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Cyberlawyer Profiles: Jennifer Granick
posted by md on Wednesday May 08, @01:20PM
from the lawyers-we-like dept.
Special Features Jennifer Granick is very well known within the hacker community, having represented (among many others) Kevin Poulsen and alleged eBay hacker Jerome Heckencamp, who, notoriously, fired her.

Currently, Ms. Granick directs the public interest law and technology clinic at Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society. There, her work focuses on the interaction of free speech, privacy, computer security, law and technology. She's also on the Board of Directors of the Honeynet Project, a computer security research group, and has spoken at the National Security Agency, to law enforcement officials and to computer security professionals from the public and private sectors in the United States and abroad.

Read on for Greplaw's first Cyberlawyer interview, in which Ms. Granick shares details about serving the public interest, her evolution into a cyberlawyer, and the fact that she doesn't own an MP3 player.


Ms. Granick graduated from Hastings College of the Law in 1993. She worked in criminal defense, first at the State Public Defender's Office, then as a trial attorney at Campbell & DeMetrick. In 1996, she opened her private criminal litigation practice defending computer crime cases.

Her self-described "fledgling blog" is here.

Greplaw: You began your career in the field of criminal litigation that (presumably) had little to do with Internet law issues. Can you briefly describe for us your transformation into a lawyer chiefly interested in Internet issues?

Jennifer Granick: When you are in private practice as a criminal lawyer, it is a good idea to develop an area of expertise in defending crimes that people with money get charged for committing. I became a criminal defense lawyer to help poor people, and didn't have much interest in defending bankruptcy fraud cases. I thought that computer crime cases would be interesting to know more about, and would combine my geeky love of computers with my chosen career as a defense attorney. I went to some conferences and started to study this area of law. As I did, I learned a lot about other computer civil liberties issues around free speech (this was 1996, before the CDA was struck down), encryption, and privacy. I also learned that I wasn't going to make any money defending computer crimes, but I didn't care.

It was great to watch the development of this area of the law, and how the public and legal perceptions of computer hacking have changed. I had spent a lot of my time representing people in drug cases and DUIs, but also had several really interesting hacker cases. As time went on, I wanted to spend more time on the computer cases, and I wanted to be able to make more of a difference. I was helping individual people, but at the same time I was seeing the law go entirely wrong, and I didn't have the time or opportunity to try to stop it, or at least to say why I thought we were headed in the wrong direction.

For example, the sentencing guidelines for unauthorized access are all wrong. Jail time depends on the estimated damages the person causes, but the damage assessment is extremely subjective and almost entirely in the hands of the alleged victim. For an identical act, one victim could simply reformat the hard drive while another could call in $300 an hour consultants. In the first case, the perpetrator won't even be prosecuted. In the second, he'll go to jail for 3 years. This is not a principled way to decide appropriate punishment. But I didn't get to make this argument in the course of an individual person's case in a way that would change the law.

When the position at Stanford [for cyberlaw clinical program director] opened up, I saw the chance to take what had been my hobby,out of love, the computer stuff, and make it my full time pursuit. Working with the students is great, and I have the opportunity to think, write and speak about the issues we work on as well.

Greplaw: Greplaw is run by Harvard Law School students and alumni, many of whom hope to become future "Jennifer Granicks." Any advice for them?

Jennifer Granick: To any future Jennifer Granicks, I would say, be practical, but only if it gets you closer to doing what you love.

Greplaw: You have spent a good deal of your career serving the public interest. How would you assess the job prospects for aspiring law students and lawyers who have an interest in technology issues and want to benefit the public?

Jennifer Granick: The future prospects are good because the need is great. But right now, there aren't a lot of jobs in technology and the public interest. You can go to a firm and select public interest cases and do pro bono work toward the public interest. You can work for organizations like EFF, EPIC or CDT. But as with most public interest issues, there's not necessarily a lot of money or a lot of structure set up in which to do good. Sometimes you have to be creative, and be willing to take some risks.

Greplaw: As the director of the Stanford Law School CIS clinical program, what criteria do you use in selecting from among potential recipients of your assistance? Have there been tough calls where you particularly wanted to represent a party but ultimately decided not to? Is the number of "good" cases large or small?

Jennifer Granick: We look for cases that are interesting to me and to the students, for whatever reason, that involve free speech, privacy, technological innovation, open access or some other public interest, in which the client's interest and public interest coincide, where the client could not otherwise afford to represent the public interest, and which are manageable in the clinic structure (i.e., good work for students). The number of really good cases in which the issue is clearly presented and the facts don't clutter up the underlying issue is small, but the number of cases in which these public interest and technology issues come up in some form or another is large. There are a lot of people out there losing their domain names, having their websites taken down, getting sued for writing code, or making comments, and none of them can afford a lawyer.

Greplaw: Within the field of Internet law, what are your aspirations for the future?

Jennifer Granick: This is too big a question to really answer here. My immediate aspiration for the summer is to communicate to people what I learned as a criminal defense lawyer and the reasons why I think our unauthorized access (anti-hacker) laws are ill advised. For the next year, my goal is to provide quality legal services to people so that the public interest isn't so consistently run over in the form of the little guy. I want the cases we work on to promote public access to information, artistic and scientific innovation and free speech. I also want to be a good teacher and help produce capable, sensitive, thoughtful, confident lawyers.

Greplaw: What are the last 5 songs in your MP3 player?

Jennifer Granick: I don't have an MP3 player!

Greplaw: Who's your favorite lawyer? Why?

Jennifer Granick: Charles Garry is one of my favorite lawyers, for the obvious reasons. I'm also a big Robert Kennedy fan. He spoke so movingly about issues of race and poverty in a way that is tragically obsolete in politics today. I also like Bruce Cutler, because he once said that any lawyer can tell his client what not to do, but it takes a great lawyer to help the client do what he wants to do.

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