Category: Expert Witness

Expert WitnessInsuranceWildfires

Camp Fire Disaster Causes Insurance Company Liquidation – Expert Witness

Now that the fire is out, I expected to be done writing about this topic for the year. Alas, there has been another casualty of the fire, it is the Merced Property & Casualty Company.

Insurance companies receive premiums from their customers (policyholders) to insure against property loss, damage and other risks. Some victims of the Camp Fire, the worst wildfire in California history, will not have those claims fulfilled by Merced Property & Casualty Company.

According to the LA Times, as of December 3, 2018, a Merced County court, “gave California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones permission to seize and liquidate the company’s assets. Now, the company is in the process of handing over policy and customer information to the California Insurance Guarantee Assn., or CIGA, which processes and pays claims on behalf of insolvent insurers.”

My understanding of the liquidation process is as follows: Merced Property & Casualty Company realizes they are in deep trouble, decide to skip bankruptcy, and ask the court to hand their operation over to the California Insurance Commissioner to clean up their mess. Per the LA Times, they have assets of roughly $23 million, but are expecting to pay out nearly three times that amount.

After policyholders fulfill their duty of paying premiums, they should expect to be insured against covered losses. As is often the case in mass disasters, insurance companies are ill-prepared and lack capital to fulfill their part of the bargain. Luckily for Californians, the taxpayers protect against such insurance company failures.

I reached out to one of our California insurance expert witnesses to get a better understanding of this insurance company liquidation.

Insurance Expert Witness Richard Masters

Richard Masters, CPCU, CIC, ARM, AAI, has more than 40 years of experience in the insurance industry. He is an expert on all aspects of property and casualty insurance and has testified in more than 200 trials in state and federal courts.

If you have a policy with Merced Property & Casualty Company, we hope this helps put your mind at ease. As I commonly do, I asked Mr. Masters several questions about the liquidation and he provided responses.

Nick: What happens when California regulators take over an insurance company?

Mr. Masters: They can either liquidate it or try to rehabilitate it. Rehabilitation usually involves getting another insurer to assume the book of business with the backing and help of CIGA. In the case of Merced I do not think it will be rehabilitated. First, I urge all customers of Merced to contact their insurance broker and immediately get a new insurance policy with a different carrier going forward.

Nick: Merced Property & Casualty Company didn’t even file bankruptcy. They claimed insolvency and are liquidating the company. What happens to the claimants?

Mr. Masters: The claimants will continue to make their claims with Merced and they should also contact CIGA to make a claim for benefits. CIGA can be contacted at 818-844-4300 or assistance@ciga.org. Make sure you have your homeowners or dwelling policy available. If you need to, contact your insurance broker to get copies of your policies.

Nick: There is some information that the California Insurance Guarantee Association. Is this like an FDIC for insurance companies?

Mr. Masters: Yes, that is a reasonable analogy. CIGA has three separate funds that they operate. The Merced collapse would involve the Homeowners Personal Lines fund. A liquidator will be assigned by CIGA and will administer the funds.

Nick: Will the claimants receive fractions of their claims as a result of this regulatory takeover?

Mr. Masters: Generally, CIGA will pay up to $500,000 for each claim but this depends on the terms of the policy and other factors determined by CIGA.

Nick: Any other information to provide to the public about the claims process through CIGA?

Mr. Masters: The claim process through CIGA is cumbersome and takes a LOT more time to complete. Claimants will need a lot of patience when dealing with CIGA.


In related news:

The ABA Journal reported today, “two law firms known for their class action practices have filed a new lawsuit that blames Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for the November fire that killed at least 88 people in Northern California and destroyed the town of Paradise.” Seven plaintiffs are jointly represented by The Edelson Law Firm and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein.

This is just one of several suits blaming PG&E for negligently maintaining equipment which resulted in wildfires. It appears the plaintiffs have hit PG&E with a variety of claims including inverse condemnation, trespass, negligence, nuisance and more. One of the plaintiffs claims to be suffering from PTSD as a result of being stuck in traffic, while trying to flee the fire, and embers from fire-engulfed trees were hitting his car. He feared he “would be burned alive.” I might be suffering serious emotional distress as well.

Let us not forget, PG&E has already publicly stated that they may have to declare bankruptcy if it is determined they were responsible for the Camp Fire.


This is the last I will be writing about the Camp Fire for this year. However, given the continuing legal implications of this catastrophe, I expect issues of import will develop in the New Year.

ElectronicsEngineeringExpert Witness

eScooters Recalled Due to Battery Fire Risk: Expert Witness Analysis

In the last week, we learned of a recall involving eScooters. This recall came from Lime, an eScooter and eBike manufacturer. However, this is not the first concern about the safety of eScooters and Lime is not the only manufacturer facing consumer safety concerns.

In big cities throughout the world, transportation is being rapidly impacted by more advanced options than those we typically think about: cars, bikes, and public transportation.

Technologies’ rapid advancement combined with the nightmare of slow-moving automobiles and fighting for parking spaces has made Segways and other eScooters an efficient, environmentally friendly, and fun alternative to normal modes of transportation.

San Francisco is 90 miles from our office. On a good day it takes about 2 hours to make it to the city. Upon arriving, I typically want to find a parking place and avoid getting in the car for the remainder of my time in the city. From my interactions, I am not alone in this feeling. In fact, eScooters are a nice alternative to walking around the city and one I plan on trying in the not too distant future. It will allow me to go greater distances in the city, while being fun (because scooters are fun), and I won’t have to fight the traffic in San Francisco.

As with all consumer products and consumer electronics, especially those new to the market, we start to hear stories about the injuries caused and the safety concerns about the new products. eScooter solutions do not appear to be free from these concerns.

Powered by electronics and lithium-ion batteries, we have learned of the potential for fires related to these scooters. You may recall the “hoverboard” fires from a year or two ago. The hoverboards (self-balancing scooters) were a “hot” purchase at Christmastime and then they experienced recalls as a result of battery failures and battery fires.

Again, these recalls are pretty common for consumer products and from my perspective, companies seem to have drastically improved their response to safety issues and rapidly deploy recalls. I seem to see a recall announcement weekly. It is wise to recall a product and prove your company is proactive regarding customer safety. The alternative today, is suffering the Internet-based attacks for failure to do so. Those attacks are likely to be followed by product liability litigation if your customers are injured.

