Uber Hack – Don’t Tell Anyone!

It’s been revealed that Uber’s database has been hacked, with the personal information of more than 57 million users and drivers worldwide compromised. That’s a big number, but we are becoming increasingly numb to this kind of revelation, with all the cyber-leaks now making the news. What was the more astounding aspect of this particular incident is the fact it has taken Uber over a year to reveal the security breach – with the attack taking place in October 2016.

Uber says that the hackers were able to download files containing information including the names and driver’s licence numbers of 600,000 drivers in the US, as well as the names, email addresses and phone numbers of millions of users worldwide.

Although Uber has now taken steps to notify the drivers affected by the hack, it’s reported that at the time of the breach, the company paid the hackers USD100,000 to delete the stolen data, and not reveal the breach.

In a statement, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshani admitted that he became aware of the “inappropriate access [of] user data stored on a third-party cloud-based service” late last year, and that steps were taken to secure the data, and shut down further unauthorised access. However, Mr Khosrowshani noted he has no excuse as to why the massive breach is only being made public now.

For their roles in the cover-up, Uber chief security officer Joe Sullivan and his deputy have been ousted, while Uber says it’s taking “several actions”, including consulting the former general counsel of the US’ National Security Agency to prevent a future data breach.

This post was written by Cameron Abbott & Allison Wallace of K & L Gates.,Copyright 2017
For more legal analysis, go to The National Law Review

Automotive Supplier Industry Experts Convene in Detroit and Share 2018 Outlook

The Original Equipment Suppliers Association (OESA) held its 19th Annual Conference this week in suburban Detroit under the theme:  “The Industry’s New Landscape.”  And while much of the day was devoted to autonomous vehicle developments and the potential negative impacts on the industry’s North American competitiveness that would result from substantial changes to NAFTA, the afternoon session included a robust discussion of today’s strong market in North America and the more guarded outlook for 2018 and beyond.

 During this session, Mike Jackson, Executive Director of Strategy and Research for the OESA moderated a panel called “Cycle Dynamics:  The Industry Outlook Panel,” comprised of a leading automotive forecaster, a leading Wall Street analyst and the lead economist for one of the world’s largest OEMs.  While the panel remained fairly optimistic about the near term, the longer term theme was that the automotive industry is cyclical and the next down cycle is SOMEWHERE OUT THERE …

The panelists included Dr. G. Mustafa Mohatarem, Chief Economist, General Motors; John Murphy, Managing Director, U.S. Autos Equity Research, Bank of America Merrill Lynch; and Michael Robinet, Managing Director, Automotive Advisory Services, IHS Markit.

Dr. Mohatarem began with a very optimistic evaluation of the global economy, referring to our current condition as a “global synchronous expansion.”  Not only is the U.S. economy strong, but China’s growth has exceeded recent expectations, the EU has experienced a mini-boom after dodging a debt crisis, India continues to grow steadily and Russia and Brazil’s recessions have ended.  He noted that the current U.S. production rate is 17.4 -17.5 million units for 2017, a healthy market if not quite as healthy as last year.  On the cautionary side, he noted a potentially more hawkish bent to Fed policy and a significant labor shortage that will continue to dog the U.S. automotive industry.  On the whole though, he noted: “this is a very favorable time for the global automotive industry.”

Mike Robinet summed up current supplier sentiment as follows:  suppliers see the demand and the market opportunities out there, but there will be a lot of disruptors that can derail them.  These disruptors include the impact of “ACES” (AutonomousConnectedElectrifiedand Shared), the emergence of “Super Tier 1’s” who may dominate the future landscape with their integration capabilities (leaving other suppliers behind potentially), shifting trade winds, indecision about U.S. regulatory policy including CAFÉ standards, and an acceleration of the planning cycle that creates execution risk.  He noted that the cadence of model changes has kept the supply base on its toes this year, as has the adjustment to the continuing decline in sedan sales (which was viewed by the panel as a continuing trend into the future).  Will the internal combustion engine disappear soon?  According to Robinet, 95% of the vehicles in North America will have an engine on board by 2025.  Places like China will see a faster adoption of EVs during this period, he noted, including as a result of government policies promoting them. He ended by cautioning suppliers not to focus too much on the “nirvana” of Level 5 autonomy, but rather to focus on the movement to Level 3 and 4 in the shorter term and try to find there place in those realms.

