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Context of 'After July 9, 1986: Deputy Attorney General Told Justice Department Has Waived Rights to Enhanced PROMIS Software'

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An application known as PROMIS, the Prosecutor’s Management Information System, is developed. [Wired News, 3/1993] It is designed to be used to keep track of criminal investigations through a powerful search engine that can quickly access all data items stored about a case. [Salon, 7/23/2008] William Hamilton, one of the application’s developers, will describe what it can be used to do: “Every use of PROMIS in the court system is tracking people. You can rotate the file by case, defendant, arresting officer, judge, defence lawyer, and it’s tracking all the names of all the people in all the cases.” Wired magazine will describe its significance: “What this means is that PROMIS can provide a complete rundown of all federal cases in which a lawyer has been involved, or all the cases in which a lawyer has represented defendant A, or all the cases in which a lawyer has represented white-collar criminals, at which stage in each of the cases the lawyer agreed to a plea bargain, and so on. Based on this information, PROMIS can help a prosecutor determine when a plea will be taken in a particular type of case.” In addition, PROMIS can integrate several databases without requiring any reprogramming, meaning it can “turn blind data into information.” PROMIS is developed by a private business entity that will later become the company Inslaw, Inc. Although there will later be a series of disputes over the application’s use by the US government and others, this version of PROMIS is funded by a Law Enforcement Assistance Administration grant and is therefore in the public domain. [Wired News, 3/1993]

Entity Tags: Inslaw, Inc., William Hamilton

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Laurence McWhorter, director of the Executive Office for US Attorneys, tells one of his subordinates, “We’re out to get Inslaw.” Inslaw developed the PROMIS database and search application (see Mid-1970s) and is soon to become embroiled in a dispute with the Justice Department over it. Mallgrave will later tell Wired magazine: “We were just in his office for what I call a B.S. type discussion. I remember it was a bright sunny morning.… [McWhorter] asked me if I would be interested in assuming the position of assistant director for data processing… basically working with Inslaw. I told him… I just had no interest in that job. And then, almost as an afterthought, he said ‘We’re out to get Inslaw.’ I remember it to this day.” [Wired News, 3/1993]

Entity Tags: Inslaw, Inc., Frank Mallgrave, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), Laurence McWhorter

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Inslaw wins a $9.6 million contract from the Justice Department to install the public domain vesion of PROMIS application in 20 US attorneys’ offices as a pilot program. PROMIS is an application designed to be used by prosecutors to keep track of case records (see Mid-1970s). If the trial installation is successful, the company will install PROMIS in the remaining 74 federal prosecutors’ offices around the country. The contract is also for the necessary training, maintenance, and support for three years. According to William Hamilton, one of Inslaw’s owners, the eventual market for complete automation of the Federal court system is worth up to $3 billion. However, this is the last contract Inslaw receives from the Justice Department for PROMIS, as the deal becomes mired in a series of disputes. [US Congress, 9/10/1992; Wired News, 3/1993]

Entity Tags: William Hamilton, US Department of Justice, Inslaw, Inc.

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

A lawyer acting for Inslaw writes to the Justice Department telling it that Inslaw intends to market a version of the PROMIS software commercially. The lawyer, Roderick M. Hills of Latham & Watkins, tells Associate Deputy Attorney General Stanley E. Morris, who is also a member of the committee overseeing PROMIS, that, even though the software was initially developed with government money (see Mid-1970s), private enhancements to it mean that Inslaw can sell the improved version for a fee. The letter is accompanied by a memorandum from Inslaw owner William Hamilton explaining the situation. Inslaw and the department have just signed a contract for Inslaw to implement the public domain version of the software at US attorneys’ offices for the department (see March 1982). However, the privately-funded enhancements mean that if the department chose to use the latest version, it would have to pay for the actual software, as well as installation and maintenance costs. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Inslaw, Inc., Latham, Watkins & Hills, Roderick M. Hills, William Hamilton

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Inslaw enhances its PROMIS software under contract to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, part of the Justice Department. The improvement, known as the “printed inquiry enhancement,” is delivered to the department on May 17, 1982. As the development of the original software and this enhancement is government-funded (see Mid-1970s), Inslaw cannot charge for providing the software to the government solely by virtue of this improvement. However, Inslaw also says it makes privately-funded enhancements at this time, enabling it to charge a fee for a version of the application with these enhancements (see April 2, 1982 and July 17, 1982). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice, Inslaw, Inc.

