Forensic DNA and Missing Children: The Legal & Ethical Issues

Since 1983, when the day was designated by U.S. President Ronald Reagan as National Missing Children’s Day in the United States and spreading internationally through the Global Missing Children’s Network (GMCN), May 25th has been celebrated as International Missing Children’s Day.  GMAC is a jointly sponsored venture of the U.S. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC),  that focuses on educating parents on steps they can take in protecting their children, as well sharing best practices and information in investigating cases of child abduction, trafficking and illegal adoptions.

This year, I have the distinct privilege and great honor of speaking at the conference for Missing Children and Genetic Identity, organized by the Portuguese Association for Missing and Exploited Children [Associaçāo Portuguesa de Crianças Desaparecidas] and sponsored by Genomed, to be held at Lusófona University in Lisbon on the 25th of May 2017 – International Missing Children’s Day.

The conference will explore the connection between modern genetics and forensic science and on national and international efforts to aide investigations of missing and abused children.  The legal and ethical issues surrounding DNA collection and use, the pros and cons of storing DNA samples and maintaining a database of digital DNA ‘fingerprints’ as well as other bio metric information from individuals – convicted criminals, arrested individuals, victims, family members and even the general public – continues to be hotly debated on the national and international level throughout the world.  In addition to issues of privacy and security, the use and potential abuse of genetic and other bio metric evidence, whether to exonerate individuals or convict guilty individuals, is not just complicated, it is inconsistent across jurisdictional borders.  Sharing of critical information that may help identify a child or investigate a missing person, whether or not a crime may have been committed, is neither assured nor routine – despite the obvious benefits a regulated and carefully constructed information sharing system might be to family members, law enforcement and the forensic scientific community.

The conference, one of many throughout  the world on May 25th, will attract distinguished guests and provide a forum for discussion and shine a much needed spotlight on the legal and ethical challenges and opportunities at the intersection of science, law and law enforcement. I will publish a copy of my presentation and remarks after the conference concludes, but if you would like to know more about the conference, feel free to contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or the organizers directly.

 

Whatz Gnu

Many thanks to the International Law Office (ILO) for publishing a derivative of our Legal Bytes article. You can download and read a personal copy of the ILO posting FTC Targets Ads That Target Kids, or you can read the original Legal Bytes blog posting at "Mom, is it OK for them to follow me?" FTC Targets Ads That Target Kids.

“Mom, is it OK for them to follow me?” FTC Targets Ads That Target Kids

Many of us remember when kids were actually worried about being caught misbehaving. Back in those days, parent’s concern over children’s behavior dealt with whether the kids were ‘fresh’ or ‘mischievous’ or talked too much in school. I was perennially the subject of “he would do so much better in class if he just stopped horsing around and paid attention.” Dear Mrs. Frohman, Mrs. Handel, Mrs. Flynn and Mrs. Bernstein – thanks! It took me several decades, but I finally got the message. Today, however, when we hear the terms children and behavior – well, at least according to the FTC, it ain’t the children that are misbehaving.

In a proposed amendment to rules that have been in effect since 2000, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) is proposing amendments to COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act”) that “would require parental notification and consent prior to the collection of persistent identifiers where they are used for purposes such as amassing data on a child’s online activities or behaviorally targeting advertising to the child.” In describing the proposed changes (the proposed  Amendment runs 122 pages long), the FTC notes that these new rules would apply to any identifying or tracking technology (cookies) that would link a child’s browsing behavior across multiple web pages and services – ostensibly including advertising networks and metric/measurement/analytical service providers who routinely have access to such information.

Although a ‘safe harbor’ for compliance with self-regulatory programs is included within the FTC’s proposal, it did suggest that these programs (and individual company compliance with these programs) be more closely monitored and supervised – including mandatory audits every 18 months and reports detailing actions taken by the self-regulatory body against the companies that do not comply. Clearly, one of the FTC’s objectives is to not only ensure a mandatory review of compliance, even for those companies that have not been subject to proceedings, but also to create a record-keeping and reporting system that gives the FTC the ability to obtain detailed information about the proceedings and the compliance efforts of individual companies.

Comments, which are due by November 28, 2011, may be filed with the FTC using it’s COPPA Rule Review Form. If you are interested, concerned, want your voice heard, or otherwise need to be guided by experienced counsel in this area, please feel free to contact me, Joseph I. Rosenbaum, or the Rimon lawyer with whom you regularly work. We would be happy to help!

