More than a year after the start of the "Arab Spring," large portions of the Middle East remain in upheaval. Even in the most stable of countries, press freedom--and by extension, online freedom--remains up for debate. We've highlighted the ongoing debate in Tunisia over online filtering, and have touched on new threats to bloggers in several countries. This week it is legislative proposals in both Iraq and Lebanon that have us on alert.
Iraq's Harsh Informatics Crime Law
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has signed on to a joint statement with a global coalition of organizations to demand the Pakistani Ministry of Information Technology, the Information Communication Technology Research & Development Fund, and the Prime Minister, to publicly commit to stop all efforts to mandate a national Internet filtering and blocking system.
ACLU Public Records Requests Shed New Light on Use of Cell Phone Tracking
Over the weekend, the ACLU released an exhaustive study of state and local law enforcement’s surveillance practices in regards to how often police forces are tracking citizens’ movements through their cell phones. The findings were staggering. As the New York Times reported, the documents prove warrantless cell phone tracking “has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no court oversight, documents show.”
It can't be easy to convince millions of subscribers that there's no reason to be worried when their service providers agree to collaborate with big content to tackle online infringement -- especially when those subscribers weren't given a chance to review or comment on the deal. But yesterday's announcement of the membership of the executive and advisory boards for the Center for Copyright Information, which is in charge of implementing the "graduated response" program announced last year, seemed to be an attempt to do just that. The press release stressed the free speech credentials of the executive director and the identified the various consumer advocates who have agreed to serve on the advisory board. So, all will be fine, right?
New data from law enforcement agencies across the country has confirmed what EFF has long been afraid of: while police are routinely using cell phone location tracking information, only a handful of agencies are bothering to obtain search warrants.
Since 2005, we've been beating the drum loudly, warning that the government's attempts to track a person's physical location through their cell phone requires a search warrant. As we've said again and again, because cell phone tracking can give the government a snapshot of a person's life through their movements, a search warrant is necessary to safeguard against privacy intrusions.
On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister David Cameron and the Interior Ministry were forced to defend a sweeping wiretapping proposal, which would aim to monitor every single email, text message, and phone call flowing through the whole country. The proposal would likely force all UK Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to install “black boxes” on their systems that use Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology, which would give authorities access to all communications data without a warrant or any judicial oversight.
Does the government have a responsibility to protect innocent third parties from collateral damage when it seizes their property in the course of prosecuting alleged copyright infringement? That is the question a federal district court will consider next week in the latest skirmish in the legal battle between the U.S. government and Megaupload.
Since the beginning of the year, pro-Syrian-government hackers have steadily escalated the frequency and sophistication of their attacks on Syrian opposition activists. We have reported on several Trojans, which covertly install spying software onto the infected computer, as well as phishing attacks which steal YouTube and Facebook login credentials.
In February, we documented how a judge in the Northern District of Florida halted 27 copyright troll cases naming over 3,500 individuals to determine whether the copyright troll lawyer, Tarik Hashmi, initiated the cases while being unlicensed to practice law in Florida.
In response to the judge, Hashmi did not deny practicing without a license and instead tried to substitute a lawyer to continue the cases. This week, as noted in the Order attached below, the court not only dismissed the substitution, but also all of the cases.
The Internet can breathe a sigh of relief today. In the latest twist in the long-running Viacom v. YouTube litigation, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals revived the entertainment giant’s suit against Google – but simultaneously eviscerated most of the legal theories on which the lawsuit was based.
Here’s the quick and dirty: Back in 2010, a district court threw out Viacom’s suit against YouTube, finding that the safe harbors outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protected YouTube from all copyright liability. Viacom appealed, based on unprecedented legal theories that, if adopted, would have rendered the DMCA safe harbors a dead letter.
Things are heating up in the Do Not Track campaign. Next week, EFF Technology Projects Director Peter Eckersley will be joining Internet engineers, privacy advocates, and industry groups in Washington, DC for intense negotiations around the future of online tracking. Here’s our overview of the latest developments likely to influence the Do Not Track campaign during the crucial upcoming weeks.
W3C Tracking Protection Working Group Convenes in DC
Chris Dodd, Chair of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was quoted yesterday as saying he is "confident" negotiations for a SOPA revival are taking place. While it's tempting to write off that confidence as the result of watching one too many zombie movies, it should be no surprise that the MPAA is pushing for a new backroom deal.
