Ends, means, and cell phone surveillance

As Wired.com reports, researchers affiliated with Northeastern University “secretly tracked the locations of 100,000 people outside the United States through their cell phone use and concluded that most people rarely stray more than a few miles from home.” In the report on their study in the journal Nature (excerpt available online), the authors stated:

[O]ur understanding of the basic laws governing human motion remains limited owing to the lack of tools to monitor the time-resolved location of individuals. Here we study the trajectory of 100,000 anonymized mobile phone users whose position is tracked for a six-month period.

There’s no doubt that such a study is useful.  As one of the researchers noted, “[k]nowing people’s travel patterns can help design better transportation systems and give doctors guidance in fighting the spread of contagious diseases.”  Important and useful.

But information’s usefulness does not alone justify its acquisition.  What about privacy and ethics? This isn’t simply a study of aggregate data (such as how many people saw Iron Man), but rather a study of the specific movements of numerous individuals.  As noted in the New York Times, “The location of the user was revealed whenever he made or received a call or text message; the telephone company would record the nearest cell tower and time.”

So was an ethics panel consulted?  No.  According to Wired, one of the researchers stated no ethics panel was consulted, and another said they didn’t have to (a quote here, but apparently a paraphrase in Wired) “because the experiment involved physics, not biology.”

Say what?  Ok, so the study concerned the movement of people.  People are objects.  Physics studies the movement of objects.  I get the “physics” connection. But how does that justify tracking individuals’ cellphones and movements without their permission? Although the researchers took steps to anonymize and secure the data, how does that justify intrusions into the personal activities of 100,000 people?

According to Wired, FCC spokesman Rob Kenny stated that such unconsented tracking would be illegal if done inside the United States.  Instead, says the New York Times, the surveillance was done with the cooperation of an unnamed European cell phone provider.  But why should it be ok for an American university to go outside of the United States to do what would be illegal within?

Advice for new law students, part II: additional thoughts

As promised in part I, here’s some additional thoughts for new law students:

Read carefully. It’s not enough to read the assigned materials passively. Don’t skim. It’s not enough just to get the “gist” of the materials — you need to come to class prepared to discuss the materials and to apply the principles contained in the materials to different fact patterns. So read slowly. Sometimes the placement of even a comma makes a huge difference in the meaning of a phrase or a statute.

Read critically. Though it’s vital to understand a court’s rationale, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think critically about what you read. Are there flaws in the court’s reasoning? Has the decision glossed over difficult or unresolved steps of its analysis? If the nine Justices of the United States Supreme Court can disagree, you too can question what you read. Remember, not all decisions are binding precedent — for example, a decision on state contract law decided in Ohio is not binding to a Pennsylvania court deciding Pennsylvania contract law, and vice-versa. If you were trying to persuade a Pennsylvania judge not to follow an Ohio court opinion, what would you argue?

Re-read. Read and re-read the materials. You’ll appreciate and understand legal materials better upon re-reading (or re-re-reading, etc.) them.

Look things up. Don’t know the meaning of a latin term contained in a case? Look it up in a legal dictionary like Black’s Law Dictionary.

Don’t book brief. Don’t do your briefs in the margins of your casebook. Type or write them up separately. Taking the time to write things out makes you think about what you’re trying to articulate and helps you to understand it better.

Don’t be a court reporter. You’re a law student, not a transcriptionist. If you use a laptop (and some professors will not permit them), don’t transcribe everything that’s being said. Be an active listener — listen carefully to classroom discussion and think about what’s being said.

Don’t sweat what the other person is doing. Everybody learns differently. Color-coded tabs or highlighters might be great for one person and a waste of time to the next.

Study groups. Some people work effectively in study groups, some don’t. Know thyself.

Keep your life. Take time to exercise, to get sleep, to have fun, or to simply do nothing.

Build bridges. The relationships you build in law school may last your entire professional and personal life. Your professional career doesn’t start upon graduation, it starts the first day of orientation.

ADDENDA:

Advice part I (life and stress) here.
Advice part II (studying and attitudes) here.
Advice part III (back up your data) here.
Advice part IV (essay exams) here.
Advice part V (conclusory argumentation) here.
Advice part VI (incomplete argumentation) here.

Advice for new law students, part I

I vividly remember my first trip to the campus bookstore when I was a new law student, not so many years ago. There were piles of casebooks and statute books assigned by the profs. In contrast, I don’t remember seeing much on how to be a law student. Yet one of the most important skills you’ll learn in your first year is how to be a law student: how to digest the voluminous reading materials, how to prepare for class, how to take notes, how to outline, how to otherwise manage your time, and how to take tests. Most if not all of those skills are directly or indirectly essential to successful practice as an attorney.

Thankfully, many law-school orientations now provide important emphasis on developing these skills. And you’ll develop them throughout your first year and beyond. So along those lines, here are some resources from a number of lawprofs that new students may find to be of interest. In a follow-up post, I’ll add some other thoughts to those contained below:

Feeling lost is normal. Don’t worry but do seek out your profs early and often. Orin Kerr writes that it’s perfectly normal for new students to feel lost because “professors start treating you like you’re in the legal profession from day one.” He’s right. Hang in there. If you feel overwhelmed, you’re perfectly normal. Concentrate on learning the materials and developing good work habits. Kerr further notes that one of the best ways of dealing with new-student confusion is to go to your profs’ offices during office hours and ask lots and lots of questions. Don’t be afraid that your questions are dumb. For one thing, most questions aren’t dumb. (In fact, some of the best questions I’ve ever been asked have been prefaced by the qualifier, “This is probably a dumb question . . . .”) For another thing, it’s much better to seek clarification before exams than afterwards.

Learning the law versus learning how to learn the law. Michael O’Hear draws a valuable distinction between learning the substance of law (such as “how is a contract formed,” “what are the elements of burglary,” etc.) and learning the skills of lawyering. He notes, “[t]he first semester of law school is not really about mastering any particular content, but acquiring certain essential lawyering skills: how to read a case, how to read a statute, how to reason analogically, how to construct a syllogism, etc.” Michael makes a great point — one of the key goals of the first year is to develop those essential skills. Knowing this may help you to make a concerted effort. But at the same time, don’t forget that it’s equally important to learn the substance of the law as well. The rub is that you’re learning your lawyering skills — such as how to read a case — at the same time you’re learning the substance of the law contained in the case itself.

Treat law school as a job but not as your life. Brannon Denning writes that you should 1) treat law school like a job; 2) exercise; and 3) maintain outside interests. This is right, too. Treat law school like your full-time job and make sure you have a life outside of that job. Get your work done, but exercise. It clears your mind and keeps you healthy. And have a life outside of law school. Even better, make sure that you maintain relationships with people who aren’t lawyers or law students. It reminds you that there’s more to life than law school. As Brannon says, “while law school should be treated like a job, it shouldn’t be regarded as a prison sentence.”

“Welcome to Law School” series. Last year, my friend and colleague Mike Madison posted an extensive and thoughtful series entitled Welcome to Law School. You can find links to the series of postings at the bottom of this post at his blog.

Stress management. Here’s a link to a booklet by Lawrence Krieger on The Hidden Sources of Law School Stress. (Hat tip to Mike Madison where I learned of this, and who in turn found it from fellow blogger Eric Goldman.)

ADDENDA:

Advice part I (life and stress) here.
Advice part II (studying and attitudes) here.
Advice part III (back up your data) here.
Advice part IV (essay exams) here.
Advice part V (conclusory argumentation) here.
Advice part VI (incomplete argumentation) here.