The Marketplace of Ideas

I read Lizzie Marvelly’s “Words can hurt like sticks and stones” in the Herald for Saturday 8 April with interest. The theme of her argument is that with rights – such as the freedom of speech – come responsibilities. There is no difficulty with that. However, some of the arguments advanced must give cause for pause. What seems to be the substance of the argument is that there is freedom of speech – up to a point.

A recent statement of concern by Professor Paul Moon and a number of other prominent New Zealanders seems to have prompted the article. It is perhaps a little bit disappointing that Ms Marvelly devalues her argument adopting a note of disdain when she refers to this group describing them as a “fusty group of signatories of Moon’s missive – many of whom are long past their student days and unlikely to have faced either online abuse or the dangerous rhetoric of groups like the neo-masculinists or the alt-right.”

Further she seems to be critical the provisions of s. 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, suggesting that the freedom of expression – to seek, receive AND impart information – could not have contemplated the democratisation of expression enabled by online platforms.

Of course the history of freedom of expression goes much further back than  1990. And it has been involved with technology. The invention and use of the printing press was as revolutionary for the imparting of ideas as social media is today. In enabled the spread of the radical (and very controversial and unpopular) ideas of Martin Luther that led to the Reformation. And it attracted official interest from the beginning. The expression of dissent, be it religious or political, was severely suppressed in the days of the Tudors, the early and later Stuarts and the Commonwealth in England. The savage treatment visited upon those who expressed unpopular views is well recorded.

The move to a recognition of the freedom of speech came from the experiences of repressive tyrannies both in England and in the American colonies. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution arose as a response to the repressive conduct of the colonial power and to guarantee robust and open debate. Thomas Jefferson referred to the marketplace of ideas which freedom of speech enabled and within which ideas of doubtful or dubious value would fail.

I agree with Ms Marvelly that there are risks associated with the expression of an opinion. The contrary view may be expressed. That is what happens in the market place of ideas. But the marketplace should not be shut down just because some of the ideas may be controversial.  And that is the problem. In the same way that a person has the right to express a point of view, so a potential audience has a right not to listen. They need not even examine what is on offer in the marketplace. But the important thing is that the idea, however controversial – even repugnant – should be expressed and, in accordance with the Bill of Rights Act there is a right to receive those ideas. It is up to the audience to choose whether or not to accept or endorse them.

The real test of one’s commitment to freedom of expression is in being willing to allow the expression of those views with which we do not agree. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said in United States v Schwimmer 279 US 644 (1929) “if there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought—not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.” The last phrase is the title of an excellent book which Ms Marvelly may profit from reading.

But the New Zealand Herald became the market place of ideas on this particular topic. Not only did it publish Ms Marvelly’s qualified approach to freedom of expression. It also published (Herald on Sunday 9 April 2017) a more expansive view of the freedom of expression by Heather du Plessis-Allan entitled “Being Offensive is not a Crime” concerned with abrogation of free expression (she calls them shout-downs) and the theme of that article is that there is no right NOT to be offended. Indeed Salman Rushdie, whom Ms du Plessis-Allan quotes at the end of her article said “what is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend it ceases to exist.” And then of course there is the article that started it all – “Free Speech Under Threat in NZ Universities” – in the Herald for 4 April 2014.

The abrogation of the freedom of expression, even partially, even if voluntarily assumed, is a burden on liberty. So I guess when I shop in the marketplace of ideas I prefer the more robust approach of Professor Moon and Ms du Plessis-Allan.

But by the same token it is fortunate and we should be grateful that we live in a society where the ideas expressed by Ms Marvelly were and are available for consideration.

“Harm” in the Harmful Digital Communications Act

The recent decision of Justice Matthew Downs about the Harmful Digital Communications Act seems to be misunderstood.  Ben Hill in the NZ Herald went so far as to state that the decision said that  posting intimate images on Facebook met the harm threshold detailed in the act. Far from it.

Some clarification might be helpful. The case involved a prosecution under one of the sections of the Harmful Digital Communications Act. Because of that a couple of basic criminal law propositions applied. First, the burden of proof was on the prosecution. Secondly to obtain a conviction the prosecution had to prove each of the three elements of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt.

A criminal trial can be divided up into two main phases – the prosecution phase and the defence phase. If the prosecution fails to provide any or sufficient evidence of any one of the elements of a charge, the charge may be dismissed.

In the case under appeal that is the point the case reached. Was there evidence of harm – serious emotional distress – suffered by the complainant? The District Court Judge looked at what was available and concluded that although there was evidence of emotional distress, he was not satisfied that it had reached the “serious” point. Because he concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support one of the elements the case was dismissed.

If that evidence had been available – that is evidence where a reasonable fact-finder, properly applying the law, could convict – then the Judge would have called upon the defendant to ascertain if he had evidence to add to the mix. It does not mean that the defendant was presumed guilty or that he had a burden to prove his innocence. But his evidence could help the Judge in the next step in the reasoning process which would be to assess whether or not the evidence satisfied him beyond a reasonable doubt that the complainant had suffered serious emotional distress. That is a different line of enquiry to that of ascertaining whether the evidence was present in the first place.

When the case went before Justice Downs on appeal by the Police there were two lines of argument. One was that the test applied by the District Court Judge was too high. That argument was rejected by Justice Downs. The second argument was that the Judge had not evaluated the available evidence properly when he concluded that there was no evidence of serious emotional distress.

This was the crux of the case. The District Court Judge had taken reactions by the defendant to the posting of her intimate images on a Facebook page – loss of sleep, tears, possible time off work, embarrassment – and concluded that individually these did not amount to serious emotional distress. Justice Downs said that was not the proper approach. The Judge should have looked at the total effect of all of these elements and taken them collectively. In addition he should have had regard to the context – a relationship breakdown, an apparently controlling and jealous husband who had threatened to put the pictures online. Looking at these factors collectively Justice Downs concluded that they did amount to sufficient evidence of serious emotional distress and therefore the prosecution had established a case that the defendant had to answer.

So the case is about how to evaluate whether or not a post has caused harm. In that sense it could be said that it is “lawyers law”. But does this mean that the defendant is automatically guilty. It does not. The case has been sent back to the District Court and the case for the defendant will be presented and argued. And then the Judge will have to consider whether the evidence takes him past the “beyond reasonable doubt” threshold to enter a conviction.

Prosecutions under the Harmful Digital Communications Act in the main have resulted in pleas of guilty. But each case must be looked at in the context of its own facts and circumstances. It may be morally wrong to post intimate images on a Facebook page. But there are a number of other elements that must be proven before that amounts to a criminal offence. One of those elements is that of actual harm – serious emotional distress as defined in the Act. If proof of that is lacking there is no offence. If the target of the communication dismisses the posting as of no consequence, no harm has been done.

And that is what the Act is about. It is not about the nature of the content. It is about whether or not the posting has caused harm as defined by the Act.

Justice Downs’ decision helps us in how the evaluation of harm should be approached.

Ariadne’s Thread – The Labyrinth of the Dotcom Extradition Case

Now, before Daedalus left Crete, he had given Ariadne a magic ball of thread, and instructed her how to enter the Labyrinth. She must open the entrance door and tie the loose thread to the lintel; the ball would then roll along, diminishing as it went and making, with devious turns and twists, for the corners where the Minotaur was lodged.[1]

 

Introduction

This post considers the appeal against the findings by Judge Dawson in the District Court that Mr Dotcom and his co-appellants were eligible for extradition. The article attempts to explain in plain terms some of the legal issues surrounding the case. One of the main issues was whether or not the offences alleged were extraditable. But a word of caution – perhaps an apologia. This article is not a full academic treatment of the decision. It is an overview and an attempt to explain in straightforward terms a part of a somewhat complex decision.

It was necessary for the Court to consider the indictment that had been proferred in the United States and the charges which the accused appellants were to face in that country and determine whether or not they amounted to extraditable offences for the purposes of the Extradition Act 1999.

There were a number of “overlays’ in that not only did the Court have to consider the Act but also the provisions of an Extradition Treaty between New Zealand and the United States which came into force in December 1970. Article II of that Treaty set out sets of offences which were extraditable and which were particularly relevant in this case. Throughout the decision the question of whether or not the conduct was sufficient to engage Article II.

