Does GPS Tracking Count as a Search? Yes.

Does GPS Tracking Count as a Search? Yes.

Law enforcement agencies have become more aware of how technological advances can help them monitor and track suspects and criminals. The Supreme Court, however, has put a limit on what exactly counts as a “search” and how far authorities can go in tracking repeat offenders. Torrey Dale Grady, a repeat sex offender, was told he must wear a GPS ankle bracelet 24 hours a day so that he can be monitored by the North Carolina police. Grady said that since the device needed to be charged, he was required to sit next to a wall outlet for at least 4 to 6 hours per day. Grady unsuccessfully battled the ankle bracelet in North Carolina courts, but eventually made his way to the US Supreme Court. Grady claimed that the GPS ankle bracelet would be the equivalent of an unreasonable search and seizure, therefore violating his 4th Amendment rights. The Supreme Court was  interested in answering this question for once and for all.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court agreed with Grady and said that if the government attaches anything to your body or your property, it counts as a search. Although the North Carolina Supreme Court had sided with its police authorities and said the ankle bracelet was perfectly legal, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the state’s highest court to be heard once again. Siding with Grady, the Supreme Court also mentioned precedents. One of the cited cases was US v. Jones, in which the Supreme Court had ruled that installing GPS devices in a suspect’s vehicle fell under the 4th Amendment search.

The Fourth Amendment and advances in technology seem to be in contradiction. It is expected that the Supreme Court will soon have to deal with the issue of whether geolocations from our phones are also protected under the Fourth Amendment. We will have to wait and see when such a case makes its way to the nation’s highest court. The concern about technology and surveillance is growing as more and more Americans purchase smartphones. This ruling will force lower courts to consider whether attaching a GPS tracker to someone is a violation of their constitutional rights. North Carolina was not alone in requiring repeat sex offenders to wear ankle bracelet. Wisconsin did the same thing, but both of these states and others will now be forced to reconsider their method of monitoring criminals.


Source referenced:

  1. Naked Security
  2. The Atlantic
Why you should have an Employee Handbook

Why you should have an Employee Handbook

A Double-edged Sword

There was a time when employers avoided having an employee handbook. It was a common misconception that having an employee handbook protected employees, but not employers. This is definitely not the case. While an employee handbook can protect employees, it can also help employers with legal matters. An employee handbook can be a double-edged sword, but it is recommended that every business have one. The type of business or the number of employees working should not determine whether or not an employer has a handbook. In addition to protecting both employers and employees, a handbook can encourage employees to behave in a more appropriate fashion, make sure all employees are treated the same way, and help win unemployment lawsuits. We provide more reasons for having an employee handbook below.

Establishing Expectations

While an employee handbook does not need to be an instruction manual on how to perform a specific job or duty, it can provide some baseline expectations for a new employee. It can include anything from dress codes to information on how to request a day off. An employee handbook can also include information on filing a complaint about harassment, keeping a time record, and complying with the law while on the job. Adding this information to your employee handbook can come in handy in case of a lawsuit or any legal trouble.

“Selling” the Benefits You Offer

When a new employee is considering his or her options for employment, providing them with your employee handbook can definitely be beneficial to you. In the handbook, you can highlight all the resources you provide for your employees and why your business is the best place to work. You can even include Worker’s Compensation and Medical Insurance benefits.


If your business ever faces a lawsuit from an employee, an employee handbook can serve as your first defense. For example, if you terminated an employee you will need proof that the employee was on notice for his actions. It would be extremely helpful if you have outlined your procedure for terminating employees in your handbook, as it would serve as the proof you need. If the employee signed the employee handbook, it becomes an even stronger defense.

Some additional considerations about employee handbooks are that they must comply with state and federal laws. While you do not need to spell out each law in the handbook, none of your policies should be conflicting with the law. In addition, your handbook should be tailored to the needs of your business. This means you should write your own handbook as a business owner. Getting the handbook published and checked for typos is also a good idea. Lastly, making sure your employee handbook is up-to-date is crucial. There is no point in having a handbook that focuses on laws from the past. We advise all of our business clients to either write or revise their handbooks based on the advise found here. More information on how to perfect your employee handbook can be found at the link below.

