Harrisburg campus examines the Internet and the law
Public Relations - Published: March 2, 2010
Leading academic and legal figures gathered recently on the Harrisburg campus for a symposium devoted to examining the legal challenges presented by communication in an age of social media.

The Widener Law Journal-sponsored event on Feb. 22 titled “Internet Expression in the 21st Century: Where Technology and Law Collide” featured four panels throughout the day, focused on topics of privacy, criminal procedure, intellectual property, and ethics. Nearly 75 people attended. Conversation centered on ways new media, like Facebook and Twitter, have woven themselves into the fabric of our lives, and their potential to force changes in legal protections and individual constitutional freedoms.

“We have found social networking sites have become the new fingerprints of the 21st century,” Dauphin County District Attorney Edward Marsico Jr. said, speaking as part of the day’s criminal procedure panel. “They provide a record of everything.”

The panel also included a presentation by Dauphin County Juvenile Probation Officers Troy Smith and Matthew Foster, who demonstrated the internet’s impact on their work by showing photos of probationers’ Facebook and MySpace pages. The pages illustrated ways juveniles have gotten themselves into further trouble by posting photos and images depicting themselves in incriminating circumstances. Communication on such sites has also helped law enforcement shut down underage drinking parties and thwart other criminal plans, they said.

Marsico said years ago criminals would brag on the streets about their misdeeds to a handful of people. Today, they brag online to everyone.

“I truly believe this is an evolving area of the law, but an evolving area of the law for criminals and prosecutors that will play out in courtrooms as we move forward in this country,” Marsico said.

Other presenters at the event included law professors, some who traveled to Harrisburg from as far as Texas and Utah, Widener Law professors and representatives of local groups, including the Pennsylvania Coalition against Domestic Violence, who talked the challenges social networking sites present when trying to keep domestic violence victims safe.

Interest in the topic continues. Associate Professor Michael R. Dimino Sr. and Assistant Professor Tonya Evans, who both moderated panels at the event, will be guests on a Radio Smart Talk program devoted to the subject of internet expression on March 17. Tune in at 9 a.m. on WITF, at either 89.5 FM or 93.3 FM.