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Archive for January, 2009

The Law of Unintended Consequences Strikes over PI Licensing Law in Texas

Posted by rjbiii on January 9, 2009

In the wake of passing amendments to Texas PI licensing laws (see our posts here), cities hoping to issue traffic tickets using automated cameras have run into an unexpected barrier: a court’s interpretation of those licensing laws:

Do the collection and evaluation of electronic records for use in court require a professional license? In litigation a mistake on this question can surprisingly cause a party to lose a lawsuit.

A Texas judge ruled the company operating a red-light enforcement camera (Affiliated Computer Services (ACS)) was acting illegally because it did not have a private investigator license. As the operator of the system, the company was Jim3 involved in collecting and evaluating electronic records for the purpose of presenting findings in court. This case has spawned an uproar statewide, where motorists (such as Jim Ash, citizen of College Station, Texas) are challenging traffic tickets, demanding repayment of fines they’ve paid and complaining about police and politicians who support automated (robo-cop) traffic enforcement.

In response, the company that runs the camera and associated technology has appealed to the State’s Private Security Bureau to help. Sayeth our informed blogger:

The Texas Private Security Bureau issued an opinion saying it “generally” believes the operators of red-light cameras need not be licensed as private investigators. The opinion may help us interpret law on the licensing of computer forensics experts.

The Bureau’s rationale is that the camera operators are performing mere “ministerial” actions at the direction of municipal government employees. (By qualifying its opinion with the word “generally,”the Bureau implies there could be exceptions.) In other words, the Bureau seems to believe the operators are not conducting the investigations that trigger a licensing requirement; rather, the municipalities are performing the investigations.

Posted in Articles, State Licensing Laws, Technology, Texas | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Computing is becoming a foundation for many professions

Posted by rjbiii on January 6, 2009

Post Process has blogged in the past (many times) about the importance of understanding computing, logic structures, storage, and associated topics for e-discovery professionals. Law is becoming digitized, even if it is against the will of a significant portion of those in practice. The challenges of e-discovery, however, are merely the symptom of something bigger. Society is being transformed on multiple fronts. The area of my concern is, of course, information technology. The spread of computers and the advent of (nearly) global connectivity are creating a revolution that not only offers intriguing promise, but also very difficult challenges. Transformational technologies are also disruptive, by their nature. To get a glimpse into the changes, take a look at an article posted by John Mecklin of Miller-McCune, discussing computing’s encroachment into the world of investigative journalism, and the new field of computational journalism.

Now, though, the digital revolution that has been undermining in-depth reportage may be ready to give something back, through a new academic and professional discipline known in some quarters as “computational journalism.” James Hamilton is director of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy at Duke University and one of the leaders in the emergent field; just now, he’s in the process of filling an endowed chair with a professor who will develop sophisticated computing tools that enhance the capabilities — and, perhaps more important in this economic climate, the efficiency — of journalists and other citizens who are trying to hold public officials and institutions accountable.
Bill Allison, a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation and a veteran investigative reporter and editor, summarizes the nonprofit’s aim as “one-click” government transparency, to be achieved by funding online technology that does some of what investigative reporters always have done: gather records and cross-check them against one another, in hopes of finding signs or patterns of problems. Allison has had a distinguished career, from his work as an investigative reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer to his investigative duties at the Center for Public Integrity, where he co-authored The Cheating of America with legendary center founder Charles Lewis. Before he came to the Sunlight Foundation, Allison says, the notion that computer algorithms could do a significant part of what investigative reporters have always done seemed “far-fetched.”

But there’s nothing far-fetched about the use of data-mining techniques in the pursuit of patterns. Law firms already use data “chewers” to parse the thousands of pages of information they get in the discovery phase of legal actions, Allison notes, looking for key phrases and terms and sorting the probative wheat from the chaff and, in the process, “learning” to be smarter in their further searches.

The point is that while we often hear complaints on how difficult e-discovery is, the legal profession (among others) is being transformed. Issues that we face in our own workspaces are often due to societal trends over which we do not have control. There are pain points everywhere, but sometimes just stepping back and looking at the big picture can be rewarding.

Posted in Articles, Data Mining, Technology, Trends | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Blogger Advises Company Execs to Learn about Computer Forensics

Posted by rjbiii on January 4, 2009

David Lacey, the security blogger at has a short post advising executives to become familiar with the field of computer forensics. Quoth Mr. Lacey:

Not many company directors will have the patience to read and digest [a recommended text on computer forensics]. But they should. Evidence of transactions underpins all modern business. In fact, amongst other things, an understanding of the validity of digital transactions will increasingly separate the real business men from the young apprentice boys.

Posted in Articles, Computer Forensics, Technology, Trends | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »