"Individuals can be penalised, made to suffer (oh, how I miss my child) and even killed. But democracy is a destiny of humanity which can not be averted. It can be delayed but not defeated… I sleep in peace, even if only in the company of lice, behind bars."
- a letter attributed to imprisoned blogger Eskinder Nega, serving 18 years for journalism in Ethiopia
September 4, 2013
Dear Secretary of State John Kerry,
This month marks the second anniversary of Eskinder Nega’s imprisonment. When you visited Ethiopia in May, Eskinder Nega had already been imprisoned – and thus silenced - for over a year. It’s time for the United States to use its considerable influence to vigorously and directly advocate Nega’s freedom and, in the process, to promote free expression and independent journalism throughout Ethiopia.
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the enforcement of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which brought new levels of Internet censorship to libraries across the country. CIPA was signed into law in 2000 and found constitutional by the Supreme Court in 2003. The law is supposed to encourage public libraries and schools to filter child pornography and obscene or “harmful to minors” images from the library’s Internet connection in exchange for continued federal funding.
In a major victory in one of EFF's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits, the Justice Department conceded yesterday that it will release hundreds of pages of documents, including FISA court opinions, related to the government’s secret interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the law the NSA has relied upon for years to mass collect the phone records of millions of innocent Americans.
In a court filing, the Justice Department, responding to a judge’s order, said that they would make public a host of material that will “total hundreds of pages” by next week, including:
In one of the most significant leaks to date regarding National Security Agency (NSA) spying, the New York Times, the Guardian, and ProPublica reported today that the NSA has gone to extraordinary lengths to secretly undermine our secure communications infrastructure, collaborating with GCHQ (Britain's NSA equivalent) and a select few intelligence organizations worldwide.
The court battles over Internet TV are heating up again, and their resolution will determine whether content owners have a veto right on TV watchers' ability to access TV in new and innovative ways. Yesterday, the federal district court in Washington DC ordered FilmOn (formerly called Aereokiller) to shut down its service that brought local broadcast TV to the Internet in major cities. The order directly contradicts the decisions of several New York federal courts, including the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, FilmOn has an appeal pending before the Ninth Circuit, which means we’ll be hearing from yet another court shortly, and possibly the Supreme Court down the line. Even Congress may get involved.
This week, trade delegates met in San Francisco to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement's e-commerce chapter. It's likely that this secret chapter carries provisions that whittle away at user data protections [pdf]. But we weren't able to say so at this meeting. Not only have they neglected to notify digital rights groups—including EFF, which is based in San Francisco—about the meeting, we could not even discover where it was taking place.
Delegates from TPP countries are right now holding these secretive "inter-sessional" meetings here and in other undisclosed cities around the world. Trade reps for specific issue areas are hammering out "unresolved" issues that are holding up the conclusion of the agreement, and doing so by becoming even more secretive and evasive than ever.
Many people want to build secure Internet services that protect their users against surveillance, or the illegal seizure of their data. When EFF is asked how to build these tools, our advice is: don't start from scratch. Find a public, respected, project which provides the privacy-protecting quality you want in your own work, and find a way to implement your dream atop these existing contributions.
So, for instance, the New Yorker's Strongbox, a dropbox for anonymous sources, uses Tor as its basis to provide anonymity to its users. If you want anonymity in your app, building your tool on top of Tor's backbone means you can take advantage of its experience and future improvements, as well as letting you contribute back to the wider community.
We have a new opportunity to make our voices heard in the fight against mass surveillance—and less than a month in which to do it.
On Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) published a blog post on its Tumblr requesting public comments on surveillance. Specifically, the newly created Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies is seeking public comment on
As we work hard to promote encryption on the web through tools like our browser extension HTTPS Everywhere, we also pay close attention to attacks that undermine the security of that encryption. That's why we were dismayed by last Thursday's revelations about the National Security Agency's aggressive efforts to undermine the ability of citizens to communicate securely. It's not surprising that the NSA would try to break cryptographic systems in whatever way they can, but the deeply pernicious nature of this campaign—undermining national standards and sabotaging hardware and software—as well as the amount of overt private sector cooperation are both shocking.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco will hear oral arguments Tuesday in Doe v. Harris, EFF's challenge to California's Proposition 35, which requires registered sex offenders to turn over all of their Internet identifiers and service providers to local law enforcement authorities.