A further overlay was in the provisions of section 101B of the Extradition Act. That section was inserted by the Extradition Amendment Act 2002 in response to the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC). That section has the effect of deeming various offences to be extradition offences under existing treaties with foreign countries that are parties to UNTOC. This applies to the 1970 US/NZ Treaty. The deemed offences include an offence involving participation in an organised criminal group.

What the Court Had to Do

The Court had to determine whether the offences contained in the United States indictment were extradition offences under section 24(2)(c) of the Extradition Act.[2]

First, the Court had to identify the factual allegations that underpinned each count. Then it had to consider whether the totality of those alleged acts of omissions came within the description of an extradition offence for the purposes of the Treaty.

In such an exercise Gilbert J reminded himself that he should not take a narrow view by concentrating on nomenclature or the constituent elements of the offence. He recognised that generically offences may be similar although they may be articulated using different language.

Instead he noted that the Treaty was to be interpreted in accordance with cl 31(1) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. This provides:

(1) … a treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose.

Furthermore, he observed that it does not matter that the offence charged by the requesting State (in this case the United States) may contain additional elements beyond those implicit in an Article II offence so long as the additional elements do not substantively change the nature of the conduct alleged.

The Charges

The important counts in the indictment involved allegations of copyright infringement. Count 2 alleged conspiracy to commit copyright infringement. Counts 4 to 8 alleged specific instances of copyright infringement. These offences of criminal copyright infringement were the foundation for other charges. Without criminal copyright infringement these other charges could not be sustained. Thus in the decision the Judge considered these predicate criminal copyright allegations first.

The other counts were racketeering (count 1), money laundering (count 3), and the wire fraud charges (counts 9 to 13).

In the argument the United States contended that there were pathway offences in New Zealand law which could be followed to ascertain whether the acts or omissions constituting those offences amounted to an extradition offence. It is not necessary for the extradition offence to match the offence stated in the indictment of the requesting State. Rather there must be, as I have stated, generic similarity.

I shall now proceed to consider the counts in the indictment and how the Court determined whether or not there were qualifying extraditable offences or “pathways” to the Count in question[3].

COUNT 2 – Conspiracy to Commit Copyright Infringement[4]

Pathway Offences

The Court considered a number of different offences under New Zealand law which were pathways to the count in the indictment alleging conspiracy to commit copyright infringement. In doing so the Court considered the applicability of certain offences in the Crimes Act that did not directly address copyright infringement but where the behaviour might involve that include that activity.

Conspiracy to Defraud[5]

Conspiracy to defraud was an offence that was stated in Article II.16 of the Extradition Treaty.

The issue in considering this count was whether the crime of conspiracy to defraud could include behaviour that involved copyright infringement. The Court held that it could and cited considerable authority in support of its finding.[6] It was argued that the Copyright Act was a code but in light of the authority cited, the Court rejected that argument, although it should be noted that the authorities cited are quite nuanced on this point[7]. However, the issue becomes a contentious one when sections 228 and 249 of the Crimes Act come into play along with the foundation of Dixon v R[8] which is discussed below.

The Court considered whether the elements of conspiracy to defraud were present in this case[9] and stated that  wilful infringement of copyright can properly be characterised as a dishonest act. Such infringement deprives the copyright holder of something to which it might be entitled. The money obtained through participation in the alleged conspiracy to defraud any person – that is to cause the copyright holders economic loss by depriving them of something to which they might be entitled – by fraudulent means (intentional infringement of copyright) is the allegation in Count 2 which is sustained.

It was argued that the safe harbour provided by section 92B and 902C of the Copyright Act provided relief. Although the Court held that the safe harbour was not engaged in this case the discussion of the distinction between the scope of 92B and 92C and the general observations on the availability of the safe harbour provides a useful guide for the scope of these sections.

That would have been enough to dispose of the matter in that by using the conspiracy to defraud pathway it was found to be an extradition offence within Article II.16.

However, it was necessary to consider other pathways given the fact that the matter would go on appeal.

Dishonestly Taking or Using a Document – s. 228 Crimes Act[10]

In his discussion of Article II.16 and the state of the Crimes Act at the time of the Extradition Treaty, Gilbert J considered the applicability of the former section 257 of that Act. Section 257 has been replaced by section 228 which involves dishonestly taking or using a document with intent to obtain property, a service, pecuniary advantage or any other benefit.

The first consideration was whether a digital file can be a document. That is in fact the case and is clear from the definition in s. 217 Crimes Act and affirmed in Dixon[11]. This is not a contentious proposition.

The Court then restated the proposition that wilful infringement of copyright can amount to an act of dishonesty – that is an act done without a belief that there was express or implied consent to, or authority for, the act from a person entitled to give such consent or authority (the copyright owner).

It was argued that s.228 of the Crimes Act did not mention copyright but for the reasons given in the extensive discussion of the availability of the Crimes Act to encompass infringing behaviour in certain circumstances in support of the conspiracy argument it mattered[12]  not that copyright in a document (a digital file) is not singled out in the section.

The Court observed that although Megaupload was a cyberlocker it still made use of copyright infringing material in storing the files and making them available to generate advertising and subscription revenue. Use was not an essential element of the offence but obtaining a document for pecuniary advantage was, and the definition of “obtain” includes retaining. Therefore it was enough for Megaupload to retain the files on its servers the fulfil the requirement of “obtaining”

The particular conduct was undertaken for the purposes of pecuniary gain and thus the conduct in Count 2 is covered by s. 228 and is deemed to be included in the Treaty and the requirements of s. 101B(1)(c) are made out. In that section 228 is an offence punishable by a term of imprisonment of seven years.  Finally, it was noted in the interests of completeness that the appellants were in New Zealand.

The next associated issue was whether or not there was an organised criminal group.[13] This involved a consideration of the provisions of section 101B(1)(c)(ii) of the Extradition Act. The elements that are required – combining the UNTOC definitions of an “organised criminal group” and “serious crime” are as follows:

 

(a) a structured group;

(b) of three or more persons;

(c) existing for a period of time;

(d) acting in concert;

(e) with the aim of committing;

(i) offences established in accordance with UNTOC; or

(ii) a serious crime, being conduct constituting an offence punishable by imprisonment of four years or more;

(f) in order to obtain financial or material benefit directly or indirectly.[14]

The Court was satisfied that all these elements were fulfilled and there was sufficient evidence to support all the allegations together with the fact that copyright infringement in the US carried a maximum penalty of 5 years thus fulfilling that requirement and on that basis s. 228 provided an extradition pathway.[15]

Accessing a Computer for a Dishonest Purpose – s. 249[16]

Section 249 of the Crimes Act makes it an offence to access a computer and dishonestly or by deception and without colour of right obtain any property, privilege, service, pecuniary advantage, benefit, or valuable consideration or cause loss to any person. This section was considered as a pathway offence to Count 2 in the following way.

For the same reasons as those given in respect of s. 228, the allegation of dishonesty as an element of s. 249 was satisfied by wilful infringement of copyright.

It was argued that there was no access of a computer system – rather merely providing a computer facility for others which could be used lawfully or unlawfully. The issue of access was dealt with in this way. The data (the copyright infringing file) was received from the uploader onto Megaupload’s computer system, stored in that system and made available to others to access using the link provided by Megaupload using the computer system[17]. All of this involved making use of the resources of the Megaupload computer system. This fulfilled some of the elements of the definition in section 248 of the Crimes Act to which reference was made – “access, in relation to any computer system, means instruct, communicate with, store data in, receive data from, or otherwise make use of any of the resources of the computer system.”

It was also held that the purpose of such access was to obtain pecuniary advantage or financial gain, thus fulfilling that element of s. 249 and the penalties brought the offence within the 4 year definition of serious crime for the purposes of s. 101(B(1)(c).

It is important to note that the discussion of section 249 at this stage is very narrow indeed and suggests that the sectioncan be used as an alternative to commercial copyright infringement. There was no discussion of the nature of “property” and whether a computer file amounted to property as held in Dixon. Further use of section 249 and Dixon in the context of other sections of the Crimes Act is considered in the context of the wire fraud charges.