John Murphy, more bullish in recent times, conceded that he has “moderated his outlook a bit.”  Murphy noted that leasing is helping support current demand, but worries about the upcoming impacts on the used car market as those vehicles come off lease (which he referred to as a “tsunami” that will hit in 2018 and beyond).  He noted that vehicle pricing is also starting to moderate (unrelated to just mix), and that the CUV market is getting very crowded.  He described three “Big Bangs” that will shape the industry in the future:  The increase in the Efficiency of Travel (cost per mile), the impact of Autonomous Mobility On Demand on the ease and cost of travel, and the increase in Speed of Travel.  Only the latter will provide a material economic stimulus – the first two will provide only a marginal or moderate stimulus – but all three Big Bangs will significantly impact the automotive industry.   But, before these Big Bangs reach their full impact, Murphy sees a downturn within the next two years taking U.S. volume down below the 14 million unit level (compared to the miserable 9 million level reached during the Great Recession).  During the Q&A session that followed, Murphy noted that he expects EV penetration in the U.S. to reach 10% by 2025 (slightly more optimistic than Mike Robinet’s prediction).  He also noted his perception that we are not experiencing an auto technology valuation bubble despite the recent eye-popping valuations in this space (no irrational exuberance here!).

On the whole, the panel’s 2018 and beyond outlook is for an automotive supply industry in North America that continues to be good, with significant challenges and disruptors that must be overcome by those automotive suppliers who will flourish in the long term.

This post was written by Steven H. Hilfinger of Foley & Lardner LLP., © 2017

Tesla Bringing Supercharger Stations to Boston and Chicago

On September 11th, Tesla announced the opening of Supercharger stations in downtown Boston and Chicago, representing the first step in the company’s effort to expand its Supercharger network into urban areas. The company currently operates 951 Supercharger stations worldwide, primarily along major highways to provide quick recharging on long trips. By bringing the network of charging stations into city centers, Tesla hopes to service growing demand among urban dwellers without immediate access to home or workplace charging.

Unlike the Destination Charging connectors at hotels and restaurants meant to replicate the longer home-charging process, Superchargers quickly deliver 72 kilowatts of power to each car for short-term boosts, resulting in charging times around 45-50 minutes. The new stations will be installed near supermarkets, shopping centers, and downtown districts, making it easy for drivers to charge their car while running errands. The Boston Supercharger station will be located at 800 Boylston Street and include 8 charging stalls.

Tesla announced plans to double its national charging network to 10,000 stations by the end of 2017. The company is bringing urban Superchargers to New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Los Angeles, and Austin by the end of this year. The expansion accompanies Tesla’s release of the Model 3 this summer, which boasts a lower starting price of $35,000 that is expected to bring more buyers to the brand.

A spike in Tesla sales would fall in line with the trend of increased demand for electric vehicles (EV) across the country. The year 2016 saw EV sales in the United States increase by 37% over 2015. Total EV sales topped out at roughly 160,000, with five different models (Tesla Model S, Tesla Model X, Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Ford Fusion Energi) selling at least 10,000 units. These sales, coupled with the expanding ease of access to charging station’s like Tesla’s, bode well for continued innovation and growth in the electric auto sector.

This post was written by Thomas R. Burton, III of  Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C. All Rights Reserved. ©1994-2017
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

New Report on Renewable Energy as an Airport Revenue Source

The Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) has recently published a guidebook on Renewable Energy as an Airport Revenue Source. The link to the guidebook on the ACRP website is here. David Bannard is a co-author of the guidebook, for which the lead authors were Stephen Barrett and Philip DeVita of HMMH.

solar energy, sustainable, clean power, renewable, source, sun

Airports are exploring non-traditional revenue sources and cost-saving measures. Airports also present a unique and often accommodating environment for siting renewable energy facilities, from solar photovoltaics (PV) to thermal, geothermal, wind, biomass and other sources of renewable energy. Although the guidebook focuses on the financial benefits of renewable energy to airports, it also notes other business and public policy benefits that can accrue from use of renewable energy at airports.

