Cyberlaw Clinic — Academic Year in Review:  2015-16

As often happens during the heat of the New England summer, we on the Cyberlaw Clinic team find ourselves thinking about the past academic year and looking ahead to the next. It is a great time to pause and reflect on the work of our students and the overall state of our program, which has now served the HLS student body and the broader technology law and policy community for more than sixteen years. This post serves as something of an “academic year in review” for the 2015-16 school year and a preview of things to come.


The Clinic settled into an energized and productive routine over the last two years due in large part to the fact that our stellar students have been led by a stellar teaching team — Clinical Professors Chris Bavitz and Susan Crawford, Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law Dalia Ritvo, Clinical Instructor Vivek Krishnamurthy, Clinical Fellow Andy Sellars, and Project Coordinator Kira Hessekiel. Given all our successes of the past couple of years, it is with mixed emotions that we bid farewell to two integral members of that team — Dalia Ritvo and Andy Sellars — each of whom is moving on from the Clinic this summer. Dalia, our former Assistant Director, is heading home to Colorado, where she will be closer to family. And, Andy is taking the helm of a brand new tech clinical program just across the Charles River at Boston University, where he and his students will serve BU and MIT students. Both Andy and Dalia will maintain ties to the Berkman Klein Center in 2016-17 as Affiliates, and we know that they will continue to be friends, colleagues, and collaborators in years to come.

In the midst of these changes, we are pleased to report that Vivek Krishnamurty_Vivek_pressKrishnamurthy has been promoted to Assistant Director of the Cyberlaw Clinic and will play a vital role in managing the program going forward. Vivek has also been appointed Lecturer on Law for the coming academic year and will co-teach the Cyberlaw Clinic Seminar with Chris Bavitz. Vivek joined the Clinic in fall 2014, and his diligent work in recent years has significantly expanded the Clinic’s focus on issues relating to human rights, digital civil liberties, and corporate social responsibility. We could not be more excited to have Vivek on board in these expanded roles.

And, as if that weren’t enough excitement on the staffing front…  we’re hiring!  Multiple positions, in in fact — a Clinical Instructor and one or two Clinical Fellows.  Please help spread the word far and wide as we look to expand our team.


Members of the Clinic teaching team taught a number of courses at Harvard Law School during the past academic year, including:

  • City Use of Technology,” a fall course taught by Clinical Professor and Berkman Klein Center Faculty Director Susan Crawford;
  • “Cyberlaw Clinic Seminar,” a seminar taught during the fall and spring semesters by Chris and Dalia;
  • “Technology, Justice, and the Delivery of Legal Services,” a 1L reading group taught by Chris, along with Harvard Law School Clinical Professor Esme Caramello;
  • Music and Digital Media,” a spring seminar which Chris taught this past spring for the sixth consecutive year.

Cyberlaw Clinic:  Student Engagement

The Cyberlaw Clinic enrolled 30 students in Fall 2015, 4 continuing students in Winter 2016, and 31 new and continuing students in Spring 2016, for a total of 65 student slots during the 2015-16 academic year. Those students enrolled for a total of 167 credits over the course of the year, and the Clinic’s supervising attorneys managed more than 10,000 hours of student work. We have a summer intern with us this summer — Griffin Davis from University of Pennsylvania Law School — who is keeping our projects afloat.

Cyberlaw Clinic:  Substantive Practice and Client Base

During the 2015-16 academic year, the Clinic continued to focus its work on a number of key subject areas, including:  litigation; intellectual property; privacy; online safety; free speech and media law; digital civil liberties; government innovation; communications infrastructure; regulatory compliance; and technology and access to justice. The Clinic’s work in these areas ran the gamut from preparing legal research memoranda for clients to drafting transactional and public-facing policy documents to representing them in court proceedings as litigants or amici curiae.

The Clinic served a growing number of clients and a wider range of clients than ever before, including individuals, small start-ups, non-profit organizations, academics, and government entities. Simultaneously, the Clinic intensified its strategy to integrate student representation and legal support with research projects at the Clinic’s home institution — now known as the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society.  For example:  

  • The Clinic also supported the work of the Center’s Youth & Media project to educate teachers about fair use.  Together, we produced a podcast in collaboration with Radio Berkman; a guide for teachers (including a number of education-specific resources); and an infographic to explain fair use doctrine in a visual way.  The resources are helping to grow Berkman Klein’s Digital Literacy Resource Platform, an evolving collection of tools about online safety, privacy, creative expression, and information quality that can help users navigate connected learning environments and the digital world.

