In a powerful ruling for government transparency and accountability, the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday rejected so-called "privacy" protections for corporate entities under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). EFF and a coalition of other groups filed an amicus brief in this case urging just this result, arguing that a new definition of "corporate privacy" would lead to broad swaths of previously public records becoming hidden from view.
It's starting to look like 2011 could be the year that Congress finally passes patent reform legislation. This week, the full Senate begins debate on the Patent Reform Act of 2011, a bill that is receiving a lot of press, mostly for its funding and first-to-file provisions. Much watered down from the original proposal, the bill fails to address many of the larger problems with the patent system, but nonetheless would make important and necessary improvements to the system, such as:
Codifying the Standard for Willful Infringement
The Chinese government has announced plans to track the real-time location of all cell phones in the city of Beijing, purportedly to ease traffic problems that have plagued the city. Human rights activists have expressed concerns that this plan may well be the newest attempt by the Chinese government to surveil its citizenry against any attempted uprising. As Wang Songlian of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders network told the Guardian:
Today the Supreme Court agreed to hear an important case about whether Congress has the power to "restore" copyright protection to works that already exist in the public domain. To be clear, for more than 200 years the law has been settled – once a work was in the public domain, there it remained, and downstream users could feel free to use, store, or share it any way they saw fit. Now Congress, in enacting Section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, is changing the game by granting copyright protection to works by foreign authors that, for a variety of reasons, were no longer protected by copyright (for example, if an author had failed to renew her copyright).
April 7, 2011 marks the third anniversary of a groundbreaking policy that has dramatically improved access to a trove of medical and scientific knowledge. Whenever the National Institutes of Health (NIH) allocates taxpayer money for scientific research, the much-heralded NIH Public Access Policy ensures that the fruits of that research are made freely available to the same taxpayers that funded it. Every day, NIH's free PubMed Central database provides valuable research data to students, academics, and individuals looking for up-to-date knowledge about health issues. Alongside other members of the Alliance for Taxpayer Access, EFF has long supported this common-sense initiative -- taxpayers, after all, pay for a great deal of NIH research, and this policy simply gives them access to the research they fund.
March 14-18, 2011 is “Sunshine Week”—a week to focus on the importance of open government and how we can ensure accountability for our leaders at the federal, state and local levels.
In the year since Sunshine Week 2010, the world of open government has been rocked by the WikiLeaks leaks. Early last April, WikiLeaks released a video of a 2007 US Army air attack in Baghdad that left 12 dead, including two employees of the news agency Reuters. This wasn’t the first controversial information the site ever posted, but it swiftly put WikiLeaks in the center of a dialogue about what information the public has a right to access and whether releasing that information will put lives and national security at risk.
The federal government is working on revamping America's 911 service, with a project called Next Generation 911. The goal is to create a framework that will allow consumers to contact critically important emergency services through multiple means — including text message, photos, and email — in order to improve responsiveness and accessibility. This is a wonderful opportunity that could help keep Americans safer. But as this system develops, it's important to engineer in privacy safeguards. In comments filed with the Federal Communication Commission today, EFF outlines the critical privacy concerns at play in Next Generation 911: medical privacy, locational privacy, and anonymity.
Are you an EFF member or supporter interested in helping out on EFF’s Freedom of Information Act cases and connecting with EFF’s FOIA attorneys? Are you looking for ways to volunteer with EFF but perhaps don’t live near our offices? EFF is setting up an email list to connect you to the important work we do to ensure government accountability.
UPDATE (3/24/11) -- Unfortunately, it looks like there will not be live-streaming video for this event. However, it will be recorded and broadcast at a later date. We'll let you know the details so you can watch it later.
On the evening on March 24, 2011, EFF staff activists will discuss the state of government surveillance and privacy in the United States at "Government Surveillance in a Digital World," an event hosted by San Francisco Intersection for the Arts, with a live video stream by BAMM.tv.
This week marks the seventh annual Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. As our little way to celebrate, EFF has recently posted nearly nine thousand pages of government documents to our site. For the majority of these documents, many of which were previously classified, this is the first time these files have been added to the public domain. The documents were all obtained in conjunction with EFF’s FOIA Litigation for Accountable Government (FLAG) Project, which aims to expose the government's expanding use of new technologies and to protect civil liberties by increasing government transparency.
The trove of documents include:
Yesterday, Microsoft released version 9 of Internet Explorer, which includes two significant new privacy features: Tracking Protection Lists (TPLs) and a Do Not Track (DNT) header that allows users to request that websites not track them. We've written about the virtues of the Do Not Track header previously. In this post we'll look more closely at privacy blocklists, a category of technologies that includes the popular AdBlock Plusbrowser extension and the new IE9 Tracking Protection Lists. These lists are an important type of privacy technology, with distinct advantages over other approaches. They also have a number of inherent limitations, which makes them natural complements, rather than alternatives, to DNT.
Lately, EFF's work to protect rights and liberties in the online world has focused rather heavily on social networking sites and their policies. The logic is borne out by the numbers — Facebook and Twitter combined claim hundreds of millions of worldwide users, so advocating for stronger privacy and less censorship from these kinds of websites will mean a better Internet for lots and lots of people.
In the EFF Action Center, we provide you tools to defend online civil liberties. But if you really want to make a difference, one of the best things you can do is have an in-district meeting with your Congressional representative.
In fact, Congress is on recess this week and again at the end of April. That means now is the optimal time to contact your elected official for an in-district meeting to emphasize the importance of PATRIOT Act reforms.
What's an in-district meeting?
Last Friday, a judge in the Nevada federal district court patiently explained why fair use disposes of Righthaven's copyright claim arising from the republication of an entire news article by a nonprofit organization. The hearing was in one of the now-250 Righthaven copyright cases. A written order, which will help set a persuasive precedent for other copyright troll cases, will be issued later.