The guidebook includes case summaries of 21 different renewable energy projects at airports across the United States and in Canada and the U.K. Projects summarized include solar PV, wind, solar thermal, biomass, and geothermal technologies. In addition the guidebook examines factors to be considered when evaluating airport renewable energy projects, conducting financial assessments of airport renewable energy and issues relating to implementing airport renewable energy projects. Airports present unique challenges and opportunities for development of renewable energy facilities. The ACRP’s recent publication helps both airport operators and renewable energy providers and financiers understand and address many of these complex issues presented in the airport environment.

© 2015 Foley & Lardner LLP

No Bright Lines for Pipelines

The United States Supreme Court recently issued a 7-2 decision that dismantled almost 70 years of bright-line jurisprudence in the energy industry and, instead, instituted a “make-it-up-as-you-go-along” approach. The decision upholds states’ rights to regulate conduct under antitrust principles in the energy industry even though the same conduct is concurrently subject to federal regulation. While some may consider the case to be isolated and insignificant, perhaps the better view is that the decision signals a shift toward greater tolerance for state regulation of conduct that would otherwise fall under federal province. The impact may be to subject businesses in a host of industries, many of whom rely heavily on the uniformity that federal regulation provides, to inconsistent regulation across all 50 states.

The Issue Before the Supreme Court

In Oneok, Inc. v. Learjet, Inc., a class of retail natural gas purchasers sued the provider-pipeline under state antitrust laws. The pipeline defended on the basis that the Natural Gas Act, which governs wholesale providers such as the pipeline, preempted state antitrust regulation of the same transaction. The district court agreed and dismissed the buyers’ claims, but the Supreme Court concluded that states could properly regulate practices in the energy industry, even when those same practices are concurrently regulated at the federal level.

By way of background, the natural-gas-purchasing cycle has three steps. A producer extracts the gas from a well and provides it to a pipeline for transport. The pipeline carries the gas across state lines and sells it wholesale to distributors, and the distributors provide the gas to retail purchasers. States have historically been allowed to regulate the process at steps one and three—extraction by the producer and retail sale to the consumer. The second step—the interstate transportation and wholesale transaction—is left squarely and exclusively to federal regulation. However, in the Oneok case, the retail purchases were made directly from the pipeline, meaning that the same conduct affected both wholesale and retail sales pricing. Thus, the issue became a question of whether a practice that affects both wholesale and retail sales was subject to federal, state, or concurrent regulation.

Was State Regulation Preempted?

Conflicts between concurrent state and federal regulation occur frequently and can be seen in all kinds of industries. In this case, the Court considered only whether the Natural Gas Act preempted state antitrust law under the theory of “field preemption.” Field preemption applies when Congress has intended to “occupy the field” in a particular regulatory subject. This theory of preemption is only one among several others.

The Oneok Court expressly declined to look at the issue from a “conflict preemption” perspective, when courts look at whether it is impossible to comply with both state and federal law on an issue or whether a state law interferes with or is an obstacle to the federal counterpart. The Court certainly could have analyzed the issue under conflict-preemption principles, which might have provided greater clarity for businesses operating in these areas, but it declined to do so.

From Bright Line to No Line

Instead, the Court took what was widely considered, for almost 70 years, to be a bright-line jurisdictional test for Natural Gas Act cases and “smudged” that line, to quote Justice Scalia’s scathing dissent. Indeed, in previous cases assessing practices under the Natural Gas Act, the Court had used the term “bright line” to describe the divide between state regulation of retail sales and federal regulation of wholesale transactions. As such, the “line” analogy has long functioned in these cases.

However, not only did the Oneok Court blur the line, it also reasoned that there was no line to be drawn at all, stating, “[The pipeline] and the dissent argue that there is, or should be, a clear division between areas of state and federal authority in natural gas regulation, but that platonic ideal does not describe the natural gas regulatory world.” In the end, the Court settled on a new metaphor: Courts will disregard how the parties have styled their causes of action in litigation and will look at the target the state law aims to regulate. If the target is one historically left to state regulation, it will not be preempted. Justice Scalia’s dissent termed the majority’s new approach the “make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach to preemption.”

How Far Will the Oneok Holding Reach?

