The New York Times today has a nice opinion piece by Adam Cohen that does a good job of laying out the concerns about locational privacy that EFF and other privacy advocates have raised:
A little-appreciated downside of the technology revolution is that, mainly without thinking about it, we have given up “locational privacy.” Even in low-tech days, our movements were not entirely private. The desk attendant at my gym might have recalled seeing me, or my colleagues might have remembered when I arrived. Now the information is collected automatically and often stored indefinitely.
The Privacy Coalition, a coalition of organizations committed to privacy issues, is inviting the public to give the Obama Administration a grade on its privacy work thus far:
In April, we voiced serious concerns about the Cybersecurity Act of 2009, a bill by Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), that sought to give the federal government unprecedented power over the Internet. For months, the bill has been redrafted behind closed doors and has recently been circulated, but by all accounts, the changes are cosmetic and it's sadly more of the same.
Like the original bill, the new version appears to give the President carte blanche to decide which networks and systems, private or public, count as "critical infrastructure information systems or networks." And alongside that authority, there still appears to be murky language that would permit the President to shut down the Internet. Note the troubling provision in the original bill, which said:
While there are some good things in the policy — many that EFF and its coalition partners the ACLU of Northern California and the Samuelson Clinic at Berkeley Law School have long been urging Google to do — it is still falls well short of the privacy protections that readers need, both substantively and in whether it will be permanent and readily enforceable by readers. Our coalition on behalf of authors and publishers seeking to protect reader privacy will still be filing an Objection to the Settlement in Court on Tuesday, September 8.
The UK government still seems unsure as to whether it's a good idea to punish those accused of illegal downloading by cutting off Internet access for entire households, saying it wants to "support" the music industry. But now it seems a coalition of the actual British musicians, songwriters and producers behind the music don't want "support" of this kind, and view this sort of draconian policy as "extraordinarily negative."
Thankfully, there are some people in the UK who think this sort of draconian policy is a terrible idea, and are taking a stand against it — namely, the British music community.
The Guardian reports:
In the past couple weeks, two major online service providers, Blogger and Flickr, announced improvements to their DMCA takedown policies. EFF had a hand in both: Blogger contacted us to discuss their improvements, and we contacted Flickr to raise some concerns we had. We're glad to see these improvements, which make the process more transparent for users and minimize the collateral damage to free speech that can sometimes be the result when a copyright owner sends a takedown notice.
How should city transit authorities treat independent software developers who make use of public schedule data? What approach results in the best experience for their passengers and customers?
Two models appear to be emerging to answer this question. One, typified by New York City's MTA and Washington, DC's WMATA, sees schedule and related data as valuable intellectual property, to be zealously protected, licensed and monetized. So far, the results of this approach appear to have been bad press, irate passengers, wasted money and stymied innovation.
Monday, September 21st will be the second Geek Reading event to benefit EFF, at 111 Minna in downtown San Francisco. This time, the author in question is Randall Munroe, otherwise known as the writer and cartoonist behind the brilliant webcomic xkcd.
For those not yet part of the xkcd cult, the cartoon with the strange name consistently brings some of the sharpest satire to the world of the Internet and digital culture. Randall describes the strip as "a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language," and the New York Times calls it "wildly popular among techies the world over for its witty use of programming code in its gags." It is currently translated into three languages and receives between 60 and 70 million page views per month.
Mr. X lives in ZIP code 02138 and was born July 31, 1945.
These facts about him were included in an anonymized medical record released to the public. Sounds like Mr. X is pretty anonymous, right?
Not if you're Latanya Sweeney, a Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor who showed in 1997 that this information was enough to pin down Mr. X's more familiar identity -- William Weld, the governor of Massachusetts throughout the 1990s.
This is part 1 of a three-part series on user tracking on the web today. You can read Part 2 here.
Cookies are still a privacy problem for web users, many years after privacy advocates first raised concerns about their use to track web browsing. Today, cookies are one of the main mechanisms that advertising companies like Google use to track and profile users across sites and over time -- often building up a single gigantic profile for years and years. Many EFF members respond to this threat by using their browsers' cookie management features to limit which cookies they'll accept or how long they'll be retained.
The BBC has indicated that third party content owners are seeking to ensure that reception equipment will implement ... copy protection. Because [these] requirements are not mandatory, representatives of content owners have asked the BBC to take steps to ensure that reception equipment will implement the specified content management arrangements.
Are employees who use their workplace computers contrary to the interests of their employers criminals under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act? Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said disloyal keyboarding is not a crime in LVRC Holdings v. Brekka. In Brekka, the defendant emailed himself client files while working for the plaintiff. When the employment relationship ended, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant sent himself those files to benefit his competing business. The Ninth Circuit held that an employee’s mere breach of fiduciary duty is not “unauthorized access” under the CFAA.
Earlier this week, a federal court in Los Angeles ruled that Veoh, an online video hosting service similar to YouTube, qualifies for a DMCA safe harbor that protects the service from monetary damages for copyright infringements committed by its users. The plaintiff, Universal Music Group (UMG), alleged that many videos uploaded to Veoh included copyrighted sound recordings owned by UMG.
