"Nota Bene" means "note this well" or "take particular notice." We at the O'Quinn Law Library will be posting tips on legal research techniques and resources, developments in the world of legal information, happenings at the Law Library, and legal news reports that deserve your particular attention. We look forward to sharing our thoughts and findings and to hearing from you.

N.B: Make a note to visit "Nota Bene" regularly.

-Spencer L. Simons, former Director, O'Quinn Law Library and Associate Professor of Law



Friday, June 23, 2017

FBI Publishes 2016 Internet Crime Report


The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) recently published its 2016 Internet Crime Report. Here are a few interesting facts from the document:
  •  In 2016, the IC3 received 298,728 complaints of internet crimes, with reported losses of over $1.3 billion.
  • Non-payment/non-delivery was the most widely reported category of crime, with 81,029 victims. In this type of crime, a person either fails to pay for goods received (non-payment) or takes payment for goods that are never delivered (non-delivery). 
  •  Texas was ranked second in the number of victims per state (21,441) and fourth in the amount of losses per state ($77,135,765). California was first in both categories. 
The report features sections on “hot topics” in internet crime, including business email compromises, ransomware, tech support fraud, and extortion. It also contains an appendix defining the various types of internet crime. 
     The IC3 was established in May 2000 to receive complaints of internet crime. While many of these complaints are investigated by the FBI, the IC3 also makes remote searching of its database available to all sworn law-enforcement officials. To learn more about the IC3, see the About IC3 page on its website. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Federal Judiciary to Limit PACER Access?

Should some PACER filings be blocked to ensure the safety of witnesses and informants? Possibly, according to a recently published a survey of federal judges, prosecutors, defenders and probation officers by the Federal Judicial Center.

Originally reported in The Wall Street Journal (subscription required/ available via Lexis Advance), recent survey (PDF) of federal judges, prosecutors, defenders and probation offices by the Federal Judicial Center found that nearly 700 witnesses and informants perceived as snitches had been threatened, wounded or killed over a three year period. According to the Wall Street Journal article,

"Federal inmates are restricted from accessing PACER themselves, but it is easy for them to ask people outside the prison to search the online system and report the information back into the prison by phone, according to judges." Inmates are becoming more sophisticated at decoding available criminal findings within the case filings, leading to a substantial threat to these so-called snitches.

In the survey, with nearly 1,000 respondents, "[r]espondents frequently reported court documents or court proceedings as the source for identifying cooperators." Plea agreements and other identifying documents are not considered prison contraband, and may even be posted on cell walls for other inmates to view.

Survey responses encouraged action by the Department of Justice to mitigate this threat to those cooperating with law enforcement, but no specific action has been taken to limit PACER access to the public in criminal cases. Some respondents also encouraged placing more sensitive documents under seal. Both of these possibilities are viewed by some defense attorneys as detrimental to their defendant-clients cases. In addition, any limitation of public access to these filings raise First Amendment concerns about access to government documents.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Clean Water Act Handbook, 4th ed.

Bernan Press has recently published the fourth edition of the Clean Water Act Handbook by Duke K. McCall, III. Designed for the practitioner, this source cover the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program, which regulates discharges to waters within the United States. The chapter on effluent limitations discusses standards that regulate discharges to waters based on what is economically and technologically achievable in one's industry. Another chapter provides an overview of Whole Effluent Toxicity (WET) standards, which are designed to test the impact of pollution on aquatic life. The author also covers non-point sources such as agricultural runoff, the regulation of dredged or fill materials, storm water discharges, and regulation of sanitation systems, among other topics. Finally, the reader will learn about topics related to enforcement of the Clean Water Act, such as criminal and civil enforcement, defenses, and citizen suits. The full text of the Clean Water Act (CWA) is available in the appendix. This book is now available on the law library's new titles shelf (located across from the reference desk next to the public computer terminals) under call number (KF3790.C545 2017).

Friday, May 19, 2017

LOC Makes 25 Million Catalog Records Available for Bulk Download


Earlier this week, the Library of Congress announced that it was making over 25 million of its catalog records available for free bulk download. These records will be available at data.gov and on the Library of Congress website at http://www.loc.gov/cds/products/marcDist.php. Previously these records were only available individually or by subscription. This new free service of the LOC will be an invaluable resource for anyone doing bibliographic research.

The records are in the MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging Records) format, the international standard for bibliographic data. To learn more about MARC records, see this tutorial on the LOC website.    

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Problem of Dark Data

A March New York Times article sounded warning bells for researchers: the scourge of dark data. Dark data doesn’t refer to anything secret or illegal, but rather data developed by the government and other organizations subject to loss. A more complete definition, often used in the corporate context, is "the information assets organizations collect, process and store during regular business activities, but generally fail to use for other purposes.” Concern over the loss of data that could lead to new discoveries has been especially equated with the loss of scientific data stored by agencies and other organizations. Much of this data is stored on government servers, with no legal obligation to remain available. The Trump administration’s proposed cuts to scientific research and agency funding has only increased the alarm felt by scientists and other researchers.

An additional problem is that dark data, by definition, is unknown. It can’t be verified if it can’t be found, even though we know it’s there. Somewhere. Right now, data.gov is the central repository for government created databases, but it relies on agencies to self-report and is, by many researchers’ estimates, only a fraction of data created by the agencies. The use of proprietary code and data.gov’s practice of linking to data housed on websites, instead of the databases themselves, makes it even more difficult for researchers.

While there does not seem to be any federal legislation prohibiting the destruction or decentralization of these types of data, several non-profits have formed to save this data from going dark, by identifying and downloading  data viewed as vulnerable to deletion.

To learn more about dark data, here are some resources to get you started:




Dark Web: Exploring and Data Mining the Dark Side of the Web, Hsinchun Chen

Friday, April 28, 2017

Law Firm Cybersecurity

The ABA  has recently published Law Firm Cybersecurity by Daniel Garrie and Bill Spernow, which is now in the law library's collection (KF318.G37 2017). This book begins with an overview of cybersecurity and the law firm, discussing issues such as law firm vulnerabilities to cyber breaches, ethical violations that could result, and the potential liability for clients because of the breaches. The second chapter provides "Ten Commandments of Cybersecurity" that law firms should implement immediately to prevent a cyber attack. There is a chapter that provides a detailed overview of cyber threats that exist and another chapter provides advice on password management, encryption, firewalls, and perimeter security control. Cryptography, the International Organization for Standardization 27000 series (which cover cybersecurity standards), and framework for improving critical cybersecurity infrastructure are among the other topics covered. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

New GPO Websites


The U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) recently announced the launch of its beta.gpo.gov website, which will eventually replace the old GPO website launched in 2009. Among other things, the new site features a mobile-friendly design, access to GPO social media platforms, and a directory of Federal Depository Libraries.

This follows closely on the February launch of the beta website govinfo.gov, which will eventually replace the Federal Digital System (FDSys) as the GPO’s free, searchable repository of government documents, including regulations, statutes, legislative documents, and court opinions. For more information about govinfo.gov and what is available there, see this Q&A.