Proposing a federal law to stop local governments from filling the pot holes with free municipal WiFi:
Late in May, a member of Congress from Texas named Pete Sessions proposed a bill called the Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act, which would prevent municipal governments from offering people free or low-cost Internet service. Why would an elected official want to bar cities from giving their residents quick and easy access to the Internet? That's easy: Sessions used to work for SBC, a telecom company that could lose a little business if cities started setting up local WiFi networks or Internet kiosks. I guess his old buddies in the network biz are more valuable to him than his constituents. It's sort of like a former contractor trying to ban government-sponsored road building in cities because asphalt companies might lose out. In the end, nobody can drive to work anymore.
Neither the MGM v. Grokster ruling nor the 12,000+ lawsuits filed against individuals will succeed in solving the P2P problem: getting artists fairly compensated for filesharing. EFF advocates collective licensing as a better solution for the P2P dilemma, a solution that aligns the incentives of copyright owners with, rather than against, the growth of the Internet.
Big news. As reported by the BBC, the European Parliament has voted down the Computer-Implemented Inventions Directive, a law that would have given broad authority to the European Patent Office to start issuing US-style software patents in the EU. Rejection of this law is a huge, huge victory for innovation.
As mentioned last week, the post-Grokster world may create new concerns for companies creating technologies that enable new digital uses like "place-shifting." Because these companies forthrightly promote activities that should qualify as fair uses, but have generally never been ruled on by a court, they are put in a potentially difficult position -- if they lose on fair use, are they automatically liable for inducement?
Whenever there's talk about blogging horror stories, inevitably the conversation turns to people getting fired for blogging. What kinds of things can your boss fire you for? Aren't there laws to protect you for whistle-blogging about the rotten things your company is doing to the environment? If you use your work computer to blog, does your employer have the right to monitor you? What about if you're working from home, using your own laptop?
As Fourth of July fireworks fade, don't forget another
cause for celebration this month: our independence from
the Broadcast Flag. July 1, 2005, was the date set for
the FCC's Broadcast Flag mandate to take effect. But
thanks to a court challenge by Public Knowledge,
EFF, library associations, and consumer rights groups,
the DC Circuit vacated the mandate. It ruled that the FCC
can't order hardware makers to cripple their digital TV
products. Because of that victory, manufacturers
like Elgato or pcHDTV can continue to produce open
hardware to turn your computer into a digital video
recorder, and consumer electronics companies are free
to design high-definition television recorders that
put you, the viewer, first.
It wasn't long ago that alarmed parents had to force administrators in a Northern California school to stop tagging their children with RFID-embedded IDs. The IDs, placards that hung from the neck with the childrens' names emblazened on the front, would also have allowed anyone with a compatible scanner to secretly gather additional personal details. That's right -- anyone could pick up this information, even potentially a sexual predator. The school's rationale? The placards would help with taking attendance and "improve school safety."
Cooley Godward, one of the largest Silicon Valley law firms, has an all-clients bulletin explaining the Grokster ruling that includes the following telling advice in its "implications" section:
Good news: New Jersey's acting governor recently signed into law legislation that will require all voting machines to produce a voter-verified paper record by 2008. But New Jersey citizens shouldn't have to wait until then to be sure their votes count.
Last week, EFF and a broad coalition of organizations with proven dedication to voting rights issues filed an amicus brief in Gusciora v. Codey, a lawsuit demanding that New Jersey update state laws to reflect its increasing use of electronic voting machines. The suit was filed by the Rutgers Law School Constitutional Litigation Clinic on behalf of New Jersey Assemblyman Reed Gusciora. They originally sought to stop the use of the machines in the November 2004 election, but their pursuit of long-term relief continues.
If you had to disclose to the government everyone whom you planned to email so that it could cross names off your mailing list, you might be less likely to speak in the first place. You'd be further chilled if you had to pay a fee so that the government could silence your speech, and, if you didn't comply, face jail.
