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Welcome to the website of the Internet and Intellectual Property Justice Clinic, a University of San Francisco School of Law clinical program that provides legal assistance to parties in intellectual property matters. For more information, see the "About Us" page.

Our website includes commentary from our students on cutting-edge internet law and intellectual property topics. Those posts are listed below, and more are archived under "Pages" on the right. Enjoy!

Facebook, Google, and Twitter: The Government’s Map to You

By Katherine R.

   As much as you may think that sharing your personal information is necessary for all your peers to see – your name, birthday, hobbies, a minute-by-minute account of your daily activities – you should think twice before sharing and uploading material about yourself online. Websites, especially social networking sites, may be the easiest and most effective way for others to find you, and as they increase in popularity they are becoming tempting targets for law enforcement.

   Social sites such as Facebook and Twitter contain massive amounts of information personalized to each user’s account. With endless amounts of data stored within these websites, it is no wonder that law enforcement has taken a keen interest in obtaining this information. This up and coming method of obtaining consumer information through social networking sites was highlighted with the “Wikileaks” case when the Justice Department subpoenaed several users’ Twitter account activity.

   Those in favor of consumer protection argue that the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act is outdated and does not adequately protecting consumer privacy. Susan Freiwald, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law and an expert in electronic surveillance law stated, “Some people think Congress did a pretty good job in 1986 seeing the future, but that was before the World Wide Web. The law can’t be expected to keep up without amendments.” The result – there is less protection for online material than there ought to be. Critics of the Electronic Privacy Act argue that electronic information such as email and personalized site material should be offered the same protection as hard-copy documents.

   Currently, companies such as Google, Twitter, and Facebook are in a balancing act between protecting privacy rights and addressing government security concerns. These companies have acted on these issues by creating different privacy protocols where releasing user information is up to the company’s discretion. Electronic privacy and civil rights advocates worry that because the Wikileaks court order gained such widespread attention, it could have a chilling effect on people’s speech on the Internet. However, this new trend of going after account information could also turn out beneficial by teaching unknowing Web users about the limits of the law in this area.