Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

Final Determination of Net Neutrality Fate Likely to be Slower Than Dial-up

Posted by Eric Robinson on Tue, Dec 19, 2017

On December 14, the FCC voted to rescind its “net neutrality” rules barring Internet service providers from either favoring or disfavoring certain online content over other content by providing faster, prioritized access to the favored content. As expected, the changes came in a three-to-two vote of the commission members.

This issue has had a convoluted history, dating back to when dial-up was the primary means to access materials online. In 2002, the commission decided that then-emerging broadband access should be classified under the law as an “enhanced information service,” which is subject to little regulation, rather than as a “basic telecommunications service,” which is more highly regulated, like a public utility.

For example, the regulation of old-fashioned telephone service as a basic service means that telephone companies cannot keep their customers from calling customers of other phone companies, or from receiving such calls.

The commission then tried to enact “net neutrality” rules in 2008 and in 2010, both of which were struck down by the courts because of the prior classification of broadband access as an enhanced service. So in 2015, the FCC reclassified Internet access as a “basic service” and imposed new net neutrality regulations on the basis of that classification. With the reclassification in place, the commission’s net neutrality rules were upheld by the courts last year.

Now the commission has voted to again classify Internet access as an enhanced service and rescind the net neutrality regulations. FCC Chair Ajit Pai has said that if Internet service providers unfairly favor some online content over others, the issue should be handled by the Federal Trade Commission as an anti-competitive business practice.

It is important to note that many of the concerns of net neutrality advocates are so far primarily theoretical. But without net neutrality regulations, Internet service providers could favor content from their corporate siblings or subsidiaries, or from content providers that have paid for such priority.

Without net neutrality rules in place, the accessibility of an individual business’s website or cellphone app could depend on the specific circumstances in their markets. Large companies may, for example, be able to afford prioritization from ISPs and dominant businesses may have enough customer support to avoid being deprioritized, so that customers would object if an ISP blocked or limited access. But smaller and independent businesses may not have the clout, in terms of either funds or user demand, to avoid having access to their online material slowed.

The FCC’s vote eliminating the net neutrality rules is not likely to be the last word on the issue. Several state attorney generals have already announced a court challenge and other groups are likely to file separate lawsuits. The changes will probably be put on hold until the court challenges are resolved. Some members of Congress have endorsed legislation on the issue.

In the Internet era, we’ve become used to instant answers and results, but it appears that the question of net neutrality, like many legal issues, will be resolved the old-fashioned way: slowly.

This column is for educational purposes only; it does not constitute legal advice.

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Tags: Business & Legal, Internet

U.S. Senate Will Require Anti-Harassment Training

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Dec 12, 2017

Highly-publicized revelations about extensive workplace harassment have cost many alleged harassers their high-powered positions (including US Senator Al Franken), and are producing a variety of proposals to toughen standards. One of the first new provisions was enacted by the U.S. Senate on November 9. The Senate Anti-Harassment Training Resolution of 2017 (S.Res. 330) will require anti-harassment training in Senate offices. The Resolution applies to internal governance of the Senate, so does not apply to any other body, such as the House of Representatives (where House Resolution 630, requiring annual training by each member, officer and employee in employee rights, including anti-harassment and anti-discrimination, was passed on November 29 but is being reconsidered).

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Tags: Business & Legal, Employer Best Practices, Employee Rights, Workplace violence

EPA Moving to Prevent “Regulation By Litigation”

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Dec 05, 2017

As the Attorney General of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt made his national reputation suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reverse or delay the agency’s attempts to expand environmental controls and the scope of its authority. Now that he’s EPA Administrator, Pruitt is moving to ensure that his agency doesn’t make use of the second major type of agency-defendant litigation, in which an agency is sued and then settles on terms favorable to the plaintiff’s goals. In a Directive and Memorandum issued October 16, Pruitt argues that this “sue and settle” litigation represents collusion between agencies and advocates, bypassing normal legislative and administrative processes and allowing agencies to redirect their efforts through “regulation by litigation.” And because litigation settlements typically involve only the active parties and the judge, these approaches tend to freeze out others – states, groups, and individuals – who lose the opportunities to participate that they’d be provided by normal legislative and regulatory proceedings.

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Tags: Business & Legal, Environmental risks, Environmental, EPA

For First Time, FTC Goes After Bloggers For Paid Endorsements

Posted by Eric Robinson on Thu, Nov 16, 2017

The Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines for testimonials and endorsements require disclosure of any payment or benefit that endorsers receive for their endorsements.

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Tags: Business & Legal, Internet, directors, directors & officers

Federal Agencies Making First Annual Civil Penalty Inflation Adjustments

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Sep 12, 2017

Nearly all regulatory laws provide for civil – and sometimes even criminal – penalties for noncompliance. Penalty amounts (“XXX dollars per day of violation” for example) are typically adopted as part of the original legislation. But over time, the relative sting of these penalties declines with inflation. To counteract the possibility that less painful penalties will be less effective incentives for compliance, U.S. federal law has directed most agencies to make periodic “cost of living” adjustments to maximum available civil penalty levels (there are no provisions for standing periodic adjustments to criminal penalties).

How Did These Requirements Work During 1990-2016?

The first version of this approach was enacted by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990, which directed the President to report annually on any adjustments made under existing statutory authority, and to calculate what such adjustments would have been if more agencies had the authority to make them.

Congress amended the Act in 1996 to require most agencies to make inflation adjustments every four years, but precluding adjustments to penalties under the following:

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Tags: Business & Legal, OSHA, Environmental, EPA, directors, directors & officers

$600,000 Awarded in Blog Libel Case

Posted by Eric Robinson on Thu, Sep 07, 2017

If bloggers and other social media posters need a reminder that they can be held accountable for their online musings, a $600,000 jury verdict against an online poster in Georgia is such an example.