Staff Technologist Seth Schoen, EFF's resident expert on trusted computing, recently attended this year's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC). Today we debut the first of a four-part series in which Schoen provides detailed updates on the status of Microsoft's security and lockware strategies for Windows. The outcome of these strategies will affect to what degree people using the platform and "trusted" PCs can maintain a desirable level of control over their own computers.
Staff Technologist Seth Schoen, EFF's resident expert on trusted computing, recently attended this year's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC). This is the second of a four-part series in which Schoen provides detailed updates on the status of Microsoft's security and lockware strategies for Windows. The outcome of these strategies will affect to what degree people using the platform and "trusted" PCs can maintain a desirable level of control over their own computers. The first post in the series can be found here.
For the past 15 years, EFF has been fighting to preserve the constitutional right to freedom of expression on the Internet. In the last few years, we've seen an explosion of expression as new web publishing tools emerged, providing countless netizens with their own personal First Amendment machines.This month is our 15th anniversary and to celebrate, we're putting these publishing tools front and center. We're holding a weeklong EFF15 Blog-a-thon where you're invited to blog about your personal experiences fighting for freedom online — a project that will celebrate new publishing tools, attract new EFF members, and mark our 15th all at once.
Joe Gratz tells of how he went from crashing his school's server to befriending the network administrator and fighting for technological freedom.
Frank Field talks about feeling empowered after tinkering with his Apple ][+ and the danger of controlling how people use their own computers.
The British academic network in 1989 was tauntingly close to its sister nets. There was a trickle of email traffic across the divides, but I didn't have an email account. There was a transcontinental sprinkling of Usenet feeds: but I had no way to read news. I was studying non-science subjects, and humanity students weren't allowed to touch the computers then. Why would they want to? What possible use for this technology could non-experts have?
Given the ongoing legal struggles to preserve digital freedom, it is difficult to underestimate the importance of carefully vetting President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, Judge John G. Roberts. If confirmed, Judge Roberts will have extraordinary power to shape the future of digital rights, for good or ill. Unfortunately, Judge Roberts' brief judicial record offers little guidance as to how he would rule on key digital rights issues as a Supreme Court Justice. Nevertheless, we think a few items in the record are worth noting.
Privacy and Free Speech - Verdict: The Jury Is Still Out
Help EFF Watch the Watchers
Imagine that every time you printed a document, it automatically included a secret code that could be used to identify the printer -- and potentially, the person who used it. Sounds like something from an episode of "Alias," right?
Unfortunately, the scenario isn't fictional. In an effort to identify counterfeiters, the US government has succeeded in persuading some color laser printer manufacturers to encode each page with identifying information. That means that without your knowledge or consent, an act you assume is private could become public. A communication tool you're using in everyday life could become a tool for government surveillance. And what's worse, there are no laws to prevent abuse.
As we come up on the one-month anniversary of MGM v. Grokster, I've collected my thoughts for Law.com about why the decision is bad news for innovators and what Congress should do about it. I've reproduced it below. See also EFF's "Interpreting Grokster" one-pager submitted to the Congressional Internet Caucus, and audio from the subsequent panel discussion in which I participated.
For the last year, a group of developing nations, scholars, and public interest groups has been asking the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) -- the U.N. agency responsible for intellectual property rights treaties -- to change the way it works, to better represent the interests of all of its members. A key part of this is the proposal to establish a WIPO Development Agenda, which would require WIPO to consider how its work can help or hinder development.
It was February 1994, and I was reading what was then the ninth issue that WIRED magazine had ever published. Laurie Anderson was on the cover. John Perry Barlow's now-iconic article, "The Economy of Ideas," was inside. When I picked it up, I'd never heard of John Perry Barlow, and had no idea that an article by him would literally change my life.