Clinic students provided representation to a wide variety of non-Berkman-affiliated clients throughout 2015-16 as well, including mission-driven startups, governmental organizations, advocacy groups, and arts and cultural institutions.

Cyberlaw Clinic:  Representative Cases and Matters

A few notable examples of cases and projects handled by Clinic students during the past academic year include the following:

  (a) Litigation. The Clinic, both directly and working in tandem with law firms located around the United States, has represented individuals and organizations in connection with pre-litigation disputes and active litigation across subject areas ranging from intellectual property to media law. Of particular note in 2015-16, the Clinic handled several matters involving freedom of information laws, including an administrative appeal of a federal agency’s denial of a researcher’s request for documents made under the Freedom of Information Act in which the Clinic and its client prevailed. The Clinic also represented a website operator in an ongoing domain name dispute with a government entity.

  (b) Intellectual Property. Copyright and other intellectual property issues remained near the top of the Clinic’s docket during the past year — a reflection of both client demand and student interest. Of particular note:

  • The Clinic filed amicus briefs in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of a coalition of law scholars in a pair of cases examining the copyright status of model codes and standards — such as building and electrical codes — that were originally developed by private organizations but later incorporated into the law. The briefs argue that such codes are not proper subjects of copyright protection since the Supreme Court has long recognized that the law belongs in the public domain. Furthermore, such codes are subject to copyright’s merger doctrine once they are incorporated into the law, for “there is only one way to express what the law of a jurisdiction is, and that is the text of the law itself.”
  • The Clinic advised clients on copyright and trademark matters, including extensive counseling of a documentary film team about copyright questions, licensing, and fair use and intellectual property matters and advising of clients about the viability and registrability of proposed trademarks.

  (c) Privacy and Data Security. As public concern continues to mount over the privacy and security of the information people entrust to the digital devices and services they use everyday, privacy has grown into the Clinic’s single-busiest practice area. A significant majority of the projects the Clinic takes on now involve a privacy component, but some of the highlights of our work last year include:

  • Dalia Ritvo and Vivek Krishnamurthy of the Clinic teamed up with Sarah Altschuller in the Corporate Social Responsibility practice of the law firm Foley Hoag LLP to prepare a guide entitled “Managing Users’ Rights Responsibly – A Guide for Early-Stage Companies.” A number of Cyberlaw Clinic students contributed to the project, which seeks to provide an overview of challenges that companies face when dealing with third-party requests to access or suppress information relating to customers.

  (d) Online Safety. The Cyberlaw Clinic continued to promote online safety — especially youth online safety — through a wide range of collaborations concerning privacy and related issues. Of particular note, Cyberlaw Clinic Assistant Director, Dalia Topelson Ritvo, with the help of Clinic students, Crystal Nwaneri and Makala Kaupalolo, published an updated guide to help K-12 schools navigate the federal laws that apply when introducing networked technologies both in and out of the classroom. The goal of the guide is to help schools, administrators and teachers make more empowered decisions on how to use networked technologies in a way that complies with federal laws protecting student privacy.

  (e) Free Speech and Media Law. The Cyberlaw Clinic has been very active in addressing the broad spectrum of legal issues faced by those who express themselves online or host the expression of others on services that they operate. The Clinic has provided advice and counsel in matters involving First Amendment issues, defamation claims, and anonymous speech online. Of particular note this year:

  • In April 2016, the Clinic filed an amicus brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit on behalf of the New England First Amendment Coalition (NEFAC) and the Keene Sentinel in Rideout v. Gardner, No. 15-2021. The case concerns a New Hampshire law that aims to ban “ballot selfies” — i.e., photos of completed ballots that are posted on social media. The brief argues that the law is unconstitutional under the First Amendment, as it prohibits a variety of speech important to monitoring the government, educating voters and engaging in political debate. The brief also raises specific examples of times when photographs of ballots helped the public clear up misunderstandings about government conduct, demonstrated how to ensure that one’s vote would be counted, and conveyed messages about civic participation and advocacy for a candidate that could not expressed with words alone.