The hearing was in Righthaven v. Center for Intercultural Organizing. Righthaven sued CIO, an Oregon non-profit organization promoting immigrant rights, alleging copyright infringement of a Las Vegas Review-Journal article. Righthaven did not create the news article, but claims the right to sue based on an assignment from the LVRJ.
A federal district court in New York today issued a long-awaited ruling in the Google Books case, Authors Guild v. Google, rejecting the proposed settlement between the parties.
EFF participated in the case as counsel to a collection of authors and publishers, including Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem and Cory Doctorow, who objected to the settlement based on concerns about reader privacy. EFF worked with the ACLU and the Samuelson Clinic at University of California at Berkeley on the objection.
Yesterday’s decision rejecting the proposed settlement in the Google Books case, Authors Guild v. Google, got a number of things right. For starters, as we wrote shortly after the decision was announced, we’re glad that the court acknowledged the importance of the privacy concerns we helped to raise.
With respect to the class action analysis, the court correctly concluded that the settlement did not take account of the interests of all of the class members, such as academic authors. As UC Berkeley law professor (and EFF board member) Pamela Samuelson noted in a letter quoted by in the decision,
On March 15th, an HTTPS/TLS Certificate Authority (CA) was tricked into issuing fraudulent certificates that posed a dire risk to Internet security. Based on currently available information, the incident got close to — but was not quite — an Internet-wide security meltdown. As this post will explain, these events show why we urgently need to start reinforcing the system that is currently used to authenticate and identify secure websites and email systems.
As many — EFF included — have been saying for years, filesharing is not the reason that the recording industry has fallen on hard financial times. In fact, the recording industry’s complaints that the sky is falling really only apply to the recording industry, and not musicians and the fans, who have seen increased music purchases, increased artist salaries, and the availability of more music than ever before. And now two new reports further debunk the recording industry's myth.
UPDATE (3/26/11): HTTPS is again available for those in the countries discussed below. Microsoft denies deliberately blocking access to HTTPS, blaming the problem on a bug:
We are aware of an issue that impacted some Hotmail users trying to enable HTTPS. That issue has now been resolved. Account security is a top priority for Hotmail and our support for HTTPS is worldwide – we do not intentionally limit support by region or geography and this issue was not restricted to any specific region of the world.
If you've been waiting for a golden opportunity to download EFF's HTTPS Everywhere Firefox add-on, this is it.
Further proof that the recording industry’s oft-repeated claims of the downfall of the entire music industry hold no water: a new report finding that filesharing has led directly to "reduced costs of bringing works to market and a growing role of independent labels." In other words, in the past decade, we have seen more music from independent outlets and at lower prices – something that consumers and music fans should all be happy about.
When legal issues light up the Internet, people turn to EFF for answers. Whether it’s attacks on coders' rights, overreaching copyright claims online, or governments' efforts to censor or spy on people, we are often among the first to hear about troubling events online, and we're frequently the first place people turn to for legal help.
So why are there times when EFF is involved in an important case but is silent or gives only limited information about it? Usually it’s for one of three reasons: to protect the people who have asked us for help, because of a specific court requirement or because we’re putting the strategy into place.
Your cell phone company knows everywhere you go, twenty-four hours a day, every day. How concrete is this fact for you?
It's very concrete for Malte Spitz, a German politician and privacy advocate. He used German privacy law — which, like the law of many European countries, gives individuals a right to see what private companies know about them — to force his cell phone carrier to reveal what it knew about him. The result? 35,831 different facts about his cell phone use over the course of six months. As the German newspaper website Zeit Online reports:
By delaying or even blocking security updates for mobile devices, mobile carriers put their users, their business, and the country’s critical infrastructure at unnecessary risk. Mobile security problems plague the entire software stack — the baseband, the kernel, the application frameworks, and the applications — and carriers continue to resist shipping regular and frequent updates.
UPDATE: The Court in OpenMind Solutions v. Does 1 – 2925 heard oral argument on April 11, 2011. At the end of the hearing — during which the judge expressed some initial concerns with OpenMind's attempt to lump the defendants into a class action — the judge requested that OpenMind and EFF submit briefs on the merits of the class action lawsuit. Those briefs will be due in two weeks; we will then wait for a ruling from the Court. In the meantime (as reported below), discovery remains stayed.
Today the House Oversight Committee held a hearing titled, “Why Isn't the Department of Homeland Security Meeting the President’s Standard on FOIA?” As we wrote last October, redacted DHS emails revealed the agency was targeting certain Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and certain FOIA requesters—such as activist groups, watchdog organizations, and journalists—for an extra layer of review by politically-appointed officials within and outside the agency. The emails further revealed EFF was one of the organizations explicitly targeted, and three of our FOIA requests are mentioned specifically.
The numbers confirm the anecdotal evidence: Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is stepping up intellectual propertyrelated enforcement, launching almost half as many cases in the past two months as it had in total in 2010. That’s according to ICE's own statistics, summarized in a larger presentation recently delivered by DHS Assistant Deputy Director Erik Barnett to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy (CACP).
In yesterday's Senate Judiciary Hearing, "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation," FBI Director Robert Mueller testified about the Bureau's desire to extend three expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act -- PATRIOT Section 215, authorizing secret court orders for the Internet and financial records of innocent Americans; the "lone wolf" wiretapping provision, which unconstitutionally allows foreign intelligence investigators to bypass traditional wiretapping protections and spy on people inside the U.S. who have no link to any foreign organization; and the "John Doe" roving wiretap provision, which allows blank-check wiretapping orders that don't identify the suspect or the particular phone or Internet connections to be tapped.