In another example of using patents to stiflerather than promoteinnovation, a company called FlightPrep has come out fighting, threatening online flight planning sites with its newly obtained patent, and going so far as to sue at least one of those sites. That patent, originally filed in 2001, allegedly covers a system for generating flight plans online, hardly a novel concept. And FlightPrep is now using its patent to attempt to extract royalty payments from small companies that have been providing such a service for yearsor put them out of business.
Since late November, the whistleblower website Wikileaks has been in the process of releasing in waves over 250,000 leaked United States diplomatic cables. Known as "Cablegate," this is the largest publication of confidential documents by any organization. (Catch up on Wikileaks developments by reviewing EFF’s page on this issue).
Wikileaks’ disclosures have caused tremendous controversy, with critics of Wikileaks claiming the leaks of classified information could endanger lives and harm international diplomacy. Others have commended Wikileaks, pointing to a long history of over-classification and a lack of transparency by the United States government.
Thank you to all of the Electronic Frontier Foundation supporters who were able to make a contribution this past year. Truly your donations, advocacy, and steadfast moral support have helped make EFF the formidable organization that it is today. We have come a long way from our first victory in Steve Jackson Games v. Secret Service to our most recent major win over bogus copyright infringement claims in Universal Music Group v. Augusto, and our work continues. In case you missed it, take a look at EFF's year-end video for an 8-bit recap of just a few major accomplishments in 2010.
Last week, the FCC announced the "FCC Open Internet Apps Challenge," a contest to attract software that helps ordinary users measure whether their Internet services — both mobile broadband and traditional "fixed" broadband — are consistent with open Internet principles. The FCC is also asking for submissions of "research papers that analyze relevant Internet openness measurement techniques, approaches, and data." This is a welcome effort from the FCC, and we hope to see software developers and researchers help the public better discover how our networks and service providers are treating our Internet communications.
Last year, Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and Josh Goldfoot from the DoJ's Criminal Division directly confronted some of EFF's concerns about overreaching theories of secondary copyright infringement. Playing on EFF founder John Perry Barlow's seminal essay, Judge Kozinski and Mr. Goldfoot titled their work "A Declaration of the Dependence of Cyberspace," and in it, they argue that current secondary liability doctrines can and should be used aggressively to tackle online infringement.
For years, EFF has been warning that the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act can be used to chill speech, particularly security research, because legitimate researchers will be afraid to publish their results lest they be accused of circumventing a technological protection measure. We've also been concerned that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act could be abused to try to make alleged contract violations into crimes.
This month, we were reminded how important it is that social media companies do what they can to protect the sensitive data they hold from the prying eyes of the government. As many news outlets have reported, the US Department of Justice recently obtained a court order for records from Twitter on several of its users related to the WikiLeaks disclosures. Instead of just turning over this information, Twitter “beta-tested a spine” and notified its users of the court order, thus giving them the opportunity to challenge it in court.
At EFF, we like to give credit where it is due. Over the past few years, we’ve repeatedly called out the Burning Man Organization (BMO) for using online ticket terms to require participants to assign to BMO, in advance, the copyrights to any pictures they took on the playa. The assignment was designed to allow BMO to send takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) if it discovers photos online that it finds objectionable. We also criticized how the terms limited participants’ ability to donate their works to the public domain or to license their works through Creative Commons, and restricted ticket holders' ability to make fair uses of BMO trademarks, such as the (trademarked) term "Burning Man," on any website.
A few weeks ago, we mentioned a rather unusual technological endeavor to create an online currency. We received a few queries about this subject, so decided to provide a more thorough description of what digital currency is, how this system works, why it's appealing and how it might fall short of user expectations.
Increasingly powerful mobile phones are making Internet access and use more convenient than ever. However, the security of mobile operating systems is not as mature or as strong as that of workstation and server operating systems. Platforms like Windows and Ubuntu receive security scrutiny, and regular and frequent updates to resolve security problems. The open source/free software communities and Microsoft are more or less open about security problems and fixes. (For example, here is Ubuntu’s security notices page and Microsoft’s excellent Security Response Center blog.)
Last week's post about the increasingly draconian and desperate measures the Tunisian government was taking to censor bloggers, journalists, and activists online was rapidly made irrelevant by subsequent events. Over the next few days, Tunisian dictator El Abidine Ben Ali promised not to run for re-election in 2014, then offered widespread reforms, including freedom of expression on the Internet, and finally stepped down from power and fled the country. The steps that EFF called on Facebook, Google, and Yahoo to take in order to protect the privacy and safety of their Tunisian users soon lost their urgency. For now, Tunisians are experiencing unprecedented freedom online after years of extensive government filtering and censorship of websites.
Last week, EFF joined a coalition of public interest and media groups in filing an amicus brief (pdf) urging a California Court of Appeal to uphold the public’s right to access electronic files created and stored by local governments. The case, Sierra Club v. Superior Court, focuses on the public’s right to access geographic information system (GIS) basemaps created by local governments in California.
Earlier today, Mozilla announced plans to incorporate a Do Not Track feature into their next browser release, Firefox 4.1. Google also announced a new privacy extension today, but we believe that Mozilla is now taking a clear lead and building a practical way forward for people who want privacy when they browse the web.
This morning, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security held a hearing on mandatory Internet data retention, once again reviving the debate over whether Congress should pass legislation to force ISPs and telecom providers to log information about how users communicate and use the Internet. The hearing, awash with rhetoric about targeting Internet crime and including an unexpected condemnation of EFF's privacy advocacy, was purportedly an information- and fact-finding hearing to explore the issue of data retention and consider what Congress' role should be. However, it's already clear where the new House Judiciary Chairman, Representative Lamar Smith, stands on the issue: he introduced data retention legislation just last year and likely will do so again this year.
In the last months of 2010, the WikiLeaks wars reminded transparency activists of something copyright and trademark lawyers know all too well – online speech is only as strong as the many service providers on which it depends. All too often web hosts, domain name registrars and other service providers cave at the slightest legal or government pressure, with disastrous consequences for their users.
As we've seen in Iran and Tunisia, social networking tools have given activists in authoritarian regimes a powerful voice, which can be heard well beyond their own country. But the use of social networking tools has also given their governments ways to identify and retaliate against them. This week we are watching the same dynamic play out in Egypt. This is why it is critical that all activists in Egypt and elsewheretake precautions to protect their anonymity and freedom of expression. The protests in Egypt this week also highlight another important point: authoritarian governments can block access to social media websites, but determined, tech-savvy activists are likely to find ways to circumvent censorship to communicate with the rest of the world.
EFF has uncovered widespread violations stemming from FBI intelligence investigations from 2001 - 2008. In a report released today, EFF documents alarming trends in the Bureau’s intelligence investigation practices, suggesting that FBI intelligence investigations have compromised the civil liberties of American citizens far more frequently, and to a greater extent, than was previously assumed.
Using documents obtained through EFF's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation, the report finds:
• Evidence of delays of 2.5 years, on average, between the occurrence of a violation and its eventual reporting to the Intelligence Oversight Board
The Egyptian regime's shutdown of the Internet in an attempt to preserve its political power highlights the dangers of any government having unchecked power over our Internet infrastructure, and puts a fine point on the risks to democracy posed by recent Congressional proposals to give the President a broad mandate to dictate how our internet service providers respond to cyber-emergencies.
While the 2010 Senate Cybersecurity bill (sponsored by Senators Lieberman, Collins, and Carper) was an improvement on its draconian predecessors, the lesson of Egypt is that no one, not even the President of the United States, should be given the power to turn off the Internet.