Section 131 Copyright Act[18]

Section 131 of the Copyright Act creates criminal liability for certain types of copyright infringement that have a commercial quality. The question was whether or not the appellants were involved in the exhibition in public or distribution of infringing copies.

At first glance it would seem that distribution would encompass the activities of Megaupload. The difficulty was that there was another specific form of infringement that covered digital material and that was what is known as the communication right.

The communication right and the distribution right are differentiated in the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Copyright Treaty 1996. The Treaty recognises the important distinction between dissemination by the transfer of possession of a physical embodiment of a protected work (distribution) and dissemination through electronic transmission (communication). Fundamental to the distribution right is the necessity for a tangible object.

In New Zealand the communication right was incorporated into Statute by the Copyright (New Technologies) Amendment Act 2008. But the provisions of section 131 were not amended to include a breach of the communication right as a form of commercial criminal copyright infringement.

This was not accidental. There were submissions to Parliament that the communication right be incorporated into section 131 from Microsoft and the Motion Picture Association. Indeed the legislation in the United Kingdom incorporated such a provision but New Zealand chose not to follow.

In addition as a further indication that Parliament did not intend to criminalise the commercial infringement of the communication right, section 198 created a criminal offence of dealing in illicit recordings of performances rather than objects which were infringing copies of a copyright work.

The Copyright Act was again reviewed in 2011 when Parliament enacted the Copyright (File Sharing Infringing) Amendment Act 2011. It did not at that time take the opportunity to include a breach of the communication right in section 131.

Thus section 131 relates to tangible objects rather than communication of intangibles such as digital files and was thus not available as a pathway to Count 2 of the indictment.

This was not an unexpected outcome, at least to this commentator, but creates a contradiction. When the search and provisional search warrants were issued the offence alleged was against section 131 of the Copyright Act. Now it transpires that offence was not available. In a case that has not been without its legal controversies, this is one more.

However, the absence of section131 as a pathway does not end the matter. There were, as has been discussed,  other pathways to Count 2 and there were other counts which will be considered, all of which have their own pathways.

 

Count 4 – Copyright Infringement of the Movie “Taken”[19]

This count alleges that the appellants infringed copyright by distributing a work – the movie Taken) being prepared for commercial distribution in the US.

The Court concluded that neither this nor any of the specific infringement allegation contained in Counts 4 – 8 contained any other elements described in Article II.16 of the Treaty. They were not charged with obtaining property or money and the offending did not match the offending set out in Article II.16

However, the offence did correlate with sections 228 and 249 of the Crimes Act. The requirement of both sections that there be an element of commercial advantage or financial gain were both satisfied. They obtained and used a document – a digital file – dishonestly and without claim of right and this involved accessing a computer which is an element of section 249. In addition the Court considered that the appellants were acting as part of an organised criminal group and on that basis section 101B(1)(c)(ii) was satisfied

 

Counts 5 – 8 – Other Copyright Infringement[20]

In these counts the nature of the infringement alleged was different. Wilful reproduction and distribution of copyright protected works with a total retail value of more than $US2500 was alleged.

Once again section 131 was not available as a pathway and nor was Article II.16. However, the Judge held, for reasons already articulated, that sections 228 and 249 of the Crimes Act are available to fix the conduct alleged with the necessary criminality.

 

 Count 3 – Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering[21]

Critical to this count was the necessity of a finding that there were pathways to the copyright allegations. Those pathways having been found the way was open to consider this count since it was predicated on the availability of copyright offences.

The Court analysed the elements, pointing out that money laundering was not an offence in New Zealand when the Treaty was signed in 1970. However, the Treaty did contain in Article II.19 the inclusion of any offence in addition to the listed offences that “transporting” or “transportation” was an element.

The Court observed that there were transfers of money – the proceeds of copyright infringement – by electronic funds transfer. This was in effect a wire transfer and the Court held that the conveying of funds electronically amounted to a transfer and thus Article 11.19 was engaged and thus the offence was an extradition offence.

Counts 9 – 13 – Wire Fraud[22]

There were a number of allegations made by the United States that supported an allegation that the appellants devised a scheme to defraud copyright owners and obtain money by means of false and fraudulent representations and promises. Some of these included misleading copyright owners that access to a file would be disable when in fact only the link was disabled; falsely representing that repeat  infringers had access terminated when in fact they were allowed to continue infringement and were rewarded for it and misrepresenting the Megaupload abuse tool and their notice and takedown procedure.

The US argued that Article II.16 and sections 228, 240 and 249 provided pathway offences for these counts.

 

Pathway Offences for Wire Fraud

Article II.16

The Judge found that the conduct alleged in these counts corresponded to Article II.16 of the Treaty. It was alleged that the appellants obtained money as a result of false representations. That is another way of saying they received money by false pretences . This allegation satisfied the causal nexus between obtaining money and false pretences.

In addition the counts alleged the money was obtained by a conspiracy to defraud the copyright holders, the essence being that they devised a scheme to defraud copyright holders. That is tantamount to an allegation of conspiracy to defraud and thus article II.16 provided an extradition pathway.[23]

Section 228 – Crimes Act[24]

It was conceded that the emails that were sent to copyright owners in furtherance of the allegedly fraudulent scheme were documents.  Although it was argued that it was necessary to establish that the document had to be used to obtain property or money and that the files were already on the Megaupload system – thus no obtaining. The Judge observed that the definition of obtain meant to obtain or retain. In addition the Judge found that the requirements of s. 101B(1)(c) were satisfied in that the offence was punishable by imprisonment of 4 years or more and involved an organised criminal group. Thus section 228 provided an extradition pathway.[25]

Section 240 Crimes Act[26]

Section 240 of the Crimes Act creates the offence of obtaining or causing loss by deception. There are four circumstances in which the offence may occur, all of them requiring elements of deception on the part of the perpetrator together with an absence of claim of right.

It was conceded that the element of deception could be made out by virtue of false representations that were contained in emails. The element of obtaining was satisfied by the extended definition of obtaining which included retaining, as discussed above.

For the offence to be complete, property had to be obtained. Gilbert J held that the copyright protected films in digital file format were property and cited as authority the case of Dixon v R[27] – a decision of the Supreme Court.

In this commentator’s respectful view Gilbert J read Dixon more widely than was available to him. Dixon was a case that centred around whether or not a digital file was property for the purposes of section 249 of the Crimes Act. The Supreme Court held that it was, and in doing so has introduced a level of uncertainty in the law surrounding the issue of whether or not there is a property right in information. It is my contention – and I have argued it in detail elsewhere – that Dixon was wrongly decided and is both legally and technologically unsound. Nevertheless, until the Supreme Court reconsiders its decision it must stand. However, the scope of the holding, on a strict reading of the decision, is that a digital file is property is limited to the provisions of section 249 of the Crimes Act.[28] The Supreme Court held thus, and to expand the scope of the finding to include digital files as property for offences other than under s. 249 is, in my respectful view, a misinterpretation of Dixon.

But the Court found that s. 240 of the Crimes Act provided an available pathway for the wire fraud counts.

Section 249 Crimes Act[29]

Section 249 of the Crimes Act provided an available pathway for some of the other counts. As far as counts 9 – 13 are concerned it was argued that the purpose of the section was to address computer hacking rather than to cover dishonest acts associated with copyright infringement.

The judge answered this by observing that the definition of a computer system was very broad and included using any of the resources of a computer system. Email plainly fell within that broad scope.

The Judge could also have observed that computer hacking was not the target of section 249 because it did not include unauthorised access to the system as an element of the offence. The important element associated with accessing the computer system is a dishonest or deceptive state of mind associated with certain activities such as obtaining property, a privilege, a service, a pecuniary advantage, a benefit or an advantage.

The behaviour of the appellants that brought them within the scope of section 249 was as follows:

  1. They caused knowingly false responses to be sent to copyright holders in response to takedown notices
  2. To do this they accessed the Megaupload computer system
  3. As a result of accessing the system in this way they thereby dishonestly and by deception and without claim of right obtained a benefit. The benefit was that it enabled Megaupload to retain copyright infringing files on its system. This met the causal connection of accessing the computer system and obtaining a benefit.