Again, on its face, this case has a fairly limited impact, reserved for natural-gas cases involving practices that simultaneously impact wholesale and retail transactions. However, as a practical matter, the holding has a much broader potential to be impactful. First of all, the case is not limited only to claims involving natural gas. It could apply much more generally to energy-industry cases under the Federal Power Act, which also draws a line between retail and wholesale.

Furthermore, there is potential for the decision to extend to virtually every case during which preemption might be raised as a jurisdictional defect. In particular, businesses operating in an industry primarily regulated under a single statutory scheme should be concerned that the opinion will subject them to state regulation even though they have traditionally relied on federal governance. Because antitrust laws are geared toward the marketplace in general, and certainly not toward natural-gas companies alone, a host of industries may be impacted. In the antitrust context specifically, any entity engaging in a purely wholesale practice that has some attenuated impact on retail pricing might become subject to state regulation.

The Trouble with Concurrent State Regulation

If such is true, then what is the problem with allowing concurrent state regulation in these matters? The answer is that businesses face the loss of predictability and uniformity that exclusive federal regulation provides. As Justice Scalia summarized, “Before today, interstate pipelines knew that their practices relating to price indices had to comply with one set of regulations promulgated by the [Federal Energy Regulatory] Commission. From now on, however, pipelines will have to ensure that their behavior conforms to the discordant regulations of 50 States—or more accurately, to the discordant verdicts of untold state antitrust juries.”

To illustrate, let’s consider a scenario in which a company engages in a practice that illegally sets wholesale pricing. That practice would, undeniably, be subject to federal regulation. However, the practice also impacts retail pricing for consumers in five different states. Consumers file suit in State A in state court, alleging violations of state antitrust statutes. In the meantime, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) determines that the practice is lawful, and the attorneys representing a class of potential plaintiffs in State B decide against filing suit because State B has no concurrent regulation. State C also has no such antitrust regulation, but it recognizes common law claims for unfair business practices and upholds a duty to refrain from making fraudulent statements.

Despite the FERC’s decision, the court in State A determines that the practice is unlawful. As such, the company is still subject to civil liability for the suits in States A and C on different theories. There are also potential claims in States D and E, but suits have not yet been filed. That means that the company has to wait out statutes of limitations in each of those states for both state statutory and common law claims.

This is an extreme example to be sure. However, it highlights the problems inherent in operating a business that relies heavily on the uniformity of federal regulation when establishing its business practices and subsequently becomes subject to varying and discordant state regulation.

To date, states have been vigilant in defending their rights to regulate in these areas. The attorney generals in 21 states filed amicus briefs defending state regulation in the Oneok case. As a result, businesses now need to be concerned with a host of problems including inconsistencies between state and federal regulations, inconsistencies from state to state within individual state regulations and common law issues, varying statutes of limitations on claims, and variances between class action rules from state to state and in federal court.

There is also the possibility, as noted, that the holding in this case could extend to preemption concepts more generally. If that is the case, where once we had bright lines between state and federal regulation, we may see far more “smudges.” Instead, litigators may find themselves looking at the “make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach” that requires examination of the state regulation’s target in assessing field preemption. While some clarity may be reached in the Oneok case on remand, or in other cases looking at conflict preemption, the likelihood is that concurrent state regulation just gained a major foothold in many industries.

Does the Oneok decision make sense to you? Are there other areas or industries into which you can see the decision extending? Do you think it’s a more limited decision or one with broader implications? Let us know your thoughts.

Authored by: Ryan Thompson  of IMS ExpertServices

Chase Barfield v. Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative: Major Verdict in Electric Utility Easement Case

Lewis Roca Rothgerber LLP

More than five years after starting in state court before later restarting in federal court, a federal court jury in Missouri has issued a major verdict in litigation concerning the use of electric utility easements for commercial telecommunication purposes.  On February 6, 2015, the jury in Chase Barfield, et al., v. Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative, et al., (U.S.D.C. Western District of Missouri, 2:11-cv-4321NKL), found that the compensation owed to the plaintiff-landowners totaled $79,014,140 representing the fair market rental value of the defendants’ use of the utility easements for commercial telecommunication purposes.  While there have been other cases around the country alleging similar misuse of utility easements, those cases have all settled and the Sho-Melitigation appears to be the first to proceed through trial to a final jury verdict.

