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By Nadia Daneshvar

Faced with attracting women to join their predominantly male workforce, Facebook decided to offer an usual benefit: up to $20,000 in coverage toward egg freezing procedure and storage costs for female employees. Apple similarly has plans to offer both full- and part-time female employees the same coverage starting in January 2015. While many say the companies have taken a step toward gender equality in the workplace, others see it as a step in the wrong direction.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s recent revocation of egg freezing’s “experimental” status has caused an increase in the number of women opting to freeze their eggs for social or nonmedical reasons before they reach “advanced maternal ages.” But egg freezing does not come without risks and stigma. Nearly all stages involve risks (e.g., hormone injections and extraction, transfer, and gestation) and after two rounds of egg retrieval, the chance of live birth is just over 20% if eggs are harvested at or before age 25 and decreases with age: only 16% of women who underwent two rounds of egg freezing at age 30 will have live births. Other considerations include the increased risks associated with pregnancy in older ages.

Critics of employer coverage of social egg-freezing say it perpetuates the archaic, mother-as-childrearer expectation which is alive and well, even among today’s youth. Promoting such a mindset is problematic, they say, pointing to data that shows roughly equal proportions of working mothers and fathers report feeling stressed about balancing their career and family. In a recent survey roughly one fifth of women who froze their eggs noted that workplace inflexibility factored into their decision. Arguments against the benefit claim it allows this inflexibility to continue, as it’s predicted to, and that it doesn’t address the problem in preparation for when the eggs are eventually used to create families. Also, one notable gynecologist estimates only 5% of social egg freezers will end up actually taking advantage of their frozen stash, casting doubt on whether the egg freezing benefit is an appropriate allocation of resources.

Earlier this year, I discussed some of the sociological and ethical implications of employer-covered social egg freezing, arguing that it could reinforce the lack of workplace accommodations for pregnant or childrearing female employees and could eventually become a widespread expectation in the workplace. It’s no secret that working mothers face many barriers to successful careers. Mothers, as many studies have confirmed, are perceived as less competent and less committed to their work. There is also a widespread “flexibility stigma” in the U.S.: when researchers sent fake résumés to employers who had announced high-status job openings, employers were half as likely to respond to applicants whose résumés listed involvement in an elementary school parent-teacher association, insinuating the applicant was a mother. Moreover, in the U.S., the earning penalty for motherhood is roughly twice that of women in countries with extensive childcare policies financed by the public, and mothers make five percent less per hour, per child, than their childless counterparts. And unfortunately, as of 2014, the U.S. still lags far behind much of the world when it comes to paid leave for mothers.

In a recent survey, nearly 70% of women who left a technology-focused career said they did so because they became mothers. Less than 10% of the women who left had planned on being a stay-at-home mom at the outset of their career, and almost 90 percent of the women who left said they did not plan on returning to their tech career. Women who left the tech workplace mentioned inadequate maternity leave and a rigid work environment as contributory factors.

Facebook’s current family and parenting benefits include 18 weeks of paid leave for birth and non-birth parents of any gender as well as $4,000 in “baby cash” to new parents and contributions to daycare fees. Apple’s benefits package includes a flex account for dependent daycare, and earlier this month Apple announced a new paid parental leave policy that includes four weeks before expected delivery and 14 weeks after birth for birth mothers, and six weeks after birth for all non-birth parents. Notably, last year Facebook announced plans for a $120 million housing community that includes a hair salon, bike repair center, and doggy daycare, but, according to Fortune, no daycare for employees’ children.

When California’s estimated annual daycare costs for one infant are valued at $12,068, policies that reduce the burden of these costs for new families could be even more attractive for women in tech who want to start a family. Societies that have longer paid maternity and parental leave have more women in the labor force, so offering leave without financial penalties, more affordable childcare, or expanding paid paternity and family leave options could be better ways to attract female talent in male-dominated sectors, and would benefit those of any gender who want to start a family. Paid paternity leave can have additional benefits when it comes to changing gender norms. In Norway, for instance, a system of paid parental leave was designed to incentivize uptake by men, rather than women. The Norwegian policy sets aside a hefty amount for parental leave that is only usable if the father takes it. So far, the system has drastically affected the number of men who take parental leave which has influenced the dynamics of household labor, and has resulted in an increase in the number of employed women. The policy has even been linked to a steady increase in birthrate.

