⏩ Your ability to watch Netflix on a work computer will be in the hands of SCOTUS

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This week: A bonkers case about work technology is headed to SCOTUS, and FCC chairman Ajit Pai steps down. Plus: a depressing study about law school debt.

🦹 The Supreme Court will hear a case that could “perhaps (make) a criminal of us all”

Imagine you’re on your work computer, and you decide to check Facebook. Or make a Zoom call to your friends. Or read this fun email! It’s normal, right? 

But depending on the outcome of an upcoming Supreme Court case, these actions could technically be considered illegal. 

  • The case started with a Georgia police officer: In 2015, he ran a license plate check for an acquaintance on his work database, charging her for the favor. The Feds were monitoring him, and he was convicted for federal computer fraud. 

  • He was charged under the same law that ensnares most hackers: But the officer’s situation was different. He was not illegally hacking into the license plate database. He had legal access for his job but was using it for a job-adjacent purpose. 

The potential ramifications of the conviction frighten legal scholars and media  

It’s routine for law enforcement officials to use their work databases to assist journalists and other members of the public -- albeit usually not for a price.  

  • And Stanford Law professor Jeffrey Fisher told the WSJ the consequences are far greater: He said a sweeping view of the Georgia police officer’s conviction would make nearly any non-work related action on a work computer illegal. “It is no overstatement to say that this construction would brand most Americans criminals on a daily basis.”

The Verdict

The Supreme Court took up the officer’s appeal on Monday and is expected to make a decision by June. Based on preliminary reactions, the court appears split, although not on traditional partisan lines. Sonia Sotomayor called the law “dangerously vague,” and Neil Gorsuch worried the Feds were “perhaps making a criminal of us all.”   


📝 Why internet law is about to change 

FCC chairman and Donald Trump appointee Ajit Pai announced he will step down from the organization when Joe Biden takes over as president in January. 

So expect major changes for the internet. 

  • Pai was one of the busiest FCC leaders in recent years: He instituted controversial policies, including undoing net neutrality. Pai also approved a T-Mobile-Sprint merger that stirred antitrust concerns (he believed it would benefit consumers by speeding up the rollout of 5G).  

  • He was praised by the telecomms industry and hated by activists: The WSJ went so far as to credit him for fast internet during the pandemic. Meanwhile, consumer advocates claim Pai did nothing to bridge the digital divide.

  • Not all of his moves were controversial: Under Pai, the FCC created a nationwide suicide prevention hotline and made it easier for mobile carriers to enroll customers in robocall-blocking programs (although everyone would argue they aren’t blocking enough calls!). 

Biden is expected to emphasize a different strategy with the FCC

He has already said he plans to bring back net neutrality, which was supported by the Obama administration. 

The Verdict

Pai’s departure could have another major effect in the legal world: With him departing, insiders say the FCC won’t try a last-minute, Trump-favored attempt to erase protections of social media companies accused of censoring conservatives. 


😑 Inside the findings of a new survey about law school debt

The ABA surveyed 1,084 lawyers (median age 32) about debt and the results are -- sigh -- as crushing as you would expect.

  • The average cumulative debt load was $120,000. And that’s for right NOW. About 40% of the respondents owed more than when they graduated.

  • For men and women, the debt load was roughly the same. That wasn’t the case across races and ethnicities. Black lawyers ($198,760) and Hispanic lawyers ($149,573) had a higher average cumulative debt load than white lawyers ($100,510).

  • Many lawyers reported delaying major life decisions. About half said they either chose to delay or not have children because of debt. Even less major life decisions have been tough: 46% respondents said their debt load affected their decision of whether to get a car. 60% said they took fewer vacations because of debt. 

Is help on the way? 

The internet and Capitol Hill have been rife with chatter about the Biden administration forgiving student loan debt, either through executive order or through Congress. But it’s anybody’s guess whether a single dime ends up being forgiven. Biden has signaled a willingness to potentially cancel up to $10,000 in loans. 


What else we’re forwarding

A SCOTUS expert says the chances of faithless electors handing Trump the election are very small: If you’re concerned about a final, last-minute attempt by Trump to circumvent the electoral process, you can probably rest easier. Probably. 

The future of the smartphone may not involve apps, thanks to Apple’s and Google’s dominance: Video game companies, sick of paying the high fees to use the App Store, are creating games that can be played on mobile web browsers. And in the future it’s possible all apps will become extinct.


End Note

Wow, only 9% left of this year to go! ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓░ 91%

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Until next week,

🧐 Raad

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