Join EFF and websites across the world in protesting the dangerous censorship legislation currently pending in Congress.
On January 18th, EFF will join websites across the world in standing up against the proposed blacklist bills (SOPA in the House and the PROTECT IP Act in the Senate). EFF is calling on websites to be part of the protest by blacking out their logos, posting statements opposing the bills, and linking to our action center. Websites are also encouraged to follow the powerful examples of Reddit, Wikipedia and others by “blacking out” their entire site for a day. If you do choose to take down your website in protest, please be sure to post a message about why you oppose the blacklist bills and consider linking to the EFF action center so site visitors can take the next step and contact Congress.
On the 18th, EFF will censor our banner logo and black out the background of eff.org. We’ve also created a new activism platform at http://blacklist.eff.org. Sites are encouraged to direct traffic here so users can contact Congress to make their voices heard in opposition to this misguided censorship legislation.
The blacklist bills are dangerous: if made into law, they would hamper innovation, kill jobs, wreak havoc on Internet security, and undermine the free speech principles upon which our country was founded. But deep-pocketed lobbyists are trying to ram this legislation through as quickly as possible, hoping elected officials will turn a blind eye to the widespread opposition to these bills. We can’t let that happen.
January 18th is just the beginning. We’re also gearing up for a day of action on January 23rd when the Senate will be back in session and getting ready to vote on the Protect-IP Act, SOPA’s sister bill. We’re calling on digital activists and Internet users everywhere to call Senators on the 24th and voice their opposition to this censorship legislation. Despite the chorus of opposition from human rights advocates and the tech community, Senators are still trying to push through this dangerous censorship bill. We need all hands on deck to make sure that doesn’t happen.
If you love the interactive, speech-friendly, decentralized digital world of the Internet as much as we do, then please join us in fighting these dangerous bills.
For more than a year, Icelandic Member of Parliament and EFF client Birgitta Jonsdottir—along with security researchers Jacob Appelbaum and Rop Gonggrijp—has fought the efforts of the Department of Justice to force Twitter to give up information about their online activities. In December of 2010, the government obtained a court order requiring, among other things, Twitter to hand over their IP addresses at login (which can be used to trace their locations) along with a long list of other information. EFF, with the ACLU and a host of private attorneys, fought back, but the U.S. courts rebuffed our efforts.
The courts’ analysis is troubling on many grounds. One such ground is the fact that the courts determined Ms. Jonsdottir’s information could be seized despite the fact that Ms. Jonsdottir, whose actions on behalf of Wikileaks all seem to have occurred in Iceland, appears to have complete immunity against this investigation under Icelandic law as a member of the Icelandic Parliament.
While Ms. Jonsdottir’s specific situation is unique, many non-U.S. users of Twitter are rightfully unnerved. At least according to the magistrate and judge in Virginia, all of a users' communications records can be subject to review by the U.S. government without a warrant because the users chose to use an online "cloud" service that stores data about them in the U.S.
But even as the U.S. courts have refused to see the dangerous implications of their rulings, others have appropriately raised alarm. In a little noticed story last fall, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which represents members of parliament from 157 countries, issued a stunning rebuke to the United States and the Department of Justice over its investigation into Ms. Jonsdottir. In a unanimous declaration, the IPU condemned the Justice Department’s conduct as a violation of Ms. Jonsdottir’s free speech and privacy rights, and even suggested the demands for her private information violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The IPU noted astutely that “the legal framework concerning the use of electronic media, including social media, does not appear to provide sufficient guarantees to ensure respect for freedom of expression, access to information and the right to privacy; the guarantees protecting freedom of expression and privacy in the 'offline world' seem not to operate in the ‘online world.’”
The IPU is, of course, right. The laws governing stored communications online were written before the World Wide Web even existed and are severely outdated. Congress' failure to update the laws only increases the harm to users as more of our activists move online.
The IPU also noted the special concerns of Parliamentarians by addressing the confluence of the democratic process, privacy protections, and freedom of expression: “For members of parliament, it is essential that any private communication they receive is accorded the same level of protection regardless of the technology, platform and business model used to create, communicate and store it. This does not appear to be the case today.”