My digital liberties "click moment" is less a moment than a place -- a windowless basement office, to be precise. The office was home to the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, a research center at Harvard Law School, when I was a student. I had found the recently established Berkman Center through their advertisement for a webmaster and sysadmin. I thought that running a webserver under my desk qualified me for the post, and, in a sign of the times, they did too.
Staff Technologist Seth Schoen, EFF's resident expert on trusted computing, recently attended this year's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC). This is the third of a four-part series in which Schoen provides detailed updates on the status of Microsoft's security and lockware strategies for Windows. The outcome of these strategies will affect to what degree people using the platform and "trusted" PCs can maintain a desirable level of control over their own computers. The first two posts can be found here and here.
Blog-a-thon posts are surging -- if you haven't been following the inspiring tales through Technorati and Pubsub, you're missing out! To keep the momentum going and to give you another chance to enter your own story in EFF's contest, we've extended the Blog-a-thon submission deadline to August 2nd.
Here are some recent highlights:
HangLeft: "It became obvious that Intel's master database of CPU serial numbers would be an extreme invasion of privacy intended to empower their marketing department, the public's right to privacy be damned. I was furious at the idea."
Last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reaffirmed [PDF] in a letter to Congress that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) violated the Privacy Act, lying to the public about collecting and using private data in testing Secure Flight. The letter also reveals that the TSA collected over 100 million records from commercial data providers.
In 1997, I entered my first year of law school at UC Berkeley. At the time, I had a pretty open mind as to what I wanted to do with my life as a lawyer. I had done some work on gender issues in the past and thought I might continue in that vein, working on social justice in the courtroom or policy arenas. But then I met Pam Samuelson.
Recently, Rockstar Games got into hot water after people who play its already-controversial game, "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," discovered how to unlock a sexually graphic mini-game known as "Hot Coffee." Rockstar's parent, Take Two Interactive, has admitted to creating the hidden portion, and, under pressure, decided to pull the game off store shelves in anticipation of a "caffeine-free" version to be released this fall. In the meantime, Senator Hillary Clinton has vowed to introduce legislation that would fine retailers for selling minors video games that the industry rates as "mature" or "adults only."
Staff Technologist Seth Schoen, EFF's resident expert on trusted computing, recently attended this year's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC). This is the final post in a four-part series in which Schoen provides detailed updates on the status of Microsoft's security and lockware strategies for Windows. The outcome of these strategies will affect to what degree people using the platform and "trusted" PCs can maintain a desirable level of control over their own computers.
When word got out recently that a trademark application for the San Francisco-based nonprofit group Dykes on Bikes was rejected, EFF did some further research into the grounds for rejection.
It turns out that despite the more than 400 pages of scholarship submitted in support of the application, the US Patent and Trademark Office relied on two dictionary definitions as proof that the word was "offensive." The first definition originated from an online version of the 1913 Webster's dictionary.
Beyond its age and out-of-date nature, the dictionary's definition also had the tag "PJC" on it. We were intrigued, so we decided to investigate further.
Posting sexually explicit images on the Internet just got a lot more dangerous. On Monday, a vague, overbroad law that leaves millions of people vulnerable to prosecution for online obscenity was allowed to stand.
I've had a rather strong interest in protecting free speech for about 40 years. In the mid-sixties, when I was barely a teenager, I was suspended from school for engaging in activities similar to those described in the most famous case concerning the free speech rights of minors, Tinker v. Des Moines School District. My parents were supportive, they hired a lawyer for me, and my school backed down.
Service Will Connect Technologists with Civil Liberties Cases
Are you a technologist interested in helping out on civil liberties cases? Are you an attorney looking for some help understanding technical issues in lawsuits? EFF is setting up a listserv to help connect technologists to attorneys on cases that are core to EFF's mission but beyond what we can handle in-house.
Over the years, EFF has connected hundreds of tech-savvy lawyers with potential clients through our Cooperating Attorneys listserv. This has worked so well, we thought we'd provide the same service for those who need technical assistance on litigation and civil liberties issues.