Attorney Shannon Brown Presents at ShmooCon 2014

Attorney Shannon Brown presented Technology Law Issues for Security Professionals at ShmooCon 2014. The presentation provided

  • an overview of “what is the law?” from a legal perspective and
  • the basics of legal interpretation.

Emphasis was placed on understanding what the “the law” really means in a legal sense. “The law” includes not only the textual references (a trap for many non-lawyers) but how unwritten law, judicial interpretation, case law, regulations, treaties, common law, and constitutional protections all inform on “the law” in a specific case.

The overview was then applied to a number of federal statutes potentially affecting independent security researchers and hackers:

  • the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (illustrating the “unauthorized access” conundrum),
  • Stored Communications Act (illustrating cross-statute implications of judicial interpretation),
  • Electronic Communications Privacy Act (illustrating novel applications of law such as to video streaming and webcams), and
  • Digital Millennium Copyright Act (illustrating statutory caveats to plain text exceptions).

The discussion also raised emerging liability arising from civil actions, as opposed to traditional criminal applications, of these laws. In other words, one may incur not only criminal penalties but potentially civil liability for actions prohibited by these statutes.

The presentation also emphasized the often overlooked state laws with application to computer security research and hacking. Many incorrectly believe that federal laws are the only issue or that only federal law applies. But, a menagerie of state laws, including state “computer crimes” codes, can have a profound and formidable effect on actions and behavior related to security research. Often defined using a popular-culture view of hacking and outdated, these state laws, which obviously vary from state to state, potentially add distinct, different, or additional penalties.

Overall, the presentation attempted to raise awareness of what “the law” means through general illustrations of specific laws.