The IPU continued on the topic of freedom of expression noting: “In all countries, freedom of expression is essential to democracy; citizens cannot exercise their right to vote or take part in public decision-making if they lack free access to information and ideas and are unable to express their views freely.” The IPU noted correctly that without these freedoms “members of parliament cannot represent the people who have elected them.”
The IPU’s declaration on behalf of Ms. Jonsdottir should serve as a warning to the United States. While the U.S. government advocates for greater Internet freedom abroad, it is vital the U.S. serves as an example for how other governments should approach free speech and privacy online, for both parliamentarians and ordinary people. Especially when confronted by the concerns of elected officials, to do otherwise not only tarnishes our image, but also betrays the foundations of our own representative democracy.
Over the weekend, the Obama administration issued a potentially game-changing statement on the blacklist bills, saying it would oppose PIPA and SOPA as written, and drew an important line in the sand by emphasizing that it “will not support” any bill “that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet."
Yet, the fight is still far from over. Even though the New York Times reported that the White House statement "all but kill[s] current versions of the legislation," the Senate is still poised to bring PIPA to the floor next week, and we can expect SOPA proponents in the House to try to revive the legislation—unless they get the message that these initiatives must stop, now. So let’s take a look at the dangerous provisions in the blacklist bills that would violate the White House’s own principles by damaging free speech, Internet security, and online innovation:
The Anti-Circumvention Provision
In addition to going after websites allegedly directly involved in copyright infringement, a proposal in SOPA will allow the government to target sites that simply provide information that could help users get around the bills’ censorship mechanisms. Such a provision would not only amount to an unconstitutional prior restraint against protected speech, but would severely damage online innovation. And contrary to claims by SOPA’s supporters, this provision—at least what’s been proposed so far—applies to all websites, even those in the U.S.
As First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori points out, “The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites for anti-circumvention so they are not subject to court actions ‘enjoining’ them from continuing to provide ‘such product or service.’” That means social media sites like Facebook or YouTube—basically any site with user generated content—would have to police their own sites, forcing huge liability costs onto countless Internet companies. This is exactly why venture capitalists have said en masse they won’t invest in online startups if PIPA and SOPA pass. Websites would be forced to block anything from a user post about browser add-ons like DeSopa, to a simple list of IP addresses of already-blocked sites.
Perhaps worse, EFF has detailed how this provision would also decimate the open source software community. Anyone who writes or distributes Virtual Private Network, proxy, privacy or anonymization software would be negatively affected. This includes organizations that are funded by the State Department to create circumvention software to help democratic activists get around authoritarian regimes’ online censorship mechanisms. Ironically, SOPA would not only institute the same practices as these regimes, but would essentially outlaw the tools used by activists to circumvent censorship in countries like Iran and China as well.
The “Vigilante” Provision
Another dangerous provision in PIPA and SOPA that hasn’t received a lot of attention is the “vigilante” provision, which would grant broad immunity to all service providers if they overblock innocent users or block sites voluntarily with no judicial oversight at all. The standard for immunity is incredibly low and the potential for abuse is off the charts. Intermediaries only need to act “in good faith” and base their decision “on credible evidence” to receive immunity.
As we noted months ago, this provision would allow the MPAA and RIAA to create literal blacklists of sites they want censored. Intermediaries will find themselves under pressure to act to avoid court orders, creating a vehicle for corporations to censor sites—even those in the U.S.—without any legal oversight. And as Public Knowledge has pointed out, not only can this provision be used for bogus copyright claims that are protected by fair use, but large corporations can take advantage of it to stamp out emerging competitors and skirt anti-trust laws:
For instance, an Internet service provider could block DNS requests for a website offering online video that competed with its cable television offerings, based upon “credible evidence” that the site was, in its own estimation, promoting its use for infringement....While the amendment requires that the action be taken in good faith, the blocked site now bears the burden of proving either its innocence or the bad faith of its accuser in order to be unblocked.
