This weekend, we launched a tool that lets you tweet messages directly to your senators about privacy dangers of the cybersecurity bills. And last night we heard from staffers on the Hill that they are receiving tons of tweets. Unlike phone calls, which are tallied at the end of every day, tweets are seen the moment they’re tweeted. That means we have a direct, powerful method of telling senators to defend individual privacy as they move to consider the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 this week.
Visit Stop Cyber Spying to tweet at your senators. And if you run a website, please use the code at the bottom of this page to embed our Twitter tool on your site. Use the hashtag #DefendPrivacy to join thousands who have already spoken out for civil liberties.
Finally, a moment of sanity. Today, Rep. Peter DeFazio, along with co-sponsor Rep. Jason Chaffetz, introduced legislation (HR 6245) in the House of Representatives that would actually help make the patent system work better for innovators and innovation, and make life more difficult for patent trolls.
In early July, EFF joined an international coalition of civil society groups in supporting the new Declaration of Internet Freedom, a set of basic principles for upholding rights in the digital realm. The five core principles of the Declaration address the basic rights to free expression, openness, access, innovation and privacy. Among the Declaration's global signatories are prominent groups and organizations such as Amnesty International, Global Voices Advocacy, the Association for Progressive Communications, the Centre for Internet and Society, Nawaat, and Ushahidi; the full list of more than 1,700 signatories can be found here.
The Senate is about to vote on the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 – perhaps even as early as tomorrow. So we’re in a last push to get concerned Internet users to speak out for privacy before the big vote. If you want to ensure that we don’t compromise our rights to speak and communicate online privately, then please tweet and call your Senators. And now you can do one more thing: post a note on your Senators’ Facebook profiles. Leave comments asking them to stand up for your privacy in the cybersecurity debates. Comments might read something like:
Should the police be allowed to warrantlessly collect and index the DNA of people merely arrested for a crime, while they are still cloaked in the presumption of innocence and have not been found guilty of anything? Over and over again, we've warned courts throughout the country the answer is no, and it now looks like judges are taking notice, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
The idea behind copyright is simple — it is supposed to be a balance in the service of the public interest. There's a trade-off: for accepting a restriction on certain speech, the public benefits from the production of more new creative works each year. That delicate equation is complicated by many factors, and the right policy should find the balance of copyright scope and duration, limitations and exceptions like fair use, and the appropriate remedies in case of infringement.
But in fact, copyright policies almost universally lack the serious cost-benefit analysis that must precede any evidence-based proposal. And indeed, while the unintended costs are clear to anybody who has observed abuse of, say, the DMCA takedown system, the evidence that these policies create incentives — or even prevent harm — is less forthcoming.
The Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (S 3414) Defeated in Senate Vote this Morning
This morning, the US Senate defeated the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, a bill that would have given companies new rights to monitor our private communications and pass that data to the government. The bill sponsors were 8 votes short of the 60 votes necessary to end debate on the bill (vote breakdown here). This is a victory for Internet freedom advocates everywhere. Hundreds of thousands of individuals emailed, tweeted, called, and sent Facebook messages to Senators asking them to defend privacy in the cybersecurity debate. Those voices were heard loud and clear in the halls of Congress today. EFF extends our heartfelt thanks to everyone who fought with us on this issue.
Tajikistan Launches Online Censorship Body
Last week, the former Soviet nation of Tajikistan made headlines for having launched a program of Internet censorship. In fact, the country has been known to selectively block websites for political reasons for several years; this latest news actually involves the introduction of a "volunteer-run body that would monitor the Internet for citizens who criticize President Imomali Rakhmon."
Frivolous, abusive legal attempts to intimidate and silence online critics are hardly rare. From school superintendents to developers to mayors to businesses, bogus lawsuits are often tempting tools for those looking to expose and embarrass critics or simply intimidate them into silence. While we've seen many ridiculous lawsuits filed in recent years aimed at improperly unmasking anonymous online speakers, however, an action filed in the Northern District of California last month stands out given its unusually high number of abusive elements (even for a "John Doe" case).
Recently-released documents show that the FBI has been working since late 2011 with four states—Michigan, Hawaii, Maryland, and possibly Oregon—to ramp up the Next Generation Identification (NGI) Facial Recognition Program. When the program is fully deployed in 2014, the FBI expects its facial recognition database will contain at least 12 million “searchable frontal photos.” (p. 6)
There is a chronic lack of material in formats accessible to the world’s visually impaired and print disabled citizens. Visually impaired people face a “book famine” in which 95% of books published in rich countries and 99% in poorer countries are never converted into accessible formats such as audio, large print or braille.1 The fastest way to address this famine is to change the copyright law: create exceptions and limitations that permit shifting of content into formats accessible to the blind, and allow cross-border exchange of content in accessible formats.