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Tags: Business & Legal, Internet, directors, directors & officers

CASL Private Right of Action Delayed: Enforcement by CRTC Continues

Posted by STP Editorial Team on Tue, Aug 01, 2017

By Ryan J. Black, Janine MacNeil, Sharon E. Groom, Lyndsay A. Wasser, Rohan Hill

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Tags: Business & Legal, International, Internet, Canadian, casl

Latest Department of Justice Guidance for Evaluating Corporate Compliance Programs in Criminal Investigations

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, May 23, 2017

Earlier this year, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) Fraud Section issued additional enforcement guidelines to US Attorneys, entitled “Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs.” DOJ’s US Attorneys perform these evaluations to weigh whether and how severely an organization might be charged for illegal conduct by directors, officers, or other employees. But individuals may be committing crimes to further the organization’s goals (remember Volkswagen’s recent use of fraudulent means to defeat emission requirements), or for their own purposes despite organizational efforts. For readers in organizations that aren’t encouraging criminal behavior, these guidelines provide important guidance to the design (and implementation) of effective compliance programs.

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Tags: Corporate Governance, Business & Legal, Accounting & Tax, Audit Standards, Environmental risks, Environmental, corporate social responsibility, directors, directors & officers

BC Securities Commission Addresses Allegations of Fraud Against Real Estate Developer

Posted by Ron Davis on Thu, May 04, 2017

In Re Hornby Residences Ltd. (2017 BCSECCOM 17), the British Columbia Securities Commission had to determine whether a real estate development corporation and its principal had violated the BC Securities Act s. 57(b) prohibition against fraud in connection with the issuance of a security when the funds invested were used to pay the principal and other corporations controlled by the same principal, Brendan James Schouw. Schouw was a real estate developer and the sole director of Hornby, and of Grace Residences Ltd. and Homer Residences Ltd. Schouw was also connected with Drake Residences Ltd., although the Commission was not provided with information about its directors and officers.

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Tags: Corporate Governance, Business & Legal, SEC, Canadian, directors & officers

Supreme Court Nominee’s Record Provides Insight into Views on Internet and Social Media Law

Posted by Michael Lambert on Thu, Mar 23, 2017

Legislatures and lower courts have traditionally been responsible for developing Internet law in the United States, but recently the U.S. Supreme Court has been asserting a more active role in shaping Internet law jurisprudence. In 2015, the Court considered whether a Facebook post constituted a “true threat” in Elonis v United States, and this summer, the Court will determine the constitutionality of a prohibition on former sex offenders using social media in Packingham v. North Carolina. Packingham, like other cases heard by the high court so far this term, will be resolved by eight justices.

This week, the potential ninth justice—Judge Neil Gorsuch—begins confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. As the Court takes a deeper look at cases concerning Internet and social media law, the seat vacated after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia could be instrumental in determining the future of Internet and social media law.

Gorsuch has the expected pedigree of a Supreme Court nominee: he is an appellate judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, a former deputy associate attorney general with the U.S. Department of Justice, a former clerk for Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy, and a graduate of Harvard Law School. His views of Internet and social media law, however, are less certain, although his record on the Tenth Circuit bench provides a glimpse into where he may stand on Internet law issues.

In U.S. v. Ackerman, Gorsuch lived up to his reputation as a constitutional originalist, turning to the framers in determining that the Fourth Amendment protects emails from searches. Gorsuch wrote that the “warrantless opening and examination of private correspondence…seems pretty clearly to qualify as exactly the type of trespass to chattels that the framers sought to prevent when they adopted the Fourth Amendment.” Gorsuch added that “a more obvious analogy from principle to new technology is hard to imagine.”

In a second privacy case, U.S. v. Christie, Gorsuch concluded that although a warrant to search a computer for evidence relating to a crime was broad, it satisfied the Fourth Amendment’s particularity requirement.

In Mink v. Knox, a district attorney pursued criminal libel charges against a publisher of an online journal. Gorsuch wrote a concurring opinion, agreeing with the majority that the speech was protected as parody but cautioning the majority on the extent to which parodies may be safeguarded. Gorsuch opined that “the Supreme Court has yet to address how far the First Amendment goes in protecting parody. And reasonable minds can and do differ about the soundness of a rule that precludes private persons from recovering for reputational or emotional damage caused by parody about issues of private concern.”

Gorsuch also wrote a concurring opinion in Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl, upholding a Colorado law requiring online retailers without brick-and-mortar locations in the state to notify consumers of sales tax liability and report the information to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

In the copyright context, Gorsuch authored an opinion in Meshwerks, Inc. v. Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc., determining that Meshwerks’ digital models of Toyota’s vehicles copying Toyota’s designs were not entitled to copyright protection. “While fully appreciating that digital media present new frontiers for copyrightable creative expression, in this particular case the uncontested facts reveal that Meshwerks’ models owe their designs and origins to Toyota and deliberately do not include anything original of their own; accordingly, we hold that Meshwerks’ models are not protected by copyright and affirm,” Gorsuch wrote.

In Doe v. Shurtleff, a case analogous to Packingham, Gorsuch joined a panel opinion in upholding the constitutionality of a Utah statute requiring convicted sex offenders to register all online usernames.

With the U.S. Supreme Court taking a more engaged role in Internet and social media law, the vote of a 49-year-old Justice Neil Gorsuch, if confirmed, could prove critical in shaping Internet law for years to come.

Specialty Technical Publishers (STP) recently published an entirely new chapter, available as a separate guide, on U.S. Social Media Law in its publication Internet Law: The Complete Guide, and provides a variety of single-law and multi-law services, intended to facilitate clients’ understanding of and compliance with requirements. These include:

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Tags: Business & Legal, Internet