Source referenced: JD Supra

What to Know Before Using DIY Legal Sites

What to Know Before Using DIY Legal Sites

Perhaps in an attempt to save some time and money, some businesses are turning to DIY Legal Sites to fulfill their legal needs. These sites, like everything else on the internet, are readily available and are fairly easy to figure out. Not only are these sites cheap, they provide click-download-and-print legal forms for your business needs. However, before you use one of these sites for your business, we will highlight a few things you should consider if you plan on becoming an amateur attorney from the comfort of your couch.

One size does not fit all: In this case, one form does not fit all cases. While the site may lead you to one specific form for your needs, there is no guarantee that the form will actually work for you. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for. You pay for a form and simple instructions on how to fill it out. You did not pay for an attorney to walk you through the problem and help you find the one form that can fulfill your needs. Online forms are designed for the masses, but your attorney can find the specific form you need.

What you don’t know can hurt you: While attorneys with years of experience will be able to easily catch the smallest details in forms and contracts, the same cannot be said about an online form. Attorneys know the kind of loopholes and information they are looking for, but the online forms and legal services do not have any experience with this.

Forming a relationship with your attorney: Your attorney, by knowing you and your business, will always be able to recommend the best path forward for your company. If you have worked with the same lawyer for a number of years, he or she can help you avoid unnecessary hurdles and keep potential issues from turning into problems. A DIY legal site may be able to solve the problem at hand, but will not be able to advise you for the future.

If you look closely at these DIY legal sites, they explicitly say their services are not a substitute for a licensed attorney. This alone should serve as a warning to businesses using these sites instead of consulting their attorneys. While attorneys can be costly, their expertise does not match up to a legal site designed for the masses. In addition, you should weigh the risks and rewards of the situation. If hiring an attorney helps you avoid legal complications in the future, avoiding DIY legal sites may be your best plan. We hope this post has provided valuable information for our business clients.

Source referenced: Entrepreneur

Investing Spare Change with Lawnmower

Investing Spare Change with Lawnmower

What is the one thing young professionals spend the majority of their time using? You guessed it, their smartphone. What is something young professionals today might have a problem doing? You may have guessed it, saving money. With this knowledge, an app called Lawnmower was launched in 2014. The app tracks its users credit card and bank transactions and rounds each one up to the next dollar. The spare change is invested into buying Bitcoin. If you buy a book for $4.70, Lawnmower will round your purchase up to $5 and invest the extra 30 cents into buying Bitcoin. The goal of the app is that the spare change will add up over time and become a way for today’s generation to save money.

More and more apps are being designed to help young professionals accumulate their wealth. Another app, Digit, automatically sends small amounts of money from a checking account to a savings account. Acorns, similar to Lawnmower, automatically invests spare change into exchange traded funds. Mint is another app that helps people understand their spending and increase their savings. A trend among all these apps is that they charge little or no fees for their services. Lawnmower does not currently charge anything, but users may still pay a fee for using Bitcoin. Lawnmower plans to offer premium services to its users to generate revenue.

The founders of Lawnmower, Alex Sunnarborg, Pieter Gorsira, and Patrick Archambeau, hope that their app will be easier to use than Bitcoin, which can be overwhelming and complex for new users. The fact that Lawnmower’s success is completely dependent on the ongoing use of Bitcoin does not concern the three founders. As an entirely digital currency, Bitcoin has had its fair share of ups and downs. While there were days when the price point of Bitcoin hit over $1,000, there were also days in 2014 where it stood at a little over $200. Although not everyone is convinced that Bitcoin is the future of currency, Sunnarborg does not think Bitcoin’s success or failure with impact his users too much. This is because his user’s will only be jeopardizing spare change, not huge amounts of money. Sunnarborg makes a fair point, but one thing to keep in mind is that losing small amounts of spare change everyday can add up to a huge amount.