Lime eScooter Recall:

Last week, I read that Lime had recalled some of their scooters from Los Angeles, San Diego, and Lake Tahoe. TechCrunch, among other news outlets, covered the story. The pertinent part of the story is below, some of which was pulled directly from Lime’s blog:

“‘In several isolated instances, a manufacturing defect could result in the battery smoldering or, in some cases, catching fire,’ Lime wrote on its blog. ‘We took this issue very seriously. Immediately upon learning of the defect, we worked with Segway Ninebot to create a software program to detect the potentially affected batteries. We then worked independently to create an even more thorough software program to ensure that no potentially faulty scooters remained in circulation. When an affected battery was identified — with a red code — we promptly deactivated the scooter so that no members of the public could ride or charge it.’

Lime says it then removed those scooters from circulation and ‘at no time were riders or members of the public put at risk.’ But fast-forward to more ‘recently,’ and Lime has received another report that one of its Segway Ninebot scooters may be vulnerable to battery failure. In total, Lime says less than 0.01 percent of its scooter fleet is affected.”

Given the issues with the hoverboards and now eScooters, I wanted to get a better understanding of the issues impacting electronic scooters and the batteries, as the thread that seems to hold all these stories together, is the lithium-ion batteries.

As such, I reached out to one of our experts for his insights on the matter.

Mechanical Engineering, Medical Device and Consumer Product Expert Witness Dr. T. Kim Parnell:

T. Kim Parnell, PhD, PE, is a Professional Mechanical Engineering consultant with strong experience in a number of technology areas. He holds PhD and MSME degrees from Stanford University in Mechanical Engineering and a BES from Georgia Tech. He specializes in the mechanical engineering design and behavior of Biomedical Devices, Superelastic and Shape Memory Metals (Nitinol), Bioabsorbable Polymers, Composites, Fiber-Reinforced Materials, Electronics, and Consumer Products. Dr. Parnell consults actively in these areas using finite element analysis and other advanced technologies to improve designs, to perform failure analysis, and to improve reliability. To learn more about Dr. Parnell, please visit his website: http://parnell-eng.com/.

Nick: In consumer electronics-based batteries, are their common battery defects that may result in smoldering or the battery catching fire?

Dr. Parnell: Yes, there are several failure modes that can ultimately lead to smoke or fire.

External damage is one mechanism that can lead to failure and smoke or fire. By breaching the external battery package, the reactive internal contents will be exposed to air and moisture.

The failure modes generally involve heat and overheating of the battery in some way.

Some of the heating mechanisms are:

  • External Short Circuit
  • Internal Short Circuit
  • Overcharge
  • Overdischarge
  • External Heating
  • Overheating (self-heating)

Each of these heating mechanisms may ultimately result in battery temperature becoming too high.

The elevated temperature leads to gas generation and additional generation of heat internal to the battery.

If this heat generation exceeds the ability to dissipate the heat, a thermal runaway may occur.

If a thermal runaway occurs, then it may be followed by

  • venting,
  • rupture of the battery container, and then potential
  • fire and explosion.

Nick: The article from TechCrunch explains one battery failed and another caught fire. Does a battery have to catch fire to fail?

Dr. Parnell: No.  Fire is basically an end failure mode.

Nick: Not just in the instance of these scooters, but more generally, is it possible for a battery to be damaged by the charging process rather than a manufacturing defect?

Dr. Parnell: Yes. The battery may be damaged by the charging process.  In particular if the battery is overcharged and if the charge rate remains high after the battery reaches full charge.

Nick: In the article, it seems Lime is able to monitor batteries and detect faulty batteries via software. Can you tell us, in general, how batteries are remotely monitored by consumer electronic companies?

Dr. Parnell: Battery internal temperature is one key parameter that can identify problems.  A temperature sensor from each battery cell can provide data that can be remotely monitored and also can be used locally to isolate a cell.

Nick: Can a battery truly be fixed with a software patch? Or, should the defective battery be removed from operation altogether?

Dr. Parnell: A mechanical battery problem cannot be “fixed” with a software patch.  A problem battery cell in a battery pack may be identified and electrically isolated.

That is what I’ve got for you this week. Although, it has been brought to my attention (thanks to Kevin Gillespie of TextALawyer), that another blog post about the safety issues in and around eScooter use may be necessary. Stay tuned, as there may be a Part 2.

 

EvidenceExpert WitnessExpert Witness Testimony

Expert Witness Liability, According to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals

Recently, we have received some questions from expert witnesses regarding potential liability for expert witness testimony. The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decided this issue last Friday.

Last week, on October 26th, 2018, the United States, Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the federal common law “witness litigation privilege” protects an expert witness for civil claims stemming from their testimony.

The best summary of the decision that I found comes from Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP’s, Gravel2Gavel Blog. You can find the blog post here.

The matter involved a coal miner who was claiming benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act. According to the expert witness the evidence did not support the plaintiff’s claim and the claim was denied. Thereafter, a report from the Center for Public Integrity alleged the “Johns Hopkins radiology unit and its expert witnesses were much less likely to find evidence of black lung disease than other doctors.”

The report from the Center for Public Integrity led to a lawsuit against Johns Hopkins and their doctors claiming liability for fraud, tortious interference, misrepresentation and more. The trial court dismissed the claim citing the federal common law “witness litigation privilege.” According to Gravel2Gavel, the appeals court was divided on the issue, but agreed with the trial court decision.

The Fourth Circuit stated “absolute immunity” applies to the expert witness testimony. They went further to state, “‘when a witness takes the oath, submitting his own testimony to cross-examination, the common law does not allow his participation to be deterred or undermined by subsequent collateral actions for damages.’” This is a really wordy way for the court to say an expert witness cannot later be sued for their testimony.

We also went ahead and summarized the ruling in this video:

EvidenceExpert WitnessExpert Witness Testimony

Florida Supreme Court Says ‘No’ to Daubert Expert Witness Standard

Since 2013, Florida has been the center of a battle over admissibility standards for expert witness testimony.

Prior to a move by the legislature in 2013, Florida followed the Frye Standard (i.e. general acceptance test). This test is considered a more lenient in allowing for expert witness testimony.

Normally, this standard is preferred by plaintiff’s counsel and disliked by defense counsel. Much like the “general acceptance test,” my last statement is a generalization.

In 2013, the Florida Legislature passed a law changing the admissibility standard from Frye, to the federal standard commonly referred to as Daubert StandardRather than the general acceptance test, the judge as the gatekeeper, would apply a multi-pronged test to analyze the admissibility of expert evidence. Here are the prongs per Cornell Law:

  1. whether the theory or technique in question can be and has been tested;
  2. whether it has been subjected to peer review and publication;
  3. its known or potential error rate;
  4. the existence and maintenance of standards controlling its operation;
  5. whether it has attracted widespread acceptance within a relevant scientific community.

