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What's Hot In Tech Law

People are always asking me, ``So, what's hot in tech law?''

A good way to answer the question would be to look to the many tech law newsletters and periodicals that I get and give you a glimpse into what they're reporting. It actually provides a good overview of what's hot and what's newsworthy in my field.

Privacy Legislation

In the U.S., we have next to nothing in laws protecting privacy. Privacy experts would undoubtedly call that oversimplified (it is).

One of the few laws we have is the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLB). It's the one responsible for all those privacy notices that your banks and other financial institutions have been sending you. If you didn't notice them, it's probably because you threw them away with the other envelope stuffers selling whatever in five easy payments.

GLB currently allows states to enact privacy regulations that are more stringent than GLB's own rules. Now, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) has introduced a bill to prevent states from adding their own rules.

I think you'll see privacy issues continuing to be hot in the tech world. Interestingly, the sharing of mailing lists and cross marketing deals in the bricks and mortar world seems to bother people less than online privacy issues. Ironically, it's the offline guys who are typically behind those dinner time, ``I'm calling at the request of your bank to bother you while your family eats to see if I can put yet another credit card in your wallet'' phone calls. Still, online is the hot button.


Napster is still out there. Well, not ``out there'' online as I write this, but in the courts. The recording industry plaintiffs are swooping in for the kill. After winning preliminary relief, which had the effect of putting Napster out of business (to the dismay of teenagers across the world), they now want the court to hear summary judgment and damage arguments.

Rumor has it that Napster may already be fatally wounded, but kids across the world have found other ways to swap music over the Net. Of course, I didn't hear this from any teenager living in my house.

E-Mail is a Meeting

In the State of Washington, they have an Open Meetings Act. It requires public boards and commissions to meet in public.

One court ruled that e-mail among a quorum of the school board was a meeting. I suppose that this means that they will have to post all their official business e-mails on the Net for all to see. Progress?

New Uniform Law

The usually influential National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) seems to have conceded that its proposed Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) isn't going anywhere. For UCITA to become law in a state, the legislature of that state must pass it. To date, only Maryland and Virginia have passed it.

Some of UCITA's major provisions include endorsing click ``I Accept'' agreements and permitting software sellers to electronically turn off your software when your license expires.

UCITA is widely criticized as anti-consumer.

NCCUSL knows that it has an uphill battle in the other 48 states. Therefore, NCCUSL is going to meet in November to give a forum to opponents. I suspect that UCITA isn't going anywhere until they make some consumer friendly changes.

Computer Crime

If you're reading your newspaper every day, I don't need to tell you that stories about hacking, worms and viruses are up. In response, the Feds are forming ten highly specialized units to prosecute these high -tech crimes.

You'll love the name - Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property unit or ``CHIPs units.'' No, Erik Estrada won't be heading the effort.

With catchy names like this, it's reassuring to know that our Federal government doesn't waste a penny or give any thought to the smirks its name choices create. I wonder what else they don't think about.

Compaq Settles

Compaq recently settled a class action brought by consumers who bought Presario PCs. Under the settlement, the impacted consumers get either $360 in cash or $540 in rebates.

What's interesting is that the plaintiffs alleged defects like modems that didn't connect at their maximum speed, phone center software that didn't work, and lock-ups in sleep mode. As I look at the list, I'm trying to think if I've ever owned a computer that didn't have such problems.

I'll just move along because I could do an entire column on the miserable quality control in the PC hardware and software world. Maybe I will soon.

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