 

It is of interest that Gilbert J preferred to focus on the benefit aspect of section 249 rather than that of property, this invoking Dixon within the context of the Supreme Court finding of the fact that a digital file is property. His focus on the benefit aspect accords with the holding of the Court of Appeal in Dixon.

Count 1 – Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering[30]

Racketeering involves an enterprise – that is a group of individuals and entities associated in fact – engaged in interstate and foreign commerce where the members of the enterprise conspired to conduct its affairs for the purposes of enriching themselves through racketeering activity – in this case criminal copyright infringement, money laundering and wire fraud.

Pursuant to the decision of the Court of Appeal in US v Cullinane[31] racketeering was held not to be an offence under Article II of the Treaty. Racketeering was described as an “umbrella” crime and the Court warned against the use of allowing extradition for umbrella crimes where the offences, if charged separately, would not amount to extradition offences.

However, Cullinane was decided before the enactment of s. 98A of the Crimes Act which creates the crime of participating in an organised criminal group as well as s. 101B(1)(a) of the Extradition Act. This allowed the Court to reconsider whether or not racketeering could fall within the scope of an extraditable offence.

In essence the allegation was that the appellants were associated in fact and this amounted to an enterprise under US law. It was alleged that they continued as a functioning unit for the common purpose of achieving the objectives of the enterprise which was to enrich its members through criminal copyright infringement, money laundering and wire fraud. Furthermore they all actively participated in the enterprise.

The Judge found that the constituent offences – criminal copyright infringement and wire fraud – correlated to New Zealand offences punishable by at least 4 years imprisonment. The common purpose in the US indictment correlated with the requirements of section 98A of the Crimes Act which, if it had occurred in NZ, would be an extradition offence.

 

Extradition Offences – Conclusion

The result of the Judge’s analysis was that all the counts in the indictment were held to qualify as extradition offences.

One of the very significant aspects of the decision is the way in which provisions of the Crimes Act have been used to provide pathways to copyright infringement. This doesn’t mean that these offences are pathways to only extradition offences, although that it the way that they have been used in this case. The generalised holding means that there are alternatives means of criminalising copyright infringement apart from the provisions of section 131 of the Copyright Act 1994.

The citation of authority by Gilbert J to suggest that for some time criminal offences have been available to address copyright infringement cannot be displaced. In some cases these comments were speculative[32] –in others they were more direct.[33] The decision of Gilbert J now cements these comments into the structure of the law.

This means that copyright owners have different avenues by which they may pursue infringers in the criminal courts where section 131 is not available. Furthermore, while Dixon is still good law, copyright owners may use the provisions of the Crimes Act (given Gilbert J’s wide interpretation of that case) or at least section 249 to pursue infringers for what is effectively “on-line theft” of copyright material. I commented that when it was decided potentially the holding in Dixon could give truth to the mantra “copyright infringement is theft”. That potential has been realised.

Other Aspects of the Extradition Decision

The principle focus of this examination has been upon the identification of the extraditable offences. Given the focus upon the availability of criminal copyright infringement this analysis, although a summary of the decision without reference to the authorities cited, has been undertaken to understand the process by which the identification of extraditable offences was undertaken. However, as far as the case was concerned there were other issues which I shall tough upon briefly.

Evidence to Justify Trial on Each Count[34]

Because of the provision of the Extradition Treaty the United States was entitled to submit a record of the case (ROC) for the purposes of determining eligibility for surrender. There was considerable criticism of the ROC by the appellants. It was suggested, for example, that the ROC contained commentary that was opinion or hyperbole which the Court should ignore in determining sufficiency of evidence.

In the case of Dotcom v US (Disclosure)[35] the nature of the ROC was considered. Glazebrook J agreed that there were conclusory statements in the ROC but that the evidence that was relied upon was set out and that evidence supported the conclusions and inferences that the United States wanted to draw to support the existence of a prima facie case. There was a recognised risk in this process in that if insufficient material was provided, the extradition judge not be satisfied that a prima facie case had been made out.

The mere fact that the ROC and its supplements may contain material that cannot be relied on as evidence does not render the document inadmissible in its entirety. The Judge conducting the eligibility hearing  would have to ensure that there is sufficient summarised evidence to justify each appellant being committed for trial on each extradition offence. In carrying out this function, the Judge will differentiate between what qualifies as a summary of evidence and what does not. Gilbert J observed that The Court is required to determine whether the evidence that is summarised in the record of the case is sufficient to establish a prima facie case. The Court is not excused from this responsibility merely because some of the material in the record of the case does not qualify as summarised evidence[36].

Preservation of Evidence[37]

There was concern that the evidence that had been gathered and its availability might be in question. There was an additional concern about the possible deterioration of the electronic evidence. The Judge noted

“It is for the requesting State to decide what evidence it will rely on to support its request for extradition. The extradition Court is only concerned with whether this evidence is sufficient to justify a trial if the conduct constituting the offence had occurred within the jurisdiction of New Zealand. This will be the case if the Court is satisfied the summarised evidence is sufficient to establish a prima facie case and this evidence has been preserved for use at trial. “The evidence” in s 25(3)(a) plainly refers to the evidence summarised in the record of the case and not to every piece of evidence that has been reviewed in the course of the investigation or which could be relevant at trial. If the appellants’ argument was right, it would mean that if any of Megaupload’s data was lost, no matter how inconsequential for the purposes of a

committal hearing, the entire record of the case would become inadmissible. That

cannot have been what Parliament intended when enacting s 25(3).”[38]

 

No challenge had been made to the statements that the evidence summarised in the ROC had been preserved for use at trial. It was not a matter of concern for the extradition court to enquire as to whether other evidence had been preserved. That was something that would be evaluated in the context of fair trial issues in the requesting state and it would be contrary to the principle of comity upon which extradition is based for an extradition court to trespass into this domain.

Other Matters

There were a number of other matters of a somewhat technical nature that were raised on behalf of the Appellants. One involved the certification of the ROC by a representative of the US Attorney General’s office a Mr Prabhu.

The purpose of the ROC procedure was to summarise the evidence. Detail was not required. The ROC process is based on the Treaty and the comity and trust between the Treaty partners. In that regard the ROC need not contain briefs, “will say” statements or other documentary proof.

Because the ROC is received the Court requires an appropriate assurance that it discloses the existence of evidence sufficient to justify a trial in the exempted country and the evidence relied on for extradition purposes has been preserved for trial.  The Court observed:

“The purpose of the record of the case is to enable the extradition Court to

determine whether the evidence establishes a prima facie case if the conduct

constituting the offence had occurred within the jurisdiction of New Zealand. This

determination is made according to New Zealand law. The extradition Court in

New Zealand is not concerned with whether the evidence is sufficient to justify a

trial in the exempted country and it would be wholly inappropriate for it to enquire

into this. Parliament intended that the extradition Court would rely on a certificate in proper form from a person qualified to give it. Absent cogent evidence showing that such a certificate is a forgery or has been given in bad faith, the extradition Court cannot look behind it.”[39]

 

There was also concern expressed about the weight and sufficiency of evidence and the fact that there were a number of conclusory statements in the ROC. Although this matter had been earlier adverted to, it was conceded that such statements did not assist the Court in carrying out its fundamental obligation of weighing the evidence to determine whether the appropriate threshold had been reached. It was for the extradition court to carry out the evaluative process.[40]

Another argument arose about the question of transposition.[41] Transposition arises in extradition cases because the extradition Court is required to proceed on the basis of the fiction that the relevant conduct constituting the offence had occurred within its jurisdiction. But the focus of the extradition Court under the Act is on the conduct constituting the alleged offence, not the offence itself.[42]

Once the Court is satisfied that the request relates to an actual extradition offence there is no need to consider whether the conduct constituting the offence in the requesting state would be an offence under the law of New Zealand if the conduct had occurred here.[43] Thus the extradition Court should not have to determine whether or not conduct constituting the offence would have been an offence under New Zealand law if it had occurred in New Zealand at the relevant time. To do so would be to import a double criminality requirement and that was held not apply in Cullinane.

