You’re Blocked! Should Public Officials Be Allowed to Stifle Speech On Social Media?

By Peter Kourkouvis

I. Introduction

Last May, the Southern District of New York ruled in Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University v. Trump (Knight Institute) that President Trump violated the First Amendment rights of seven individuals when he blocked them from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account because of their critical comments.[1] Merely the highest-profile instance of a burgeoning phenomenon, people across the U.S. have complained about elected officials blocking them from their social media pages.[2] Since the Knight Institute decision, the Fourth Circuit became the first court of appeals to decide that such exclusion violates the First Amendment.[3] Lawmakers have been put on notice.[4]

However, the issue remains unsettled. Central to determining whether public officials’ blocking of the public from their social media pages violates the First Amendment is determining whether a social media page can constitute a public forum. This Article examines this controversial issue by first discussing the Supreme Court’s public forum doctrine in Part II. Then, Part III discusses how courts have applied forum analysis to public officials’ social media pages. In Part IV, I argue that the approach taken by the Southern District of New York and the Fourth Circuit conforms with public forum analysis, makes sense given popular usage of social media, and best serves the policy of promoting robust discussion on social media, while also providing government officials guidance as to how to avoid violating the public’s First Amendment rights.

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Whistleblowers, Internal Reporting, and GDPR Compliance

By Varun Chari

The adage “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” has long captured the predicament of the employee-whistleblower who must decide whether to report company fraud. However, with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) providing incentives to whistleblowers to report internally and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) imposing legal restrictions on the collection of personal data, the adage now better describes the employer’s situation. U.S. transnational companies are pressured with the task of restructuring their internal compliance procedures to incorporate the requirements imposed by the GDPR[1] or risk potential liability for failing to do so. This Article will first explain this development by providing a brief background on the SEC whistleblower incentive scheme and the GDPR. Next, this Article will discuss the procedural requirements companies are subject to when they process a whistleblower or third-party’s personal data. Finally, this Article will propose best practices that companies should implement when processing a whistleblower claim internally.

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“Alexa, can you keep a secret?” An Analysis of 4th Amendment Protection Regarding Smart Home Devices

By Rebecca Levin

I.     Introduction

On November 5, 2018, Judge Steven M. Houran of Strafford County, New Hampshire ordered Amazon to provide authorities with audio recordings from an Amazon Echo device in the investigation of the stabbing of two women in January 2017.[1]  Judge Houran wrote the Echo device may possess recordings that give insight into the murders given the device’s location in the home where the women were found.[2]  Currently, Amazon is objecting to the legality of this order and has yet to hand over the recordings, stating they will not release the information “without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us.”[3]  While this dispute is in the early stages; this clash over privacy rights between the government and Amazon is not the first of its kind.[4]

On February 22, 2016, in Benton County, Arkansas, prosecutors charged James Bates with the murder of Victor Collins.[5]  After the Chief Medical Examiner ruled Collins’s death a murder, law enforcement obtained a search warrant for Bates’s home where they seized an Amazon Echo device under the assumption that through use of this device Amazon possessed audio recordings that could help solve the murder in question.[6]  Prosecutors surmised the Amazon Echo inadvertently recorded audio from the night of November 21, 2015 given the device played music on the night of the alleged murder and could have inadvertently recorded evidence of the murder.[7]  Ultimately, Amazon dropped their objection to releasing the recordings when James Bates voluntarily consented to their release on March 3, 2017.[8]  These cases highlight the question of what level of protection home smart devices receive under one’s right to privacy.  This article will explore how the current laws protect smart home device users under the Fourth Amendment.

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