  (f) Digital Civil Liberties. From local police forces seizing and searching an individual criminal suspect’s electronic devices to the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programs that were disclosed by Edward Snowden in his 2013 revelations, the question of how our civil liberties should be protected against government incursions big and small in this “golden age of surveillance” continues to be headline news. During the past year, the Clinic has continued to work with leading domestic and international civil liberties organizations to study the legality of a range of surveillance and investigative techniques used by governments here in the U.S. and around the world. Our work has ranged from evaluating how various actors can shed more light on the scope and scale of government information requests, to advising our clients on possible avenues for reform through legislation and litigation. Of particular note:

  • The Cyberlaw Clinic and attorney Mahesha Subbaraman of Subbaraman PLLC submitted an amicus brief to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on behalf of civil liberties advocacy organization, Restore the Fourth, in the case, Rodriguez v. Swartz. The case has potentially far-reaching implications regarding the scope and continuing viability of United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U.S. 259 (1990) — in which the United States Supreme Court addressed the applicability of the Fourth Amendment to a search of a Mexican citizen’s home in Mexico — and more broadly about the extraterritorial reach of the Fourth Amendment’s protections.
  • In the fall of 2015, the Clinic prepared a major research memorandum for Amnesty International evaluating the options available to the U.S. government to regulate encryption technologies in response to the so-called “going dark” problem. This work, which is featured in the Spring 2016 issue of the Harvard Law Bulletin, anticipated many of the arguments that were made in the court proceedings that attempted to compel Apple to decrypt the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone.  
  • In November 2015, the Cyberlaw Clinic filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts in Commonwealth v. Estabrook, SJC–11917. The case concerns when it is permissible for the police to seize a cell phone without first obtaining a warrant, particularly in light of the “remote wipe” features that are built into most modern smartphones. The Clinic’s brief for the ACLU argues that warrantless seizures of cell phones are only justified when there is evidence to suggest that a remote wipe is imminent, and that the police must obtain a warrant promptly thereafter to continue holding the phone until its contents are searched.
  • The Clinic has continued to collaborate with the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a multi-stakeholder group of companies, civil society organizations (including human rights and press freedom groups), investors, and academics that have adopted a collaborative approach to protecting and advancing freedom of expression in the information and communications technology sector. Dalia Topelson Ritvo continued to serve as a full member of the GNI’s Board of Directors, while Vivek Krishnamurthy was appointed to the GNI’s Policy Committee representing the academic constituency.

  (g) Government Innovation. During the 201​5-2016 academic year, Clinic students worked on a number of government technology projects in partnership with the mayor’s office​s​ of the City of Boston​ and the City of Cincinnati​, including ​creating a one-stop online shop for senior/low-income programs, work on city ordinances that affect access to poles for fiber optic lines, creating “data governance” relationships between the mayor’s office and city agencies​, and work on privacy issues arising from government releases of open data privacy issues.​ ​

  (h) Technology and Access to Justice. The Cyberlaw Clinic continued to do work to promote the use of technology to facilitate the delivery of legal services and, thus, access to justice. Among other things, in fall 2015, the Clinic collaborated with another HLS clinical program to develop a protoype of a tool that helped applicants for certain state benefits evaluate eligibility and calculate their likely benefits. The prototype was built using the A2J Author platform.

Cyberlaw Clinic:  Events and Outreach

Clinic staff organized and participated in a variety of events and outreach to the HLS community and beyond during the past year, including the following:

  • On April 9, 2016, Chris Bavitz moderated a Harvard Law School Alumni Weekend event regarding technology and the law. Susan Crawford spoke that same weekend about how the post-fiber optics world will change us.
  • Vivek Krishnamurthy traveled to San Francisco in March for RightsCon 2016 and spoke on panels on how companies in the ICT sector should remedy the human rights harms they sometimes create and on the challenges facing early-stage tech companies in respecting the human rights of their users.
  • On December 4, 2015, the Clinic helped present an event entitled, “Privacy & Europe:
 Debating the ‘Right to be Forgotten,’ Trans-Atlantic Data Flows, and the World’s Toughest New Privacy Laws” with Google’s Global Privacy Counsel, Peter Fleischer.
  • On October 6, 2015, Chris Bavitz moderated a discussion presented by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, featuring pioneering figures in the field of podcasting and Internet audio.  The event — entitled “State of the Podcast” — addressed  how podcasting emerged and what trends could be determining its future. (also featured in “Conferences and Special Events”)
  • Susan Crawford spoke at the Queens University of Charlotte in October 2015 on the subject of her book, The Responsive City, examining the impact of new information technologies on civic life, and the social and economic impact of fiber networks.
  • Vivek Krishnamurthy organized an international symposium in June 2015 bringing together representatives of government, business, academia, and civil society to discuss how and when data stored “in the cloud” with multinational companies should be disclosed to governments for law enforcement purposes.