EFF believes that it is vitally important that fair use and exceptions and limitations to copyright be protected in international trade agreements. But the United States Trade Representative (USTR) is putting Fair Use at risk with restrictive language in the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement (TPP). The US and Australia are both proposing very restrictive text, and Peru is willing to accommodate the bad language. KEI reports on the leak of the negotiating TPP text on copyright limitations and exceptions.
The US Senate is currently debating a dangerous bill that, if passed, would have broad consequences for press freedom and the public’s right to know. EFF asks senators to stand up for government transparency and the First Amendment and vote it down.
The bill’s provisions, buried in the annual Intelligence Authorization Act, are intended to stop leaks of classified information to reporters—a premise worrying in itself—but it is written so sloppily it will also severely impair government transparency and prevent the media from reporting on national security issues.
Last week, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in Flava Works v. myVidster, a case that raises questions about embedded videos and copyright infringement. Judge Richard Posner, who wrote the opinion, has a reputation for producing memorable and influential ruling, and this one is no exception. (You might remember that Judge Posner also recently issued an important ruling in a patent case between Apple and Motorola.) In reversing the injunction granted against myVidster, the Seventh Circuit wholly rejected the premise that embedding, linking to, or watching infringing videos constitutes infringement itself.
Essentially, on a complex statutory analysis, the court ruled that the only claim left in the case, for money damages under 50 U.S.C. section 1810, could not be brought against the government itself, and instead could only be brought against government officials in their individual capacity. The court then ruled that the specific claims made against an official in his individual capacity, FBI Director Mueller, were not sufficient and could not be amended.
While the analysis is complex, the upshot is clear and very troubling.
NASA's successful landing on Mars of an SUV-sized nuclear rover from a rocket-skycrane should have marked a high point in collaborative accomplishments between humans and robots. But here on Earth the situation was a bit more tense. That's because, just hours after the celebrated touchdown, Vice Magazine's Motherboard blog broke the news that one of NASA's official clips from the mission had been pulled from YouTube, replaced with a notice from the video site indicating that the "video contains content from Scripps Local News, who has blocked it on copyright grounds."
EFF has previously written about various troubling provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) that is being negotiated under wraps. One other major concern is that TPP seeks to propagate the excessive copyright terms currently found in American copyright legislation, and will become yet another tool of the second enclosure movement: "the enclosure of the intangible commons of the mind."
Citing extraordinary costs and scant results, a high-level French official has announced intentions to defund Hadopi, the government agency charged with shutting off Internet access of individuals accused of repeat copyright infringement. Under the French three strikes law, Internet subscribers whose connection is repeatedly used to share copyrighted material may be disconnected from the Internet and may even have to continue paying for the service (the so-called "double pain"). The three strikes law in France runs contrary to principles of due process, innovation, and free expression—yet has unfortunately served as a template for similar legislation in countries like New Zealand, the UK, and South Korea under pressure from the entertainment industry. Defunding Hadopi may mean that France won't be focusing on enforcing its three strikes law anymore, but that's not enough. France needs to repeal the three strikes law altogether.
When New York Magazine reported that Twitter had declined an NYPD request for identifying information about a Twitter account that had allegedly been posting death threats since May, Harrison Weber at The Next Web titled his response: “Twitter Withholds Information from Police After Troll Threatens Murder.” While this language may make for an attention-grabbing headline, the facts are decidedly more complicated.
In a welcome course correction, craigslist has removed its short-lived provision that required users to grant it an exclusive license to--in other words granting them ownership of--every post. We were unhappily surprised to see this click-through demand, but are glad to see that craigslist has promptly removed it.
For many years, craigslist has been a good digital citizen. Its opposition to SOPA/PIPA was critically important, and it has been at the forefront of challenges to Section 230 and freedom of expression online. We understand that craigslist faces real challenges in trying to preserve its character and does not want third parties to simply reuse its content in ways that are out of line with its user community’s expectations and could be harmful to its users.
Jordan is one of a handful of countries in the Middle East that does not censor access to websites.1 Instead, the government has taken a more liberal approach to Internet regulation, and as a result has attracted companies like Google and Yahoo!, both of which have offices in the capital city of Amman.
We at the Electronic Frontier Foundation would like to thank everyone who took a moment to support our work this summer with a donation, a kind word, a name drop in your presentation, or a stop at an EFF talk at the Black Hat USA, Security BSidesLV, and DEF CON conferences in Las Vegas. We appreciate you stepping forward to recognize that there is a continuing battle to protect not only Coders' Rights, but online freedom for everyone. It's people like you that are helping EFF stem the tide of eroding civil liberties.
