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EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: April 2017

April 24, 2017

Lawful Users Still Waiting for Return of Files After Government Seizure

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), on behalf of its client Kyle Goodwin, is asking a federal appeals court to break through the five-year logjam in the Megaupload.com case, and help lawful users who are still waiting for the return of their photos, videos, and other personal files after the government seized Megaupload’s servers.

Megaupload was a popular cloud-storage site when the FBI shut it down in January of 2012 looking for evidence of copyright infringement. Agents seized all of Megaupload’s assets during their search, locking out customers from their accounts. Goodwin, a sports videographer, lost access to video files containing months of his professional work.

For five years, the U.S. government has continued pursuing a criminal case against Megaupload and its owners. But the data stored by millions of customers—including obviously lawful material like Goodwin’s sports videos—have languished on servers that sit disconnected in a warehouse.

“Mr. Goodwin, and many others, used Megaupload to store legal files, and we’ve been asking the court for help since 2012. It’s deeply unfair for him to still be in limbo after all this time,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz. “The legal system must step in and create a pathway for law-abiding users to get their data back.”

In a petition filed today with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, EFF, along with the firm of Williams Mullen and attorney Abraham D. Sofaer, argue that the court should issue a writ of mandamus to the trial court, ordering it to act on Goodwin’s request and create a process for other users to retrieve their data.

“We’re likely to see even more cases like this as cloud computing becomes increasingly popular,” said EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry. “If the government takes over your bank, it doesn’t get to keep the family jewels you stored in the vault. There’s a process for you to get your stuff back, and you have a right to the same protection for your data.”

For the full brief filed today:
https://www.eff.org/document/petition-writ-mandamus

For more on this case:
https://www.eff.org/cases/megaupload-data-seizure

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Mitch
Stoltz
Senior Staff Attorney

Corynne
McSherry
Legal Director
April 13, 2017

Recent Decision Would Allow Foreign Governments to Wiretap Americans on U.S. Soil

Washington, D.C. – The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged an appeals court today to review a dangerous decision by a three-judge panel that would allow foreign governments to spy on Americans on U.S. soil—just as long as they use technology instead of human agents.

In Kidane v. Ethiopia, an American living in Maryland had his family computer infiltrated by the Ethiopian government. Agents sent an infected email that made its way to Mr. Kidane, and the attached Microsoft Word document carried a malicious computer program called FinSpy that’s sold only to governments. The spyware took control of the machine, making copies of every keystroke and Skype call, and sending them back to Ethiopia as part of its crackdown on critics.

But last month, a panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Mr. Kidane could not seek justice for this surveillance in an American court because the spying was carried out without a human agent of the Ethiopian government setting foot in the U.S. In essence, this would mean governments around the world have immunity for spying, attacking, and even murdering Americans on American soil, as long as the activity is performed with software, robots, drones, or other digital tools.

“We already know about technology that will let attackers drive your car off the road, turn off your pacemaker, or watch every communication from your computer or your phone. As our lives become even more digital, the risks will only grow,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo. “The law must make it clear to governments around the world that any illegal attack in the United States will be answered in court in the United States.”

In a petition filed today, EFF and our co-counsel Scott Gilmore plus attorneys at the law firms of Jones Day and Robins Kaplan asked the appeals court to rehear this case en banc, arguing that last month’s panel decision puts the U.S. in the absurd situation where the American government must follow strict requirements for wiretapping and surveillance, but foreign governments don’t have the same legal obligations.

“American citizens deserve to feel safe and secure in their own homes using their own computers,” said EFF Executive Director Cindy Cohn. “The appeals court should vacate this decision, and ensure that the use of robots or remote controlled tools doesn’t prevent people who have been harmed by foreign government attacks from seeking justice.”

For the full petition for rehearing:
https://www.eff.org/document/petition-rehearing-1

For more on this case:
https://www.eff.org/cases/kidane-v-ethiopia

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Nate
Cardozo
Senior Staff Attorney

Cindy
Cohn
Executive Director
April 13, 2017

EFF Sues Company To Assert Constitutional Right to Criticize a Patent and Litigation Over It

San Francisco—The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a lawsuit yesterday against a company that’s using foreign laws to stymie EFF’s free speech rights to publish information about and criticize its litigation over a patent featured in EFF’s “Stupid Patent of the Month” blog series.

The company, Global Equity Management (SA) Pty Ltd (GEMSA), owns a patent claiming the idea of using “virtual cabinets” to graphically represent different operating systems and storage partitions. GEMSA has filed dozens of patent infringement cases in the U.S.