Pinterest's Terms of Service has been gaining widespread attention lately in the tech press. It began in late February with a blogpost from a lawyer "tearfully deleting" a Pinterest page because she feared potential legal liability for posting professional photographs, and gained a steady stream of press through March.
In Colombia, executive lawmakers are hastily pushing through a new copyright reform law for Congressional approval ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit to Colombia in mid-April for the Summit of the Americas. In doing so, they are skirting existing legislative processes and forcing through a bill that exceeds international and US norms at the cost of Colombian citizens’ rights.
Do Not Track continues its surge of momentum in the past few months. As we document in The State of Do Not Track, a number of stakeholders are recognizing the importance of user control over whether or not an online company can track users and how much information, if any, the company can collect. Noticeably absent from the conversation are hard numbers on users' attitudes towards online behavioral advertising, or "targeted advertising."
In the last few weeks, we’ve seen surprising and significant developments with the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in both the US and the EU. This is the first in a series of posts detailing the current state of play. Today, we’re reviewing recent U.S. developments and what we and others are doing to highlight the illegitimacy of this controversial agreement. In February, EFF submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the U.S. State Department, seeking a copy of the “Circular 175” memorandum for ACTA, and the accompanying Memorandum of Law – key documents regarding the constitutionality of ACTA. The State Department is due to respond tomorrow.
Palestinian Authority Arrests Journalists for Facebook Posts
Amidst rumors of new website blocking in the West Bank, a more troubling development has emerged: The Palestinian Authority arrested two journalists and a university lecturer last month for newspaper articles and Facebook posts that authorities deemed "slanderous."
The Polish digital civil rights group Panoptykon Foundation recently published harrowing findings regarding abuses of Poland’s mandatory data retention law. Using a Freedom of Information Act request, Panoptykon obtained documents that reveal that in 2011, Polish authorities requested users’ traffic data retained by telcos and ISPs over 1.85 million times—half a million times more than in 2010. These findings underscore fundamental flaws in the Polish mandatory data retention law that was fast-tracked in legislation without public debate in 2009.
Police shouldn’t be able to get your sensitive location data – information that can reveal your religion, health, hobbies, and politics – on a whim. That’s why EFF is a sponsor of a new bill in the California legislature that would ensure law enforcement obtains a warrant before acquiring a person’s location information from an electronic device like a cell phone.
Informal negotiations are underway in Chile this week on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). Up for negotiation are provisions dealing with intellectual property – including online copyright enforcement, DMCA-style digital locks, and Internet intermediary liability.
TPP countries are holding informal inter-sessional discussions this week to nudge countries closer to agreement on the controversial intellectual property provisions ahead of the next formal round of negotiations in May. While there is no public stakeholder forum, legal academics and civil society experts from various TPP countries are holding an informative seminar tomorrow [PDF] to highlight how leaked TPP texts would harm access to knowledge and affordable medicine.
New Yorkers: Worried about whether you will have a right to watch local TV broadcasts on your Internet devices? Aereo is a company that lets users watch their local channels by renting a dime-sized antenna at Aereo's facility - one per customer. The signal from that antenna gets sent over the Internet to a single user. In effect, the company moves the "rabbit ears" antenna from the top of your TV set to a central facility. Aereo, like the VCR, the DVR, and many other video technologies, simply lets people watch the TV shows they already have a legal right to watch at different places and times, and on different devices. And just like they did with many of those technologies, copyright owners are suing to shut it down.
Meet up with EFF in Boston next Thursday, April 19th! Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann and Senior Staff Technologist Seth Schoen will be at SOURCE Boston to present "Defending Privacy at the U.S. Border: A Guide for Travelers Carrying Digital Devices," and they are looking forward to speaking with EFF members in the area.
47% of All Internet Users Experience Censorship, Says OpenNet Initiative
According to the OpenNet Initiative (ONI)--a joint initiative of Harvard University, the University of Toronto and the SecDev Group--47% of the world's Internet users experience some form of fractured Internet. ONI bases their research on technical testing in 74 countries, 42 of which the researchers found engage in "some form of filtering of content." Though the aforementioned statistic (47%, or 960 million Internet users) includes countries like Morocco that engage only in "selective" blocking of websites, 31% of the world's Internet users live in countries that engage in "substantial" or "pervasive" online censorship.
