Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Google Breaks the Internet

Last month, Google announced plans to consolidate more than 60 of its 70+ separate privacy policies into a single, unified document. The streamlined privacy policy, which Google described as “beautifully simple […] a lot shorter and easier to read,” will take effect on Thursday, March 1. Almost immediately, careful readers raised concerns about sharing formerly-private Google search data across multiple applications. Gadget blog Gizmodo declared the move a reversal of Google’s official corporate motto (“Don’t be evil”), warning that “things you could do in relative anonymity today, will be explicitly associated with your name, your face, your phone number come March 1st.”

Members of Congress also expressed concern about the changes, which Google addressed in an open letter. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) sued to compel the Federal Trade Commission to enforce a prior consent order which required Google to protect user data. (The case was dismissed several weeks later, and has since been appealed to the D.C. Circuit.) Three dozen state attorneys general also sent a letter to Google CEO Larry Page to outline their concerns about the new policy.

In spite of all the hubbub, Google visitors are still seeing a notice on various applications, warning of the pending March 1 change. So what’s a concerned searcher to do? Larry Magid at Forbes offers five tips to ensure your continued privacy under Google’s new policies. They include browsing without sign-in; utilizing “private browsing” options; and deleting your Google web history. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has created step-by-step instructions with screenshots for the latter option, which have practically gone viral over the last week (ironically enough, on the bastion of consumer privacy known as Facebook).

Whether you’re horrified at the thought of sharing your running list of personal search activity at Google Web History, or welcome the thought of more-relevant search results and advertising next week, this consumer kerfuffle is a good reminder why you shouldn’t just blindly click through the Terms of Service when signing up for a new account online. In the market for a new favorite search engine? Be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Trial Access to International Encyclopaedia of Laws Online

For one week only, the Duke community can test out online access to the International Encyclopaedia of Laws via Kluwer Online. Scroll down to the list of available topics in order to access the full text. The trial will be active until Friday, March 2; up to 10 users may be logged in at one time.

As described in the library’s research guide to Foreign & Comparative Law, this large set of looseleaf volumes is divided into particular topics. Each topical set is edited by practitioners in the field, and provides a general overview as well as country-specific monographs which describe individual nations’ legislation and case law on the subject. The library currently receives 20 of the 25 available topics in print (see the list in the online catalog), including Intellectual Property, Commercial and Economic Law, and Constitutional Law. The online trial provides access to all 25 titles in the set (details about each title’s contents can be found without logging in to the trial at http://www.ielaws.com/). Chapters are available for download in PDF format.

If you’d like to share your feedback about the online version, you may send it to Foreign & International Law Reference Librarian Kristina Alayan. Your input will be considered in the library’s decision whether to purchase a subscription to the electronic version in the future. If you are reading this after the trial window closes on Friday and need to conduct some foreign & comparative research, don’t fret – the print versions are still available on Level 1, shelved with the other materials on their topical area.

The other libraries at Duke often test-drive electronic resources in order to make purchasing decisions. Check out the running list of current trials at the Duke University Libraries.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tax Time (with Two Extra Days)

Today marks two months ‘til tax time! Just like last year, the traditional April 15 federal income tax deadline falls on a weekend, and April 16 is an official holiday in the District of Columbia (Emancipation Day). So chronic procrastinators have an extra-long weekend to prepare and file their federal taxes before Tuesday, April 17 – and many states, including North Carolina, are also following the federal government’s lead in order to avoid deadline confusion.

But even with the extra few days, you can certainly get started on your tax preparation now. Although the Goodson Law Library staff cannot answer substantive tax-related questions (such as “what forms do I need to file?” or help with interpreting the form instructions), the Goodson Blogson can recommend some starting places for finding assistance.

Before you pay for a professional tax preparation service, consider whether you qualify for the IRS FreeFile program. This service links qualifying taxpayers to free electronic federal tax preparation service (state tax preparation may also be available in some cases). Note that your adjusted gross income must be $57,000 or less in order to take advantage of the FreeFile program. However, those with higher income can still use Free File Fillable Forms to e-file their federal returns.

You might also qualify for assistance from VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance), a program in which trained volunteers assist with preparation for low- to moderate-income taxpayers, as well as senior citizens. Duke Law’s VITA chapter has posted their calendar for spring 2012; please note that advance appointments are required. For readers outside the Durham area, the IRS maintains a list of VITA sites around the country.

