Monday, June 12, 2006

What is LexisNexis looking for--and on whose behalf?

I'm very curious about the reports from Rich Leiter about LexisNexis monitoring of online searches. What exactly are they looking for?

I can think of three possibilities:

(1) They are monitoring for usage that falls outside of educational use authorized by the LexisNexis law school license agreement. If it's use of non-legal databases that arouses suspicions of unauthorized use, then they must be monitoring an awful lot of people, and LexisNexis is not very aware of of the kind of interdisciplinary research that goes on in law schools today. (I doubt this one.)

(2) Maybe they're monitoring usage of the New York Times database? Since the Times imposed their restrictions on access to much of their op-ed content last year, there have been a lot of complaints from readers. Is LexisNexis working with the New York Times to try to enforce the Times's access restrictions? (Possible.)

(3) Maybe it's the content of the searches that aroused suspicion? We already know about the NSA buying access to phone company records. We also know that Accurint (a subsidiary of LexisNexis) "sells business research services and information. It also sells services to collections agencies, etc." Is LexisNexis selling our search information to the NSA? Maybe if I started searching the New York Times on LexisNexis for information on Al Qaeda or Iran, I would be subject to LexisNexis monitoring too?


Richard Leiter said...

I think that they're trying to look for usage that falls outside the academic contract. They've developed an algorithm that reflects usage of a "normal" faculty member, and anything outside of that will be flagged.

It will be helpful to know what their profile looks like, and what they define as "normal" usage. Most of us know few faculty that could be described as normal.... Typical Lexis usage may frequently fall into a gray areas where law faculty are concerned.

At worst, this practice can inhibit faculty research, if they feel that they will get calls when they research something out of the ordinary. As it stands, it is probably nothing whatever to worry about.

Jim Milles said...

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not watching you.