Source referenced: Fortune

Protecting Social Media Contacts

Protecting Social Media Contacts

In this age of technology and social media sites, a new question is beginning to arise: Who gets the professional social media contacts when one of your employees leaves? This issue is especially relevant to LinkedIn. There are many employers that encourage their employees to create LinkedIn accounts to stay connected with clients and form more business connections. However, what happens when these employees leave and start working for a competing business? Do they get to take all of your valuable social media contacts to that competitor? The answer is not yet clear.

LinkedIn, as a part of its user agreement, says “If you are using LinkedIn on behalf of a company or other legal entity, you are nevertheless individually bound by this Agreement even if your company has a separate agreement with us.” There are no official laws on what happens to contacts after an employee leaves or is terminated, but the courts seems to be siding with the employees. After an employer took over a Pennsylvania woman’s LinkedIn account, the court said the woman had the right to own her social media profile. This can serve as a warning for many business owners to protect themselves before any lawsuits set a precedent for all employers.

Advice for Business Owners

Since there are no laws on this issue and we expect similar problems to arise in the future, here are some recommendations for business owners who have employees using social media sites for work purposes:

  1. Spell out your expectations for the use of professional contacts.
  2. If an employee receives personal contact information for a professional client, you may want to tell them to enter that personal information into the company’s database. This depends on the type of personal information and the specific circumstances.
  3. You may want to require employees to “disconnect” from their contacts if they plan on leaving your company. This should definitely be done if you know the employee is taking another job at a competitor.

We hope these tips and the information shared above can help our business clients protect their valued professional contacts. Although our legal system has not yet formally ruled on this issue, it is better if we are cautious about the steps we take. The tips listed above can be part of an employee handbook and should be reviewed with all employees, even those that have worked at your business for years. Helping our business clients protect themselves is our priority and we hope this post will be of value to you.

Source referenced: Entrepreneur

Western Union vs. Bitcoin

Western Union vs. Bitcoin


Western Union was not happy when Bitcoin “released” an advertisement comparing itself to Western Union. The image above shows the parody ad that was posted on Bitcoin’s Facebook page. Western Union filed a claim against Bitcoin under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) saying Bitcoin had infringed on its trademark of the image. However, DMCA only covers copyright material, not trademarks. Facebook removed the image from Bitcoin’s News Page immediately and the man who originally posted the image, Dave Aiello, wanted to charge Facebook for deleting his image. It is not clear whether Aiello was the one who originally created the image, but he was the one to post it on Facebook and later share it on reddit. Facebook told Aiello they would restore the image to Facebook, unless Western Union takes legal action within 10 to 14 days.

Parodies are usually considered “fair use” under DMCA. In addition, companies rarely take legal action based on images or content posted on social media sites. This raises the question of why Western Union was so fast to take action against Bitcoin. One reason could be that Western Union feels threatened by Bitcoin’s rise in popularity. Another reason could be that Western Union simply wanted attention. If this spoof had not surfaced on social media sites, Western Union would not have gotten the attention it received. If they decide to take further legal action against Bitcoin, it just brings more attention to the company.

While we may not know the exact reason Western Union is making such a big deal out of a parody advertisement, it will be interesting to see whether or not the DMCA holds that parodies fall under the “fair use” doctrine. In addition, DMCA does not cover trademarks, which is what Western Union wants to sue for. This controversy brought attention to Bitcoin and their services. It would be a win-win situation for both companies at the end of the day in terms of media exposure, especially if Western Union is not able to formally file against Bitcoin.

Sources referenced:

  1. ARS Technica
  2. Coin Desk
Eavesdropping Explained

Eavesdropping Explained

As residents and citizens of California, everyone in the state enjoys the “inalienable right of privacy.”The California government has always taken privacy very seriously. In 1967, the state legislature passed an “Invasion of Privacy Act,” which outlined criminal penalties for invading another citizen’s privacy.

