Legal News Roundup: Feds After Target Hackers and NASA Sued For Mars Rock Investigation

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jan 29, 2014

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Legal news in America this week features a promise from the Attorney General to the perpetrators of last December’s Target credit card hack, a piece out of the Chicago Tribune about wrongfully convicted men trying to piece together their lives, and a bizarre lawsuit against NASA over its explanation of the viral photo of the mysterious mars rock.

Justice Department Promises Probe on Target Hacking, FBI Warns Retailers of Future Hacks

Over the holiday season, millions of Americans fell victim to a hacking scam that stole credit card information from Target stores across the country.  This week, Attorney General Eric Holder testified in front of the US Senate that the Justice Department will make diligent effort to find not only the perpetrators of the hacking scam, but also “any individuals and groups who exploit that data via credit card fraud.”  Attorney General Holder will remain mum on the progress of the investigation, but the federal government will have a broad legal authority to pursue any person or organization that stole and misused the credit card information to commit fraud.

Holder’s promise to thoroughly investigate the Target hacking scheme comes on the heels of a FBI warning issued to retailers that hacking to obtain credit card information is a rising concern.  Citing the close to 20 hacking cases in the past year, the FBI described the risk of malware that can steal credit card information from point of sale systems, including cash registers and credit-card swiping machines used by virtually every retailer and grocery store in America.  Small and mid-size retailers are particularly at risk, and, although federal authorities investigate and prosecute to the full extent of the law, the government is clearly upping measures to encourage preventative measures designed to stop credit card hacking schemes before they start.

Wrongfully Convicted Innocents Face Uphill Battle

An interesting piece in the Chicago Tribune this week detailed the extraordinary difficulties faced by men who were wrongfully convicted as they attempt to reenter the workforce and obtain housing.  The stories of Paul Phillips and Lewis Gardner, both exonerated in 2007 after wrongfully being convicted of a 1992 murder, are narratives of struggle to find work beyond menial jobs, despite both of them having received training and education while in prison and being not guilty of the crime that stands out on their criminal records.  Phillips, Gardner, and Daniel Taylor, a co-defendant who was also exonerated, have filed petitions in Chicago’s Cook County Circuit Court asking for their convictions to be thrown out and their records to be cleared.

If the convictions are dismissed, then the wrongfully convicted men could not only move on without a criminal record, but could finally pursue compensation from the state and sue the Chicago police for over two decades lost in prison for crimes they did not commit.  The Tribune article brings to light challenges that seem unfair to people who have already lost years in prison for crimes they did not commit.  Recovering from a wrongful conviction is a widespread problem as many individuals face the same problems finding employment and housing with criminal records.  Additionally, as reported by the Innocence Project, 21 states do not have statutes that allow for compensating wrongfully convicted prisoners for time lost.  Compensation for wrongful conviction, and purging criminal records accordingly, seems like sound policy, however, states across America are apparently reluctant to agree.

Author Sues NASA for Failing to Investigate Mars Rock

Rhawn Joseph, a self-identified astrobiologist, has filed a lawsuit in federal court that seeks to compel NASA to investigate a mysterious rock on Mars.  The Mars Rock, made famous by photos that indicated it had appeared in an area of Mars where it previously had not been, has drawn the interest of scientists and alien conspiracy theorists around the world after NASA released pictures to the internet.  Photos taken by the Mars Rover 13 days apart depict the landscape both before and after the presence of the circular rock, leading many to wonder what it is and how it came to appear.  NASA confirmed its belief that the object was a rock by analyzing its contents, and suspected that it was overturned and relocated by the Mars Rover when the exploratory equipment pivoted.

Mr. Joseph, author of a number of books and articles on alien life, was unsatisfied with the agency’s explanation, and argues that the rock is not a rock at all, but instead could be some type of fungus or other organic life form not previously known to NASA.  Joseph further argues that NASA failed to properly investigate the object, and demands in his lawsuit that the agency task the Mars Rover to take: 100 high resolution close-up photos of the object from all angles, take a minimum of 24 microscopic images of the exterior and interior of the object, and make all these photos public and available.  Claiming that NASA’s decision to refuse high resolution photos at the time it discovered the rock is “inexplicable, recklessly negligent, and bizarre,” Mr. Joseph hopes that his petition for a writ of mandamus will be granted and NASA will be compelled to take detailed pictures of the object.

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