Within the context of the allegations relating to the movie Taken Gilbert J held that the extradition Court was solely concerned with the alleged conduct constituting the offence, namely that the appellants wilfully infringed those rights by making the film available to members of the public on a computer network.[44]

Thus for the purposes of its determination under s. 24(2)(d)(i) of the Extradition Act the Court had to concentrate on the acts or omissions of the requested person, being those acts or omissions identified for the purposes of s 24(2)(c) as constituting the extradition offence.

In a case involving alleged copyright infringement by making a copyright protected work available to members of the public without licence, the question of whether or not copyright subsisted in the relevant work in the United States at the relevant time is not an act or omission of the requested person and falls outside the scope of the enquiry. The extradition Court is not required to determine this issue, which would necessitate consideration of foreign law, a task it is ill-suited to undertake. The existence of copyright in the works at the time is a circumstance or “state of things” that is transposed to New Zealand as part of the relevant legal environment against which the evidence of the requested person’s conduct must be assessed.[45]

The Judge went on to consider in some detail the evidence as it related to each of the offences[46] and concluded that the evidence contained in the ROC disclosed a prima face case on each count. This effectively disposed of the extradition issue. It should be noted that there were a number of other technical arguments that were raised and which I will not discuss in this context. In addition there were applications that were made by the appellants for a stay of proceedings on the grounds of unfairness arising from lack of funds to properly mount an opposition to the application and for judicial review of the approach by the Judge in the District Court to the conduct of the proceedings. Those matters, although tied in with the original proceedings do not take the issue of extradition any further.

Conclusion

This case is a helpful one for those involved in extradition law. The Judge carefully articulated the principles and outlines and defined the processes by which extradition cases should be approached and considered. Although the Law Commission has released a paper on Extradition and recommends possible changes that can be made to the law, it may well be some time before those recommendations, or any of them, find their way to the statute book. The methodical approach undertaken by Gilbert J provides Ariadne’s thread for judges who will have to consider extradition in the future.

The case is particularly significant for the way in which Gilbert J considers the conduct that is criminalised by the counts in the US indictment and then looks for various pathway offences in New Zealand law which mirror that conduct.

The problem was that the United States case was grounded primarily upon copyright infringement. It tried to invoke section 131 of the Copyright Act as a corresponding offence at New Zealand law. But for the reason that a particular type of infringement was not specified in s. 131 – the communication right – that section was not available. So the judge went looking for other pathways which could incorporate the behaviour or conduct that reflected the count in the indictment. In so doing he held that the provisions of sections 228, 240 and 249 of the Crimes Act could, in cases involving certain types of behaviour, provide alternative pathways to what is effectively copyright offending.

This is somewhat curious because notwithstanding the invocation by the Judge of a number of authorities that supported the extension of the criminal law to include certain types of infringing behaviour, the issue is by no means uncontroversial and there are those who argue that the Copyright Act is a code, dealing with interference with a statutorily created property right, and one should not go beyond that legislation to seek a remedy.

Indeed, in his consideration of the applicability of section 131 the Judge gave a detailed analysis of the history of the legislation to demonstrate that the omission from section 131 of the communication right was deliberate and not an accidental oversight. Thus it was clearly a policy decision made by the Legislature.

Yet this case judicially extends the scope of the Crimes Act to include behaviour that would otherwise be caught by the civil infringement provisions and which is not caught by section 131. With respect, this seems to fly in the face of his careful analysis of Legislative intent in terms of criminal copyright infringement.

In Stevens v Kabushiki Kaisha Sony Computer Entertainment Ltd[47]  at issue was the question of the interpretation of a provision of Australian copyright legislation. The High Court cautioned against Courts getting involved in making policy decisions about legislation which was properly the bailiwick of Parliament. The Court observed

“The Parliament having chosen such an elaborate and specific definition for the key provision of the legislative scheme, a court should pause before stretching the highly specific language in order to overcome a supposed practical problem.”[48]

 

Although that comment is directed towards a particular provision of legislation and the scope thereof, it is suggested that the argument can be extended to address the criminalisation of infringing behaviour that does not fall within the scope of the Copyright Act. Using the Judge’s own reasoning path, if Parliament had intended such behaviour to be criminalised, it would have said so, and indeed had ample opportunity to do so from 1998 onwards.

The difficulty is this. It appears that the law of unintended consequences has resulted in the criminalisation of certain types of infringing behaviour. Factor in the use of a computer and s. 249 of the Crimes Act comes in to play. I doubt it was intended that this section would be used to criminalise copyright infringement. Nor is it my view that the Supreme Court in its expedient decision in Dixon expected that its definition of “property” as a digital file could have criminal copyright infringement consequences. This is what I have called else where a Collision in the Digital paradigm.

The collision assumes  greater proportions when one realises that, although Gilbert J’s findings were within the context of developing pathways for the purposes of identifying an extraditable offence, his interpretation applies with equal force to domestic law. The question now becomes one of whether copyright owners will pick their way through the collision and seek Police assistance in prosecuting individual acts of copyright infringement that fall outside s. 131. The matter requires legislative consideration.

Gilbert J’s decision will not be the final word on the subject – indeed he acknowledges this and it explains why the decision is so detailed, complex and voluminous. He is writing for the appeal court as well as for the parties. But the appeal pathways are not that straightforward. A strict approach to the appellate process means that not all these cases will automatically end up in the Supreme Court. As matters stand the Court of Appeal is the final court for the extradition matter. However, the judicial review proceedings do still have an appeal pathway to the Supreme Court. Whether or not the Supreme Court, for the sake of convenience, decides to grant special leave to appeal the extradition side of the case, remains to be seen.

But wait – do I hear you say? Aren’t you assuming something here and that is that there WILL be appeals. Given the past conduct of the parties, I suggest that it is inevitable that the appeal process will go as far as it possibly can. Although the US effectively “won” before Gilbert J there remains the issue of the applicability of section 131. My view is that path was never available but I have no doubt that the US will cross-appeal that aspect of the decision. The Dotcom case has further contributions to make to the development of legal principle in the Digital Paradigm.

 

[1] Robert Graves The Greek Myths “Theseus in Crete”

[2] Ortmann & Ors v US [2017] NZHC 189 at paras [37] – [45].

[3] The “Ariadne’s Thread” of the title.

[4] Ortmann above n. 2 at paras [57] – [192].

[5] Ibid. at paras [77] – [133].

[6] Ibid. at paras [87] – [112].

[7] See for example World TV Ltd v Best TV Ltd (2005) 11 TCLR 247.

[8] [2015] NZSC 147; [2016] 1 NZLR 678.

[9] Ortmann above n 2 at para [132].

[10] Ibid. at paras [134] – [160].

[11] Above n. 8.

[12] Ortmann above n.3 at para [143].

[13] Extradition Act s. 101B(1)(c)(ii) as defined in the Transnational Organised Crime Convention (TOC).

[14] Ortmann above n. 3 para [150].

[15] Ibid. para [160]. The full analysis is contained in paras [147] – [160].

[16] Ibid. paras [161] – [168].

[17] Ibid. at para [166].

[18] Ibid para [169] – [192].

[19] Ibid. para [193] – [199].

[20] Ibid. para [200] – [201].

[21] Ibid. para [202] – [212].

[22] Ibid. paras [213] – [230]

[23] Ibid. para [217] – [219].

[24] Ibid. para [220] – [222].

[25] Ibid. para [220] – [222].

[26] Ibid. para [223] – [225].

[27] Above n. 8.

[28] Dixon above n. 8 para [50] – [51].

[29] Ortmann above n. 3 para [226] – [230].

[30] Ibid. para [231] – [238].

[31] [2003] 2 NZLR 1 (CA).

[32] See Cooke P in Busby v Thorn EMI Video Programmes Ltd [1984] 1 NZLR 461

[33] See Scott v Metropolitan Police Commissioner [1975] AC 819 (HL)

[34] Ortmann above n. 3 at paras [239] – [245]

[35] Dotcom v US (Disclosure) [2014] NZSC 24; [2014] 2 NZLR 629.