Corporate Right of Action
PIPA and SOPA also still allow copyright holders to get an unopposed court order to cut off foreign websites from payment processors and advertisers. As we have continually highlighted, copyright holders already can remove infringing material from the web under the DMCA notice-and-takedown procedure. Unfortunately, we’ve seen that power abused time and again. Yet the proponents of PIPA and SOPA want to give rightsholders even more power, allowing them to essentially shut down full sites instead of removing the specific infringing content.
While this provision only affects foreign sites, it still affects Americans' free speech rights. As Marvin Ammori explained, "The seminal case of Lamont v. Postmaster makes it clear that Americans have the First Amendment right to read and listen to foreign speech, even if the foreigners lack a First Amendment speech right." If history is any guide—and we’re afraid it is—we will see specious claims to wholesale take downs of legitimate and protected speech.
Expanded Attorney General Powers
PIPA and SOPA would also give the Attorney General new authority to block domain name services, a provision that has been universally criticized by both Internet security experts and First Amendment scholars. Even the blacklist bills’ authors are now publicly second-guessing that scary provision. But even without it, this section would still force many intermediaries to become the Internet police by putting the responsibility of censorship enforcement on those intermediaries, who are usually innocent third parties.
The Attorney General would also be empowered to de-list websites from search engines, which, as Google Chairman Eric Schmidt noted, would still "criminalize linking and the fundamental structure of the Internet itself." The same applies to payment processors and advertisers.
These are just some of the egregious provisions in PIPA and SOPA that would drastically change the way we use the Internet (for the worse), and punish millions of innocent users who have never even thought about copyright infringement. As Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian explained, PIPA and SOPA are “the equivalent of being angry and trying to take action against Ford just because a Mustang was used in a bank robbery.” These bills must be stopped if we want to protect free speech and innovation on the web.
Looks like proponents of the Internet Blacklist Bills are finally beginning to realize that they won't be able to ram through massive, job-killing legislation without a fight. First, Sen. Patrick Leahy, sponsor of the PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA), announced on Thursday that he would recommend that the Senate further study the dangerous DNS blocking provisions in that bill before implementation. Then, a group of six influential senators wrote to Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, urging that the Senate slow down and postpone the upcoming vote on PIPA. Sen. Ben Cardin, a co-sponsor of PIPA, also took a measured stance against the bill, saying he "would not vote for final passage of PIPA, as currently written." Cardin cited consituent activism as the primary reason for the about-face.
On the House side, Rep. Lamar Smith, sponsor of PIPA's dangerous counterpart, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), announced today that he would completely remove the DNS blocking provision from the House bill.
It's heartening to see Congress take steps in the right direction, and it wouldn't have happened without the work and commitment of the many internet communities who have rallied to fight these dangerous bills. We should be proud of the progress we've made.
But let's be clear – we still have a long fight ahead and we face formidable foes. Both bills still contain fundamental flaws that threaten freedom of speech and the future of the Internet. We’ve written before, for example, about the threats to the human rights community, to students, to software development, and to the economy. These threats remain. What is worse (and we can't say this enough), is that this legislation, if made law, will do little to stop online infringement. These bills cannot be fixed – they must be killed. So let's keep the pressure on!
Security Experts and Tech Investors Scheduled to Testify; Worldwide Internet Protest Gathering
There’s some good news in the efforts to stop the Internet blacklist bills (SOPA/PIPA): Representative Darrell Issa, an outspoken SOPA critic and the author of alternative legislation called the OPEN Act, has announced that the Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on January 18 to hear from actual technical experts, technology job creators, Internet investors and legal scholars.
EFF’s activists will be providing live coverage of the event through our EFFLive Twitter account. A number of online activists are strategizing plans for a “SOPABlackout” — “censoring” websites and logos to draw attention to the hearing and showcase the widespread opposition to the censorship bills. We’re glad to see lots of sites participating and we’re urging folks to use social networks on January 18 to help spread the word.
