On Twitter, President Donald Trump has tossed his support behind the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, which some public health experts have warned can have serious or potentially fatal side effects, as a COVID-19 treatment, and he’s encouraged protesters rallying against stay-at-home mandates — putting a strain on the social media site’s policy against content that could prompt real-world harm. And Trump hasn’t been the only world leader testing those boundaries in recent months. In March, Twitter Inc. deleted two tweets from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro that also praised the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 and encouraged the end of social distancing guidelines in his country. Twitter also deleted a tweet from Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro promoting a “natural brew” to cure the illness…Dipayan Ghosh, co-director of the Digital Platforms and Democracy Project and Shorenstein fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said since removing questionable content from politicians and world leaders can be tricky, it’s important for the platforms to be transparent about how they determine what content violates their rules. “I’m sure that companies like Facebook and Twitter have developed internal guidelines around what to do if and when a public official says a particular type of thing concerning something that is particularly offensive,” he said. “What they should do is make those policy guidelines public so that we can see how their decision making is done.”
Dipayan Ghosh’s new book, Terms of Disservice: How Silicon Valley is Destructive by Design calls for a Digital Bill of Rights, anti-trust action on Big Tech and new rules to ensure the tech titans have American democracy in mind. But in this interview, he surprised us! He says YES to Google digitizing NYC with Governor Cuomo, YES to Big Tech running coronavirus Track and Trace if done carefully…and he goes deep with us on privacy, consumer rights, and using tech in a crisis.
What price does the U.S. government put on saving a life? The coronavirus pandemic and the push to reopen the nation and the American economy have resurfaced the notion that the federal government is often faced with the tough decision of choosing between taking an action that could save lives and the cost of implementing that policy or regulation. Harvard Law School professor and American legal expert Cass Sunstein joins the podcast to discuss this heavy topic. He draws upon his experience heading the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs during the Obama administration and the calculus that goes into the cost-benefit analysis of regulations. “It’s very normal, and it’s surreal” to weigh the cost of an American life, Sunstein says in the podcast. “The balancing as you say of lives saved against cost happens all the time. And there are strategies the government uses and that are not politically contested really to handle them.” For instance, a new clean air regulation that might save one life at a cost of $90 billion — that’s probably dead on arrival. However, a transportation safety change that is estimated to save 500 lives a year at a cost of $10 million has a much better shot as a high-benefit, low-cost regulation.
An appeals court Thursday ordered the judge in Michael Flynn’s case to defend his actions after Flynn’s attorneys asked that his conviction be dismissed immediately, as requested by the Justice Department. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit took the unusual step of ordering U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan to answer within 10 days accusations from Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser. The court also invited the Justice Department to comment. The order comes as legal scholars from across the political spectrum debated the case’s implications for judicial independence and the Constitution’s separation-of-powers design. “This case does not involve a decision by the Executive Branch simply to ‘drop’ a prosecution,” but a “virtually unprecedented decision” to dismiss a case after it has been won, wrote a group of about 20 legal experts, led by Harvard law professor Laurence H. Tribe, in a brief to be filed Friday…Tribe said his group will request to file a friend-of-the-court brief, saying the circuit panel’s order “makes it all the more urgent” and that the panel should deny Flynn’s request because granting it would be “a remarkable abuse of judicial authority.” Tribe’s co-signers include constitutional law scholars, the former law school deans of Harvard, Yale and the University of Chicago, and the president of Columbia University. Republican signers include George T. Conway III, the conservative lawyer and husband of the president’s White House counselor, Kellyanne Conway; Trevor Potter, former Federal Election Commission chairman; and Richard Painter, George W. Bush’s former chief White House ethics lawyer.
Donte Martin authored an illuminating as-told-to essay for The Washington Post last week about working in a grocery store during the pandemic. Martin, a front-end manager at a Giant in Silver Spring, Maryland, explained how the coronavirus has rendered customers he’s always loved a health threat. Many shoppers ignore the policies meant to protect workers like Martin and even get angry over the requirement that they wear face coverings in the store. He said a supervisor even told him not to wear a mask at one point, saying it made him look like “a terrorist.” Martin’s piece didn’t mention that he is a member of a union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400. But if not for his union representation, he almost certainly would not have shared his experience with the world…Of course, those are the same reasons many employers and conservative politicians despise unions: They make it harder to get rid of workers, even though most collective bargaining agreements still allow layoffs for legitimate business reasons. But it’s hard to deny that there’s a public benefit to workers having the agency to speak out in a pandemic. After all, Martin wants to protect not just himself and his colleagues, but his customers, too. Terri Gerstein, a labor lawyer and fellow at the Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program, said safeguards like just cause are more important than ever. “Protection against unlawful firings is absolutely critical right now,” Gerstein said. “Workers need to be able to speak up without threat of losing their jobs. That’s important for worker safety and for public health.”
