In the courtroom environment, oral presentations are becoming increasingly supplemented and replaced by advancing digital technologies that provide legal practitioners with effective demonstrative capabilities. Improvements in the field of virtual reality (“VR”) are facilitating the creation of immersive environments in which a user’s senses and perceptions of the physical world can be completely replaced with virtual renderings. As courts, lawyers, and experts continue to grapple with evidentiary questions of admissibility posed by evolving technologies in the field of computer-generated evidence (“CGE”), issues posed by the introduction of immersive virtual environments (“IVEs”) into the courtroom have, until recently, remained a largely theoretical discussion.
Though the widespread use of IVEs at trial has not yet occurred, research into the practical applications of these VR technologies in the courtroom is ongoing, with several studies having successfully integrated IVEs into mock scenarios. For example, in 2002, the Courtroom 21 Project (run by William & Mary Law School and the National Center for State Courts) hosted a lab trial in which a witness used an IVE. The issue in the case was whether a patient’s death was the result of the design of a cholesterol-removing stent or a surgeon’s error in implanting it upside down.
We are now some twenty years into the story of the Internet’s bold challenge to law and the legal system. In the early 2000s, Jack Goldsmith and I wrote Who Controls the Internet, a book that might be understood as a chronicle of some the early and more outlandish stages of the story. Professors Pollman and Barry’s excellent article, Regulatory Entrepreneurship, adds to and updates that story with subsequent chapters and a sophisticated analysis of the strategies more recently employed to avoid law using the Internet in some way. While Pollman and Barry’s article stands on its own, I write this Article to connect these two periods. I also wish to offer a slightly different normative assessment of the legal avoidance efforts described here, along with my opinion as to how law enforcement should conduct itself in these situations.
Behind regulatory entrepreneurship lies a history, albeit a short one, and one that has much to teach us about the very nature of law and the legal system as it interacts with new technologies. Viewed in context, Pollman and Barry’s “regulatory entrepreneurs” can be understood as, in fact, a second generation of entrepreneurs who learned lessons from an earlier generation that was active in the late 1990s and early 2000s. What both generations have in common is the idea that the Internet might provide profitable opportunities at the edges of the legal system. What has changed is the abandonment of so-called “evasion” strategies—ones that relied on concealment or geography (described below)—and a migration to strategies depending on “avoidance,” that is, avoiding the law’s direct application. In particular, the most successful entrepreneurs have relied on what might be called a mimicry strategy: they shape potentially illegal or regulated conduct to make it look like legal or unregulated conduct, thereby hopefully avoiding the weight of laws and regulatory regimes.
In January 2003, the Slammer worm hit the Internet. Five of the Internet’s thirteen root-name servers shut down. Three hundred thousand cable modems in Portugal went offline, all of South Korea’s cell phone and Internet services went down, and Continental Airlines cancelled flights from its Newark hub due to its inability to process tickets. It took only six months after the disclosure of a security flaw for a virus writer to write the 376 byte virus. When it unleashed, it took ten minutes to infect ninety percent of vulnerable systems.
The flaw was a buffer overflow in the Microsoft SQL Server 2000 software. Because the code is embedded in other Microsoft products, not all users were even aware that their systems were running a version of SQL Server. Unfortunately, this was a well-known, preventable security flaw. Moreover, Microsoft had released a patch for the flaw exploited by Slammer six months before the attack. Despite the widespread effects, no flood of lawsuits ensued.