Over the past week, a number of HLS faculty members shared their viewpoints on events in the news. Here are some excerpts:


Supreme Court on shaky scientific ground with gene patent decision

June 13, 2013

Noah Feldman, the Bemis Professor of International Law, is a regular columnist for Bloomberg.

“Can you patent genes? In Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, the U.S. Supreme Court answered this imponderable question with a split decision: You can’t if they are naturally occurring, and you’ve simply discovered the gene; but if you’ve crafted a synthetic gene, you’ve invented it — and you can keep the patent.

As sensible as this compromise sounds, it doesn’t reflect scientific logic. The court is trying to protect big pharma and our economy without offending basic principles of ethics and law. It may succeed in doing neither.”

The Record

Opinion: When innovation and market clash – the taxi cab

June 12, 2013

Cass Sunstein ‘78 is the Robert Walmsley University Professor and director of HLS’s new Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy.

“People can run into two problems when they need to find a taxi. The first is that they don’t know whether a taxi will be available. The second is that they don’t know when a taxi will be available.

Uber Technologies Inc., a San Francisco-based company, was set up to solve both problems. You can download its application, and it will find out where you are and come pick you up. It will also tell you when it is coming.

… The good news is that it is serving tens of thousands of customers. And creating jobs in the process.

The less good news is that it is having to fight a series of absurd regulatory battles, which provide a revealing case study in interest-group efforts to block new entrants and innovative approaches.”

New Republic

We Need a New Church Committee It’s time for a basic re-evaluation of intelligence operations

June 11, 2013

Yochai Benkler ’94 is the Jack N. and Lillian R. Berkman Professor for Entrepreneurial Legal Studies and co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

“Last week’s groundbreaking reporting by The Guardian and The Washington Post exposed an NSA surveillance system of breathtaking scale, breadth, and depth. Even if legal under some tortured interpretation of the law, this system leaves the Fourth Amendment an empty vessel. The sheer audacity of the NSA surveillance and the complicity of segments of all three branches of government and the private sector suggest that we need a basic re-evaluation of intelligence operations on the scale of the Church Committee in the post-Watergate era. On Sunday, The Guardian disclosed—at his request—that the source of the leak was Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant at the CIA and current employee of a defense contractor.” Read more.


The Secret Law Behind NSA’s Verizon Snooping

June 6, 2013

Noah Feldman, the Bemis Professor of International Law, is a regular columnist for Bloomberg.

“How, exactly, could the government order a Verizon division to provide records of all calls — that’s right, all — to or from the U.S. on an ongoing basis? The answer is secrecy — but not just in the way you think.

It’s not only that the highly classified request was made to and approved by a highly classified court. But the legal interpretation of the 2001 Patriot Act that the court appears to have used was itself classified. In other words, there was no way for the public to know what the courts believed the law to mean. And that reality runs counter to the most basic principles of democracy and the rule of law.” Read more.

MIT Technology Review

Former FCC Chairman: Let’s Test an Emergency Ad Hoc Network in Boston

June 6, 2013

Jonathan Zittrain ‘95 is professor of law and professor of computer science at Harvard University, and co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Julius Genachowski ‘91 is former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

“As the Boston Marathon bombings unfolded, thousands of anxious people in the region pulled out their mobile phones to connect with friends and family—and found that calls couldn’t be placed or received. Rumors that officials had shut down these mobile networks for security reasons weren’t true. The system was simply overloaded at a time when people needed it most.

…We can start with an idea that needs no additional technology. Many people and companies operate Wi-Fi access points. Each of these points—whether used by apartment roommates, Starbucks patrons, or cell subscribers who get Wi-Fi ‘off-load’ from their service providers—is connected to the Internet and often remains so even if cellular voice and data towers are out or overloaded.”