Since 2014, EFF’s stupid patent blog series has called attention to questionable patents that stifle innovation, harm the public, or can be employed to shake down users of commonplace processes or technologies. After EFF wrote about the patent, GEMSA accused EFF of slander. The company went to court in Australia to obtain an order to take down the article and prohibit EFF from publishing anything about any of GEMSA’s patents.

This order, which purports to silence expression of an opinion, would never survive scrutiny under the First Amendment in the United States. In a complaint filed in San Francisco yesterday, EFF asked a federal district court to rule that the order is unenforceable. Under the 2010 Securing the Protection of Our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act (SPEECH Act), foreign orders aren’t enforceable in the United States unless they are consistent with the free speech protections provided by the U.S. and state constitutions, as well as state law.    

The injunction issued by the South Australian court purports to order EFF to remove the blog post and forbid EFF from speaking in the future about any of GEMSA’s intellectual property. It states that failure to comply could result in the seizure of EFF’s assets and prison time for its officers.

“We are going to court to ensure that EFF is not silenced by foreign laws that forbid speech our Constitution protects,” said EFF Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel Kurt Opsahl. “GEMSA may not like what we’ve said about its patent, but we will defend our right to express our constitutionally protected opinion."

EFF is represented by law firms Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, LLP and Jassy Vick Carolan.

For the brief:
https://www.eff.org/document/eff-v-gemsa-complaint

For EFF’s Stupid Patent of the Month series:
https://www.eff.org/issues/stupid-patent-month

Contact:

Kurt
Opsahl
Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel
April 13, 2017

Surveillance Culture Starts in Grade School, Schools Fail To Protect Kids’ Privacy

San Francisco—School children are being spied on by tech companies through devices and software used in classrooms that often collect and store kids’ names, birth dates, browsing histories, location data, and much more—often without adequate privacy protections or the awareness and consent of parents, according to a new report from Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

EFF’s “Spying on Students: School-Issued Devices and Student Privacy” shows that state and federal law, as well as industry self-regulation, has failed to keep up with a growing educational technology industry.  At the same time, schools are eager to incorporate technology in the classroom to engage students and assist teachers, but may unwittingly help tech companies surveil and track students. Ultimately, students and their data are caught in the middle without sufficient privacy protections.

One-third of all K-12 students in the U.S. use school-issued devices running software and apps that collect far more information on kids than is necessary, the report says. Resource-strapped school district can receive these tools at steeply-reduced prices or for free as tech companies seek a slice of the $8 billion dollar education technology, or ed tech, industry. But there’s a real, devastating cost—the tracking, cataloguing, and exploitation of data about children as young as five years old.

Ed tech providers know privacy is important to parents, students, and schools. Of the 152 ed tech services reported to us, 118 had published privacy policies. But far fewer addressed such important privacy issues as data retention, encryption, de-identification, and aggregation. And privacy pledges don’t stop companies from mining students’ browsing data and other information and using it for their own purposes.

“Our report shows that the surveillance culture begins in grade school, which threatens to normalize the next generation to a digital world in which users hand over data without question in return for free services—a world that is less private not just by default, but by design,” said EFF Researcher Gennie Gebhart, an author of the report.

EFF surveyed over 1,000 stakeholders across the country, including students, parents, teachers, and school administrators, and reviewed 152 ed tech privacy policies in a year-long effort to determine whether and how ed tech companies are protecting students’ privacy and their data.

Parents, teachers, and other stakeholders feel helpless in dealing with student privacy issues in their community. In some cases students are required to use the tools and can’t opt out, but they and their families are given little to no information about if or how their kids’ data is being protected and collected,” said EFF Analyst Amul Kalia, a co-author of the report. “With this whitepaper, we lay out specific strategies that they can employ to gather allies, and push their schools and districts in the right direction."

“Spying on Students” provides comprehensive recommendations for parents, teachers, school administrators, and tech companies to improve the protection of student privacy. Asking the right questions, negotiating for contracts that limit or ban data collection, offering families the right to opt out, and making digital literacy and digital privacy part of school curriculum are just a few of the more than 70 recommendations for protecting student privacy contained in the report.

“The data we collected on the experiences, perceptions, and concerns of stakeholders across the country sends a loud and clear message to ed tech companies and lawmakers: families are concerned about student privacy and want an end to spying on students,” said Gebhart.

For the report:
https://www.eff.org/wp/school-issued-devices-and-student-privacy

For more on EFF's student privacy campaign:
https://www.eff.org/issues/student-privacy

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Gennie
Gebhart
Researcher

Sophia
Cope
Staff Attorney
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