The Oversight Committee hearing will address the topic of Domain Name Service (DNS) and search engine blocks generally, and explore ways for the government to avoid legislation that would hamper economic growth. Of course, as active and controversial legislation, SOPA and its evil twin in the Senate, the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) are certain to be discussed at length.
Here’s a look at the witnesses scheduled to speak:
Alexis Ohanian is a founder of Reddit, the social news platform that has been the site of numerous anti-SOPA discussions. He’s spoken out against the bill personally, saying: “This legislation affects my entire industry and livelihood. We never would’ve been able to start Reddit if SOPA were the law, and I worry about all of the future innovation we’d miss out on if it were to pass.”
Stewart Baker, the former Homeland Security Assistant Secretary and former General Counsel for the NSA, is certainly an expert on the issue of cyber-security and the law. He’s also been a vocal critic SOPA, explaining the security problems with the original bill and the manager’s amendment in an extremely cogent blog post titled SOPA-rope-a-dopa.
Brad Burnham is a founder of the prestigious Union Square Venture investment firm. Union Square has been behind some very high-profile tech companies, like Twitter and Foursquare, in the seven years since its founding, supporting job creation and innovation in the tech sector. Burnham is rightly concerned that leglislation like SOPA could undermine his investments and the Internet itself. In a personal blog post, he lays out the problem:
The current legislation in Congress does not just create an administrative burden, it requires service providers who have built wonderful businesses on a deep conviction about human nature to change their relationship with their users in a way that subverts their core values.
Daniel Kaminsky is the well-known security expert known for discovering a major vulnerability in the DNS system — the sort that the DNSSEC initiative is designed to address. He is one of 21 “Trusted Community Representatives” involved in the DNSSEC implementation process. He is a signer of the “Open Letter From Internet Engineers” first published by EFF and read into the Congressional record by Representative Issa.
Lanham Napier is the CEO of Rackspace, a major IT company based in Chairman Smith’s home state of Texas. Rackspace serves 160,000 business customers, including 40% of Fortune 100 companies, and thus has a serious stake in the health of the Internet. In a post on the Rackspace blog, Napier describes SOPA as “a deeply flawed piece of legislation … bad for anyone who uses the Internet … bad for job creation and innovation.”
Dr. Leonard Napolitano is the Director of the Center for Computer Sciences & Information Technology at Sandia National Laboratories, a government-owned institution devoted to national security. Napolitano sent a letter to Representative Zoe Lofgren, another Congressional opponent of the bill, in response to her request that Sandia conduct a technical assessment of the legislation. The letter reports Sandia’s conclusion that SOPA and PIPA would “negatively impact U.S. and global cybersecurity and Internet functionality”
These witnesses, indisputably experts in their fields, are exactly the kind of people Congress should consult before crafting laws that would fundamentally affect the Internet.
Chairman Issa is doing important work bringing these issues to the attention of the Oversight Committee, but the legislators need to hear your voice too.
If there were ever a lawsuit that invited sanctions against the people who filed it, this one is it: a case against two database developers by a company that claims a copyright on the time of day.
Quick background: last fall, Astrolabe, an astrology software company, sued Arthur David Olson and Paul Eggert, researchers who have coordinated the development of a database of time zone information for decades.The database is an essential tool used by computers around the world to determine local time so, for example, files and email messages can organized and time-stamped accurately.Astrolabe claimed that Olson and Eggert had infringed its copyright because the database relies, in part on information in an atlas to which Astrolabe owns the rights (the ACS International Atlas).
We’ve seen a lot of bogus lawsuits over the years, but this one is a doozy.Facts are not copyrightable, which means the developers were free to use the Atlas as a source. What is more, it appears that Astrolabe knew that the database contained only facts from the Atlas – its Complaint states repeatedly that the database developers copied “information” – i.e., facts. Indeed, the case would be laughable but for the dangerous consequences: Confronted by this legal threat, and lacking the resources to defend himself, Olson promptly took the database offline, to the shock and dismay of the many users and developers who relied upon it.