Today, Penal Code 632 makes it “a crime to use an electronic device to overhear or record a private conversation.” In order for eavesdropping to be a crime, the following elements are required:

  1. Must be intentional.
  2. Must take place without the permission of the parties to the overheard conversation.
  3. The conversation needs to be confidential. In other words, at least one party intended that no one else hear the conversation and expected privacy.
  4. Must involve the use of an electronic device, either to hear the conversation or to record it.

California has also acted quickly to protect cell phone and cordless phone calls. Penal Code 632.5 and 632.6 say intercepting “a call between two cell phones, two cordless phones, a cell or cordless phone and a landline phone, OR a cell phone and a cordless phone, with criminal intent and without the consent of both parties to the call” has the same penalties as ordinary eavesdropping.

Penal Code 632 Penalties

The penalties for eavesdropping can vary based on the accused individual’s record and the prosecutor. A prosecutor may try eavesdropping as a misdemeanor or a felony. If it is a misdemeanor, the accused individual can be fined up to $2,500, one year in county jail, or both. If it is a felony, then the accused can be fined $2,500 and/or sixteen months, two years, or three years in state prison. The maximum fine can be raised to $10,000 if the individual has a record of eavesdropping.

Not only can the accused face criminal penalties, an eavesdropper may also face a civil lawsuit. A victim of eavesdropping can sue for up to three times the damages they suffered or for $5,000, whichever is greater. Even if the victim does not suffer any economic damages as a result of the eavesdropping, he or she can still sue for up to $5,000.

Can you use information gathered through eavesdropping as evidence?

The answer to this question is no. Although gathering information by using an electronic device to eavesdrop may seem like a reasonable way to win a legal argument, you can face criminal charges for the eavesdropping. The evidence gathered through eavesdropping will not be admissible in a court of law.

When can you eavesdrop legally?

There are certain circumstances and situations where private citizens can eavesdrop legally to gather evidence. An individual can legally eavesdrop if he/she is one of the parties in the conversation and the person recording the conversation is collecting evidence because he/she believes that the other person is involved with the following crimes: extortion, kidnapping, bribery, any felony, or any annoying phone calls (Penal Code 653m).

You can also legally record a conversation with someone, without their permission, if you are seeking a restraining order against that person. This usually falls under the CA Domestic Violence laws and Penal Code 273.6. These recordings would be admissible in a court of law.


CA Penal Code 631 prohibits wiretapping. While eavesdropping and wiretapping are similar crimes, wiretapping is “the act of intercepting and listening in on phone conversations by using a machine to ‘tap’ into the phone line over which they take place.” Eavesdropping is only listening in on the conversation. Similar to eavesdropping, the penalties for wiretapping depend on whether the crime is tried as a misdemeanor or a felony.

Eavesdropping and Wiretapping by Law Enforcement

Interestingly, most citizens are not concerned about other citizens eavesdropping on their private conversations. They are more concerned about the government listening to them. The 1967 Invasion of Privacy Act made it very clear that eavesdropping laws did not apply to law enforcement officials. In addition, any evidence they gather by eavesdropping is accepted in court.

However, this does not mean law enforcement officials can listen in on your private conversations whenever the want to. If they want to wiretap your phone or intercept your calls, they must get a court order. Authorities are usually able to get court orders for the following crimes: serious drug crimes, murder or solicitation of murder, kidnapping, and terrorism. They must also convince the judge that other investing procedures have failed and wiretapping and eavesdropping are a last resort.

For Americans today, eavesdropping has become a serious issue with the rise of terrorism. We hope this analysis of eavesdropping laws in California has provided you with more information on illegal and legal eavesdropping. Our goal is that a more thorough understanding of eavesdropping laws in California will better protect our clients and businesses.

Source referenced: Shouse California Law Group