Facebook Faces Yet Another Minor Case – Ads Add Added Woes

Facebook is facing another class-action, this time in Federal Court in Illinois, charging it used minors in its advertising. Although I haven’t done a search, there are at least two or three others – federal actions in California and New York and at least one state lawsuit filed in Southern California. In each of these cases, the allegations are essentially the same. Facebook takes user names, pictures and preferences, using the "Like" buttons, and then mashes or moshes (that word is the pits) them with paid sponsorship and advertising to target specific ads – sometimes referred to as "enhanced" or "premium" advertisements. The user’s name or likeness can be "pushed" to their Facebook friends – presumably people who the user has specifically permitted to be able to see such information; and also presumably by becoming a "friend," they, in turn, have manifested a desire or interest to know what the individual is doing, what she or he likes, opinions, where they are and what they are doing.

Aside from issues of free speech, voluntary opt-in and parent consent, especially where the individual is a minor and their name, image or likeness is used in an "ad" (and it’s not clear or settled that these are all "advertisements"), a question arises as to whether section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act insulates Facebook from liability as a neutral communications platform that doesn’t control what each individual does or offers – so long as they act in accordance with Facebook’s terms and conditions. Some commentators point out, however, that in 2007, a Federal Appeals Court in California (9th Circuit Court of Appeals) held that Roommates.com was not immune when their users posted ads that were illegal under the Fair Housing Act (See, Fair Housing Council v. Roommates.com LLC [PDF]. That said, in the Roommates case, the ads were, to some extent, structured, and categories of content and information for the ads encouraged, if not solicited, populating the database of advertising for roommates using the website. Facebook may well argue that simply providing a "Like" button and making it available for use, is no different from a brand owner making a gadget or widget icon available should a user want to place it on their site. The "platform" – in this case Facebook – has no part in the user’s decision, nor is it offering to customize the user’s "Like" decision in any way that could be construed as editing or adding new content as a publisher.

One thing is very clear. Nothing is clear. Stay tuned!

Welcome to Disco via SMS – Google Finds Itself Dancing in Court

This post was written by Judith L. Harris, with assistance from Rimon Summer Interns James Duchesne and Linda Shim.

A new trend is quickly taking hold. In recent months, a sizeable number of class action lawsuits have been filed involving unsolicited text messages. A messaging system called “Short Message Service,” better known as “SMS“, allows individuals to receive text messages on mobile phones.  Consumers unhappy with bulk, unsolicited SMS marketing messages are filing suit under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act 47 U.S.C. § 227 (“TCPA”) in alarming numbers. You can read a summary of the TCPA Rules [PDF], but to recap for these purposes, the TCPA prohibits any call from an automatic telephone dialing system to any mobile telephone service or any service for which the called party is charged. Since most mobile phone service plans charge on a message received/sent basis, the fact that SMS is subject to the TCPA’s prohibitions (just like land line phone calls), has caught many by surprise – including many of the most sophisticated operators in the mobile marketing space.

Lusskin v. Google [PDF] is one of the latest of these cases to be filed (Federal Court in California) and takes aim at Disco, launched by Google just this past March. In Lusskin, the plaintiffs are claiming that the Disco app gives Google the ability to “harvest all phone numbers” added by consumers so that Google “can independently send its own text message advertisements” promoting the Disco application. Individuals can use Disco to input names and mobile phone numbers (into groups); however, no permission or consent is required from someone whose name and number are added! When the group starts, Disco sends a message to members welcoming them, instructing them how the service works and how they can opt out. Once the groups are formed, messages can be sent from a single source, for a single charge, to all group members. Each member of the group receives the message and each can respond and, you guessed it, each response is sent to every other group member – an SMS mobile “chat room.”

Unbeknownst to Mr. Lusskin, he was added to one of these Disco groups and his mobile phone notified him of a text message from an unfamiliar number – the “welcome” message from Disco. Unfortunately, the “chat room” quickly turned into an angry and confused barrage of messages from the other unsuspecting group members responding to Disco’s first, unsolicited message. Messages poured in so rapidly and voluminously that Mr. Lusskin claims he was unable to use his mobile phone until the alleged 105+ SMS messages had all been received. Mr. Lusskin has filed as a class action, seeking relief for all persons who received the unsolicited initial welcoming text message from the Disco service. Mr. Lusskin also wants to include, as plaintiffs in the action, anyone who opted-out of the Disco service within 24 hours of receiving an unsolicited welcoming text message, or who was a member of a Disco group that was closed within 24 hours of its creation.