But Olson and Eggert soon found they had allies in the fight. EFF signed on to defend them, with assistance from Boston copyright attorneys Adam Kessel and Olivia Nguyen, of Fish & Richardson. And then we waited for Astrolabe to actually serve Olson and Eggert, which would allow litigation to commence in earnest. Perhaps realizing the absurdity of its legal position, however, Astrolabe didn’t bother to take that next step, leaving Olson and Eggert in legal limbo.
Today, we’re taking the battle to Astrolabe, and starting the process for seeking sanctions under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.Rule 11 requires litigants to conduct a reasonable inquiry into the facts and law before filing any paper with the court.Obviously, that didn’t happen here.Astrolabe now has 21 days to withdraw its Complaint.If it doesn’t do so, the Rule 11 “safe harbor” expires and we’re free to ask the court for sanctions.Once the court reviews Astrolabe’s preposterous claims, and their dangerous consequences, we expect it will agree with us and punish both the company and its attorney so they never again try to abuse the legal process.
The Iranian regime is doing everything they can to scare their citizens into silence. Ranked among the worst in the world in terms of online censorship, Iran has taken harsher, increasingly sophisticated steps to stifle free expression online and condemn the act of information sharing in light of increasing political and economic tensions. While a recent initiative to create a national “halal” Internet would essentially block Iranians from the outside world, last week the country’s Ministry of Information Communication Technology (MICT) also issued regulations that force Internet cafés to install security cameras, document users’ browsing history and usage data, as well as collect personal information for each session of use.Worse still, bloggers continue to be arrested, detained, and now, even sentenced to death.
This week, Reporters Without Borders reported that two bloggers sentenced to death in January 2011 over charges of promoting anti-state, anti-Islamic sentiments have just had their sentences confirmed.Both men have been detained since 2008 and have reported torture.
Vahid Asghari, a 24-year-old student in India, was arrested on May 11, 2008 at Tehran Airport and accused of hosting websites with “pornographic” content critical of the government. Amnesty International reports that Asghari wrote to a judge that “he had been subjected to torture, forced to make a televised ‘confession’ and forced to make spying allegations against high profile blogger Hossein Derakhshan.”
Saeed Malekpour, a 36-year old web and circumvention tool developer based in Canada, was arrested over several charges, including “acting against national security through propaganda against the Islamic Republic,” “insulting and desecrating the principles of Islam,” and “production and publication of obscene materials through computer systems.”United for Iran reports that he had created a photo-uploading program, and that it had been used to upload pornographic images without his knowledge. He was sentenced to death last week as a “corrupter of the earth.” While the government officially acknowledges executing 17 people since the start of the new year, Amnesty International reports receiving information that the true number may be closer to 39 executions.
Other bloggers are also under threat. In December 2011, 50-year-old Iranian blogger, Mohammad Reza Pour Shajari (AKA Siamak Mehr) was charged for “waging war against God” by openly criticizing the state on his blog, Iran Land’s Report.And Rojin Mohammadi, a medical student in the Philippines, was arrested in November and is being held without charges at Iran’s notorious Evin Prison
New restrictions on Internet use
In another front in their war against free expression, the MICT last week issued 20 new regulations on cybercafés. This crackdown is notable because these cafés have become a cultural center for youth in many towns and neighborhoods, attracting activists and others who believe that their own computers could be compromised. The data collection program is intended to curb political activities and ensure that they have records of anyone who attempts to circumvent content blocks or bans. Collected information includes the date and time of usage, and IP address and URLs of the websites they visited. Cybercafés will also be required to write down “forename, surname, name of the father, national identification number, postcode, and telephone number of each customer.” This information must be retained by cafés for at least six months. On January 1st, 43 Internet cafés in the Birjand region have already been raided by the Iranian Internet Police for failing to follow these new regulations.