Other valued perks for family-minded employees include rooms for nursing at the workplace, on-site childcare, work-from-home policies, and flexible work schedules. With these alternatives in mind, increased family-friendly workplace accommodations could be more effective in attracting female talent than employer-coverage of risk-laden egg freezing procedures.

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By Michael Holloway

As unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – drones – become an increasingly common sight, more and more people wonder whether they may legally shoot down a drone flying over their property.  The question is not confined to a radical fringe: at a 2012 Congressional hearing on drones, U.S. Representative Louis Gohmert asked, “Can you shoot down a drone over your property?”  Separately, conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer offered: “I would predict—I’m not encouraging—but I predict the first guy who uses a Second Amendment weapon to bring a drone down that’s been hovering over his house is going to be a folk hero in this country.”

Traditionally, under the ad coeium doctrine, a property owner had control over his property “from the depths to the heavens.”  According to Black’s Law Dictionary, “Cjust est solum, ejus est usque ad coelom et ad inferos – to whomever the soil belongs, he owns also to the sky and the depths.”  But that changed with the advent of the airplane.  In 1926, Congress passed the Air Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C. § 40103(a)(1), which gave the federal government “exclusive sovereignty of airspace of the United States.”  In United States v. Causby, 328 U.S. 256, 261 (1946), Justice William Douglas wrote that the ad coeium doctrine “has no place in the modern world.”  Rather, with the advent of air travel, the national airspace is akin to a “public highway.”  But despite this, a property owner retains exclusive control over the space he or she can reasonably use in connection with the land, and may be entitled to compensation if the government encroaches on this airspace.  Similarly, as the Ninth Circuit pointed out in Hinman v. Pacific Air Transport, a person may become liable to a property owner for trespassing on this space.

Nor are these merely idle threats: a group of animal rights activists in Pennsylvania has repeatedly had its drones shot down while aerially videotaping “pigeon shoots” at a private club.  In April 2014, the town of Deer Trail, Colorado, voted on a proposed ordinance to issue drone hunting licenses; the ordinance offered a $100 bounty for shooting down drones and bringing in “identifiable parts of an unmanned aerial vehicle whose markings and configuration are consistent with those used on any similar craft known to be owned or operated by the United States federal government.”  The initiative ultimately lost badly, with 73% of voters opposed.

Law professor Greg McNeal writes that a person shooting down a government or commercial drone would violate constitute a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 32, which states that anyone who damages or destroys any aircraft in flight in the United States has committed a crime punishable by up to twenty years in prison or a fine of up to $250,000.  McNeal’s analysis assumes that drones constitute “aircraft” within the meaning of the statute, but that has recently come into question.  In March 2014, a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) administrative law judge set aside the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s first-ever fine against a commercial drone operator, finding that the small drone at issue was only a “model aircraft,” and not an “aircraft” within the FAA’s regulatory authority.  The drone’s operator, Raphael Pirker, had been hired by a promotional company to shoot aerial video over the University of Virginia campus.  According to the FAA’s complaint, Pirker operated the drone recklessly, including causing one pedestrian to take “immediate evasive action” to avoid being hit.  The FAA fined Pirker $10,000 for operating the drone “in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another” in violation of 41 C.F.R. § 91.13.

The ALJ tossed the fine, pointing to a 1981 “advisory circular” on model aircraft issued by the FAA, which provided model aircraft operators with voluntary advice such as to maintain distance from populated and noise-sensitive areas, fly below 400 feet, and cooperate with nearby airports.  In the ALJ’s view, the advisory circular represented a binding statement of policy by the FAA that model airplanes were exempt from its general regulatory authority over “aircraft,” a position it could not change later without going through a notice-and-comment period and implementing formal regulations under the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. §§ 500).