With a potential penalty of $500 in damages for each TCPA violation – each unsolicited message (and triple that number if a plaintiff can show the violation was willful or knowing) – no wonder consumers are seeking to use the TCPA to get some attention, or rather seeking to avoid getting unsolicited attention.

Are you in the mobile marketing arena? Need to understand the rules and regulations surrounding the medium? If you are an advertiser, marketer or sponsor involved in promotions, the message (content), we can help you keep abreast of Lusskin and its brethren as they seek to carve out a place under TCPA regulation. If you need help, contact Judith L. Harris, or me, Joe Rosenbaum, or any of the Rimon attorneys with whom you regularly work.

Food & Beverage Advertising to Children: Self-Regulation or Indigestion?

Earlier today, an Interagency Working Group released a report on the Federal Trade Commission’s website making sweeping recommendations relating to the marketing of food to children. The report, entitled "Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children Preliminary Proposed Nutrition Principles to Guide Industry Self-Regulatory Efforts Request for Comments," is the result of the U.S. Congress’ request that standards for the marketing of food products to children under the age of 18 be subject to review and recommendation by an interagency task force comprised of the FTC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the United States Department of Agriculture.

The recommendations in the Principals bifurcate foods into two categories, for determinations as to the appropriate marketing approaches and restrictions: (a) foods that are deemed to make a "meaningful contribution to a healthful diet"; and (b) foods that, given their nutritional content, should have their advertising limited.

While the proposed recommendations are referred to as "voluntary," this not only flies in the face of the inevitable pressure on advertising practices in the food and beverage industry, but—if previous government agency regulatory recommendations, guidelines or proposals are a precedent—these can also quickly become de facto standards that the regulators themselves use in enforcing "industry standards." As with so many areas currently under scrutiny by the regulators both in the United States and around the world, deference to self-regulation is a welcome trend; but if it is mere lip service, and if industries are not given a meaningful opportunity to design both self-regulatory standards, and appropriate and meaningful enforcement mechanisms, it simply ends up creating further adversarial tensions and needless contention between industry and regulators – none of which is ultimately good for consumers in terms of cost or benefit.

The Interagency Working Group has provided a very short window for public comment: comments are due by June 13, 2011, although with enough outcry, given the scope and breadth of the Principles, they might be persuaded to extend the deadline. That said, if your company is in the food and beverage industry and will be affected by any government or self-regulatory pronouncements in this arena, now is the time to engage in the dialogue – in your own right and through the various industry associations that may be submitting comments. Of course, if you need help and guidance, the Advertising Technology & Media law practice at Rimon has lawyers ready to counsel, assist and represent you.

Hats Off to CAP: New Advertising Codes in the UK Launched

This post was written by Christopher Hackford.

After an extensive year-long review, on March 16, 2010, the Committee of Advertising Practice in the United Kingdom announced the launch of new Advertising Codes for both broadcast and non-broadcast media, covering television standards, television scheduling, radio and text services.

Much remains nearly the same, but there are some notable new rules, including rules intended to offer greater protection for children, rules to prevent exaggerated environmental claims, and a new section dedicated to lotteries and promotions.

That said, here are two examples of some rules that have actually been relaxed. One: charities are now allowed to make comparisons with each other (competitive advertising fighting for your British Pound Sterling). Two: advertisers in the UK are now permitted to advertise condoms on television before 10:00 pm on television. Some of this may reflect the increasing contention among advertisers for share of wallet from consumers.

The new Codes did not deal with some contentious areas of British advertising, but to find out more, you will either have to plod through the Advertising Code yourself, or you could read the Rimon Advertising Technology & Media Alert, New Advertising Codes Launched, written by our ATM colleagues in the UK.

So, if you need help understanding the new Advertising Codes, or you want to hear from the authors of the alert and experts in this area, feel free to contact Marina Palomba, Christopher Hackford or Huw Morris directly. Of course, you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or the Rimon attorney with whom you regularly work.