[36] Ortmann above n 3 at para [253].

[37] Ibid. para [254] – [259].

[38] Ibid at para [258].

[39] Ibid. at para [263].

[40] Ibid at para [273].

[41] Ibid at paras [274] – [294].

[42] Ibid at para [277].

[43] Ibid at para [279].

[44] Ibid at para [291].

[45] Ibid at para [294].

[46] Ibid at paras [302] – [386].

[47] [2005] HCA 58.

[48] Stevens v Sony at para [204].

Digital Discourse

The case of Senior v Police [2013] NZFLR  356 has some interesting things to say about the nature of discourse on Internet social media platforms – Facebook in particular.

The case was about a breach of a protection order. Senior was subject to a domestic protection order. The protected person was his former partner. One of the terms of the protection order required Senior “not to engage or threaten to engage in other behaviour including intimidation or harassment, which amounts to psychological abuse of any person”.

Senior placed a post on his Facebook page. It was abusive of his former partner. She was not one of his Facebook friends so would not have automatically received notification of the post and its content. However, the niece of the protected person was one of Senior’s Facebook friends and drew the attention of the protected person to the post. She complained to the Police.

Senior was convicted and took the case on appeal. The issue was whether or not the appellant had, in legal terms, the appropriate mens rea, or intention, or reckless state of mind when lodging this abuse on Facebook.

The Judge, Justice Fogarty, held that very strong  personal abuse directed at a former partner, placed on Facebook, read by a large number of friends, some of whom would inevitably have contact in the natural social network with the person being abused, was at the very least highly reckless.

In coming to this conclusion the Judge took an interesting path and took judicial notice  of the fact that persons who use Facebook are very aware that the contents of the Facebook are often communicated to persons beyond the “friends” who use Facebook. When information is put on a Facebook page, to which hundreds of people have access, the persons putting the information on the page know that that information will likely extend way beyond the defined class of “friends”. … It is somewhat improbable to say, which was not said here, “Oh, I never thought it was possible that the person I was abusing could possibly have known about this”.

Judicial notice is a tool used by Judges to recognise certain well known facts without expert evidence. Often judicial notice is deployed in cases of well  known and well recognised technologies. Judicial notice, for example, has been taken of the accuracy of a GPS device without the necessity of proof of accuracy or how it works.

The observations by Fogarty J constitute a technologically suspect assertion that ignores the nuances of privacy settings and the way in which a user may configure his or her page. For example, depending upon the privacy settings a user may not communicate content to anyone, but only receive messages.

But if we accept the very bald finding of Fogarty J it sends an interesting message about the nature of discourse using social media platforms which rely on the ability to share information among a coterie of, for want of a better word, associates.

Discourse has always involved coteries be they another individual or group of individuals. Oral discourse and communication by writing provide examples. In the past communication by letter between individuals carried a high expectation of privacy. On occasion, however, letters may be circulated to others or a group of others. But again the expectation was that publication would be limited to the coterie.

Edmund Plowden, whose case reports were published in 1571, clearly had circulated manuscript copies of his reports within a coterie of lawyers in the Inns of Court. It was a fear that they might find their way into the hands of a printer and be published without Plowden’s permission or supervision that prompted him to undertake the printing of his reports himself. The aversion to print was also expressed by John Donne whose controversial tract on suicide Biathanatos  was circulated within a coterie but Donne forbade its printing or its burning – at least during his lifetime.

The printing press enabled the wide dissemination of ideas and communications to a wider coterie – the public. Indeed the word “publish” means to make public. The discourse that followed in the form of tracts, arguments and counter arguments were a characteristic of the political and religious landscapes after the sixteenth century. This outpouring of discourse naturally attracted the attention of the authorities who in various ways attempted to moderate or suppress the discourse. One way was to attempt to regulated the technology in the form of the Licensing Acts from 1662 to 1696, the expiry of which led to the debate about the right to copy, culminating in the Statute of Anne in 1710.

The importance of printed discourse was recognised by the fledging United States Republic in the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting government interference with the freedom of speech or the press. The freedom of expression is incorporated into section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 as the right to receive and impart information – a section that clearly recognises the importance of discourse and the exchange of ideas.

Following the printing press other forms of communications technologies such as radio and television have provided the ability to enhance the nature of discourse, although the degeneration of 21st century mainstream television content may well challenge that proposition.

What the internet and digital technologies enable is a form of publication or dissemination that has two elements.

One element is the appearance that information is transmitted instantaneously to both an active (on-line recipient) and a passive (potentially on-line but awaiting) audience. Consider the example of an e-mail. The speed of transmission of emails seems to be instantaneous (in fact it is not) but that enhances our expectations of a prompt response and concern when there is not one. More important, however, is that a matter of interest to one email recipient may mean that the email is forwarded to a number of recipients unknown to the original sender.

Instant messaging is so-called because it is instant and a complex piece of information may be made available via a link by Twitter to a group of followers which may then be retweeted to an exponentially larger audience.

The second element deals with what may be called the democratization of information dissemination. This aspect of exponential dissemination exemplifies a fundamental difference between digital information systems and communication media that have gone before.

In the past information dissemination has been an expensive business. Publishing, broadcast, record and CD production and the like are capital intensive businesses. It used to (and still does)  cost a large amount of money and required a significant infrastructure to be involved in information gathering and dissemination. There were a few exceptions such as very small scale publishing using duplicators, carbon paper and photocopiers. Generally  dissemination was very small.

Another aspect of early information communication technologies is that they involved a monolithic centralized communication to a distributed audience. The model essentially was one of “one to many” communication or information flow.

The Internet turns that model on its head. The Internet enables a “many to many” communication or information flow with the added ability on the part of recipients of information to “republish” or “rebroadcast”. It has been recognized that the Internet allows everyone to become a publisher. No longer is information dissemination centralized and controlled by a large publishing house, a TV or radio station or indeed the State. It is in the hands of users.

News organizations regularly source material from Facebook, YouTube or from information that is distributed on the Internet by Citizen Journalists.   Once the information has been communicated it can “go viral” a term used to describe the phenomenon of exponential dissemination as Internet users share information via e-mail, social networking sites or other Internet information sharing protocols. This characteristic has been recognised by politicians and the recent use of Twitter by President Trump demonstrates the difficulty of articulating complex issues of policy – indeed some might say that any form of coherent articulation beyond 140 characters was beyond the capabilities of Mr Trump.

Internet based publication or dissemination exacerbates the quality of Information Persistence or “the document that does not die” in that once information has been subjected to Exponential Dissemination it is almost impossible to retrieve it or eliminate it.

It is possibly the potential for exponential dissemination to which Fogarty J refers in Senior and upon which he bases his sweeping assertion that people who post to Facebook know and therefore intend (or are reckless) that it will go further.

This assumption – and it can only be that – underlies The New Zealand Herald editorial of 7 January which laments the apparent lack of understanding on the part of a digital native who posted a comment on a social media platform and who then took the post down when she found “people were going a bit overboard with threats and racist comments”. Interestingly the editor asks the rhetorical question ” How many years of living on this web will it take before we treat it with more caution?”

The question is no longer relevant. That  particular horse has well and truly bolted, and despite the fact that the Herald, like so many other news outlets, now has an online presence, the editor fails to have grasped the fact that the medium itself – rather than its content – is the driver of changed attitudes to debate and indeed communication. As Marshall McLuhan said “we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us”.

For digital natives the verbal or face to face communication methods of the pre-digital paradigm are passe. Social media platforms enable communication with a wider coterie of digital acquaintances who may, in Facebook for example, be designated with the word friends.

In the same way that verbal discussions can develop a certain amount of heat, and often the way to resolve such confrontations is to disengage, so it is with social media platforms. The digital native in question simply disengaged.

What the Herald editor has done has been to apply the pre-digital concept of coterie communication to a paradigm that dictates a re-evaluation of the nature of discourse and of the expectations of information and its communication. Digital natives are aware that their posted information MAY be shared and it MAY be that information will go viral. Whether they actually intend that outcome is another matter and to ascribe that intent merely by posting is perhaps a bridge too far. Digital technology have redefined our expectations and our use of and our relationship with information.