The Iranian government’s plans to create a “national Internet” that would cut off a majority of their citizens from the global web and “replace” it with their own appear to have entered an implementation phase. Whereas current censures target content related to political opposition, social movements, and any other content they deem to be offensive, this new parallel domestic network would effectively block any foreign site regardless of its content and only allow internal communication within the country. If the Iranian government succeeds in creating this so-called ‘halal’ Internet, Iran would essentially cease to have access to the global Internet at all and be, limited to an intranet only carrying state-controlled content. Recent reports of slow Internet connections in the country indicate that this so-called “halal Internet” is truly underway. The Wall Street Journal reports domestic media sources as stating that it is already set to go live within the next couple weeks.
Iranian sources report that in the two and a half years since protests overtook the streets of Iran, opposition groups have increasingly taken to the Internet to express their dissatisfaction with the government.By restricting citizens’ access to the Internet and threatening bloggers with death, the Iranian regime seeks to paralyze its citizens into silence.
Despite what the regime may believe about the effectiveness of fear mongering, these atrocious acts of state repression will only further antagonize the youth opposition movement, including the thousands of Iranians with the technical capacity to circumvent these measures. Meanwhile, the arrests, executions, and attempts at censorship will continue to help organizations seeking to mobilize international attention. While Iran will surely continue to violate human rights, cutting the Iranian people off from the Internet will also do immeasurable damage to the Iranian economy and its ability to maintain any global competitive edge in technological or creative innovation. The question is: at what cost will they continue to put their country in the dark?
EFF stands with Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, United For Iran, and other organizations in condemning these grave state actions, and supports the thousands of Iranian bloggers and activists who bravely fight for free expression.
China's repression of online dissent is no secret. The country leads the way in both sophistication and extent of its online censorship, and tops the list of countries that jail bloggers by a landslide. In 2012, it would seem things are only getting worse.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), "online critic" Chen Xi, initially detained for activities unrelated to his writing, was sentenced to ten years in prison for "inciting subversion against state power" on December 26, with the court citing more than thirty articles published by Chen online. CPJ's Asia program coordinator Bob Dietz condemned the sentence, stating that it "indicates that Chinese authorities are tightening their control of dissent."
EFF condemns China's latest attempts at repressing online dissidents and will continue to monitor the situation closely.
Bahraini human rights activist attacked
As Bahrain's uprising approaches its one-year anniversary, the government's crackdowns on activists--many of whom are well-known for their online activity--continues. In mid-December, Zainab Al-Khawaja (who tweets prolifically as @angryarabiya) was brutally arrested while taking part in a protest. Last Friday Nabeel Rajab, director of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was injured when security forces attacked protesters in Manama. Rajab recently described his ordeal to Amnesty International.
While the attacks on Al-Khawaja and Rajab were not directly related to their online activism, reports indicate that Rajab's status as a prominent human rights activist may have worsened the attack. In a recent Al Jazeeraarticle, Rajab stated that when he identified himself as Nabeel Rajab, "[riot police] beat me more."
The targeting of prominent human rights activists has had a chilling effect on Bahrain's lively blogosphere. EFF condemns the continuing repression of free expression in Bahrain.
Online journalist's murder has grave implications for free expression in Rwanda
The fatal December shooting of Rwandan online journalist Charles Ingabire, a fierce critic of the Kagame government, has raised criticism of the government for not doing enough to protect journalists. Though Ingabire was shot in neighboring Uganda, some Rwandan critics have suggested that Ingabire's murder was a political assassination motivated by his criticism of the government.
Ingabire is the second Rwandan journalist to be killed in less than two years. EFF echoes calls on the Ugandan government to identify the culprits and bring them to justice.
Turkish academics sign declaration in protest of new filters
Last week, we reported on the biases present in Turkey's new opt-in filtering system. Now, a group of fifteen Turkish academics have penned a declaration protesting the system, declaring the filter as "arbitrary, state-run, centralized censorship." The statement also alleged that the filter was limiting freedom of expression and is "being imposed across society."
Comparing Turkey's system to those administered by China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, the campaigners also note that Turkey is the only OSCE member state applying a centralized filtering system.
As we've stated previously, filtering is costly, easy to circumvent, and often overbroad. In light of Turkey's history as a pervasive censor of the Internet, we continue to have grave concerns about the trajectory of this new filtering scheme.