In 2010, a small group of Missouri landowners filed a state court lawsuit, which was subsequently dismissed and refiled in federal court the next year, alleging that certain electric utilities and affiliated entities in Missouri and Oklahoma installed and operated commercial fiber optic lines on the plaintiffs’ properties without the right to do so and without paying compensation to the landowners.  The lawsuit alleged that Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative and its subsidiary Sho-Me Technologies, LLC, KAMO Electric Cooperative and its subsidiary K-PowerNet, LLC, and Cooperatives’ Broadband Network, collectively installed over 2,000 miles of fiber optic lines within easements that were limited to electric transmission and distribution line purposes.

While some of the fiber optic capabilities were utilized for the utilities’ own operations consistent with the underlying easements, the plaintiffs alleged that some of the fiber optic lines were used by the defendants or leased to third-parties for commercial telecommunication purposes in violation of the limited utility easements that had been granted.  The landowners asked the court to declare that the defendants had no legal rights to use the easements for commercial telecommunication purposes and also brought claims for trespass, disgorgement of profits, an injunction to prevent future commercial fiber optic uses of the easements, and punitive damages.  The defendant utilities and their subsidiaries admitted many of the facts related to their telecommunication activities, however, they denied that such activities were inconsistent with their easement rights.

In 2013, the federal court granted class status thereby allowing the named plaintiffs to represent the interests of more than 3,000 landowners who were crossed by the defendants’ fiber optic lines.  After many months of complex litigation addressing multiple issues, in March, 2014 the federal court issued its summary judgment decision on the primary claims.  The court adopted the plaintiffs’ categorization of the nearly 6,500 express easements and condemnation orders describing the property rights at issue; then proceeded to conduct a detailed analysis of whether the defendants’ fiber optic lines and the uses thereof were permitted under the terms of the easements and orders.  The court concluded that, under Missouri law, the defendants’ actions were inconsistent with the easements and court orders in three of the eight categories, totaling more than 3,000 individual easements and orders.

The jury’s recent decision sets the damages attributable to the defendants’ breach of the easements and court orders and resulting trespass, as found by the court.  In determining this amount, the jury considered the parties’ evidence that the value of the landowners’ claims was between $100,000, as argued by the defendants, and in excess of $100 million dollars, as argued by the landowners after considering the revenue the defendants received from the fiber optic lines and the associated expenses.  The jury’s award covered only the ten year period prior to the judgment and did not include prejudgment interest, attorney fees and costs, or future compensation.

Lessons Learned

As the national demand for improved and expanded electrical and telecommunication infrastructure continues to grow at an apparently ever-increasing pace, utilities and telecommunication service providers are faced with the challenge of where to locate such new and improved infrastructure.  Opportunities to site brand new infrastructure corridors are becoming more limited.  To the extent such opportunities exist, many landowners do not welcome such uses on their property and some complain of “easement fatigue” as a result of requests from multiple utility, telecommunication, pipeline, and other infrastructure companies.  As a result, local governments frequently require infrastructure companies to consider first the use of existing easements and corridors so as to minimize impacts on private property and to optimize the land uses within their jurisdictions.

Whether motivated by landowner concerns, local government requirements, or other project considerations, utilities and other infrastructure companies are trying to squeeze every permissible use out of their existing land rights.  For example, use of technologies such as fiber optic ground wires that combine an electrical ground wire with bundled fiber optic lines allow electric utilities to maximize the use of their existing easements with little or no physical intrusion on the property on which the infrastructure is located.  This technology was at issue in theSho-Me litigation.  However, the analysis is not limited to the extent of the physical intrusion on the underlying property.  At the heart of such disputes is the landowner’s right to control and be compensated for the beneficial use of his or her property.

The Sho-Me court explained that resolution of such issues requires consideration of “how changing technologies should be harmonized with historic real property principles.”  Furthermore, “[w]hether an additional use is reasonable and necessary depends on whether the additional use represents only a change in the degree of use, of whether it represents a change in the quality of the use.  If the change is in the quality of the use, it is not permissible, because it would create a substantial new burden on the servient estate.”  As the court concluded, where the additional use exceeds that which is authorized by the easement, a trespass occurs and a landowner may be entitled to compensation.