In the case of the digital native in the Herald article the digital paradigm enabled distribution of her content to a much wider coterie than she initially expected. The level and quality of the debate increased exponentially.  In these days of unreason, many of the attacks were ad hominem (or perhaps ad feminam would be more accurate). It is a sad reflection of discourse that the messenger rather than the message becomes the target.

The digital native, as I have observed, disengaged and walked away from the extended coterie –  a sensible thing to do. She had made her point and exercised her right to freedom of expression.  Others exercised theirs. Had she suffered serious emotional distress as a result of the various posts which she received, she may have had a remedy under the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015. But that is something of a nuclear option. But she chose rather to disengage.

Fine Tuning the Internet?

New Zealand Herald Tech Blogger Juha Saarinen has written an interesting piece in the technology column of today’s Herald. He blames the Internet for 2016 and is gloomy about the future.

He focusses upon cybecrime, ransomware, malware and the hostile nature of the environment, conveniently forgetting that the kinetic world is a hostile place. Social media comes in for a hit, providing a platform for extremists as well as posing a threat to privacy.  Hatefulness is poison – no doubt – but I am always reminded when I hear calls to “shut them down” of the title of a book by Anthony Lewis – “Freedom for the Thought That We Hate”.

Freedom of speech is nothing if it is the freedom to say things with which we agree, and the echo chamber seems to be a phenomenon of the ghastly post-truth world. One’s commitment to freedom of speech is tested when one is confronted with something truly disagreeable but which, nevertheless, the speaker or writer is free to express. I have always subscribed to Thomas Jefferson’s marketplace of ideas theory. The good ideas will receive traction. That bad ones will fall away. Idealistic? Yes, but rather better than muzzling.

Juha closes by suggesting that the Internet is sliding towards bad things and needs fine tuning to fit people better, arguing that next year wouldn’t be too soon to start on that process.

This sounds like a call for some sort of Internet regulation. Juha properly recognises that the Internet in fact is just the communications backbone. In that respect it is content neutral. It is merely a means of transporting data. It is what is “bolted on” to the backbone that is where the interest lies.

Permissionless innovation has always been a positive characteristic of the development of Internet platforms. Perhaps it is this aspect that needs regulation. Perhaps Tim Berners-Lee should have had to go through a bureaucratic process before letting the Web protocol loose on the Internet. Similarly Google – a group perhaps of code and consequence vetters should ensure that the platform is fit for purpose and “safe” to use – oh and by the way, if you want to make any changes to the code you will need to have out approval.

Permissionless innovation and the lack of red tape accompanying bolting a platform on to the backbone has been one of the strengths of the Internet.

A few years ago I used a phrase – unadvisedly in the particular context – which I will repeat here. We have met the enemy and he is us. The Internet is not the problem. We are. And if that were not enough, factor in a level of disinhibition that seems to accompany on-line behaviour like trolling and it becomes clear that the problem is people – or rather some people.

We have laws in place already that deal with online behaviour. The controversial Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 – an example of Internet exceptionalism – regulates behaviour online. The computer crimes sections of the Crimes Act 1961 – getting a bit creaky now after 13 years – deal with online fraud, hacking and systems compromises. Spam is covered by the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act 2007. Unauthorised file sharing is dealt with under the Copyright Act 1994. Child porn falls within the Films Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993. These examples visit consequences upon users who breach the legislative provisions. The laws are there. I seriously doubt that the Internet itself needs further regulation if indeed you can do that to such a diverse and distributed network

In the same way that people take steps to protect their property by putting security systems in place to stop burglars or fraudsters or other villains with vile intent facilities are available to ensure that the work or home systems are as secure as they can be.

But there is one thing you can do if the Internet gets to be too much and that is pull the plug. That is rather harder to do in the kinetic space. The real world which is REALLY scary is a lot harder to switch off.

Artificial Intelligence and Law(s)

In Philip K. Dick’s book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” – made into the brilliant movie “Bladerunner” directed by Ridley Scott – the genetically engineered replicants, indistinguishable from human beings, were banned from Earth and set to do work on off-world colonies. There was a fear of the threat that these “manufactured” beings could pose to humans.

Isaac Asimov’s extraordinarily successful “Robot” series of short stories and books had a similar premise –  that intelligent robots would pose a threat to humans. In “Androids” the way that the replicants were regulated was that they were shipped off-world and if they returned to Earth they were hunted down and “retired”. Asimov’s regulatory solution was a little more nuanced. Robots, upon the creation of their positronic brains, were programmed with the Three Laws of Robotics. These were as follows:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

These three laws were the foundation of all the tensions that arose in Asimov’s stories. How were the Three Laws to be applied? What happens when there is a conflict? Which rule prevails?

The stories are classified as science fiction. I prefer to treat them as examples of statutory interpretation. But underpinning the Three Laws and the reason for them was what Asimov called “The Frankenstein Complex” – a term he coined for fear of mechanical men or created beings that resemble human beings. And his answer to that fear and how it could be mitigated was the Three Laws.

A similar call recently went out about how we should deal with Artificial Intelligence. A report entitled “Determining Our Future: Artificial Intelligence”  written collaboratively by people from the Institute of Directors and the law firm Chapman Tripp, whilst pointing out the not insubstantial benefits that artificial intelligence or “smart systems” may provide, has a significant undertone of concern.

The report calls for the Government to establish a high-level working group on AI which should consider

“the potential impacts of AI on New Zealand, identifying major areas of opportunity and concern, and making recommendations about how New Zealand should prepare for AI-driven change.”

The writers consider AI is an extraordinary challenge for our future and the establishment of a high level working group is a critical first step to help New Zealand rise to that challenge. It seems to be the New Zealand way to look to the Government to solve everything, problematical or otherwise which says interesting things about self-reliance.

The report is an interesting one. It acknowledges the first real problem which is how do we define AI. What exactly does it encompass? Is it the mimicking of human cognitive functions like learning or problem solving. Or is it making machines intelligent – intelligence being the quality that enables an entity to function appropriately and with foresight in its environment.

Even although there seems to be an inability to settle upon a definition a more fruitful part of the examination is in the way in which “smart” computing systems are used in a range of industries and there is the observation that there has been a significant increase in investment in such “smart” systems by a number of players.

The disruptive impact of AI is then considered. This is not new. One of the realities of the Digital Paradigm is continuing disruptive change. There is little time to catch breath between getting used to one new thing and having to confront and deal with a new new thing. Disruption has been taking place from before the Digital Paradigm and indeed back to the First Industrial Revolution.

There is a recognition that we need to prepare for the disruptive effects of any new technology, but what the report fails to consider is the way in which disruptive technologies may ultimately be transformative. There is some speculation that after an initial period of disruption to established skills and industries, AI may lead to greater employment as new work becomes available in areas that have not been automated.

The sense of gloom begins to increase as the report moves to consider legal and policy issues. Although the use of AI in the legal or court process – I prefer to use the term expert legal systems – is not discussed, issues such as whether AI systems should be recognised as persons are mentioned. In this time of Assisted Birth Technologies and other than purely natural creation of life, it is not an easy question to answer. “Created by a human” doesn’t cut it because that is the way that the race has propagated itself for millennia. “Artificially created by a human” may encompass artificial insemination and confine people who are otherwise humans to some limbo status as a result.  But really what are we talking about. We are talking about MACHINE intelligence that is driven by algorithms. I don’t think we are talking about organic systems – at least not yet.

But it is the last question in that section that gives me cause for pause. Are New Zealand’s regulatory and legislative processes adaptive enough to respond to and encourage innovations in AI? What exactly is meant by that? Should we have regulatory systems in place to control AI or to develop it further? That has to be read within the context of the introductory paragraph

“AI presents substantial legal and regulatory challenges. These challenges include problems with controlling and foreseeing the actions of autonomous systems.”

Then the report raises the “Frankenstein Complex.” The introductory paragraph reads as follows:

“Leaders in many fields have voiced concerns over safety and the risk of losing control of AI systems. Initially the subject of science fiction (think Skynet in the Terminator movies), these concerns are now tangible in certain types of safety-critical AI applications – such as vehicles and weapons platforms – where it may be necessary to retain some form of human control.”