LendInk, an innovative site dedicated to helping readers share their legally purchased ebooks with one another, has chosen to shut down in the face of legal intimidation. Despite the fact that the site was apparently operating within the terms of service of the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook, its hosting company was targeted with "hundreds of threats," including cease-and-desist letters.
LendInk didn't even host any ebooks itself: it simply connected users seeking a particular title with other users who had a legally-purchased ebook to lend. The site planned to eventually make money by providing links to purchase books through the Amazon affiliate program, but for the past year it had been operating without income.
Earlier this summer, we applauded Google for releasing detailed stats about content removal requests from copyright holders. Now that we know how they are going to use that data, we are less enthusiastic. Today, Google announced that it would use copyright takedown notices made under the DMCA1 as what it calls a "signal” on search results. Specifically, those "signals" will demote certain websites in search results.
As we noted last June, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Broadcast Treaty—which is a restrictive copyright treaty that aims to create and extend rights to signals of broadcasters and webcasters, and possibly creating serious problems for freedom of expression —is back. Although it has been revamped, it still incorporates the two most controversial proposals from the original treaty text. As concluded by an analysis comissioned by UNESCO back in 2006:
Congress' Aversion to Transparency
While EFF has continually criticized the the Obama administration for their lack of transparency, it's becoming clear that as much—if not more—blame rests with Congress. As we explained recently, new "anti-leaks" legislation proposed in the Senate would restrict press freedoms, markedly increase government secrecy, and do significant damage to the public’s right-to-know. But the Senate has passed other laws increasing secrecy in recent years, and has blocked other proposals that would increase openness in government, as classification expert Steven Aftergood detailed in this excellent blog post.
Responding to Outreach by EFF and the ACLU of Northern California, Facebook Corrects Error and Affirms its Goal of Providing a Politically-Neutral Platform for Election Issues, Including Marijuana Reform
Last week, news outlets reported that Facebook was rejecting ads by advocacy groups working on marijuana policy reform. The ads in question showed marijuana leaves, sometimes with photos of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and urged viewers to join campaigns to make marijuana reform an election issue. Several versions of similar Facebook ads were submitted by Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Just Say Now, but both groups were initially rejected. After EFF and the ACLU of Northern California reached out to Facebook about the issue, Facebook did the right thing and restored the ads.
In just a few hours, protestors are set to march to the headquarters of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) to mark the anniversary of last year's cell service shutdown. A year ago this week, responding to planned protests throughout the BART system, the transit authority cut off cell phone service in four stations in downtown San Francisco. We were among many to draw the connection between BART and Hosni Mubarak, former president of Egypt, who was in the midst of disabling communication networks to quell protests around the same time:
More Activists Convicted on Protest-Related Charges in Oman
The dozens of writers, activists, and bloggers who have been arrested on charges connected to their calls for greater freedoms in Oman in May and early June of 2012 have been brought to trial, convicted, and sentenced in recent weeks. The latest—a group of twelve activists—were sentenced on Wednesday in Oman’s capital, Muscat. Eleven were given a year’s prison and a 200 Riyal ($520) fine for participating in a peaceful protest. One was given a year’s prison sentence for insulting the Sultan. All twelve are expected to be released on bail pending appeal.
Recently, we wrote about Ethiopian blogger Eskinder Nega, who was sentenced under the country's vague counterterrorism to eighteen years in prison for blogging about government corruption.
Individuals and organizations in the U.S. that wish to offer support for Eskinder Nega and freedom of expression in Ethiopia have several options. They can:
At the risk of repeating ourselves, the current patent system is broken. There's considerable evidence to support this claim, too—whether it's innovation-destroying patent trolls or certified "chaos" in legal battles among tech giants. More than 10,000 people have signed onto our Defend Innovation campaign, helpfully providing their thoughts on what works and what doesn't with the patent system, and what kinds of changes would really make things better.
As the violence escalates across Syria, so do the campaigns of targeted malware attacks against Syrian activists, journalists, and members of the opposition, which covertly install surveillance software on their computers. Syrians are growing more aware of the danger these campaigns pose to their security and the security of their friends and loved ones. On Facebook, the Union of Free Students in Syria group has started an album of students holding up signs warning against phishing attacks and malware, with messages that such as, "Assad supporters are sending dangerous files with hacked accounts. Check with your friends before opening an attachment."
Last week, 19 members of the U.S. Congress signed a letter to Bahrain’s king, calling for the release of prominent activist Nabeel Rajab, who was serving a three-month jail sentence for comments he made on Twitter. As have written previously, the Bahraini government has cracked down harshly on dissidents, allegedly utilizing tools such as FinFisher and arresting activists on trumped-up charges.
