Email Scandals, Law Professors, Law Schools, Orin Kerr, Technology

HLS Potpourri: Professor Nesson Victim of Phishing, While Students Fish for Constitutional Protection from the TSA

First of all, Happy Chanukah. May your candles burn bright.

It is certainly possible that some lowly internet hacker was trying to take advantage of some holiday compassion when he or she hacked the email of Harvard Law School Professor Charles Nesson. Nesson is a well-known figure in “internet and the law” circles — as well as to readers of A Civil Action, who know him as “Billion Dollar Charlie” — but today he’s just another victim of a phishing attack. An email went out to the HLS community this morning claiming that Nesson was stuck in the U.K. and in desperate need of money.

We can’t be sure if Nesson will be able to find and bring charges against the hacker, but let’s hope that if he does he isn’t forced to rely on HLS students for legal advice…

Here’s the scam email that went out to the HLS community early this morning:

From: Charles Nesson

Apologies for having to reach out to you like this, but I made a quick trip to the UK and had my bag stolen from me with my passport and credit cards in it. The embassy has cooperated by issuing a temporary passport, I just have to pay for a ticket and settle Hotel bills.

To be honest,i don’t have money with me,I’ve made contact with my bank but the best they could do was to send me a new card in the mail which will take 2-4 working days to arrive here.i was thinking of asking you to lend me some quick funds that i can give back as soon as i get in,i really need to be on a last minute flight that leaves in a few hours.

I can furnish you with info on how you will get me the money. You can reach me via [redacted] as am logged on via a smart device or hotel’s desk phone, the number is, [Redacted]


Of course the message was fake. “I’ve made contact with my bank but the best they could do was to send me a new card in the mail.” Yeah right. Something tells me that Charlie Nesson doesn’t have to spend a lot of time matching wits with the Peggys of customer service.

I emailed Professor Nesson to confirm that he wasn’t stuck in the U.K. without use of the Crimson Extractor (it’s like a Batwing that flies around and saves Harvard Law professors in trouble; I think Alan Dershowitz had it built in the early eighties). He hasn’t responded, but the HLS Help Desk sent around an email explaining what phishing is to HLS students, as if they were children:

The message is unfortunately another case of “phishing”. Phishing emails are fraudulent email messages claiming to be from a legitimate source that ask you to send confidential information such as username, password, date of birth, etc.

Please do not respond to the message.

Then again, maybe HLS students do occasionally need to have things explained to them as if they were five-year-olds. Things like “the Constitution.” The Harvard Law Record is running a story about two HLS students who are suing the TSA (pro se, of course) over their invasive techniques:

Jeffrey Redfern ’12 and Anant Pradhan ’12 filed the lawsuit Monday in the District Court of Massachusetts. The complaint names Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and TSA Administrator John Pistole as defendants…

The lawsuit claims the mandatory screening techniques violate the students’ Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. The suit seeks a permanent injunction against the use of either screening method without reasonable suspicion or probable cause and a declaratory judgment stating that mandatory screening using these techniques is unconstitutional where probable cause or reasonable suspicion do not exist.

Sigh. Look, I admire the pluck. I really do. But given all of the coverage these TSA pat-downs have been getting, don’t you think that if there were a legitimate Fourth Amendment claim here, somebody else would have made it already? This issue has been all over the news for six weeks; do you think the country has just been waiting around for two HLS 2Ls to come and save the day?

Just look at this quote. Look at this quote, and drink full the milk of hubris:

Redfern said he became interested in filing a lawsuit in early November after he first heard about the enhanced pat-downs.

“I was not happy about it, and I pretty quickly started looking into some of the law and tried to see if there was anything there,” Redfern said. “Obviously, it’s one thing to feel like something is frustrating and an imposition, and it’s another to feel like you actually have a claim.”

“I pretty quickly started looking into some of the law.” Thanks, Mr. Redfern. Sure, we have the Justice Department, the White House Counsel’s office, the ACLU, the lawyers at Homeland Security, and probably 70% of all of the Con Law professors and experts in the country “looking into some of the law” around this issue, but it’s super-great to know that we’ve got two HLS 2Ls seeing if “there was anything there.”

What would we do without you, Messrs. Redfern and Pradhan? Can you also check out whether or not it is constitutional to prohibit gay marriage? Txs. COUPLES ACROSS AMERICA AWAIT YOUR REPORT!

UPDATE: Apparently, as noted in the comments, lawyers from EPIC (and other groups) are already on the case. So again, the professionals are already tearing through this thing, looking for any angle. What do two Harvard kids really have to add to the discussion about the proper standard for administrative searches?

The standard for administrative searches, for those playing along at home, was eloquently explained by George Washington Law professor and Volokh Conspiracy contributor, Orin Kerr:

While the Supreme Court has not spoken on Fourth Amendment standards for airport security screening, the law has largely settled in the circuit courts, explained Kerr. “The basic idea is that screening to stop a terrorist attack is an ‘administrative search’ that is constitutional so long as it is reasonable — and that it is reasonable so long as it is not overly invasive given the threat that it is designed to deter and stop,” blogged Kerr.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure these kids will make excellent lawyers one day:

Still, Redfern said he’d be happy if the lawsuit simply survives a motion to dismiss.

“The thing just really bothers me,” he said. “I think it’s absurd, particularly considering that there hasn’t been any notice-and-comment rulemaking, there haven’t been any studies on how effective this is…. Even if we end up losing once they start bringing forth a lot of evidence, I feel much better about them having to bring forward a lot of evidence.”

Wait until Redfern learns that forcing people to produce “a lot of evidence” doesn’t just feel good, it’s a winning strategy if your client has nearly exhaustible resources! I spy a highly successful corporate litigator in the making.

Harvard Law Students Sue TSA [Harvard Law Record]

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