Tech Companies Defy Government Data Seizure, NBA May Face Donald Sterling Lawsuit

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: May 4, 2014

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Big tech has taken a defiant stand against the private data seizure activities of federal and state law enforcement officials, and the NBA faces a potentially difficult legal battle to remove Donald Sterling following his racist remarks. 

Tech Industry Clashes with Justice Department over Secret Data Collection

The National Security Administration and the United States Department of Justice are experiencing backlash from large tech companies including Google, Facebook, and Yahoo! over the Government’s instruction to keep its data collection activities a secret.  A series of recently released legal opinions has affirmed the NSA’s right to gather personal data from private email and social media accounts, however, the tech industry has indicated that it refuses to allow the Government to do so quietly.  Despite clear requests on Government’s data seizure subpoenas for the work to be done behind the scenes, companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook have all updated privacy policies to notify users of the NSA’s activities.

While the decision to notify users of Government data collection may sit well with the American public whose information is monitored, the Department of Justice and other law enforcement officials expressed concern that notification will allow suspicious and criminal activity to go undetected.  The Government has consistently justified its data monitoring practices as being necessary to ensure national security, and argues that its activities are more effective if conducted in secret. 

Finding a balance between security and privacy has become increasingly difficult in a world where personal information shared over e-mail or social media can be accessed without significant legal challenge. Citing national security and public safety concerns has thus far enabled the DOJ, NSA, and other levels of federal and state law enforcement to collect private information with only minor limitation from America’s courts, however, big tech’s decision to make data seizure requires the Government to think about public reaction before requesting private information.  While concern that public knowledge will impede criminal investigation is valid, action to give pause to Government data seizure is an important step in protecting the American people from potentially intrusive behavior by law enforcement officials.

NBA Faces Potential Legal Fight from Banned Owner Donald Sterling

Last week, the National Basketball Association had its playoff period interrupted when a recorded phone call between Los Angeles Clipper’s owner Donald Sterling and his former personal assistant contained several racist remarks.  In the ensuing outrage over Sterling’s disparaging remarks against minorities, Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA, issued a permanent lifetime ban preventing Sterling from attending practices, games, or any other team activities.  Going further, Silver, citing authority granted him in the NBA’s constitution and bylaws, announced his intent to call upon the rest of the owners to vote on a resolution that will force Sterling to sell the Clippers – removing him from the league entirely.

With the immediate fire quenched, Silver and the rest of the NBA could potentially face strong opposition from Sterling – a former attorney noted for his litigious belligerence and defiance of league orders.  Within days of Silver’s decision, the remaining 29 NBA owners indicated their full support, and the league began to move forward with the process of securing the necessary owner votes to force Sterling out.  It seems, however, that the forced sale will still not go smoothly.  Sterling has reportedly announced his intent to sue the league over its decision, threatening to hold onto the team until all legal options are exhausted.  Silver’s authority to enact a lifetime ban and initiate a forced sale are contingent on whether or not Sterling’s actions “willfully violated” the NBA’s code of conduct – something the embattled owner will dispute considering his racist remarks were made on a private phone call that was released without his knowledge or permission.

Whether or not Sterling has a legal leg to stand on, his threat to sue presents a significant obstacle to the NBA, which would like nothing more than the quiet disappearance of its most vilified owner.  Ultimately, it is unlikely Silver and the rest of the league steps back from withdrawing Sterling from NBA ownership no matter how costly or cumbersome the process – the only issue to be determined is how long Sterling will fight and how involved the legal system will be.

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