Most of our members are familiar with the Daubert Standard because it is the standard used by federal courts and more than three-quarters of US states. Naturally, my home state of California still uses Frye because we always want to do things a little differently. Well, according to the Florida Supreme Court ruling this week, Florida likes to do things differently as well.

To summarize, the Florida Supreme Court found the law implementing the Daubert Standard to be an unconstitutional infringement on the court’s authority by the legislature.

The decision was covered by CBS Miami, and the most pertinent part is as follows:

“We recognize that Frye and Daubert are competing methods for a trial judge to determine the reliability of expert testimony before allowing it to be admitted into evidence,” Justice Peggy Quince wrote in the majority decision, joined by justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Jorge Labarga. “Both purport to provide a trial judge with the tools necessary to ensure that only reliable evidence is presented to the jury. Frye relies on the scientific community to determine reliability whereas Daubert relies on the scientific savvy of trial judges to determine the significance of the methodology used. With our decision today, we reaffirm that Frye, not Daubert, is the appropriate test in Florida courts.”

It was a 4-3 decision by the Florida Supreme Court and the Chief Justice offered an impassioned dissent. For our members practicing in Florida, the law is clear, the Supreme Court has decided Frye is the appropriate standard for Florida.

EngineeringExpert WitnessWeather

Hurricane Floodwater & Wastewater: Sanitary Engineer Expert Witness Analysis

Five days after Hurricane Florence made landfall and pounded parts of the East Coast with winds and torrential rains, many areas are still inundated with flood water.

The floods have been devastating. Not only are the waters causing extreme property damage and personal injuries (in some instances death), they are also carrying contaminants and pollutants which have severe public health concerns.

Yesterday I read about some of the pollutants entering the floodwaters. Some of the items include: dead animals (turkeys, pigs, chickens), chemicals, manure, and untreated raw sewage. In fact, Bloomberg reported farm lagoons (storing feces and urine) had given way and sewer treatment plants have been overwhelmed by the rains.

Specifically, there are a variety of issues caused by these contaminants being washed away and transported via floodwaters. Bloomberg points out some of these concerns:

“Hog waste contains E. coli and bacteria, Rumpler said. Sewage overflows, combined with high floodwaters, bring the prospect of ecological impacts including fish kills. Humans coming into contact with fecal matter risk viruses, parasitic infections and rashes.”

So, there are some things our citizen brothers and sisters should avoid in North Carolina. Try to avoid swimming and wading through floodwaters. Remember the water is NOT just rain water. It is NOT clean. Those floodwaters include wastewater. Citizens should probably continue drinking bottled water until local authorities tell them otherwise.

That is enough of my non-expert suggestions. I’ve reached out to a sanitary engineering expert witness for some insights.

Sanitary Engineering Expert Witness Bonneau Dickson

Bonneau Dickson, PE, is a Sanitary Engineer with over 35 years of experience in all aspects of studying, designing, and constructing water, wastewater, and stormwater facilities, both in the United States and abroad. Mr. Dickson has designed approximately 300 water, wastewater, and stormwater projects. Has been resident engineer or otherwise participated in the construction phase of approximately 20 water and wastewater projects. Mr. Dickson has both project management and general management experience as project manager on approximately 175 projects.  You can learn more about his practice here: bonneaudickson.com.

Nick: With the post-Hurricane Florence flooding, we are reading about heavily polluted waters (pig excrement and raw sewage). What can North Carolina authorities do to address these sewage overflows and treat the wastewater?

Mr. Dickson: Very little. The pollution has escaped and there are few or no practical means of recapturing it.

The good news is that the torrential rains are likely to flush most of the pollution out to sea where it will decompose and be diluted down to insignificant concentrations.

Nick: At least one municipal sewer authority experienced catastrophic failure. Is there anything that can be done to limit or prevent such catastrophic failures when faced with heavy rains and severe flooding?

Mr. Dickson: Proper design of wastewater treatment facilities includes protection against flooding up to some level. Often, the protection includes levees and stormwater pumping facilities to prevent the wastewater treatment facilities from flooding.

The design storm often is a 100-year storm. I have not seen an analysis of the return period for a storm like Hurricane Florence but it could be on the order of a 500-year storm or a 1,000-year storm. Some areas were reported to have received up to 40-inches of rain in a few days. Typical annual rainfall in the Carolina’s is approximately 40-inches.

Nick: What are the major public health risks associated with untreated wastewater flooding parts of North Carolina?

Mr. Dickson: Probably diarrheal diseases from drinking or coming in contact with polluted water.

Nick: What can individuals and authorities do to limit public health risks associated with wastewater?

Mr. Dickson: Get the potable water systems operating again so people have clean water to drink and bathe in.


 

Until the floodwaters recede, please be safe. Listen to local authorities and remember to help your neighbors!

 

 

addiction medicineExpert Witnesspain management

Pain and Addiction Expert Witness Comments on 72,000 Opioid Deaths in 2017

Last week, the New York Times reported CDC estimates of 72,000 opioid-related overdose deaths in the United States, in 2017. Unfortunately, a record breaking number, beating the number of deaths caused by guns, HIV, or car accidents.

Well, I wish the last time I wrote about the opioid crisis could have been the final time. It appears we are far from the end of this crisis. In fact, I began writing about this topic because it will go on for years and the litigation surrounding pharmaceutical opioids is just beginning.

Normally, I am not one to follow entertainment news. In fact, I view it is a distraction from far more important topics. Yet there I sat, just a few weeks ago, reading about the overdose of pop singer Demi Lovato. She has struggled with addiction from a young age and recently experienced a heroin induced overdose. Then last week the CDC released preliminary estimates of approximately 72,000 deaths caused by opioid overdoses, in 2017. This is a horrific plight on our nation. Chances are we all know someone impacted by this epidemic.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Experts.com has seen an incredible increase in the number of addiction medicine, substance abuse, and pain management experts marketing their services with us over the years. I started in 2010 and I’ve witnessed at least a five-fold increase in these types of experts.

The litigation against major pharmaceutical companies has also skyrocketed. In the last year we’ve seen cities, states, and counties bringing lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors. The litigation against the manufacturers and distributors is encouraging if it helps stem the flow of opioid overdoses and death.