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Inslaw’s attorney James Rogers writes to the Justice Department in an attempt to allay fears the department has about the implementation of the company’s PROMIS software for it. Rogers provides Associate Deputy Attorney General Stanley E. Morris with a detailed description of what the company plans to do to market the software commercially from the next month, and asks that the department respond to Inslaw to “ensure that these representations are correct.” Rogers says that the version of PROMIS the company will market comprises three parts: (1) the original application developed with government money (see Mid-1970s); (2) enhancements made by Inslaw using private money (see April 2, 1982 and July 17, 1982); and (3) an enhancement made for the Bureau of Justice Statistics (see Before May 17, 1982). Parts (1) and (3) do not entitle Inslaw to market the software commercially themselves. However, part (2) does. At the Justice Department, both C. Madison “Brick” Brewer, who supervises the PROMIS contract, and Peter Videnieks, the department’s contracting officer, are unhappy with this intention. The House Judiciary Committee will comment that this letter is “followed by a very antagonistic meeting” between Brewer and Inslaw representatives, and that Brewer and Videnieks continue “to believe that, because the department was currently funding the implementation of PROMIS, they could ignore Inslaw’s proprietary interest in the privately funded enhancements made to the PROMIS software.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Stanley E. Morris, US Department of Justice, Inslaw, Inc., C. Madison “Brick” Brewer, House Judiciary Committee, Peter Videnieks

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Joyce Demy, an employee of the software company Inslaw, writes to the firm’s lawyer saying that it made enhancements to its PROMIS software worth $1 million between May 1981 and May 1982. She also tells the lawyer, James Rogers of Latham, Watkins & Hills, that no government money was used for the enhancements, which were paid for solely out of private funds. Prior to the enhancements, the original PROMIS software was in the public domain, as it had been paid for by government money (see Mid-1970s). However, the various privately-funded enhancements mean that Inslaw can claim ownership of it. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Inslaw, Inc., James Rogers, Joyce Demy, Latham, Watkins & Hills

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Associate Deputy Attorney General Stanley Morris writes to James Rogers, an attorney acting for Inslaw, and admits that the company owns privately funded improvements to the PROMIS software. Morris first points out that part of the software was financed by the government: “We agree that the original PROMIS, as defined in your letter of May 26, 1982 (see May 26, 1982), is in the public domain. We also agree that the printed inquiry enhancement is in the public domain.” This means that Inslaw could never charge the department for the use of software comprising only the original application and the printed inquiry enhancement (although it could of course charge for installation and maintenance). However, Morris adds, “To the extent that any other enhancements to the system were privately funded by Inslaw and not specified to be delivered to the Department of Justice under any contract or other arrangement, Inslaw may assert whatever proprietary rights it may have.” This means the department agrees that Inslaw can sell a version of the software with privately-funded enhancements. [US Congress, 9/10/1992] This statement is made in response to a letter sent by lawyers acting for Inslaw founder William Hamilton, informing the department that Inslaw intends to become a private company, and asking it to waive any proprietary rights it might claim to the enhanced version. Clarification will be provided in a 1988 deposition in which Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns will say, “Our lawyers were satisfied that Inslaw’s lawyers could sustain the claim in court, that we had waived those [proprietary] rights.” [Wired News, 3/1993]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, William Hamilton, Arnold Burns, Inslaw, Inc., Stanley E. Morris

