Criminal Communications

“We’re making the ability to intercept communications with a court order increasingly obsolete.”

Andrew Weissman, general counsel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

The 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act requires telephone and Internet providers to install surveillance capabilities on their networks and equipment at the FBI’s request. But the law doesn’t apply to companies that provide email, cloud or online chat services, meaning that the FBI is limited in its ability to monitor communications on services such as Gmail, Google Voice, Skype or DropBox.

At a luncheon for the American Bar Association, Weissman argued that the agency’s inability to monitor such sites in real-time is preventing it from effectively fighting terrorism.


Chocolate Chips

“Strong intellectual property and patent rights in the United States are critical to fulfilling our mission.”

–Richard Marsh, general counsel of Myriad Genetics Inc.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, which centers on whether human genes are patentable or unpatentable “natural law.” The two genes at issue, which Myriad isolated, are linked to increased hereditary risk of ovarian and breast cancer. Justice Antonin Scalia seemed to side with Myriad and expressed concern that, without the incentive that patents provide, companies will cease to research such genes.

But Justice Sonia Sotomayor, continuing the court’s grand tradition of food metaphors, compared isolated genes to the ingredients in a batch of chocolate chip cookies. “I can’t imagine getting a patent simply on the basic items of salt, flour and eggs, simply because I’ve created a new use or a new product from those ingredients,” Sotomayor said.


Sports Scandal

“While I regret the circumstances surrounding my departure from Rutgers, I always will have very fond memories of the challenges and achievements that I have been a part of and the many colleagues and friends.”

John Wolf, former interim general counsel of Rutgers University

Sports coaches aren’t necessarily known for being warm and fuzzy, but Rutgers University basketball coach Mike Rice appeared to go beyond tough love in his practice sessions. The university fired Rice earlier this month, after ESPN aired a video that showed the coach flinging basketball at his players and berating them with obscenities and anti-gay slurs.

It subsequently emerged that the university allegedly knew of Rice’s behavior as early as the summer of 2012, but that it chose to suspend the coach for three games rather than firing him. In the fallout from the scandal, several school officials who supposedly advised against firing Rice–including Wolf and athletic director Tim Pernetti—were also axed.


Video Victory

“Today is an important day for the Internet.”

Kent Walker, general counsel of Google Inc.

Google celebrated another victory over long-time courtroom foe Viacom Inc. this week, when a federal judge once again rejected the argument that Google is responsible for the infringing videos hosted on its YouTube video service. U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton, who ruled in Google’s favor in 2010—only to have a federal appeals court revive the case—granted summary judgment to the Internet giant on Thursday.

Viacom had argued that YouTube earned revenue by placing ads next to copyrighted material from popular shows such as “South Park” and “The Colbert Report.” But Stanton noted in his ruling that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act shields websites from liability provided that, upon receiving notice of infringing content, they remove the copyrighted material.


Amendment Axed

“We think that the focus should be on fixing [the National Instant Criminal Background Check System] and getting the records into the system that aren’t in there now.”

 –Lawrence Keane, general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation

On what President Barack Obama called “a shameful day for Washington,” the Senate this week voted down a proposal that would have expanded background checks on gun sales. The so-called Manchin-Toomey plan, which fell six votes short of the 60 votes needed for passage, would have instituted background checks for Internet sales and purchases at gun shows.

Most senators voted along party lines—with all but four Democrats voting for the proposal and all but four Republicans voting against it. The vote prompted the president to sharply criticize the gun lobby, which he said “willfully lied about the bill.” But before the vote, Keane told PBS that expanded background checks would place an undue burden on gun sellers, and that the government should instead focus on updating federal databases with information about would-be buyers who are prohibited from purchasing guns because of mental health problems or criminal records.