Based on this article in the New York Times, there are two reasons for the increase in opioid-related deaths: “A growing number of Americans are using opioids, and drugs are becoming more deadly. It is the second factor that most likely explains the bulk of the increased number of overdoses last year.” The article goes on to explain synthetic opioids, such as Fentanyl, is a major contributing factor to the rise in overdoses. The Times further elaborates:

“Strong synthetic opioids like fentanyl and its analogues have become mixed into black-market supplies of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and the class of anti-anxiety medicines known as benzodiazepines. Unlike heroin, which is derived from poppy plants, fentanyl can be manufactured in a laboratory, and it is often easier to transport because it is more concentrated. Unexpected combinations of those drugs can overwhelm even experienced drug users. In some places, the type of synthetic drugs mixed into heroin changes often, increasing the risk for users…”

High profile news stories followed by the shocking statistics from the CDC compelled me to reach out for insights from those on the front lines. Those who are treating patients with legitimate and often chronic pain, while also addressing substance abuse disorders. Dr. Adam Carinci is one such professional.

Addiction and Pain Management Expert Witness – Dr. Adam Carinci

Dr. Adam J Carinci, M.D. is a nationally recognized clinician, speaker and expert witness with over a decade of pain medicine experience. He is double-board certified in both anesthesiology and in pain medicine and maintains an active, full-time medical practice. Dr. Carinci is Chief of the Pain Management Division and Director of the Pain Treatment Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center and an Associate Professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine.

As with previous articles, I posed a series of questions to Dr. Carinci and asked for his insights. Below are my questions and his answers.

Nick: For our readers, can you explain what constitutes a synthetic opioid?

Dr. Carinci: Synthetic opioids are man-made drugs that mimic the effects of natural opioids such as opium or heroin. Synthetic opioids act at the same opioid receptor in the body as naturally occurring opioids to induce pain relief, sedation and respiratory depression among other effects. Synthetic opioids are many times as potent as naturally occurring opioids. For example, Fentanyl is 100 times as potent as morphine (derived from opium).

Nick: Fentanyl is one of the synthetic opioids I’ve read about more in recent years. It’s mixture with heroin seems to be responsible for the increased deaths according to the New York Times. What are some legitimate medical uses for Fentanyl?

Dr. Carinci: The synthetic opioid agonist fentanyl is approximately 100 times as potent as morphine and is characterized by a rapid onset and short duration of action after a single dose. It is most commonly administered intravenously but may be given intramuscularly, transmucosally or transdermally. Fentanyl’s high lipid solubility contributes to its rapid onset because it readily crosses the blood–brain barrier. Fentanyl is used medically as a component of general anesthesia for surgery, as a sedative for procedural sedation and for chronic pain management.

Nick: Is there any data on how addiction begins?

Dr. Carinci: Addiction is a condition in which a person engages in use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences. Addiction is a biopsychosocial disorder. It is a susceptibility that is a confluence of a person’s genetics, neurobiology, psychological and social factors. Activity substances increase levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the molecular messenger of the brain’s reward center. It is what gives people the feeling of pleasure and reinforces behaviors critical for survival, such as eating, drinking and having sex. Different drugs tap into the dopamine reward system in different ways, some more potent generators of dopamine than others. There are a variety of factors that determine how addictive a drug can be, however, how rapidly each drug can get into the brain, and how powerfully it activates neural reward circuits are two critical factors. Thus, the combination of the person’s susceptibility and the potency of the drug combine to create addiction.

Nick: In your experience, what factors have led to the “opioid crisis” as we know it today? I realize this is very general, so a summary will suffice.

Dr. Carinci: The current opioid crisis has its roots in the late 1990s, where the use of prescription opioid pain relievers began to be prescribed at much greater rates. This subsequently led to widespread diversion and misuse of these medications before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive. Opioid overdose rates began to increase. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose, including prescription opioids, heroin, and illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. That same year, an estimated 2 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders. In 2016, synthetic opioids (primarily illegal fentanyl) passed prescription opioids as the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths in the United States. In 2016, over 42,000 drug overdose deaths involved opioids. Of those, 45.9% involved synthetic opioids.

Nick: What treatment options are available for opioid addiction?

Dr. Carinci: Medications, including buprenorphine (Suboxone®, Subutex®), methadone, and extended release naltrexone (Vivitrol®), are effective for the treatment of opioid use disorders. The most comprehensive approach should be combined medications with behavioral counseling known as Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT). Studies have shown that MAT Increases social functioning and retention in treatment.


 

There will certainly be more to come in regards to this crisis. If there are any experts you’d like me to consult regarding this topic? Any other expertise you’d like covered? If so, please leave a comment and we will continue to cover this story, both from medical and litigation perspectives.

 

 

BlockchainComputer SecurityExpert Witnesslegaltech

Blockchain Voting Election 2018: Expert Analysis of West Virginia’s Plan

This November, West Virginians deployed overseas will have the opportunity to vote via smart phone through a Blockchain-based application. Given the existing concerns of election integrity, I couldn’t help but reach out for expert analysis.

Hey, did you know that election integrity is kind of big deal? Have you been watching any number of news stations in the last few years? Our country has not stopped talking about election meddling, voter fraud, electronic voting, and wide variety of related topics, for two or more years, give or take.

If you are not aware of these concerns, you must be living under a rock. Please make room under the rock as I’d like to join you. I do my best to ignore the talking heads because I’ve found they add no value to my life (anyone else feel that way about the twenty-four hour television news cycle?).

Before I digress entirely, my point is election integrity and vote verification are legitimate concerns and imperative for the success of our democracy. As such, broadcast news covers the subject extensively.

Rarely, however, do these broadcasters address the micro-issues. This is why I choose to get my news from a variety of different publications, most of which I read online. That’s how I found this article: Experts Criticize West Virginia’s Plan for Smartphone Voting, from Ars Technica. Many of my regular readers know I appreciate the legal and policy analysis from Ars Technica. Routinely, I use it as a jumping off point for further research. The publication often acts as a catalyst for blog posts. In this case, I’d been waiting for the opportunity to discuss the Blockchain topic and get insights from expert witnesses on the subject.

The issue of a Blockchain-based application being used, to allow soldiers stationed abroad, the opportunity to vote through their smart phone was the perfect topic. Bitcoin (a Blockchain-based crytocurrency) is already being written and discussed extensively. Voting, through a Blockchain application, is getting less coverage and is therefore more interesting to me.

Much of what I’ve read about the Blockchain is hyperbolic. I’ve read on more than one occasion that “the Blockchain cannot be hacked.” On its face, that statement appears illegitimate. There is no such thing as 100% secure. So, how do we plan on safely using a smart phone app to conduct one of our country’s most sensitive civic processes?