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Senator Charles Mathias (R-MD) sends a letter to the Justice Department asking about the dispute with Inslaw over enhanced PROMIS software. The letter will spark interest by Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns in the case (see After July 9, 1986). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Charles Mathias, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns is told that the Justice Department has waived its rights to enhanced PROMIS software (see August 11, 1982). Following a letter asking about the Inslaw case from Senator Charles Mathias (see July 9, 1986), Burns asks subordinates about the litigation with Inslaw and is told the company wants the department to pay royalties. Burns then suggests that the issue should be turned around and that a claim against Inslaw should be made for it to pay royalties to the government, which funded the development of the first version of PROMIS (see Mid-1970s). However, further research comes up with a result shocking to Burns, who will say in 1988, “The answer that I got, which I wasn’t terribly happy with but which I accepted, was that there had been a series of old correspondence and back and forthing [sic] and stuff, that in all of that, our lawyers were satisfied that Inslaw could sustain the claim in court, that we had waived those rights, not that I was wrong that we didn’t have them but that somebody in the Department of Justice, in a letter or letters, as I say in this back and forthing [sic], had, in effect, waived those rights.” The House Judiciary Committee will later comment, “Considering that the deputy attorney general was aware of Inslaw’s proprietary rights, the department’s pursuit of litigation can only be understood as a war of attrition between the department’s massive, tax-supported resources and Inslaw’s desperate financial condition, with shrinking (courtesy of the department) income.” The committee will add, “In light of Mr. Burns’ revelation, it is important to note that committee investigators found no surviving documentation (from that time frame) which reveal the department’s awareness of the relative legal positions of the department and Inslaw, on Inslaw’s claims to proprietary enhancements referred to by Mr. Burns.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Inslaw, Inc., House Judiciary Committee, Arnold Burns, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

The Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), an oversight unit at the Justice Department, issues a report on the Inslaw affair over the department’s alleged theft of enhanced PROMIS software. The report finds that allegations of bias made by Inslaw and seconded by a bankruptcy court (see September 28, 1987) against departmental officials are unsupported. Inslaw had questioned the performance of former Attorney General Edwin Meese, former Deputy Attorney General Lowell Jensen, former Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns, and others. The OPR says that the court’s findings on misconduct by department officials are “clearly erroneous.” In addition, the report says: “There is no credible evidence that the department took or stole Inslaw’s enhanced PROMIS by trickery, fraud, and deceit. Additionally, we have found no credible evidence that there existed in the department a plot to move to convert Inslaw’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy to one under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code.” The House Judiciary Committee will be extremely critical of this investigation, commenting, “During its investigation OPR chose to ignore the court’s findings and conclusions that there was bias against Inslaw at the department.” In addition, the committee will say that the OPR looked at the bias allegations in isolation and “incredibly” did not examine the merits of the contract dispute, meaning its conclusions on the taking of PROMIS and the type of bankruptcy were “gratuitous,” especially as Burns had told it the department agreed Inslaw owned the enhancements it made to PROMIS (see August 11, 1982). The committee will also point out that the OPR’s deputy counsel, Richard M. Rogers, said he was recused from the investigation because of his association with Burns, although he was present when Meese provided a sworn statement. In this context, the committee will highlight problems found by the Government Accountability Office with OPR around this time (see February 7, 1992). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Office of Professional Responsibility, Richard M. Rogers, Inslaw, Inc., Arnold Burns, Edwin Meese, Lowell Jensen, House Judiciary Committee

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

The CIA says that it does not have the PROMIS database and search application (see Mid-1970s). The statement is made in response to a letter sent to CIA Director William Webster by the House Judiciary Committee on November 20 asking him to help them “by determining whether the CIA has the PROMIS software.” In response the CIA states, “We have checked with Agency components that track data processing procurement or that would be likely users of PROMIS, and we have been unable to find any indication that the [CIA] ever obtained PROMIS software.” However, information contradicting this will subsequently emerge. For example, a retired CIA official whose job it is to investigate the Inslaw allegations internally will tell Wired magazine that the Justice Department gave PROMIS to the CIA: “Well, the Congressional committees were after us to look into allegations that somehow the agency had been culpable of what would have been, in essence, taking advantage of, like stealing, the technology [PROMIS]. We looked into it and there was enough to it, the agency had been involved.” However, the official will say that when the CIA accepted PROMIS, it did not know that there was a serious dispute about the Justice Department’s ownership of the software. [Wired News, 3/1993]

Entity Tags: William H. Webster, House Judiciary Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

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