Members of the Clinic’s teaching team continued to engage with the broader public through writing and interactions with media. Notable examples include:

  • Vivek Krishnamurthy was interviewed by OZY on why a law degree can help those interested in a career in tech.
  • Vivek Krishnamurthy was interviewed by in March on whether computer code counts as free speech in connection with Apple’s efforts to fight the U.S. government’s attempt to obtain a court order forcing it to decrypt the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone.
  • Andy Sellars spoke to Time’s Victor Luckerson about presidential candidate Donald Trump’s claims that he would shut down parts of the internet to staunch the activities of terrorist groups online, pointing out that the internet’s decentralized nature is such that no one country can control what is online.
  • Vivek Krishnamurthy published a Berkman Center research paper in February entitled “Cloudy with a Conflict of Laws: How Cloud Computing Has Disrupted the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty System and Why it Matters.” The paper explains how the rise of cloud computing increasingly creates situations where evidence of a crime committed in one country is stored digitally on servers located in another country, thus necessitating the need for costly and time-consuming international co-operation to obtain such evidence. It then suggests some outlines of a possible solution that allays the risks that this problem poses to the future of a free and open global Internet.
  • Slate Magazine commended Susan Crawford in a story highlighting the women who fought for and won net neutrality, particularly for her leadership in the public debate.

Looking Ahead

BKC logo lettersIn addition to staffing changes, several exciting developments are underway at the Cyberlaw Clinic for the 2016-2017 academic year.  With the announcement of a generous gift by Harvard Law School alumnus Michael Klein (L.L.M. ‘67), the newly-christened Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society will have — in the words of Berkman faculty chair Jonathan Zittrain, a “rare and precious liberty to plan and build according to imagination and conscience.”  Per the Center’s Executive Director, Urs Gasser, the Center will “build new and enhanced interfaces between the worlds of computer science, engineering, law, governance, and policy through powerful research initiatives, educational programs, and outreach efforts, bringing together the best know-how from both academia and practice, and engaging the next generation of technology and policy leaders and makers.”

In the short term, for us in the Clinic, this means a new logo (up top) and a new URL for our website (, though links to the old site should redirect to the appropriate place). Big-picture, we expect that spirit of interdisciplinarity and thoughtful, forward-thinking engagement with issues at the heart of the Center’s mission will inform the Clinic’s practice, along with the work of our colleagues throughout the Berkman Klein Center.

On a more practical note, of interest to incoming students who will enroll in the program, Cyberlaw Clinic students who enroll in the program starting this fall will have the opportunity to get more credits for the work they do in the Clinic. Harvard Law School has adjusted the clinical credit scales to reflect the growing importance of practical experience in legal education and the depth and breadth of the student experience in HLS clinics, which means students may enroll for 3, 4, or 5 credits a semester, with each credit correlating to approximately 4 hours of work per week.

As for the substance of our work, we will continue to keep our collective ears to the ground to remain on top of the latest developments. Although we never quite know where our students and clients will take us, a cursory reading of the tea leaves tells us the following:

  • We expect to play a role in ongoing debates around civil liberties and national security that have been brewing for the past decade-and-a-half and came to something of a head in the wake of the tragic events in San Bernadino last December and the government’s efforts to access a mobile device belonging to one of the shooters.
  • We anticipate the United States Copyright Office and US legislature will continue to pay increased attention to the Copyright Act and consider efforts to reform its more outdated provisions to better address the realities of digital creation and online distribution of content. We know many of our clients in the creative and tech communities are monitoring such efforts carefully.
  • We also know many in our community are thinking hard about issues relating to so-called “harmful” speech online — seeking means to combat misogyny, harassment, bullying, and other unsavory conduct online. We expect to be part of conversations about how to address such speech while remaining respectful of legal regimes that protect free expression.  
  • We look forward to engaging in a substantive way with issues of racial and social justice and the role technology can play in promoting equality (or perpetuating inequality). This is particularly true in the wake of an academic year in which the HLS student body — including many HLS clinical students — focused significant attention on these issues.  

We thank our students for their diligent efforts and our clients and collaborators for entrusting us to advocate in their interests over the past year.  We look forward to a productive and invigorating 2016-17 academic year!   

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