Thursday, March 5, 2009

Forget technology in the classroom - we need to teach students how to use technology to prevent this kind of thing

The debate about technology in the classroom, IMHO, sometimes misses the point.  It obfuscates the real issue which is that the teacher needs to develop effective teaching techniques - sometimes technology facilitates that and sometimes technology becomes a substitute.

The more pressing issue may be for law schools to develop courses that prepare students to use technology effectively when they enter practice - an applied technology practice course if you will.

Unfortunately, such a course comes too late for those involved in the recent ConnectU v. Facebook litigation in which the redacted terms of a confidential, multimillion dollar settlement were unlocked by a tech-savvy AP reporter.  As the Legal Watch Blog reported today:

When Facebook settled ConnectU's lawsuit alleging it stole the idea for the popular social-networking site, its lawyers wanted nothing more than to keep the terms secret. As it turned out, they might as well have blasted it on a billboard in Times Square.

When the federal court in San Jose unsealed the transcript of its closed hearing on the Facebook/ConnectU settlement, it redacted all references to the settlement's financial terms. Or at least it thought it did. But when Associated Press reporter Michael Liedtke saw the blocked-out portions of the PDF transcript, he was able to unblock them with a few keystrokes. As he explained:

Facebook fought fiercely to keep the details of its market value and the ConnectU settlement under wraps. Before last June's hearing, Facebook lawyers persuaded Ware to remove reporters from a San Jose courtroom so the final details could be hashed out in private.

Large portions of that hearing are redacted in a transcript of the June hearing, but The Associated Press was able to read the blacked-out portions by copying from an electronic version of the document and pasting the results into another document.

You can replicate the [reporter's]"discovery" for yourself. Just open the PDF of the transcript, which is available from and go to the bottom of page 22. There you see the word "REDACTED" followed by a line of whited-out text. Copy that line and paste it into a word processing program. Like magic, there appears the settlement figure of $65 million.

So how should a lawyer redact a document? Various companies offer redaction products. One, Redact-it, includes on its Web site a free white paper on how to redact documents properly. In looking for other guides to redaction, I found one that is particularly helpful in the way that it walks step-by-step through the process. Ironically, the source of this helpful guide to redaction is the federal court for the Northern District of California -- the very court from whence the botched Facebook transcript was issued.

I am the scholarship dude. 


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