There are problems with the ALJ’s decision.  It ignores that Congress, by the statute’s clear terms, in 5 U.S.C. §§ 500, gave the FAA the express authority to regulate all “aircraft,” defined expansively in 49 U.S.C. § 40102(a)(6) as “any contrivance invented, used, or designed to navigate, or fly in, the air.”  Ordinarily, when a statute’s terms are clear, it is considered improper for a judge to engage in more subtle acts of interpretation, and the statute here could not be clearer.  While the ALJ considered it a “risible argument” that someone could face FAA enforcement for flying a balsa wood glider or paper airplane without the FAA’s permission, such is the power Congress gave to the FAA in 1926.  The case is currently on appeal before the full NTSB.

In any case, whether or not shooting down a drone could result in a 20-year prison term or a quarter-million dollar fine, it is certainly a bad idea.  As the FAA has stated, shooting down a drone “could result in criminal or civil liability, just as would firing at a manned airplane.”   Expressing your concerns directly to your friendly neighborhood drone pilot is surely a better remedy.

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By Michael Holloway, John McElligott

Beginning in mid-July, Chicagoans may notice decorative metal boxes appearing on downtown light poles.  They may not know that the boxes will contain sophisticated data sensors that will continuously collect a stream of data on “air quality, light intensity, sound volume, heat, precipitation, and wind.”  The sensors will also collect data on nearby foot traffic by counting signals from passing cell phones.  According to the Chicago Tribune, project leader Charlie Catlett says the project will “give scientists the tools to make Chicago a safer, more efficient and cleaner place to live.” Catlett’s group is seeking funding to install hundreds of the sensors throughout the city.  But the sensors raise issues concerning potential invasions of privacy, as well as the creation of data sets with hidden biases that may then be used to guide policy to the disadvantage of poor and elderly people and members of minority groups.

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By Nadia Daneshvar

Salary. Health insurance. Long-term disability insurance. Flex benefits. 401(k)…and “baby insurance”? With the advent of egg freezing, women can have children practically whenever they want and with whomever they want, by simply having their viable eggs frozen while they’re still young. Imagine if your employer decided to cover the cost of preserving some of your eggs for you as a part of its benefits package. Some law firms are doing just that for their female employees. Testing, monitoring, and retrieval of eggs can cost anywhere from $6,500 to $12,850, and annual storage fees of retrieved eggs are typically between $400 and $600. But the costs don’t stop there. When a woman decides she is ready to user her eggs, they must be thawed, fertilized, and transferred to a woman’s uterus, which costs anywhere from $4,500 to $7,000. At Specialists in Reproductive Medicine and Surgery, a woman could pay a total of $21,558 if the eggs are stored for only one year. These procedures are rarely covered by health insurance and vary from clinic to clinic, making employer-covered egg freezing a financially enticing option for many women. After all, one-fifth of American women between ages 40 and 44 do not have children, among whom half regret their status wishing they had children. Egg freezing is thought to offer the option to younger women to avoid such future regrets.

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By Lori Andrews, JD

Julian Assange, Feb 27th The Media Consortium conference, Chicago, IL

Julian Assange Skyped into the TMC conference to discuss “The Use and Abuse of Whistleblowers” with Juan Gonzales, Democracy Now!; Gavin MacFadyen, Centre for Investigative Journalism; and Bea Edwards, Government Accountability Project.

They use burner phones as they cross borders.  They buy old Lenovo computers because there are fewer backdoors into those computers that allow surveillance.

They are not spies or criminals.  They are investigative reporters trying to get on-the-ground stories to help us understand and sometimes change our world.

Last week, The Media Consortium and IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law joined forces to describe the challenges that reporters face in an era when intelligence agencies such as the National Security Agency and corporations such as Google spy on what each of us is doing on our digital devices.  At the joint workshop, Josh Stearns of Free Press and the Freedom of the Press Foundation reported on how many journalists had been killed and jailed in last year.  And it’s not just a problem abroad.  According to the World Press Freedom Index, the United States has slipped to number 46 in a ranking of countries on how much freedom it gives its reporters, well below even countries such as Ghana and Uruguay.  amalia deloney of the Center for Media Justice described how surveillance in general disproportionately affects people of color.  She showed a slide of a police tower that one might have guessed was situated in Guatemala or another oppressive nation.  Instead, it was in a primarily African-American neighborhood in Charlotte, North Carolina.

