The new season of Doctor Who opened with questions about the impossible girl who died twice. The Bells of Saint John also offered excellent examples of cyber-security, computer forensics and social media investigations for all the lawyers on the planet.
The story involved the villain “uploading” the souls of WiFi users who clicked on an unknown WiFi connection.
This rendered the body lifeless, with the souls trapped in an online purgatory known as the “data cloud.”
What legal issues can we we surmise from such wrongdoing?
First, never click on an unknown WiFi Connection.
It can subject you to other individuals accessing your data.
This unauthorized access brings us to the first possible legal issue: Identity Theft.
“Identity Theft” under California law is defined as follows (other states and countries have similar provisions):
(a) Every person who willfully obtains personal identifying information, as defined in subdivision (b) of Section 530.55, of another person, and uses that information for any unlawful purpose, including to obtain, or attempt to obtain, credit, goods, services, real property, or medical information without the consent of that person, is guilty of a public offense, and upon conviction therefor, shall be punished by a fine, by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year, or by both a fine and imprisonment, or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.
Cal Pen Code § 530.5
Would uploading someone’s soul to be trapped in an unholy cloud sever count as identity theft? While every byte of someone’s life is literally being stolen, it is not being taken with the intent to defraud to acquire a good or service. However, this act would still be considered an “unlawful purpose” because it would be a very unique form of kidnapping and murder.
The upload of a person would be a form of kidnapping, because it is the forcibly detainment of a “person” in online storage. This would be a untested reading of California Penal Code § 207, because the body of the person is normally taken in a kidnapping.
Despite the soul surviving in the data cloud, the human body dies after the upload. This opens up murder and wrongful death claims against the Great Intelligence and fellow co-conspirators in the cyber-kidnapping conspiracy. Additionally, there could be attempted murder charges for those who were downloaded back to their bodies.
A Note On Computer Forensics
The Bells of Saint John showed the uploading of a human soul in a matter of minutes. The bandwidth and processing speed must have been alien to have been done so quickly. While I am not a computer forensic expert, I have seen the byte-by-byte capture of a 500GB hard drive take several hours.
Scientists have estimated based on the number of neurons combinations in the brain that the human brain’s memory storage capacity is around 2.5 petabytes of information (1 million gigabytes is equal to one petabyte or 13.3 years of HD-video).
Capturing the content of the human mind, let alone the soul, would require an extreme amount of processing power and WiFi bandwidth to upload a “soul” in a matter of minutes. Greg Kipper, computer forensic expert and author of Augmented Reality: An Emerging Technologies Guide to AR, estimated to collect 2.5 petabytes over WiFi, it would take weeks, if not months. As Greg said, it would be like “pouring the ocean through a straw” for just the raw data.
Social Media Investigations
Social media is a hot topic in eDiscovery, with the issues covering everything from privacy rights to profile preservation. Clara Oswald, the new companion, provided an excellent example of social media investigation to identify the corporate “villain” in the story. The investigation included hacking into the corporate webcams to take photos of users and matching the faces on social media sites to see who the individuals listed as their employers. While most private eyes do not break anti-hacking laws to take webcam photos, the character of Clara Oswald brilliantly demonstrated how to use social media to identify a key fact in a dispute. In most cases, the issue can be anything from photos in a worker’s compensation case showing a purportedly injured person water skiing to trademark infringement to when someone “checked in” at a location.
I have a feeling it was not Steven Moffat’s intent to write an episode about social media investigations (which would also be awesome on Sherlock). However, the episode was a wonderful example for attorneys on how social media can be used in a lawsuit to prove a party’s knowledge or location when an incident occurred.
Where will the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who take us legally? Who knows, but Chapter 11 may cover the Rule Against Perpetuities.