Vietnam Aiming to be Enemy #1 (of the Internet)
The United Arab Emirates signed a deal with telecommunications company, Etisalat, to embed citizens' national ID information into mobile phones. They will now be exploring a system that would utilize an NFC or Near Field Communication application, which allows cell phones to communicate data via radio frequency within very close range. The UAE has had a national ID system since 2004, with IDs carrying a chip similar to one on a credit card and holding a person's name, birthday, gender, photograph, fingerprint, and ID number.
EFF recently received records from the Miami-Dade Police Department in response to a Public Records request for information on its drone program. These records provide additional insight into domestic drone use in the United States, and they reinforce the importance of public access to information on who is authorized to fly drones inside US borders.
Judges Increasingly Catching On to Copyright Trolls' Unfair Tactics
Life under the bridge is a bit less comfortable for copyright trolls these days, as a series of legal losses continues to undermine their misguided business model. Trolls make their money through variations on a simple scheme: file mass copyright lawsuits against thousands of people at once without regard for whether they're in the right court, get a judge to give them power to obtain identifying information for the anonymous “Does,” and then send settlement demand letters threatening to name these Does in a lawsuit if he or she doesn’t pay up. In many cases, troll lawsuits are based on allegations of downloading pornography, creating additional pressure to settle rather than risk the embarrassment of being publicly named as watching dirty movies online.
Numerous commentators have noted the sore thumb in the group of supporters for The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA): Facebook. Why would a social network be endorsing a bill that would allow companies to pass personal information about Internet users to the government without any form of judicial oversight? A number of recent articles have discussed the issue, and already one digital rights group has launched a campaign to convince Facebook to drop support of the bill.
This week, EFF—along with a host of other civil liberties groups—are protesting the dangerous new cybersecurity bill known as CISPA that will be voted on in the House on April 23. EFF has compiled an FAQ detailing the how the bill's major provisions work and how they endanger all Internet users' privacy.
You may have already heard about CISPA, the cybersecurity bill moving quickly through the House that would let companies like Google, Facebook, and AT&T snoop on our communications and hand sensitive user data to the government without a court order. Promoted under the guise of protecting America from cybersecurity attacks, the truth is that this legislation would carve out shockingly large exceptions to the bedrock privacy rights of Internet users.
That’s why EFF is joining a coalition of other organizations in speaking out against this cyber spying bill – and we’re calling on the Internet community to join us.
The fifth W3C meeting on Do Not Track was held in Washington DC last week. While progress has been made on many aspects of the standard for Do Not Track, several deep disagreements remain between privacy advocates and representatives of the online tracking industry.
Most seriously, ad industry representatives maintain that they need to be allowed to continue setting third-party tracking cookies on browsers that send the Do Not Track HTTP header. This coalition of companies say they "only" want to track opted-out users for security purposes, market research, testing and improving their various advertising and tracking products, auditing, copyright enforcement and other "legal compliance" purposes, and "frequency capping" in order to manage online advertising campaigns — but not any other purposes.
On Friday, EFF went to court to argue that innocent Megaupload customers like Kyle Goodwin should be able to get their lost files back. We were particularly concerned because the government, which had originally seized the files and still apparently holds all of Megaupload's financial assets, had argued that it had no obligation to make sure the files of innocent Megaupload users were returned and, in fact, believed that they could be destroyed.
Yesterday, EFF and other civil liberties organizations launched a campaign to change the public discussion around the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), a cybersecurity bill introduced by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) (H.R. 3523). The bill would carve out huge exemptions to bedrock privacy law and allow companies to share private user data with the government without any judicial oversight. The result? Untold and unfettered personal data flowing from online service providers like AT&T and Google to government agencies like the NSA.
Today, Twitter announced the Innovator’s Patent Agreement (“IPA”), an important tool in the fight to improve a broken patent system. They've posted the agreement to the collaborative development platform GitHub and are looking for feedback. It's become clear that traditional patent approaches just don’t make sense when we’re talking about software, so we’re encouraged to see Twitter’s efforts to let people take matters into their own hands.
Continuing our campaign against the cyberspying bill better known as CISPA, EFF has signed on to two coalition letters urging legislators to drop their support for the Rogers cybersecurity bill (HR 3523). One coalition is focused on the disastrous privacy implications of the bill, while the other identifies major government accountability issues it would introduce.
