The coronavirus is here. Perhaps the pandemic has you wondering whether you should avoid going to class this week in the interest of “social distancing.” Or perhaps it has you wondering about federal quarantine power. If you’re in the latter camp, this piece is an interesting read. Did you know that in 1963, a woman held under a two-week quarantine order on Staten Island filed a habeas petition in the Eastern District of New York? (Her petition was denied.) Federal powers in public health emergencies are undeniably important for controlling and containing the spread of disease, but may also verge on infringement of individual liberties. The effectiveness of travel bans and quarantines in particular is hotly debated. (See the ACLU’s recent comment on the U.S. response to the coronavirus.)
Last October, Nike sparked controversy in sports law when it released the Vaporfly 4%—a new model of running shoe shown to improve running speed and efficiency by a whopping 4%. A number of world records have since been broken by runners wearing the Vaporfly, including the first sub-two hour marathon by Eliud Kipchoge in October. The technology has elicited both public applause and controversy over whether it should be banned as a “technological doping” device. We now have an answer. In late January, World Athletics, the international governing body for elite track and field, opted not to ban the shoe altogether. Instead, it issued regulations limiting the thickness and springlike design of the sole. The Vaporfly 4% has escaped an outright ban, but this is in all likelihood not the last public debate involving the use of performance-enhancing technology in sports.
Earlier this February the District Court for the Northern District of California issued its latest ruling in the ongoing criminal prosecution of Elizabeth Holmes and Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani for Theranos-related fraud. The indictment, filed by federal prosecutors in June of 2018, has 11 counts, including two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud. The alleged victims of the conspiracy originally included investors, doctors, and patients. The court has dismissed the claims of fraud as against doctors and non-paying patients, reasoning that there was no evidence that doctors and nonpaying patients lost money or property as a result of the fraud, which is necessary to state a claim under the wire fraud statute. However, the court also held that the indictment sufficiently alleged that the fraudulent misrepresentations were material. See United States v. Holmes, No. 5:18-cr-00258-EJD, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24551, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 11, 2020).
Bluetooth may be more vulnerable to hackers than previously thought. Bluetooth is present in a surprising array of technologies, such as pacemakers, fitness trackers, blood glucose monitors, and other medical devices. The vulnerabilities were discovered by researchers at Singapore University of Technology and Design, who found 12 serious flaws when investigating Bluetooth Low Energy, a version of the technology designed for devices that operate with limited battery. The flaws make it possible for a hacker to orchestrate an attack on a bluetooth device via radio frequencies, and thereby completely disable the device or interfere with its communication functions. Manufacturers of the vulnerable devices are issuing patches, but this discovery is a good reminder that the technologies we rely on may be more vulnerable than we think, in unexpected ways.
Speaking of hacking, Tesla was recently in the headlines for falling for a simple trick: a piece of tape. Researchers at McAfee placed a small strip of black tape onto a single speed limit sign that read “35 mph.” The tape was placed in such a way to bring the number “3” subtly closer, though not all the way, to the number “8.” This one small change was enough to fool the Tesla, both Models X and S, which immediately accelerated to a dangerous speed of 85 mph. On a theoretical level, this nicely demonstrates the problem of “adversarial examples,” or changes in images that cause machine learning algorithms to misinterpret data. Many Teslas now roaming the roads are susceptible to this and other mistakes, and some cannot be upgraded to newer, less error-prone hardware.
New York may be close to taking legislative action on the use of facial surveillance and other technologies by the NYPD. A bill was recently introduced in the New York legislature that would forbid the use of facial surveillance and other biometric technology in law enforcement. New York City Council is considering the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act, which would require the NYPD to disclose its use of surveillance tools and implement procedures to protect individuals’ privacy. These bills signal a city- and state-wide movement toward more regulation of facial recognition technologies, and growing recognition of the threat to privacy that these technologies pose, if left unregulated.