According to the Ars Technica article, West Virginia did a limited run of the system (Voatz is the name of the app) for the primary election in May. The article further provided, “West Virginia’s secretary of state told CNN that the pilot worked well and that the system passed four audits of various parts of the system. So this November, the state is planning to offer the system more broadly to West Virginians deployed overseas.”

Naturally, I have a lot of questions about the security and reliability of the voting application offered by Voatz. So I reached out to one of our computer science experts who has studied the Blockchain and recently published articles on the topic.

Computer Science and Systems Expert Witness – Dr. Stephen Castell

Dr. Stephen Castell is a computer science and systems expert witness with over 30 years of experience. As an expert witness, Dr. Castell has acted in over 100 major cases including the largest and longest computer software actions to have come to trial in the English High Court. Most recently, Dr. Castell contributed to the 200th issue of Computer Law and Security Review (CLSR), with his paper titled, “The Future Decisions of RoboJudge HHJ Arthur Ian Blockchain: Dread, Delight or Derision?Find out more about Dr. Castell by visiting his website: www.castellconsulting.com.

I’ve been working with Dr. Castell for more than eight years. We always have delightful conversations and “geek out” together over emerging technologies. Our recent conversations have, of course, covered the rapidly changing legal technology space.

Here are the questions I posed and the answers provided by Dr. Castell:

Nick: Can you describe Blockchain technology for the lay reader?

Dr. Castell: In its elemental form, a Blockchain is simply a decentralized database system – digital ledgers that store transaction data, distributed across many nodes.  It has a linked list data structure, with each block (an aggregated set of data) containing a ‘hash’ of the previous block.  Each block is formed by a ‘proof-of-work algorithm’, through which consensus of this distributed system is obtained via the longest possible chain.  A ‘traded’ cryptocurrency Blockchain (e.g. Bitcoin) is a shared public chain: in principle everyone has access to the chain, not only to read the information on the chain, but also to append new blocks on the chain.  This is known as an unpermissioned chain.  The West Virginia voting application is likely to be a permissioned chain, where, through public key cryptography, access control can be implemented during setting up of the chain so that differentiated access can apply – both voters and those managing and controlling the voting process can differentially record, and/or interrogate, votes and voting data added to its Blockchain.

Nick: Is a Blockchain-based voting system secure?

Dr. Castell: The Blockchain in and of itself provides strong cryptographic security.  However, ICT expert professionals bear in mind that not only are there no finalised international standards for Blockchain (eight  standards are in development under ISO/TC 307), but also there is far more to specifying, designing, developing, testing, deploying and maintaining an appropriate complete QA’d application than just the Blockchain element.  The security of the complete system needs to be addressed and designed-in from the start, irrespective of the use case for the Blockchain.  And whether to use a Blockchain as a component at all for a given business requirement such as public elections is a critical initial feasibility exercise that the expert knows is essential, as much from a security perspective as any other.

Nick: We know that electronic voting systems are vulnerable to hacking. Can Blockchain-based voting systems also be hacked?

Dr. Castell: Anything can be hacked, and electronic voting systems are no different.  Back in the late 1980s, I carried out a major definitive study, commissioned by the British H M Treasury, on the admissibility of computer evidence in court and the legal reliability/security of IT systems (The APPEAL Report, 1990, May, Eclipse Publications, ISBN 1-870771-03-6).  This concluded with what became known as my ‘First Dictum’:  “You cannot secure an ontologically unreliable technology by use of an ontologically unreliable technology”.  Nothing has changed.  Commercial computer hardware and operating systems, including smartphones, remain essentially ‘open’, and ontologically unreliable.

Nick: Is it the Blockchain that could be compromised or is it more likely a voter’s smartphone would be compromised by a hacker?

Dr. Castell: A well-engineered and implemented Blockchain distributed voting ledger should itself be as immune to compromise as its cryptography can provide.  But the voter’s smart phone security, and the overall voting application, are only as sound as whatever has been designed-in to the whole system – and we know that smartphones have for sure in the past been hacked.  It is not clear that the proposed West Virginia smartphone application would be any more (or less) hackable than anything else hitherto.

Nick: What sort of checks and balances would you expect for a Blockchain-based voting system before implementation?

Dr. Castell: It would seem an obvious (constitutional?) requirement that votes must always be manually-countable in any US election, in the event of suspected error or lack of trust in the reported result, whether through suspected deliberate tampering or compromise, accident or incident, random system malfunction, or whatever else, and particularly if the result is legally challenged in court.  Any smart phone app voting system must therefore always be designed so that its operation, and the voting data recorded, are auditable for integrity, accuracy and reliability ‘by hand’ – that is surely the most basic check and balance.

Lawyer Jonathan Bolls is a Magistrate, and Chief Election Officer, in Fairfax County, Virginia, who had personal experience of the consequences of unreliable computer systems, as a past victim of technical problems saving Bar Exam essays using suspect software provided by the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners (I provided expert opinion on his behalf – see http://jonathanbolls.blogspot.com/).  He notes that US citizens are passionate about the integrity of elections:  “For Blockchain technology, where someone is voting on their phone from overseas, they would want to consider that in doing so they potentially waive their rights to have their vote counted should a re-count be necessary.  We have actually gone the other way: removed our high-tech touchscreen voting systems and returned to the paper ballot.  If ever we need to check voting numbers we hand count”.

Aside from manual auditability, before implementation it is vital that ‘Proof of Concept’ projects be thoroughly executed, carefully trialing any proposed smartphone public voting system, prior to actual ‘go live’ for real.  Such Pilot Trials or Proving Systems are essential, with their scale, planning, operation, data and results, and assessment thereof, monitored and carried out by independent experts.

Nick: In your expert opinion, would you trust a Blockchain-based voting system to accurately register votes?

Dr. Castell: Deliberate hacking or compromise apart, there is no reason why a well-engineered and implemented Blockchain-based voting system, with careful professional expert involvement in its design and trialing before go-live, should not accurately register votes.  However, I do not consider that a so-called ‘trustless’ Blockchain-based voting system removes the need for a Trusted Third Party legally responsible for its operation and security.  ‘Who you gonna sue when it goes wrong?’ is still an essential consideration, and the Blockchain itself, nothing magical, ‘just another computer system’, cannot be sued.

See:

  • https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1XSpq_654J6Hkp  ‘The future decisions of RoboJudge HHJ Arthur Ian Blockchain: Dread, delight or derision?’, Stephen Castell, Computer Law & Security Review, Volume 34, Issue 4, August 2018, Pages 739-753.
  • Commission of the European Community. Green paper on the security of information systems, ver. 4.2.1, 1994.
  • S. Castell, Code of practice and management guidelines for trusted third party services, INFOSEC Project Report S2101/02, 1993.

