Welcome: In this course, each voice in the classroom has something of value to contribute. Please take care to respect the different experiences, beliefs and values expressed by students and staff involved in this course. My colleagues and I support UMass’s commitment to diversity, and welcome individuals regardless of age, background, citizenship, disability, sex, education, ethnicity, family status, gender, gender identity, geographical origin, language, military experience, political views, race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and work experience.

Course description: COMPSCI 391L is a study, analysis, and discussion of the legal issues related to crimes involving computers and networks, including topical actions by dissidents and governments. We will also study the technologies of forensic investigation, intelligence gathering, privacy enhancement, and censorship resistance.

Our main legal topics will include recent and important case law, statutes, and constitutional clauses concerning authorization, access, search and seizure, wiretaps, the right to privacy, and FISA. Our technology topics will include methods of investigation and resistance in the context of the Internet and Cellular networks. Students are assumed to have no background in legal concepts. All students will be required to complete substantial legal readings, complete significant written analysis of rulings, learn about technologies in detail, and participate in lively class discussion. Some of the laws and cases that we’ll be covering provide the courts’ answers to these questions:

  • Can you be compelled by police to turn over the key to encrypted documents?
  • Are you breaking the law if you connect to someone’s open wireless access point?
  • Does violating a web site’s Terms of Service constitute criminal fraud?
  • If you tell your employer you are leaving in two weeks, are you guilty of hacking if you then access your files at the company?
  • Since data can be deleted immediately via remote commands, aren’t police always justified in seizing equipment without a warrant to avoid the delay?
  • What is the legal justification for the surveillance activities of the US government?
  • Why do we have a right to “privacy” if the word never appears in the constitution?

These issues and the others we’ll discuss are fundamental to our profession and our society.

Some of the technical topics that we’ll cover include:

  • What information does one expose to third parties from everyday use of cellular phones and why?
  • What information can a third party (e.g., advertisers or the government) gather about persons from their use of the Internet and why?
  • How do technologies for protecting privacy, such as Tor, operate?
  • What technologies are available for investigating crimes perpetrated with the help the Internet, including child exploitation, human trafficking, and electronic theft, and how do they work?
  • What technologies are available to thwart government censorship and how do they work?

The specific objectives for the course are as follows:

  • To gain an understanding of and familiarity with computer crime case law and general legal reasoning.
  • To understand the implications that computer science advances have had on criminal law historically.
  • To reason about the implications of current and future computer science advances on hypothetical cases, based on past rulings.
  • To gain a familiarity and understanding of the technology that supports privacy and surveillance.
  • To gain experience in formal writing, and experience in making well-reasoned arguments both on paper and in class discussion.

Who is this course for? Undergraduates with a strong technical background (COMPSCI 230) and an interest in the law as it applies to technology. This course counts as a COMPSCI elective toward the major (B.S. or B.A.).

Prerequisites: COMPSCI 230 and ENGLWRIT 112 (or waiver for it).

Acknowledgements: I’m very grateful to Professor Brian Neil Levine for providing me materials that assisted me in preparing this course.