The NSA revelations have shown us the tip of the iceberg of the United States’ unconstitutional spying. It’s not just the United States, however, that has been evading its citizens privacy rights in the pursuit of mass surveillance. NGOs around the world have been documenting the rise of mandatory data retention regimes, unlawful interception, and overreaching state surveillance everywhere. These projects to reveal the breadth of the problem are difficult to fund, and often have to face stonewalling secrecy and government interference with precious few resources.
Fortunately, the Web We Want campaign has just launched a small grant program specifically to fund this essential work. NGOs and individuals will be able to apply any amount, between USD $1000 and USD $3000, towards the costs of research, report writing, media work, and advocacy.
The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) just today released hundreds of pages of documents related to the government's secret interpretation of Patriot Act Section 215 and the NSA's (mis)use of its massive database of every American's phone records. The documents were released as a result of EFF's ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
We've posted links to each document below. While the government also posted many of the documents here, our copies are completely searchable.
Our legal team is currently poring over them and will have much more analysis soon, but intelligence officials held a call with reporters about the content of the documents this morning, and made several revealing comments.
Today, in response to Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released hundreds of pages of documents about the NSA telephone call record program. The documents primarily concern events in 2009, when the FISA court first learned that the NSA had been misusing its phone records surveillance program for years. We're still reviewing the documents, but here are a few particularly interesting items we've uncovered so far.
Clapper's Continued Trouble with the Truth
Internet freedom has gone from bad to worse in Vietnam as an online censorship law known as Decree 72 went into effect this month. It bans bloggers and users of social media from quoting, gathering, or summarizing information from press organizations or government websites. While the main justification for the law is to uphold "national security," Vietnamese authorities also claim that this law is aimed at combating online copyright infringement.
Should we fear open source software? Of course not. But that hasn’t stopped federal courts from issuing bizarre warnings like this:
The court would like to make CM/ECF filers aware of certain security concerns relating to a software application or .plug-in. called RECAP … Please be aware that RECAP is “open-source” software, which can be freely obtained by anyone with Internet access and modified for benign or malicious purposes … .
To understand this strange edict, we need to review the history of RECAP and why it might be unpopular with court officials.
The veil of secrecy around the government's illegal and unconstitutional use of both Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is being lifted. As a result, Congress has seen a flurry of legislation to try and fix the problems; however, as we've been saying since June there are far more questions than answers about the spying. And Congress must create a special investigative committee to find out the answers.
When a statute is clear, judges are supposed to follow it or explain, in some detail, why they shouldn’t. That’s why we were disappointed by this week's ruling in Tuteur v. Crosley Corcoran. In the ruling, the judge suggests that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) does not require the sender of a takedown notice to affirm anything except its belief that the targeted material is being used without permission from the owner or its agent. Trouble is, the statute says something very different, i.e., that the sender must affirm that the material is not authorized by “the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.”
Acxiom, a data broker that collects 1,500 data points per person on over 700 million consumers total and sells analysis of such information, is trying to ward off federal privacy regulations by flaunting transparency—a diluted term, in this case—around user data. The company just launched AboutTheData.com, a site that will let users see and edit some information that Acxiom has about them—only "some," since Acxiom's analytics reveal far more information about you (living habits and personal preferences) that isn't readily available to you, but is sold to partner companies.
Is a Wi-Fi signal the equivalent of an FM radio station, blasting classic rock ballads through your car speakers?
Not to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued its long awaited decision in Joffe v. Google this week, the case where Google was sued for allegedly violating the Wiretap Act when its Street View cars sucked up data from wireless routers as it passed by.
One by one, courts are recognizing and shutting down copyright trolls' most unscrupulous legal tactics. Last week, a federal court in Wisconsin sanctioned a lawyer for adult film producer Malibu Media (also known as X-Art) for filing lists of "disturbing lewd, unusual and unredacted titles of pornographic films allegedly also downloaded by the defendant" but not produced by Malibu, in eleven lawsuits. Judge William Conley said that the list "appears calculated principally to harass defendants." The ruling will hopefully put a stop to this awful tactic nationwide.