As demonstrated by the recent decision in the Sho-Me litigation, such compensation can be substantial.  Given that most instances of this type of dispute involve lengthy linear infrastructure projects – electric transmission or distribution lines, pipelines, railroads, etc. – crossing many landowners’ properties, the risk associated with large awards for trespass or unjust enrichment cannot be ignored.

It is important to note that real property law is, for the most part, a matter of state law.  While the basic principles of real property law are generally similar among most jurisdictions, the specific law and the analysis of the facts under that law will vary from state to state.  Therefore, before proceeding with a new or additional use on an existing easement, utilities and other infrastructure companies must conduct a careful analysis of the land rights supporting a particular project  considering the laws of the specific states involved.  The decisions and jury verdict in the Sho-Me litigation should provide an instructive, cautionary tale.

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What You Need To Know: Boston and Cambridge Energy Use Disclosure Ordinances

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On July 28, 2014, Cambridge, Massachusetts enacted an energy use disclosure ordinance, joining Boston and several other cities.  The Cambridge ordinance is similar to its Boston counterpart, but contains several differences.  Property owners in each municipality should be familiar with these ordinances.

1.  Properties Covered By Each Ordinance

Cambridge:

  • Municipal buildings of 10,000 square feet or larger;
  • Non-residential buildings of 25,000 square feet or larger; and
  • Multi-family residential buildings with 50 or more units.

Boston:

  • City buildings (those the City owns or for which the City regularly pays energy bills);
  • Non-residential buildings (those located on a parcel of land with one or more buildings of at least 35,000 square feet and of which 50% or more is used for non-residential purposes, and which are not City buildings); and
  • Residential buildings (i) (a parcel with one or more buildings with 35 or more dwelling units that comprise more than 50% of the building, excluding parking, or (ii) any parcel with one or more buildings of at least 35,000 square feet and that is not a City building or a non-residential building, or (iii) any grouping of residential buildings designated by the Commission as an appropriate reporting unit).

2.  Obligations of Owners and Tenants of Covered Properties

Both ordinances broadly defined “Owner” to include owners of record or a designated agent, and net lessees for a term of at least forty-nine years.

Cambridge:

No later than May 1st of each year, all covered properties must disclose energy consumed by such property during the prior year, together with other information required by an EPA Benchmarking Tool:  (i) address; (ii) primary use type; (iii) gross floor area; (iv) energy use intensity; (v) weather normalized source energy use intensity; (vi) annual greenhouse gas emissions; (vii) water use; (viii) energy performance score; and (ix) compliance or noncompliance with ordinance.

Tenants (those who lease, occupy, or hold possession) of a covered property must comply with an owner’s request for information within thirty days or risk a fine.

Boston:

No later than May 15th of each year, owner of each covered non-city building shall accurately report previous calendar year’s energy, water use, and any other building characteristics necessary to evaluate absolute and relative energy use intensity of each building through Energy Star Portfolio Manager.

Owners must request information from tenants separately metered by utility companies in January for the previous year, and tenant must report information to owner no later than end of February, though a tenant’s failure to respond does not relieve an owner’s duty to report.

Enforcement and Penalties

Cambridge:

Failure to comply with the ordinance or misrepresentation of any material fact may result in a written warning on the first violation, and a fine of up to $300 per day for any subsequent violation.

Boston:

The Air Pollution Control Commission may issue written notice of violation, including specific delinquencies, to those failing to comply, giving thirty days within which an owner may cure the violation or request a hearing.  The Commission also may seek injunctive relief requiring an owner or non-residential tenant to comply with the ordinance.

Boston provides a sliding scale fine schedule for failure to comply with a notice of violation, depending on the type of property, which ranges from $35 per violation up to $200 per violation.  Each day of noncompliance is a separate violation, but owners or non-residential tenants may not be liable for a fine of more than $3,000 per calendar year per building or tenancy.

Both cities are actively developing programs to address climate change and adaptation.  Property owners should monitor these efforts as well as similar initiatives by federal and state agencies.

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