Over the past decade, and particularly in the past year, media and civil society have had success through naming and shaming companies acting as “repression’s little helper”: U.S. and E.U. companies who have helped authoritarian countries censor the Internet and surveil their citizens with sophisticated technology. Today, EFF published a whitepaper outlining our suggestions for how companies selling surveillance and filtering technologies can avoid assisting repressive regimes.
In that vein, the newly-amended Global Online Freedom Act (GOFA), just passed by a House Sub-Committee, while far from perfect, is an important step toward protecting human rights and free expression online.
Thai journalist Chiranuch Premchaiporn, better know by her pen name Jiew, is awaiting an April 30th court verdict that could sentence her to years in prison for violating Thailand’s draconian crackdown against free speech. Jiew’s case has focused international attention on Thailand’s lèse majesté laws, which have been used to block websites and suppress political dissent. The ruling will help clarify liability for Internet intermediaries such as Jiew, who is the director of the popular Prachatai news site.
On Monday, EFF launched our Stop Cyber Spying platform featuring our new Congressional Twitter Handle Detection Tool. Users can enter a zip code in order to find their Representative’s Twitter account. Folks are then urged to tweet messages to their Representatives highlighting the invasive nature of the CISPA cyber spying bill, a vaguely written piece of legislation that would let companies bypass privacy law and share private user information with the government.
And now, you can have our Congressional Twitter Handle Detection Tool for yourself!
Here's some code we cooked up to create an embeddable iframe version of the tool. We urge anyone who has a website to embed their own copy by pasting this code into their site, so more users will learn about CISPA and tweet at Congress to oppose it.
View Map of Domestic Drone Authorizations in a larger map
At first blush, it seems obvious that a picture could reveal your location. A picture of you standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge sensibly leads to the conclusion you're in the San Francisco Bay Area when the photo was taken. But now that smartphones are quickly supplanting traditional digital cameras, and even traditional cameras now have wifi built in, many more pictures are finding their way onto the web, in places like Twitter, Flickr, Google+ and Tumblr.
EFF Releases New Government Documents on Drones and Law Enforcement Training
Iran: Authorities Seeking Information on Censorship Tools
The Islamic Republic of Iran has recently become notorious for its efforts to create a “halal” Internet. This week, a security researcher found that Iranian authorities published a “Request for Information” (RFI) seeking details on new types of censorship tools that are available in the market. Ars Technica reported that the Persian language RFI calls for “proper conditions for domestic experts in order to build a healthy Web and organize the current filtering situation.” The deadline for response was yesterday, April 19.
Yesterday, EFF participated in a panel discussion about CISPA moderated by CNET's Declan McCullagh and put on by Hackers and Founders. We were happy to have the opportunity to do so, and although we disagreed quite a bit with a key proponent of the bill, House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee staffer Jamil Jaffer, one area where we agreed is that more people should read the text of the bill. Let's not let this legislation rush through right when people are starting to question it—if Jamil and other staffers stand behind the bill, why not give it another week or two to let the public debate mature?
According to a report from Ma’an News published today, the Palestinian Authority has ordered the blocking of websites belonging to eight news outlets critical of President Mahmoud Abbas. The report states that technicians at PalTel—the largest ISP in the West Bank—tweaked their proxy server and web cache daemon to block the sites, while other ISPs are using similar setups. The blocking is inconsistent across ISPs, with at least one failing to block certain sites on the list.
The blocked sites—which Ma’an discovered with the help of a new project, the Open Observatory of Network Interference, founded by Jacob Appelbaum and Arturo Filasto—include the following sites:
Remember over-the-air broadcast television? The kind that you can receive on a variety of devices, without scrambling or monthly fees? For decades, the principle that the public airwaves are just that – public property – has been an obstacle to TV studios’ efforts to control when, where, and how we watch their programs – and at what price-point. But that hasn’t stopped them from trying. The latest target is Aereo, a New York City startup that lets users stream local broadcast TV from a dime-sized antenna on a Brooklyn rooftop to their personal devices.
On Monday, President Obama, in a speech at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, announced new measures to help curb human rights violations by the Syrian and Iranian governments. These measures include an executive order targeting people and companies facilitating human-rights abuses with technology, as well as a set of “challenge grants” that would fund companies to help create new technologies for the purpose of warning citizens in countries where mass killings may occur.