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UC Berkeley to announce nation's first high-tech law clinic to provide public conscience for Silicon Valley, voice for consumers
24 Apr 2000

By Janet Gilmore, Media Relations

BERKELEY - The creation of a first-of-its-kind law clinic that aims to establish a moral voice and public conscience for Silicon Valley in emerging high technology issues will be announced this morning (Monday, April 24) by the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (Boalt Hall).

The Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic will provide the first program in the country to bring the public's voice forward. 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, PhD, 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, Glushko said. It is scheduled to open during the 2000-01 school year, following a national search for a clinic 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 Boalt Hall's 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 founding it.

"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."

The New York-based Markle Foundation, headed by Boalt Hall alumna Zoe Baird, also is donating $300,000. The foundation, established in 1927 with a major interest in social welfare issues, now focuses its attention on communications media and information technologies.

Samuelson and Gluskho provided their $2 million endowment following the initial public offering of Commerce One stock, which went public in July 1999 and was the year's top performing IPO. Glushko was a cofounder of a Silicon Valley startup firm that was acquired by Commerce One.

"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."

Herma Hill Kay, dean of Boalt Hall, said UC Berkeley is the ideal setting for the Samuelson clinic. She cited the university's strong, long-standing commitment to the public trust; the proximity of the campus to the Silicon Valley; and the technology-related work already underway at the law school.

Boalt Hall is among the top law schools in the country. The clinic will enhance the reputation of Boalt Hall's Center for Law & Technology, which this year was ranked the foremost intellectual property program in the United States. Samuelson is co-director of that center.

"The Samuelson Clinic is the first to combine intellectual property and public policy," said Kay, "and it is sure to provide a model for others to follow."

In addition to the $2 million donated to the Samuelson center, the couple donated $1 million to fund graduate student fellowships at UC Berkeley's School of Information Management & Systems (SIMS). Samuelson has a joint appointment at the law school and at SIMS. SIMS was created in 1995 to train a new generation of information professionals skilled in organizing, manipulating and communicating information.

The new Samuelson clinic is expected to have ties to SIMS and Boalt Hall's Center for Law & Technology, drawing on the talents of students and faculty in those programs.

Weisselberg hopes the Samuelson clinic will create new lawyers who will carry sensitivity to the public interest into law careers in corporate legal affairs, government, private firms or public policy.

"This clinic will combine sophisticated technical knowledge with a real understanding of the substantive law as it relates to critical high-tech issues," Weisselberg said. "In our Internet-driven society, that is a powerful combination."


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