The report goes on to state:

Similar concerns exist in relation to potential threats posed by self-improving AI systems. Elon Musk, in a 2014 interview at MIT, famously called AI “our greatest existential threat”.
Professor Stephen Hawking, in a 2014 interview with BBC said that “humans, limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded by AI”.

Stanford’s One-Hundred Year Study of AI notes that

“we could one day lose control of AI systems via the rise of superintelligences that do not act in accordance with human wishes – and that such powerful systems would threaten humanity”.

Google’s DeepMind lab has developed an AI ‘off-switch’, while others are developing a principles-based framework to address security.

Then the question is asked

“What controls and limitations should be placed on AI technology.”

I think the answer would have to be as few as possible consistent with human safety that allow for innovation and continued development of AI. It must be disturbing to see such eminent persons such as Hawking and Musk expressing concerns about the future of AI. The answer to the machine lies in the machine as Google has demonstrated – turn it off if need be.

The report closes with the following observation.

The potential economic and social opportunities from AI technologies are immense. The public and private sectors must move promptly and together to ensure we are prepared to reap the benefits, and address the risks of AI.

And regulation is the answer? I think not.

Artificial Intelligence as a Tool for Lawyers

My particular interest in AI has been in its application to the law so let’s have a brief look at that issue. Viewed dispassionately the proposals are not “Orwellian” nor do they suggest the elevation of “Terminator J” to the Bench. It may also serve to put a different perspective on AI and the future.

In a recent article, Lex Machina’s Chief Data Scientist observed that data analytics refined information to match specific situations.

“Picture this: You’re building an antitrust case in Central California and want to get an idea of potential outcomes based on everything from judges, to districts, to decisions and length of litigation. In days of law past, coming up with an answer might involve walking down the hall and asking a partner or two about their experiences in such matters, then begin writing a budget around a presumed time frame. “

Howard says that analytics change the stakes. “Not only are you getting a more precise answer,” he attests, “but you’re getting an answer that is based on more relevant data.”

Putting the matter very simplistically legal information either in the form of statutes or case law is data which has meaning when properly analysed or interpreted. Apart from the difficulties in location of such data, the analytical process is done by lawyers or other trained professionals.

The “Law as Data” approach uses data analysis and analytics which match fact situations with existing legal rules.

Already a form of data analysis or AI variant is available in the form of databases such as LexisNexis, Westlaw, NZLii, Austlii or Bailii. Lexis and Westlaw have applied natural language processing (NLP) techniques to legal research for 10-plus years. The core NLP algorithms were all published in academic journals long ago and are readily available. The hard (very hard) work is practical implementation. Legal research innovators like Fastcase and RavelLaw have done that hard work, and added visualizations to improve the utility of results.

Using LexisNexis or Westlaw, the usual process involves the construction of a search which, depending upon the parameters used will return a limited or extensive dataset. It is at that point that human analysis takes over.

What if the entire corpus of legal information is reduced to a machine readable dataset. This would be a form of Big Data with a vengeance, but it is a necessary starting point. The issue then is to:

  1. Reduce the dataset to information that is relevant and manageable
  2. Deploy tools that would measure the returned results against the facts or a particular case to predict a likely outcome.

Part (a) is relatively straight forward. There are a number of methodologies and software tools that are deployed in the e-Discovery space that perform this function. Technology-assisted review (TAR, or predictive coding) uses natural language and machine learning techniques against the gigantic data sets of e-discovery. TAR has been proven to be faster, better, cheaper and much more consistent than human-powered review (HPR). It is assisted review, in two senses. First, the technology needs to be assisted; it needs to be trained by senior lawyers very knowledgeable about the case. Second, the lawyers are assisted by the technology, and the careful statistical thinking that must be done to use it wisely. Thus, lawyers are not replaced, though they will be fewer in number. TAR is the success story of machine learning in the law. It would be even bigger but for the slow pace of adoption by both lawyers and their clients.

Part (b) would require the development of the necessary algorithms that could undertake the comparative and predictive analysis, together with a form of probability analysis to generate an outcome that would be useful and informative. There are already variants at work now in the field of what is known as Outcome Prediction utilising cognitive technologies.

There are a number of examples of legal analytics tools. Lex Machina, having developed a set of intellectual property (IP) case data, uses data mining and predictive analytics techniques to forecast outcomes of IP litigation. Recently, it has extended the range of data it is mining to include court dockets, enabling new forms of insight and prediction. Now they have moved into multi-District anti-trust litigation.

LexPredict developed systems to predict the outcome of Supreme Court cases, at accuracy levels which challenge experienced Supreme Court practitioners.

Premonition uses data mining, analytics and other AI techniques “to expose, for the first time ever, which lawyers win the most before which Judge.”

These proposals, of course, immediately raises issues of whether or not we are approaching the situation where we have decision by machine.

As I envisage the deployment of AI systems, the analytical process would be seen as a part of the triaging or Early Case Assessment process in the Online Court Model, rather than as part of the decision making process. The advantages of the process are in the manner in which the information is reduced to a relevant dataset performed automatically and faster than could be achieved by human means. Within the context of the Online Court process it could be seen as facilitative rather than determinative. If the case reached the decision making process it would, of course, be open to a Judge to consider utilising the “Law as Data” approach with, of course, the ultimate sign-off. The Judge would find the relevant facts. The machine would process the facts against the existing database that is the law and present the Judge with a number of possible options with supporting material. In that way the decision would still be a human one, albeit machine assisted.

Conclusion

As we embark down this road let us ensure that we do not over-regulate out of fear. Let us ensure that innovation in this exciting field is not stifled and that it continues to develop. The self-aware, self-correcting, self-protecting Skynet scenario is not a realistic one and, in my view, needs to be put to one side as an obstruction and recognised for what it is – a manifestation of the Frankenstein complex. And perhaps, before we consider whether or not we travel the path suggested in the report we should make sure that the Frankenstein complex is put well behind us.

 

Technological Competence for Lawyers

The rise of technology and its pervasive effect on all our lives – whether we like it or not – has implications for everyone involved in the practice of law. Conveyancing transactions are done on-line. Some company documents can only be filed on line. The use of computer systems, on-line legal research, networked communications and the Internet all feature to some extent in legal offices.

Yet, how technologically aware are lawyers.

This is a matter that has been addressed as a matter of competence to practice in the United States. In 2012 the American Bar Association made several changes to its Model Rules and commentary.

The starting point is basic competence. Rule 1.1 states:

“A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”

Comment 8 to the Rule states what is required to achieve that level of competence.

“To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.”

On this basis, lawyers cannot plead ignorance or inability regarding the use of technology and its associated risks.

So what is the technology that needs to be understood? First is the equipment that forms part of day-to-day legal practice such as computers, tablets, smart phones, scanners, printers or copiers. This category also includes the use of email, and the electronic storage of documents and other information.

Then there is an understanding of the software and programs that are used that may streamline or simplify legal practice. This may include programs for storing, managing and reviewing electronically stored information as well as law practice and management software including matters such as client information, contacts, time entry, billing, document management, docketing and calendaring.

Lawyers also need to be aware of the technology used by their clients and how that has an impact upon business as well as technology that may  impose liability on clients, such as, for example, GPS technology, electronic logging, or automated driving technology.

For litigators there has to be knowledge of and familiarity with  courtroom technology.

All of this may seem pretty intimidating but in today’s technological age, beset as we are with continuing disruptive change, it is necessary.

If practitioners are concerned at the ABA proposals the Florida Bar has gone one step further. Application was made to the Supreme Court of Florida in September 2016 to amend the Bar Rules to require all lawyers to maintain technological competence by undertaking 3 CLE hours of approved technological education courses. Florida lawyers have to complete 33 hours every 3 years. The standard comes into effect on 1 January 2017

Interestingly enough there was been little resistance from Florida practitioners. The benefits seem to have made themselves clear.

The question that comes to mind is whether or not there should be a technological competence requirement along the lines proposed by the ABA for New Zealand law practitioners or whether the New Zealand Law Society should adopt some form of advisory about technological competence and upskilling for practitioners.