logo

Notes from the Technology Trenches - May, 1999

By Elizabeth H. Klampert, Published on May 16, 1999

Elizabeth H. Klampert, the former Director of Library Services at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, is an attorney and consultant, specializing in legal research and technology, with an emphasis on the growing body of cyberlaw.


Since last month’s column was a true "from the trenches" column, I thought I would lighten up a bit. I’m devoting this month’s column to some updates of previous issues and to more general news that has come across my desk.

To begin, I hope none of you contracted any viruses this month, whether of the computer or human variety. The Chernobyl (or CIH) virus made the news, but did not affect too many United States users, evidently. It did affect a number of computers in Asia, however. A recent article notes that a student (naturally) has found a cure for the virus and has posted it on his Web site, where further information about this virus can also be found.

The spate of viruses has been making people nervous, needless to say, and at least one commentator doesn’t expect it to get any better. Jesse Berst, Editorial Director of ZDNet’s AnchorDesk wrote a recent column in which he discussed the reasons why he is now a "security pessimist." It’s worth reading, as are the sidebars that accompany the column.

Electronic commerce is continuing to flourish, though, in spite of viruses and pessimists. On May 6, four Republican Congressmen introduced the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-SIGN), H.R. 1417. The intent of the bill is to allow consumers and businesses, when making online transactions, to use electronic signatures the same way they use hand-written signatures on contracts and agreements. Not much is happening with the bill so far, but it will be interesting to follow.

The House, as usual, has also been busy on other technology related fronts. As a number of sources reported, on May 12, it passed the Year 2000 Readiness and Responsibility Act, H.R. 775, a bill that limits lawsuits against companies making a good faith effort to avoid Year 2000 computer glitches. The Senate failed to pass similar legislation, the Y2K Act, S. 96. Most commentators do not expect the House bill to become law in the form in which it was passed, since President Clinton has threatened to veto the bill in its current form. Consumer groups and business leaders have been weighing in on both bills in record numbers and, although a compromise is being worked on, the odds against one are formidable.

In April, two Senators, Burns and Wyden, introduced the Online Privacy Protection Act, S. 809, which would require commercial Web sites to notify visitors if any information is collected about them. In addition, it would also require Web sites to allow visitors to opt out of having this information collected and would allow users access to the records companies keep about them. The House is expected to introduce similar legislation.

Speaking of electronic commerce, a few columns ago, I mentioned several Web sites I had found that had good bargains. In fact, I found my Palm Pilot at one of them, Buy.com. If you want to do comparison shopping, check out Shopper.com – today I’d get an even better bargain on my Palm III! The price listed there for a Palm V is pretty impressive, as is the price for the Palm IIIx.

Although right now most consumers do not even think about paying sales tax when they purchase online, most of you are probably aware that this is a burning issue for states and municipalities. Congress has not yet weighed in on this issue, but may soon if the Chair of the Telecommunications Subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee has his way. In March, Representative Billy Tauzin advised a group of investors that he expected to introduce this legislation soon. However, I’ve not seen anything yet and I’ve been looking for it. I don’t think this was an idle threat, so I’ll keep you posted.

And what is going on with domain name registration disputes? There are now new registrars, being set up by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and that body is seeking comments on dispute resolution solutions. In response, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has submitted its recommendations. Some are suggesting that there will be an online arbitration process. If so, they may want to take a look at the newest venture in online dispute resolution, CyberSettle. The Web site was discussed in a May 12 Wall Street Journal article, "For Dueling Lawyers, Internet Becomes an Unlikely Referee," found in both the print and online versions.

For attorneys still wrestling with the issue of e-mail and whether it is now necessary to encrypt everything, the American Bar Association has now weighed in with its lengthy formal opinion on the matter. Published on March 10, 1999, Formal Opinion 99-413, "Protecting the Confidentiality of Unencrypted E-Mail," establishes that an attorney "may" send a client unencrypted e-mail without violating the 1998 Model Rules of Professional Conduct "because the mode of transmission affords a reasonable expectation of privacy from a technological and legal standpoint." The opinion does advise, however, that one should consult with one’s client when planning to send highly sensitive information via e-mail.

The issue of e-mail and an attorney’s liability for sending unencrypted e-mail has been an issue for some time. For a review of opinions from various states, I recommend that you look at the excellent LegalEthics.com site where these opinions are summarized and, for the most part, are also available in full-text.

For a change of pace, for those of you who were not alerted to it on LawLib or other listservs, check out "Thwart Not the Librarian!" I doubt too many of us visualize ourselves quite this way, but … go ahead, take a look. I certainly got a charge out of it (yeah, I know, I need more to do).

For those of you going to the SLA Conference next month, have a great time!