What information is the NSA collecting about activists, reporters and you?  The NSA gathers the phone numbers, locations, and length of virtually all phone calls in the United States.  It collects records of nearly everything you do online, including your browsing history and the contents of your emails and instant messages.  It can create detailed graphs of your network of personal connections.  It can create phony wireless connections in order to access your computer directly.  It can intercept the delivery of an electronic device and add an “implant” allowing the agency to access it remotely. Continue Reading »

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By Ryann Summers

Recently, a former co-worker and his romantic partner sent me a text message that left me reeling.

It essentially read: Hey, can I have ur eggs? Thx.

Few couples would be better equipped to raise a well-loved child than these two men, and I fully supported their decision to start a family.  But I wondered how we had arrived at the point where this request has become so casual that it can be communicated in fewer than 140 characters.  At least take me out to dinner.

I don’t fault my co-worker; his question mirrors how the issue is presented in our culture.  As a woman in her early 20s, I am bombarded by advertisements seeking my eggs.

Recently when I was riding the T in Boston, I found myself staring at the face of a smiling baby, and a dollar amount.  It seems, well, easy.

Egg donation payments range anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000; some solicitations offer amounts as high as $20,000, or even $100,000, for donors with specific characteristics.  I could definitely benefit from thousands of dollars, and hey, I probably have eggs to spare, right?

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By Lori Andrews

Susan, a professional woman in her 30s, met a man she thought she’d ultimately marry.  Their relationship was sufficiently intimate that she sent him a naked photo of herself.  When she caught him cheating, she broke up with him.  He took revenge by posting that selfie on a revenge porn website, along with her name, the name of her town, and her social media contact information.  She received messages from complete strangers asking for more naked photos.  As she went about her daily life, she was afraid that one of those men would stalk her.  She worried that her co-workers might have come across the photo.  She knew that if she applied for a new job, that nude photo would come up in a Google search of her name.  She’d been branded with a modern Scarlet Letter.

Across the Web, thousands of people attack their exes by posting disgusting comments about them, warnings not to date them, or nude photos of them.  On October 1, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill criminalizing what has become known as revenge porn.  The law assesses a thousand dollar fine in a narrow situation.  It is a misdemeanor for a person to photograph “the intimate body part or parts of another identifiable person, under circumstances where the parties agree or understand that the image shall remain private, and the person subsequently distributes the image taken, with the intent to cause serious emotional distress, and the depicted person suffers serious emotional distress.” Continue Reading »

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By Dan Massoglia

It’s a crisp afternoon on the Northwest Side of Chicago.  A white Opel Astra cruises down the block, its roof-mounted camera capturing photos dedicated to Google’s now ubiquitous Street View service.  Far more than taking pictures of streets and sidewalks, however, Google’s cars have been collecting digital information from inside homes as well, covertly sucking down data sent via unsecured wireless routers, picking up emails, passwords, and even documents and videos from the families inside.

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By Lori Andrews

Today the U.S. Supreme Court held in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., that human genes were not patentable since they are products of nature and not inventions.  This decision is great news for patients, doctors, and scientific researchers.  Some biotechnology companies might grumble about the decision, but the decision will actually stimulate innovation by pharmaceutical companies and the new generation of biotech companies.

The case involved Myriad’s patents on the human breast cancer genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2.  Those patents made your genes Myriad’s property once they were removed from your body.  Consequently, the company could control all uses of the genes, including any diagnostic testing or research.  The U.S. Supreme Court saw the absurdity of letting a company own your breast cancer genes.  Continue Reading »

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By Lori Andrews and Jake Meyer

The United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington, D.C. in a top secret court order ordered Verizon to produce to the National Security Agency (NSA) “all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”

Since we’re Verizon users, this order means that the NSA knows who we called, where we called them from, and for how long.  The NSA even knows that we’ve talked to each other. Continue Reading »

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