Conclusion:

What are your thoughts? Would you trust a smart phone, Blockchain-based voting application? Please share your comments below!

UPDATE (08/16/2018):

Our friends over at the Robinette Legal Group, located in Morgantown, West Virginia, wrote a complementary piece to this blog. The author of the piece, Terri Robinette, did an exceptional job elaborating on prior “uses” of Blockchain in Sierra Leone and describing how West Virginia is legitimately the first to truly test this technology. She further described election security and fraud in West Virginia. Take a look at her article below:

Smartphone Voting App for Deployed West Virginia Military

Allergy-ImmunologyExpert WitnessWildfires

Wildfire Smoke: Allergy, Dermatology, and Respiratory Expert Suggestions

With wildfires raging across California, smoke, pollutants and allergens are filling our skies. Impacting not only those in the immediate vicinity of fires, but people throughout the state.

As many of our friends, colleagues, and readers are aware, the Experts.com corporate office is situated in Stockton, California. We are in the heart of the Central Valley and a safe distance from the roaring wildfires. However, we are surrounded by these fires and the airborne pollutants they are emitting.

The Mendocino Complex Fire (now determined to be the largest wildfire in California history) is occurring approximately 200 miles to the Northwest of our office. Those westerly winds, however, are blowing the smoke directly through the Central Valley.

The valley is known for terrible allergens, due in large part, to our amazing agricultural industry (responsible for producing somewhere in the neighborhood of 33-50% of the nation’s produce, depending on your data source). What we have been experiencing in the last couple of weeks is, for lack of a better phrase, a perfect storm of allergens and pollutants.

Stockton, and the Central Valley, are not alone. Smoke from the 19 (at the time of this writing) active wildfires in the state, are contributing to all kinds of allergy, respiratory distress and illness for Californians. As smoke does not recognize border lines, the smoke is impacting people across the West.

Here is what I know from personal experience. Children and older adults are most at risk from the airborne pollutants and allergies. Outdoor activities for these individuals should be minimal. The same goes for pets. Those afflicted with allergies or compromised respiratory systems should also minimize outdoor activity. You should also check your air quality daily. If you’re in California, here’s where to check: www.airnow.gov.

smoke-1-.png

Here is a quick look of the haze around our office. Skies are normally bright blue.

smoke-2.png

Here is the sun trying to peak through the smoke. This is an improvement over yesterday.

 

Beyond the above, I cannot tell you much more. I have been choosing to limit my outdoor activity and that of my dog because she has significant allergies and respiratory health problems. She’s also elderly. To better elaborate on fire related exposures, including allergies and respiratory impacts, I have reached out to one of our expert witnesses.

Allergy, Immunology and Dermatology Expert Witness – Dr. Ernest Charlesworth

Ernest N. Charlesworth, MD, is a Diplomate of the American Board of Dermatology, the American Board of Internal Medicine, American Board of Allergy & Immunology, and the American Board of Diagnostic Laboratory Immunology. He has over 40 years of experience in his field of expertise. He is one of only a few United States physicians who is board certified in both Allergy / Immunology and Dermatology.

Dr. Charlesworth specializes in respiratory diseases, Asthma, immunologic and allergic disorders, Allergic Pulmonary Disease, and more. He is located in Bronte, Texas. You can learn more about his expertise here. Below are my questions and Dr. Charlesworth’s answers.

Nick: What are the most common smoke-related allergic reactions?

Dr. Charlesworth: Smoke is a pulmonary irritant, even to healthy lungs, but for individuals with allergic asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, it has the potential to be life-threatening. Not only is the smoke an irritant, it may also contain allergic particles ranging from the oil in poison ivy (& poison sumac) to grass, weed, & tree pollen. The inflammation induced by smoke and pollutants release a cascade of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. These cytokines augment and intensity of the allergic response.

Nick: Do allergy medications help at all when dealing with fire/smoke related exposure?

Dr. Charlesworth: Yes, individuals with inhalant allergies & asthma they will experience an increased need for using their “rescue” inhalers.   The rescue inhaler contains a bronchodilator (usually albuterol) that helps to relax the smooth muscle that surround the bronchi, thus allowing an increase in the ease of air flow in the lungs.  It is equally important that those with allergic asthma use their “control” medication which usually contain an anti-inflammatory steroid.  One of the problems with smoke inhalation is that it increases the inflammation in an already inflamed & irritable airway. This additional inflammation has the potential to push even a well controlled asthmatic patient over the edge and require urgent intervention in the setting of a hospital emergency department.

Nick: Personally, I fight allergies all year, but with the smoke-filled air, they seem to be worse. Is that just a result of greater airborne pollutants?

Dr. Charlesworth: The simple answer is, yes.  The irritants in environmental smoke “prime” the lungs & mucous membranes resulting in an exaggerated response to their allergies.

Nick: For those with respiratory illnesses, who are in smoky areas of California, what can they do to limit further damage to their compromised systems?

Dr. Charlesworth: The first step is to recognize that they are at much greater risk than the non-allergic population.  This includes having an action plan that stresses regular use of their prescribed allergy medications.  It’s also important to recognize the control inhalers should not be used for immediate relief.  Finally, lungs require moisture & humidity to function in a healthy manner.   Dry smoke-filled air will dehydrate the mucous membranes.  Accordingly, the use of room humidifiers can be of immense help. In addition, they should have an evacuation plan, even in the absence of general evacuation orders.  The use of filtration masks are recommended when outdoors and when indoors the air conditioning filters need to be changed.

Nick: Aside from staying indoors, what other items would you suggest for those currently exposed to California wildfire smoke?

Dr. Charlesworth: See above.  A plan for early evacuation to outside the atmospheric area affected by the smoke & fire may be the most important.  This might be a good time to take a vacation and visit family outside the affected area.

Nick: Please share any other information you think is appropriate for those exposed to smoke and other pollutants from wildfires…

Dr. Charlesworth: For those allergic to poison ivy, oak, & sumac there is a real danger that allergic oils aerosolized can cause not only respiratory but also an allergic contact dermatitis to exposed skin.  For this reason, I would recommend long sleeves and staying indoors.  If outside exposure is unavoidable, the use of a thin application of a petroleum cream (such as Vasoline) may be helpful.  Lastly, one should remember that most antihistamines  have a side effect of drying out the mucous membranes which will have a deleterious effect on those allergic individuals exposed to smoke.  This particularly true for diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and less so with loratidine and cetirizine.  There are also late complications that include an increased vulnerability to secondary infection of both the lungs and the sinuses.  For protection of the sinuses, I recommend irrigation with dilute salt water a couple of times each day.