Today, recognizing pending FOIA requests by EFF and Wired News, Google dropped its claim of confidentiality and paved the way for the FCC to release the full text of its explanation of Apple's rejection of the Google Voice iPhone app. As we've reported previously, the FCC is investigating Apple's rejection of the Google Voice iPhone app from Apple's iPhone App Store. The regulators sought to find out from Apple, Google and AT&T why the app was rejected, who was behind the rejection and if the carrier had exerted any pressure on Apple.
Bill Patry is widely regarded as one of the leading copyright law experts in the United States. For the past several years, moreover, he's been Senior Copyright Counsel at Google. Yet somehow he's found the time to write a book, too, Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars, which was published earlier this month.
After months of internal review, the Obama Administration today announced a new policy on the use of the state secrets privilege. The state secrets privilege traditionally allows the government to withdraw particular pieces of evidence from a court case on the grounds that the evidence would reveal sensitive classified information. Despite this limited purpose, it's been repeatedly misused by the Bush and now Obama administrations to try to throw important litigation out of court, and is badly in need of reform.
Following last week's introduction by Senators Feingold and Durbin of the JUSTICE Act bill, the debate over renewal and reform of the USA PATRIOT Act kicked into over-drive this week with a second bill introduced in the Senate and hearings in both the House and Senate. The week's events were foreshadowed by the New York Times' weekend headline, "Battle Looms Over the Patriot Act".
When you buy World of Warcraft (WoW) in a retail box, do you own the copy of the software you bought? That's the critical legal question facing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a pending appeal in MDY v. Blizzard, and the question that Public Knowledge took on in an excellent amicus brief filed with the court earlier this week.
Graphing calculators have long inspired geeks in remarkable ways. But, sadly, rather than celebrating the hobbyists that love their programmable calculators, Texas Instruments has set the lawyers loose on them, invoking the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
Yesterday, four US Senators led by Senator Chris Dodd announced plans to introduce "The Retroactive Immunity Repeal Act". That bill, endorsed by EFF, would repeal the law that Congress passed last summer granting immunity to phone companies that illegally assist in domestic spying by US intelligence agencies, and would revive EFF’s recently dismissed lawsuit against AT&T for its collaboration in the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program.
As yesterday’s announcement explains,
Over the last two years, Senators Dodd, Leahy, and Feingold have led the fight against granting retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies. However, last July, Congress passed FISA legislation that granted retroactive immunity over the objections of the Senators and others.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has released a heavily censored version of its controversial Domestic Investigations and Operations Guidelines (DIOG), which became effective on December 1, 2008. EFF requested public disclosure of the guidelines under the Freedom of Information Act in December and, after more than six months passed with no response, we filed suit against the Department of Justice in June 2009. In response to the lawsuit, the Bureau agreed to answer EFF's disclosure request no later than October 13, and the court ordered it to do so. The FBI’s partial release of the DIOG complies with the court's order to respond to our request.
Today's New York Times included an excellent editorial on the Obama Adminstration's new policy toward the state secrets privilege. Echoing EFF's disappointment in the new procedures, the editorial explains:
The other day, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. issued new guidelines for invoking the state secrets privilege in the future. They were a positive step forward, on paper, but did not go nearly far enough. Mr. Holder’s much-anticipated reform plan does not include any shift in the Obama administration’s demand for blanket secrecy in pending cases.
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts recently held that officers may not place GPS tracking devices on cars without first getting a warrant. The case, Commonwealth v. Connolly, was decided under the state corollary to the Fourth Amendment, and its reasoning may influence pending GPS tracking cases, including United States v. Jones, where EFF is an amicus.
Connolly decided that the installation of the GPS device was a seizure of the suspect’s vehicle. “When an electronic surveillance device is installed in a motor vehicle, be it a beeper, radio transmitter, or GPS device, the government's control and use of the defendant's vehicle to track its movements interferes with the defendant's interest in the vehicle notwithstanding that he maintains possession of it.” Thus, the court held this interference with the owner’s possessory interest requires a warrant.
Ten claims from the Acacia Research Streaming Media Patent have been invalidated by the U.S.District Court for the Northern District of California. The Court invalidated the remaining claims that had been asserted in the litigation, after several others had been dropped from the suit by Acacia. EFF was not involved in the case, which was brought by Acacia against leading satellite and cable companies, Echostar, DirectTV, Time Warner Cable and CSC Holdings, Inc. Similar claims in related patents will also be invalid under the Court's analysis.
Today, the American Constitution Society's blog, ACSblog, was gracious enough to let EFF's Kevin Bankston guest blog about the current debate over renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act. Kevin took the opportunity to highlight the need for Congress to revisit the broad surveillance authority granted by last year's FISA Amendments Act (FAA) when it considers reforming the PATRIOT Act. Kevin argues that "from a civil liberties perspective, focusing on reforming the PATRIOT Act without also considering FAA reform is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic." The entire blog post is here.