The lockdown on commercial industry and personal activity in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic has been in place for almost two months in many parts of the U.S. Due to financial desperation and frustration with isolation, nonessential businesses are starting to reopen and more people are going out in public despite ongoing health concerns. Seeking to frame this economically driven agenda with a veneer of public health responsibility, governments and businesses are implementing a variety of precautions, including using thermal imaging cameras to detect elevated skin temperatures. Unfortunately, the use of this technology, like some of the others in the pandemic response kit, is “security theater,” to use a term coined by the security and privacy expert Bruce Schneier. It’s a dangerous, possibly life-threatening mirage that looks like strong leadership but, in fact, shimmers over empty promises that inspire false confidence about personal health and safety. Schneier has been warning us for years of this kind of facade, calling out familiar examples, from offices stationing a “uniformed guard-for-hire” to check visitors’ ID cards to airports banning liquids and using full-body scanners to search for explosive material that, it turns out, they are not great at detecting anyway. So much magical thinking pervades airport security that Schneier has bluntly declared, “The two things that have made flying safer since 9/11 are reinforcing the cockpit doors and persuading passengers that they need to fight back. Everything beyond that isn’t worth it.”
Several years ago, Harvard Law School (HLS) administrators observed that the profile of incoming law school students was very different than it was even a decade ago. Students coming to HLS now reflected many different backgrounds and lived experiences, with many more having majored in a STEM field in college, spent four or more years in the workforce, or come to HLS from abroad. In response, in 2018 HLS worked with the Harvard University Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning (VPAL) to launch a new online, pre-term course called Zero-L—meant to ensure that all incoming students, whatever their backgrounds and previous areas of study, start with the foundational knowledge that will enable them to thrive in law school…Professor I. Glenn Cohen ’03, part of the HLS committee responsible for developing Zero-L, notes, “The learning curve at law school can be steep.” Zero-L was designed as an “on-ramp to help ease this transition; we want to ensure all law students have access to that on-ramp.”
Amid wide concern driven by the COVID-19 pandemic (Is it safe to attend?) and recession (Can I afford it?), with many colleges and universities expecting enrollment to plummet this fall, Harvard Law School (HLS) has decided to offer Zero-L – its online, pre-matriculation orientation to legal education free to law schools nationwide, beginning July 1. This “on-ramp” to the unique features of legal reasoning, writing, and pedagogy (reported in detail here) was designed to introduce students from diverse backgrounds, with increasingly diverse academic preparation, to their first-year experience, so they can embark on their professional education more confidently and proficiently… “I know first-hand the devastation this pandemic is causing to our social structure,” said Zero-L faculty director, Attwood and Williams professor of law I. Glenn Cohen, who specializes in health law and bioethics. “I know how many students are finding their time in college disrupted, and their plans to really ‘hunker down’ and get ready for law school disrupted by a sick family member or the need to help support their families.” In light of those constraints, and the limitations on regular orientations this summer, he continued, “[K]nowing we had an excellent course with a demonstrated ability to help students start law school, making it freely available this year seemed like a small thing HLS could do for law students and law schools across the country to try to make the fall 2020 just a little bit easier.”
How do you read and brief a case? What’s the purpose of the Socratic Method? What should a new law student expect once they arrive on campus? For the past two years, Harvard Law School has covered those topics and more via Zero-L—a 14 hour-online program for its incoming students that is designed to give them a smoother transition into law school life. (The name is a reference to 1L, the widely used shorthand for the first year of law school.) On Wednesday, the elite law school announced that it is making Zero-L free and available to all law schools this summer in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “This has been an incredibly challenging period for so many,” said Harvard Law dean John Manning in an announcement of the program’s expansion. “If Zero-L can help ease the transition and strengthen student success at other law schools as is has done at [Harvard], then we want to offer that support to all law schools by waiving the fee and making the course available for free this year.” Harvard already was planning to make Zero-L available to other law schools this summer for a fee, but opted to drop the cost amid the coronavirus pandemic. The program could prove especially useful this summer if law schools must shorten, delay or move their orientations online due to the virus, according to the school.
Law schools across America will be facing difficult choices this summer, as orientation sessions for incoming students may be truncated, delayed, or moved online due to the global pandemic. And all must be prepared for the possibility that new law students, many of whom experienced significant disruption in recent months, may experience novel and unexpected challenges preparing for their first year in law school. To assist both law schools and their incoming students, Harvard Law School recently announced plans to offer its online pre-matriculation program, Zero-L, to law schools around the country for free this summer. The course was developed and launched in 2018 in collaboration with the Harvard University Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning (VPAL) to ensure that all incoming Harvard Law students, whatever their backgrounds and previous areas of study, start with a shared base of knowledge. (The name Zero-L is a play on the traditional terms for first-, second-, and third-year law students—1Ls, 2Ls, and 3Ls). Harvard Law Today recently spoke by email with Zero-L’s faculty director, Professor I. Glenn Cohen ’03, about the program, the decision to make it available for free to interested American law schools this year, and how he expects it can help them and their students prepare for the fall semester.