Conclusion

The last two blog posts have been entirely inspired by the events taking place in California. The goal is to provide some information beneficial to our sisters and brothers in the state.

Stay healthy!

 

 

Expert WitnessInsuranceWildfires

California Wildfires: Property Damage & Restoration Expert Witness Insights

As of this writing, the Carr Fire in Redding, is considered the seventh most destructive wildfire in California history. It is just one of 17 active wildfires in the state.

In the past week, California has witnessed an intense round of wildfires. As I sit safely in my office reading the news about those being evacuated, or worse, I cannot help but empathize. The wildfires last Fall had the same impact on me. In fact, the concern for others dealing with disaster compelled me to write this piece last year. It covers topics  of evidence collection and insurance policy review, in the aftermath of a California wildfire. The only goal was to provide useful information to those impacted.

The same compulsion to provide helpful information is felt today. Smoke in the Central Valley has been an awful, constant reminder, that many are losing their homes, businesses, and lives. Just 200 miles North of our office, citizens of Redding California are experiencing the Carr Fire. Yesterday, according to USA Today, the Carr Fire was claimed to be the “seventh most destructive” fire in California history. Here is some further information about the Carr Fire from USA Today:

“Firefighters from 16 states are aiding the effort. The state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection – Cal Fire – reported promising headway Tuesday on the most devastating of the blazes: the Carr Fire in and around this city of 92,000. The death toll here is six, including two firefighters. More than 170 square miles have burned and almost 900 homes destroyed, making it the seventh-most destructive fire in state history.

While 10,000 people were allowed to return to their homes Monday, more than 25,000 people remain evacuated. And the fire was only 27 percent contained.”

According to the Cal Fire fire map, there are 17 active wildfires in California at the time of this writing. That number does not include contained fires. Firefighters throughout the state have a massive job ahead. Also, the last time I wrote about California wildfires was December, 2017, which means fire season has just begun.

These annual wildfires take an extensive toll on California. There is the emotional cost for those who lose homes, businesses, and loved ones. Before the grief subsides, individuals and families have to start putting their lives back together, and this involves significant time and financial costs. Many have to work with insurance companies and government agencies in order to rebuild their homes and businesses.

An article this morning, from the Sacramento Bee, indicated the Carr Fire destroyed “1,236 structures and damaged 225 more.” Additionally, “2,546 structures are threatened.”

I do not pretend to have answers for those dealing with catastrophic losses. What I have is a giant database of experts with whom I can consult and hopefully provide valuable information for those in a difficult position.

Seeing the number of structures destroyed, damaged, and threatened, I reached out to one of our property damage and restoration experts.

Brian Spiegel – Property Damage and Restoration Expert Witness

Brian Spiegel, of Spiegel Property Damage Consulting and Forensics, is a licensed general contractor and expert witness in property damage and restoration. He is a Master Fire & Smoke Restorer and a Certified Fire & Smoke Damage Consultant. Mr. Spiegel and his firm have addressed the aftermath of wildfires in Arizona, California, and Nevada. He has been in the property damage and restoration business for more than 40 years. You can learn more about his practice by visiting his website: spiegelexpertservices.com.

As in past publications, I have provided Mr. Spiegel with a variety of questions. Below, you’ll find the questions and Mr. Spiegel’s answers.

Nick: For those fire-damaged structures, what are the most common types of damage?

Mr. Spiegel: There are many specialized procedures for wildfire damages inside the home and outside the home. Roof damage, damaged / burned structure, electronics, all the personal contents. An engineer may be required for structural repairs. An experienced restoration contractor to evaluate what is salvageable and what is not for both structure and contents. Replacement costs; structure, painting, flooring, cabinets, landscaping, etc.

Nick: Is there a particular restoration process for structures that are damaged from a wildfire?

Mr. Spiegel: Generally speaking, wildfires can cause a variety of damages depending on the homes or commercial buildings that are in close proximity to the wildfire. Structures very close to the wildfire can burn to the ground with everything in them. Other structures will have partial burns and suffer from the smoke ash and toxic chemical residues to both the interior and exterior structure, hardscape, landscaping swimming pool and automobiles.

Other homes, miles away, can suffer from all the airborne contaminates created by the vegetation, trees, brush, etc. As well as the toxic chemicals and smoke contaminates caused by burning homes and automobiles. Smoke particulates will attach to airborne pollution particulates that were in the air previous to the fire. Wildfires produce heavy winds that also put a lot of dirt and dust into the smoke mix. I have been involved in wildfires that produced large airborne burning embers (projectiles) that will hit a roof far from the actual fire and take a house to the ground in about thirty minutes. You often see homes completely burned down and many other homes around the house that were not burned to the ground, however, the surrounding homes are impacted by all the airborne particles and will require diligent specialized restorative cleaning by restoration companies that specialize in this work.

Nick: Does a property owner have to hire a restoration company, or is that done through insurance?

Mr. Spiegel: The property owner has the right to choose whoever they want to perform the work on their home and contents. The property owner should seek an expert company to assess their damages and prepare a cost damage estimate, that expert should detail what the cost will be to return the structure and property to pre-damaged condition. This is not work the insured can do themselves or hire a maid service to do. It requires specialized equipment and expertise.

Nick: For those destroyed structures, what is the post-fire process before a property-owner is able to rebuild?

Mr. Spiegel: Obviously the insured should immediately report a claim to their insurance company. The property owner should photograph all the damage to document their damages and the impact to their neighborhood. The insured should seek a licensed contractor with fire damage experience that can determine what may or may not be salvageable.

The contractor will have to determine what the house and building materials looked like previously. This will include what the interior structure was comprised of, as the goal is to return to the home to its pre-damaged condition or establish that monetary value. The insured can help with those descriptions and if any photos are available. Often property owners try to clean themselves and do all the wrong things, such as not using HEPA filtered equipment. There are many wrong things that property owners attempt to do themselves which will make things worse.

Nick: Do you have any suggestions for those with a wildfire destroyed structure?

Mr. Spiegel: Insured should find and expert in these kind of damages as this is not just simple cleaning work. In looking for a restoration contractor find a licensed contractor with certifications and experience relating to this kind of damage. Specialized restorative cleaning requires an experienced expert and specialized equipment.

