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A moral voice on cyber issues

Berkeley to house nation's first high-tech law clinic

By Janet Gilmore, Public Affairs
Posted April 26, 2000

A first-of-its-kind law clinic, where the goal is to establish a moral voice and public conscience for Silicon Valley in emerging high technology issues, will soon be housed in the School of Law.

The Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic will provide the first program in the country to bring forward the public's voice. Its unique focus will combine expertise in the fields of high technology law, public policy and consumer rights.

"The Internet is catalyzing the emergence of a global society in which ways of doing business, of using information and of participating in community life are fundamentally altered," said Pamela Samuelson, a Boalt Hall professor and a world-renowned expert on cyberlaw and intellectual property. "The time to address the public's interest in this new society is now, before crucial policy decisions are made by industry and governments, and the public's voice is lost."

Samuelson, with her husband, Robert Glushko, a director at Commerce One (which provides electronic commerce services), donated $2 million to endow the clinic.

"We have a strong sense that, in the area of high-technology law and public policy, the wider public interest remains under-represented, in fact, almost invisible," said Samuelson.

The public's voice is scarcely heard on a number of issues including:

• Internet surveillance: Some firms use surveillance technology to track a user's activities on the Internet. Firms may build profiles based on a user's activities and sell that data to other companies. Such technology may also be secretly embedded in computer software programs.

• Governmental access to confidential files: Governmental encryption rules might require individuals to provide a governmental agency or third party with a key to their private computer files or Internet communications.

• Free speech restrictions: Comments made in Internet chat rooms or other commentary sites on Web pages may spur lawsuits against the operator of the Web site. This could include a school's Web site, where students comment about other students.

• Libel lawsuits and Internet commentary: Consumers and former employees could face legal battles for writing critical Internet messages about companies and their products.

• Restrictions on personal Web site content: Individuals may be prevented from creating celebrity fan pages, using their own names in Web addresses and freely linking to other sites on the Internet.

• Censoring Internet access in public institutions: Some public schools and libraries have decided to use filtering software that prevents Internet users from accessing Internet sites that contain "adult" material.

• Ownership of Internet discussions: Some firms claim that their Web sites own all the comments a user makes in an online service's chat room or on a listserv.

• Flawed products: Some firms attempt to forbid users from disclosing flaws in a software program or from criticizing the company that made it.

"Pam has fought for the public interest in digital media and cyberspace for nearly 20 years, and we are fortunate to be able to create an institution that can enable more people to fight with her," said Glushko.

The clinic will provide a moral voice for not only Silicon Valley, but all of cyberspace, he said. It is scheduled to open during the 2000-01 school year, following a national search for a director.

Law students in the new clinic will file friend-of-the-court briefs, write model legislation, comment on proposed legislation and provide legal assistance to individuals filing lawsuits against corporations or governmental entities. Areas of focus will include anti-trust, copyright, privacy and encryption policy.

The clinic is part of the Center for Clinical Education, which also houses the Federal Practice Law Clinic and the International Human Rights Law Clinic.

Under the guidance of the clinic director, students at the new Samuelson clinic could be involved in any matters in which new technology affects consumers and the general public, said Charles Weisselberg, director of the Center for Clinical Education.

Mitchell Kapor, the founder of Lotus Development Corp., was so impressed with the clinic's mission that he pledged $300,000 to support its inception.

"It is vital that commercial interests in the high tech industry be balanced along with the interest of the general public," said Kapor. "This new law clinic will serve an incredibly important role of providing a strong public voice on complex public policy issues."

"Silicon Valley is full of people who care about the kind of information society we are creating," said Glushko, "but there aren't many institutions or organizations that can take advantage of their energy -- or their new money from their Internet stock options. We are creating the Samuelson Clinic to provide a channel for their energy and to set an example for their money."



April 26 - May 3, 2000 (Volume 28, Number 30)
Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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