The surveillance scandal has now reached the United Nation’s Human Rights Council, which opened its 24th session last week to a volley of questions about privacy and spying, many of them targeted at the United States and United Kingdom. (That's perhaps not surprising, since U.N. representatives were among those listed as being monitored by the NSA and GCHQ).
In a welcome and commendable move, LinkedIn, the business social networking giant, has filed an amicus brief in EFF’s landmark case challenging the statute governing National Security Letters (NSLs) as an unconstitutional prohibition of free speech (read the full brief here). LinkedIn has also filed a motion with the FISA court arguing it’s their First Amendment right to publish how many users are affected by FISA court orders, which have been at the center of the NSA scandal.
The infamous patent troll Lodsys has been bothering app developers for almost three years now, claiming that in-app pay-to-upgrade functionality infringes its patents. No matter that Apple and Google provide that technology to the developers, and no matter that most app developers can't afford this kind expensive patent litigation.
To their credit, both Apple and Google have made efforts to defend their app developers—Google challenged the Lodsys patents at the Patent Office and Apple moved to intervene in the lawsuit against app developers. Today, we, along with the Application Developers Alliance, filed a brief in support of Apple's efforts.
Over the past few years, Morocco has made great strides increasing Internet access to its 32.5 million citizens. Between 2008 and 2013, its population of Internet users has increased from 10.2 million to 17.8 million,1 pushing growth in Morocco’s IT sector. The Moroccan government has put significant resources into increasing Internet access in schools and expanding e-government platforms.
Is it possible that last year's disastrous Supreme Court decision affirming the withdrawal of millions of works from the public domain (at least in the U.S.) might set the stage for good constitutional challenges to bad copyright law? That's the argument that copyright scholar Neil Netanel makes in a recent article on the impact of that case on the First Amendment.
According to Netanel, one often-overlooked aspect of the opinion is that the Court explicitly identified fair use as an essential “First Amendment accommodation” that cannot be disturbed if copyright law is to survive First Amendment scrutiny. In the process, the Court may have poked a hole in the already shaky constitutional justifications for anti-user sections of copyright law.
A Congressional hearing and a glossy new paper published yesterday by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) both underscore a major push by the copyright lobby to establish extra-legal "voluntary agreements" with search engines, similar to the "Copyright Alert" surveillance machine already in place with some ISPs. These sorts of agreements represent a troubling move towards enforcement regimes that have the speech-squashing capabilities of actual law, but not the corresponding due process or accountability.
It turns out two tech startups have banded together with patent trolls in order to fight off insane instances of patent assertion.
While this sentence may cause you to do a double take, it's sadly true. In the face of costly, time-wasting litigation, two young businesses have found their key allies to be the same entities that make life a living hell for thousands of other companies.
Nest Labs, a company that makes smart thermostats, entered into a licensing agreement with the notorious Intellectual Ventures, gaining access to their large patent portfolio. This deal would ostensibly help Nest fend off legal action from competitor Honeywell. In essence, Intellectual Ventures is acting as an arms dealer, allowing Nest to bulk up its arsenal.
In a Geneva room full of representatives from nations around the world, some of the world's largest privacy organizations, including EFF, today warned the United Nations of the dangers of the mass Internet spying being conducted by its own members. We used the side-event on privacy to officially launch our 13 Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, which is intended to return the rule of law to these, and future, digital surveillance programs.
The Senate Judiciary Committee last week approved a new version of the proposed media shield law, forging a compromise on who should be protected from having to reveal their journalistic sources in court. The amended bill, which is now clear to go for a full vote in the Senate, avoids defining who is a “journalist.” Moreover, it would allow judges the discretion to apply the protection to any person who, in the interest of justice, should be considered a practicing journalist.
The bill is far from perfect, but the new compromise opens the door to non-mainstream journalists, as well as new forms of journalism that may develop in the future.