Nick: Do you have any suggestions for those impacted a by a wildfire, regarding dealing with their insurance company?

Mr. Spiegel: Again, thoroughly photograph and document all the damage to everything inside and outside the home or building.

Nick: Is there anything else the public should know? Feel free to elaborate…

Mr. Spiegel: Make sure you understand the totality of your damages. Make sure to check the credentials and experience level of people and companies rendering opinions regarding all of your property. If you receive an estimate of cost repairs from your insurance company adjuster it would be prudent for you to investigate the scope and method’s the adjuster prepared.


After answering the questions I provided. Mr. Spiegel went on to elaborate on a few additional concerns. He added a bold text to his additional information and I have provided it in full below:

IT IS IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND THE FOLLOWING

Dangerous emissions come from wildfires; wildfires are a conglomeration of a complex mixture of particles, liquids and gases a number of atmospheric pollutants, dirt and dust. Air pollutants in the air prior to the wildfire such as diesel & auto exhaust particles etc. which agglomerate into wildfire smoke particulate adding to the mixture that impacts homes in the path of wildfire smoke.

The smoke is comprised of particles, liquids, gases, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs are carcinogenic) volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

Wildfire smoke is the worst airborne pollutant, even beyond fossil fuel emissions. Wildfires cause much particulate matter (PM) to enter homes than normal pollution. Wildfire residue can cause more air pollution in two days than an entire year of normal airborne pollution sources.


 

I hope this information is helpful to those dealing with active wildfires and the eventual aftermath. Stay safe!

ElectronicsExpert WitnessLivestreaming

Livestreaming App is Window into Your Child’s Bedroom: An Experts.com PSA

Law enforcement officers are warning parents about the LiveMe livestreaming application as it allows predators direct access to children, at home, in their bedrooms.

Earlier this week, I was searching for a new story for the blog. It was a long afternoon of reading news stories and not finding any that grabbed my attention.

Then after a while I found this story , from News4Jax, posted by my friend Sergeant Marc Marty, of the Montebello Police Department. Marc is a leader in online safety and the fight against child trafficking. He teaches courses to law enforcement and government officials via LawEnforcement.Social and is active with the Erase Child Trafficking organization.

It hit me, we generally write stories involving expert witnesses, but we only very occasionally write a straight informational, “public service announcement” post. This topic felt like the right topic at the right time.

I’ve been fairly involved with live video since 2015. In fact, live video is how I met Marc. We’ve attended several live video and social media conferences and I watched him speak about online safety and child trafficking at the last mutually attended conference. I’m happy to see he’s still fighting the good fight!

The livestreaming story shared by Marc, is very disconcerting. The app in question, LiveMe, has some 20 million active users. Before this article, I can’t recall hearing about LiveMe. My guess is the app targets minors, so it is not somewhere I wish to spend my personal or professional time. Unfortunately, it is somewhere sexual predators will be quite active.

I imagine law enforcement will also be active on this platform. Unfortunately, with limited resources, dozens of social media platforms, and jurisdictional limitations, police will only be able to monitor a small percentage of the streams and may be limited in their ability to take action. That leaves monitoring to parents, non-profit organizations, and other concerned citizens.

As the News4Jax article describes, several parents were not aware of what their children were doing on this app, in their own bedroom. Others didn’t even know the app existed (admittedly, keeping up with every new platform is difficult).

All of this got me wondering, what viewing behavior is indicative of a predator? Other than monitoring their children and their behaviors, what do parents need to know about online predators? How should they guide their children? What behavior indicates “grooming”? Which children are most at risk?

I reached out to Marc for some greater illumination on the subject.

Sergeant Marc Marty

As I’ve done in the past, I have asked several questions and Marc has provided some spectacular answers on the subject.

Nick: As an officer specializing in social media, what are some steps parents and others can take to prevent predatory use of apps like LiveMe?

Sgt. Marty: Parents first and foremost must develop an open line of communications with their children. Communication is key!! They need to develop a partnership with their children. If parents are “allowing” their child to have a cellphone, they need to explain to their child that it will be monitored and that there may be monitoring software on the phone. Let’s face it, most children cannot purchase a phone, so in essence the phone belongs to the parents, not the child. Be open and honest with your children. Develop a contract with your child that explains and stipulates the rules and guidelines the child must follow in order to have a cellphone. This is important because when the child breaks that contract and their phone gets taken away or they are disciplined, they have a clear understanding why they are being disciplined. This helps develop responsibility.

Nick: Assuming parents are monitoring the livestreaming use of their children, are there any telltale signs that viewers may be predators?

Sgt. Marty: It’s really difficult to determine who is actually watching/following your child online unless you know them. Here’s a question I pose to parents. “Do you let your child have random friends that you know nothing about? Do you let your child talk to just anyone at the mall as they are walking through it?” If the answer is “NO,” then why would you allow a random stranger online follow your child? Parents should know who is following their child online.

Nick: Are there particular signs that a viewer may be “grooming” a potential victim?

Sgt. Marty: If a viewer asks a child to take off their clothes, or to send a random nude photo of them, those are pretty good signs that that person is up to no good. However, predators will often seek weaknesses in children and exploit them. They are looking for the child who wants to run away, or who is upset with their parents, or who doesn’t have parents. They will look for any type of “in” they can find. They will often simply befriend them and develop that digital friendship online.

Nick: Can you share with our readers some basic online safety recommendations?

Sgt. Marty: Children should follow their parents rules at all times. Understand that anything you post online will be there forever. Never send personal pictures to anyone online. Never give out any personal information, such as address, phone number, or other identifying information. Don’t use your name as a screen name online, make up a name. Cyberbullying is huge, don’t respond to any threatening emails, messages posts or texts online. Screen shot the messages, block the individual and immediately notify Facebook, Instagram, or whatever platform you are on, and it will usually be removed right away. You may also need to notify your local police as well. Children should never meet anyone in person unless parents are present and/or notified. Always tell parents, teachers, or other trusted adults of any messages that are unwanted or threatening.

Nick: Is there anything you feel I should have asked that I didn’t ask? Potentially items you feel the public needs to know?

Sgt. Marty: Parents need to understand that social media is the gateway to child trafficking. They need to be able to communicate and educate their children!! They should follow Erase Child Trafficking and any other organization out there that is fighting against the exploitation of children.

Conclusion:

So there you have it, our first or maybe second, true public service post. The topic is hugely important. These are areas where Marc and I have been active for several years and we have seen some of the efforts by strangers to bully and prey on children.

You and your children should enjoy technology. Just do so wisely. Be smart and be safe!