(Special thanks to EFF Intern Max Mishkin for his help with this blog post)
Just when we thought censorship in Pakistan couldn’t get any worse, it has. After our joint effort with numerous Pakistani and international organizations succeeded in putting plans for a national filter on hold, and Pakistan relented after a brief experiment with blocking Twitter, we thought we could turn our focus elsewhere for a little while.
We were wrong.
Last Friday, the District Court for the Northern District of California issued a ruling that clarifies that the Video Privacy Protection Act (“VPPA”) applies to online video. The court thereby confirmed what EFF has been arguing for quite some time: that this law protects users' online watching habits. This ruling is particularly welcome as the VPPA's protections could now be limited through an amendment that is pending in Congress.
Japan is yet another of many countries where Big Content is working closely with policymakers to enact expansive copyright laws in the name of fighting off threats to their profit bottom lines. In terms of copyright policy, it has been an especially big year for Japan.
In June, the Japanese government passed a new copyright bill that enacted criminal penalties for downloading, uploading, and simply viewing copyrighted materials. The bill also placed brand new restrictions on digital content, such as the criminalization of circumventing DRM on DVDs.
EFF has long contended that existing export controls—maintained by the Departments of Treasury and Commerce—hinder the ability of activists in countries like Syria to communicate. Restrictions on the use of hosting services, antivirus tools, and even circumvention technology make the already-unsafe Syrian Internet even less safe for users. Meanwhile, the Syrian government has repeatedly circumvented sanctions for the purpose of surveilling citizens. These controls are not only ineffective, they’re counterproductive.
EFF has been fighting against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) intellectual property chapter for several years. This agreement poses a great risk to users’ freedoms and access to information on a global scale.
We have created this infographic to capture the most problematic aspects of TPP, and to help users, advocates and innovators from around the world spread the word about how this agreement will impact them and their societies. Right-click and save the image for the PNG file, or you can download the PDF version below.
We thank Lumin Consulting for working with us on this project.
Here’s what you can do:
Are you in the United States?
It's that time again! South by Southwest has launched their Panel Picker, inviting the Internet community to help select the panels that will be featured at the next festival. There are quite a few panels this year featuring EFF staff and friends. We've highlighted a few of them below. Check them out and vote them up if you want to see them in Austin!
As you’ve likely heard, Apple and Samsung continue to duke it out in what commentators have called the “patent trial of the century.” The case involves more than three dozen devices (such as iPhones, iPads, and Galaxy phones and tablets) and various patents, allegedly covering Apple’s designs, “double-click-to-zoom,” 3G technology, and various other functionalities. But what’s really at stake?
Apple argues that it’s been harmed to the tune of $2.5 billion (!) and seeks to have Samsung’s products banned from the market. Samsung claims that Apple owes it at least $400 million in back royalties. Right now, the companies’ fates lie in the hands of the jury, but it’s not Apple or Google who stands to suffer the most harm: it’s the consumer.
EFF and Craig Newmark's team at craigconnects have created an infographic about Section 230 of the controversial Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996. Though many provisions of the CDA was rightfully found to be unconstitutional, Section 230 remained, allowing the Internet to flourish while fostering free speech.
CDA 230 provides websites, blogs, and social networks that host speech with protection against a range of laws that might otherwise hold them legally responsible for what their users say and do.
CDA 230 is a fundamental shield that allows Yelp to host reviews, Craigslist to host classified ads, and Facebook and Twitter to host users' posts. Without it, websites and Internet Service Providers would be costlier, operate with less efficiency, and be motivated to censor.
Spotlight on South Korea
The draft chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on Intellectual Property—as of its current leaked version [PDF], article 16—insists that signatories provide legal incentives for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to privately enforce copyright protection rules. The TPP wants service providers to undertake the financial and administrative burdens of becoming copyright cops, serving a copyright maximalist agenda while disregarding the consequences for Internet freedom and innovation.
Recently, Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) introduced a new federal anti-SLAPP bill called the Free Speech Act of 2012. While the bill doesn’t go nearly far enough, EFF is encouraged to see that Congress is showing renewed interested in passing legislation to prevent so called “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” (SLAPP) that attempt to censor and chill First Amendment protected speech.
Last week, the New York Times published two important op-eds highlighting how the National Security Agency (NSA) has retained expansive powers to warrantlessly wiretap Americans after Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act in 2008. And unlike in 2005—when the exposure of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program provoked widespread outrage—Congress is now all but ignoring ample evidence of wrongdoing, as it debates renewing the FISA Amendments Act before it expires at the end of this year.