If your taxes turn out to be too complicated, you might need to hire a professional. The IRS has tips for choosing a tax professional as well as instructions for filing complaints against any bad apples out there. Good luck—and for the perpetual procrastinators, there’s always an automatic extension. Keep in mind, though, that filing extensions don’t include an extension of time to pay estimated taxes!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"Tell the Court I Love My Wife"

Tonight, HBO premieres The Loving Story, a 2011 documentary about the fight against miscegenation laws in the 1950s and 1960s. Arrested and convicted in Virginia after returning home from their wedding in Washington, D.C., the interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving faced either a year in jail or self-imposed exile in exchange for a suspended sentence. With the help of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and the American Civil Liberties Union, the Lovings’ motion to vacate their 1958 conviction made it to the U.S. Supreme Court in the spring of 1967.

The oral argument, which can be heard at the OYEZ Project or read in volume 64 of Landmark Briefs and Arguments, included Richard Loving’s simple request to his attorney, Bernard Cohen: “Tell the Court I love my wife, and it’s just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.” The unanimous opinion, published at 388 U.S. 1, agreed that “[t]here can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause.” At the time of the Court’s ruling, sixteen states had similar laws on their books.

Don’t have premium cable? Never fear; we’re sure that The Loving Story will be added to the library’s DVD collection when it’s released. In the meantime, you can also read more about the Lovings in the 2004 book Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Story of Richard and Mildred Loving. The Loving case is also explored in the first chapter of Family Law Stories. In addition, you can read the filings from the case at U.S. Supreme Court Records and Briefs and Landmark Briefs and Arguments. For help researching this or any other landmark Supreme Court cases, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Resources for the February Bar Exam

Taking the February bar exam in a few weeks? Whether you're a December graduate facing down your first examination or making a repeat performance in a new -- or old –- jurisdiction, it never hurts to supplement your study course with additional resources. In our online catalog, try a subject keyword search for "Bar examinations—United States". This will retrieve some helpful resources for any state’s bar exam, including Strategies & Tactics for the MBE (Reserves KF303 .W345 2010) and other titles like The Zen of Passing the Bar Exam (KF303 .N673 2011).

Past exams from North Carolina are available at the NC Board of Law Examiners site. This site offers past exams from 2005-2007 free for download. (Older essay questions are available in the library at the call number KFN7476 .N671, but the latest exam available in print is 2003.) The Young Lawyers Division of the North Carolina Bar Association has also prepared a brief guide to Drafting a Bar Exam Essay Answer (Reserves KFN7476.Z9 D73 2004), with tips and tricks for NC test takers. An updated (2009) version of this pamphlet is available online in PDF.

Older bar examinations from 31 other states can be found in our Microforms Room on Level 1 of the library (cabinet # 35, top drawer). Available dates vary by state, although generally exams from 2010 or early 2011 are included. Note that many other states also make past exams available for free on their bar exam websites, such as New York’s page of Past Exam Questions, which may be more up-to-date than our microfiche collection. Visit http://www.ncbex.org/bar-admissions/offices/ to locate the Board of Law Examiners site for your state.

Good luck to all of our February 2012 test takers!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Pocket Constitutions: Democracy in Action

Do you miss the pocket-sized U.S. Constitutions which used to be free for the taking at the Goodson Law Library’s service desk? You're not alone: the handy text of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence proved popular with 1Ls in constitutional law classes, new international scholars, and even Duke Law faculty, who handed them out in some courses at the Law School's Summer Institutes in Hong Kong and Geneva. But the U.S. Government Printing Office, which supplied the pocket Constitutions free to federal depository libraries, has not had them in stock since late 2011 -- and as disappointed recent visitors know, the library's supplies have dwindled down to nothing.

There’s hope on the horizon, though - Congress misses them, too. House Concurrent Resolution 90, Authorizing the Printing of the 25th Edition of the Pocket Version of the United States Constitution, was introduced in November and just this Thursday moved to a Senate committee for consideration after passing the House without objection. The resolution would provide for the printing of “235,500 copies of the document, of which 220,500 copies shall be for the use of the House of Representatives, 10,000 copies shall be for the use of the Senate, and 5,000 copies shall be for the use of the Joint Committee on Printing,” or as many copies as a budget of $114,849 will produce. This is about half the budget which was allotted to the last printing in 2009 (S. Con. Res. 111-35), so it’s possible that the reprint still won’t result in an avalanche of freebies on our service desk. But it's a good reminder of the usefulness of THOMAS, the Library of Congress’s free federal legislation service, which provides bill text and status back to 1989. (Other free and premium bill tracking resources can be found in a prior blog post).

In the meantime, the 2009 printing can still be found online with its official citation, S. Doc. 111-4 (here’s a printable PDF version courtesy of the GPO’s FDsys site - be careful to choose “booklet” format when printing!). And of course, there are handy online transcripts from reputable sites like the National Archives. But if you’d still prefer to have a pocket copy of your very own, keep an eye on the resolution’s status page and Ask a Librarian once the printing is official.