Coping With COPPA

The Children’s Advertising Review Unit recently held that screening for age to avoid collecting personal information from children under 13 was not enough. In Bandai America (the website is Bandai’s Wireless.com site), CARU found that although Bandai’s website had a screening mechanism that asked for a date of birth, there was no tracking once a child put in a birth date. Thus, anyone under 13 could come back and enter a different (inaccurate) date of birth to get by the screen. CARU’s COPPA compliance guidelines require that not only must interactive sites have an age screening mechanism, but there also must be some reasonably effective means of tracking so children can’t get around the screening process. Forewarned is forearmed.

Novel Judicial View: Parents, Not Advertisers, Must Mind Their Children

Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit dismissed a lawsuit filed by parents against manufacturers and importers of alcoholic beverages and the Beer Institute, that alleged advertising is responsible for the illegal purchase of alcoholic beverages by minor children. Although the suit had numerous technical flaws, the parents were suing to recover money their minor children spent on alcoholic beverages, and to enjoin advertising. While the first claim was economic, the second alleged injury to their “parental rights.” Although the court dismissed the suit for lack of jurisdiction, they cite prior decisions that clearly state there appears to be no legal authority to support the notion that expression of ideas by advertisers interferes with a parent’s right to make decisions regarding their children’s well-being or upbringing. To restrict advertising would be an inappropriate restriction on the advertisers’ rights to freedom of speech and expression.

The plaintiffs acknowledged that laws designed to protect against underage consumption of alcohol—laws which prohibit both the sale to and purchase of by a minor—lose their connection to the advertisers, since intervening criminal acts of third-party sellers and third-party underage purchasers are the direct cause of the illegal activity, not advertising. The court stated what many of us consider to be all too obvious: one must trace the injury or violation to actions of the defendant, not something that results from actions and activities of parties who aren’t even in court (i.e., merchants who sold the alcohol and minors who purchased it).

Perhaps the parents should bring an action against the merchants who sold the alcoholic beverages or even against their own children to recover money the children spent (“converted”) in their violation of laws prohibiting underage purchase of alcohol. The bottom line for this court is that if the First Amendment right to commercial speech (advertising) is to be outlawed, it is for the lawmakers or a constitutional amendment to do so, not the courts.

Interactive Gaming–To Boldly Go…

In a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, Michael Bay, renowned film director with cinematic blockbusters such as “The Rock,” “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor” to his credit, is quoted as saying, “I make world-class images. Why not put those images into a game?” Indeed! The new investor and co-chairman of Digital Domain, the effects studio evolving into a production studio, is making a bet on convergence—the application of digital technology to reduce costs and expand the horizons of entertainment and new media.

Remember watching those old cowboy movies and pretending you were the new sheriff in town? Did you secretly imagine you wielded an elegant light saber and might save the Galaxy with Luke Skywalker? How many times did you imagine yourself as Legolas, drawing an imaginary bow in the air to shoot an arrow and save Middle Earth?

But even in Middle Earth—where presumably there were no computers—there are digital effects. You trivia buffs will enjoy knowing that Orlando Bloom’s eyes are really brown. But as Legolas in Lord of the Rings, his eyes are blue, thanks to CGI technology. For example, watch Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and right outside the Black Gates, in a close-up, you can see his eyes are CGI blue. However, in a scene right after that, Gandalf is in the foreground and Legolas is in the near background—and Legolas’ eyes are clearly brown.

We love to be entertained, but we also love to play—play is the basis of leisure time, enjoyment, learning, and game and number theory. Play makes us active participants with interactive relationships and activities that are make-believe—in much the same way that motion pictures can move us with stunning visual sequences and transport us to places we might never see or even imagine in real life.

The computer game market represents a new—or rather a different—frontier. New motion pictures have spawned merchandising for decades—dolls, action figures, and stuffed animals, from Tarzan and Mickey Mouse to Spider-Man and G.I. Joe. In fact, product placements in motion pictures, which have gone mostly unregulated in the United States, have been used for years by advertisers to promote both reality in the movies and brand awareness to consumers. See the logo on an airplane taking off—someone paid for that. Picking up a soft drink can at the stadium with a familiar brand—someone paid for that. Watch Jack Bauer drive away or make a phone call—recognize that car or that mobile phone—someone paid for that. Do you really think Microsoft paid an estimated $6 billion for Internet advertising company aQuantive, because it does not understand the importance of convergence? Wonder why Apple Computer changed its name to “Apple”? Go to China or India or Brazil—which has more brand and name recognition, a MAC or the iPod? Which creates more buzz, the iPhone or a new operating system code named “Leopard”?

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