As the highest court in Massachusetts considers whether cell-site data is private in the context of the Fourth Amendment, we filed an amicus brief arguing that when the police want to be able to recreate your every step—figuring out your patterns of movement, where you've been and with whom—they must obtain a search warrant.
Patent reform is heating up in Congress. Today House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte released a second discussion draft aimed at preventing abusive patent troll litigation. Chairman Goodlatte has suggested he will move quickly to hold a hearing and committee vote on this legislation.
Today’s draft incorporates many reforms that EFF has long been pushing for. These include:
You'd think a controversial publisher like Playboy would recognize the importance of respecting free speech. But when feminist group FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture created a parody site posing as the magazine, Playboy was quick to complain to the activists and their Internet service provider, May First/People Link. The crux of Playboy's complaint? The activists had used the Playboy name and logo.
The parody site was intended to raise awareness about the importance of consent and resisting what the activists call "rape culture." The campaign is funny, smart, and even educational. It was also immediately recognized by the press for the parody that it was.
Each year, EFF's Pioneer Awards ceremony gives the digital civil liberties community a chance to honor the work of those who have bettered our world through remarkable innovation, activism, journalism, or leadership. This year, we were proud to celebrate the lives and work of James Love, Aaron Swartz, and Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, and to hear an extraordinary keynote address from Professor Lawrence Lessig, as well as remarks from Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman.
Amidst the grave challenges faced by our friends and fellow travelers, the Pioneer Awards ceremony often grants a unique moment for celebrating the genuine joy of fighting for what's right. But this year's event also invoked tense and challenging emotions that underscored the urgency of our times.
Join EFF & The Stopwatching.us Coalition in DC on October 26th
This summer, some of our worst fears and suspicions about the NSA have been confirmed. We now have evidence that the NSA is actively undermining the basic security of the Internet. It is collecting millions and millions of phone records of individuals not suspected of any crime. It is surveilling journalists.
The NSA’s overreaching surveillance is creating a climate of fear and chilling free speech. Its addiction to secrecy makes real accountability impossible
Customs & Border Protection released a new list to EFF this week that details the extensive number of times that the agency has flown its Predator drones on behalf of other agencies—500 flights in total over a three-year period. This list shows, yet again, how little we know about drone flights in this country and how important it is that we place limits on drone use to protect Americans’ privacy rights.
A federal judge ordered the government to unseal more documents concerning the NSA spying programs by December 20, 2013. The judge issued the ruling in EFF's lawsuit, Jewel v. NSA, which began in 2008 over the NSA spying program initiated by the Bush Administration, which continues to this day.
In light of the declassifications inspired by the June leaks, Judge Jeffrey White ordered the government to unseal any declassified material, like exhibits, declarations, and other ex parte submissions that the government had previously submitted to the court under seal.
Imagine a conversation in the kitchen --
"Patrick did you eat the pie I left on the counter this morning?"
"Mom, I did not eat it for breakfast."
"That's not what I asked. Did you eat it anytime?"
"Any other information is in the classified report."
Would that work in your house?
That's essentially what the government has been saying to the public and to Congress for years now, most recently with General Alexander dodging and providing nonanswers in response to questioning from Senator Wyden.
In the latest salvo in the battle to defend the right to publish the law, EFF filed a counterclaim on Friday against three standards development organizations (“SDOs”), asking a federal court in Washington to declare that the online publication of safety codes does not violate copyright or trademark law. We are joined in the effort by co-counsel Fenwick & West LLP, Durie Tangri LLP, and David Halperin.
The competition is fierce, but Lodsys might be the worst patent troll in America. Using vaguely worded early-90s patents that barely rise above gibberish, it has waged a massive campaign of lawsuits and intimidation against small application developers. Last week saw two big stories in the ongoing Lodsys saga.
It's no secret that the copyright lobby exerts an undue influence in shaping Internet policy. But the mechanisms by which that happens—which can include not just the legislative bodies of dozens of countries, but also backroom, off the record dealings—can be confusing and opaque, even to people following it closely.
In a new book out this month, A Copyright Masquerade, veteran journalist Dr. Monica Horten goes deep into those details to detail how the entertainment industries gain political sway, and how policymakers respond to the industry's advances.