its new completely rewritten website designed to make the information more approachable. Unlike the prior website which was run by the Government Printing Office, the Court has brought this website in house. As the BLT Blog has noted: this update brings the Court into the 21st century, ten years too late.

Google Scholar Takes on Westlaw and Lexis

Earlier this week, Google upgraded its “Google Scholar” application to include federal court decisions and California state court decisions. Today I was pleased to see that it now includes many state court decisions including Michigan. While the database is not up to the standards of the commercial services, it is very impressive and given the strength of Google will undoubtedly close the distance quickly.
Read More...