Last week brought an extraordinary victory for privacy and civil liberties: a federal district court struck down a key power under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and the USA PATRIOT Act. Specifically, US District Court Judge Victor Marrero ruled that "National Security Letters" (NSLs) violate the Constitution.
The letters, issued directly by the Department of Justice (DoJ) without any court oversight, can be used to demand sensitive communications records about citizens even if they are not suspected of any crime. When an Internet Service Provider (ISP) receives an NSL, it is forbidden from ever revealing its existence to anyone. Judge Marrero barred the DoJ from issuing any further NSLs and found the gag provision to be an illegal prior restraint on protected speech.
EFF is a proud co-sponsor of "Resisting Government Secrecy in a Time of Terrorism," a two-day conference taking place this Friday, Oct. 8th, and Saturday, Oct. 9th, at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
The conference, presented by the California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC), features a key-note speech by acclaimed investigative reporter Seymour "Sy" Hersh and panel discussions with a number of experts exploring a wide range of topics, including "leak" investigations under the Homeland Security law and media coverage of the Iraq war. EFF's Kevin Bankston will moderate a panel on the Supreme Court's past term and its implications for national security and citizen's access to information.
That's what the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) promises if the FBI gets its way.
The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) was passed in 1994 to make it easier for the feds to listen in to everyone's phone calls. The law forced phone companies to design their digital networks with special backdoors for government surveillance. There was a single saving grace - CALEA did not apply to the Internet.
But now, all of that could change. Under pressure from the Department of Justice (DoJ) and federal law enforcement, the FCC is gathering comments on a proposal to expand CALEA to cover broadband Internet access providers and Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony companies.
The brief makes two things clear.
First, the entertainment industry is plainly mounting a frontal attack on the Betamax doctrine, seeking a radical rewrite of secondary liability principles.
This just in: the Supreme Court has denied cert in RIAA v. Verizon, the case in which the recording industry initially won the right to unmask an anonymous KaZaA user with a special non-judicial, PATRIOT Act-like subpoena under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DC Circuit reversed (PDF) that ruling, but the RIAA appealed. Now the Supreme Court has declined to hear the case.
EFF has been studying various methods for content control (censorship, spam blocking, detecting copyright infringement, etc.). There are two main challenges: identifying content reliably, and avoiding collateral damage.
Randal Schwartz of Perl fame shows off a nifty trick you can do with everyone's favorite operating system (OS), OpenBSD: "Mail coming from windows boxes (all flavors) compete for my virtual 56K line. All other mail can come in the fat pipe. Already a huge difference in my load. Bwa ha ha." This means Schwartz has configured his firewall to "rate-limit" traffic on TCP port 25 from computers running Windows, on the assumption that such machines are more likely to be infected by malware used for email spamming. (These kind of infected machines are known as spam "zombies.")
Last week Jason Schultz and I had the opportunity to watch the wheels of justice turn at a crucial stage in an Acacia patent infringement case. Acacia's legal adventures have become so intricate and expansive that witnessing them reminded me of the Charles Dickens novel Bleak House, which is about the victims of a decades-old court case called "Jardyce and Jarndyce" that never ends.
Early voting has begun across the country and we're starting to see just how touchy some of the touchscreen voting machines can be.
We're hearing that voters in New Mexico and Texas are trying to cast ballots for one candidate but finding that the machine lights up for another. This is happening to people regardless of whom they're voting for; voters who want Bush are getting Kerry and vice versa. Predictably, election officials seem to be blaming voters, claiming that they must have accidentally touched the wrong part of the screen or brushed up against it with their sleeves. But we've witnessed demos of touchscreen e-voting machines, and the machines may have more to do with the problem than voting officials are willing to admit.
Thankfully, it appears that in most cases, the voter was able to correct the problem before his/her vote was cast. See:
Fair use is generally understood as an affirmative defense. This leaves a fair user at a distinct disadvantage in litigation. First, until a copyright owner sends a concrete threat of litigation, the fair user may find it hard to get into federal court for lack of standing. Second, even if a threat letter creates standing sufficient to support a declaratory judgment claim, the copyright owner can moot the case at any time by issuing a covenant not to sue. And no matter the outcome, the fair user will likely be stuck footing her own attorneys' fees.
Mypollingplace.com is here to help.
With most states reporting massive new voter registrations and many political observers worrying about potential voter confusion and allegations of fraud on Nov.2, one organization has created a web-based tool to answer questions and provide information.
The site, www.mypollingplace.com, is sponsored by the People for the American Way Foundation, a group that has dedicated significant resources toward voter access projects since the contested election in Florida in 2000.
By typing in their home address and zip code into the searchable data base, voters are given the location of their polling place, a map to reach it, and information on the type of voting equipment used at the polling place and how to operate it.
A staffer at popular alterna-porn site Suicide Girls shared the news yesterday that he'd received a cease and desist letter from Nintendo's lawyers that's sure to make it into Chilling Effects for sheer ludicrousness.
The terrifying crimes outlined in this C & D? Apparently an SG site member listed in his profile that he likes the Nintendo video games Zelda and Metroid. And if that weren't bad enough, the word "Nintendo" subsequently appeared in the meta tags of his page -- presumably because a script trawls each page for relevant words and sticks them in the meta tags.
Yesterday EFF launched Paper or Plastic 2004, a campaign to inform California voters of their right to vote on a paper ballot in the upcoming election. Ten California counties will use electronic voting machines on November 2, but these systems don't provide a voter-verified paper audit trail and therefore cannot be used in a meaningful recount. That's why Secretary of State Kevin Shelley ordered each of these counties to give voters a choice: on Election Day, voters can choose to forego an electronic ballot and instead vote on paper. Unfortunately, we've learned that election officials in at least three counties have been instructing poll workers to keep this "paper or plastic" choice secret.
EFF will be reporting on Election Day about any problems that may arise with electronic voting machines, but some of the machines have been used in earlier elections and during early voting this week, so we're already starting to see patterns emerge. The National Committee for Voting Integrity (NCVV) has published a list of articles on e-voting -- both old and new -- that provides a good overview of what the major glitches are. Below, we take look at a handful of these articles from past and present elections and provide a heads-up on three key issues voters and poll watchers should be aware of:
There's a brand new weblog that's a must-read for everyone concerned about the problems with e-voting: E-voting-Experts.com.
It's helmed by leading computer security experts and researchers who have volunteered to be "on call" during the election to help voters, poll watchers, reporters, and others understand what's really going on when a technical glitch takes place: