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EFFector - Volume 17, Issue 21 - Pro-Consumer Privacy Bill Gets a Hearing


EFFector - Volume 17, Issue 21 - Pro-Consumer Privacy Bill Gets a Hearing

EFFector       Vol. 17, No. 21       June 10, 2004

A Publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation     ISSN 1062-9424

In the 293rd Issue of EFFector:

Pro-Consumer Privacy Bill Gets a Hearing

EFF Backs California Senate Bill Protecting Anonymous Speech Online San Francisco and Berkeley, CA - Your employer just laid off 300 of your colleagues without notice and without severance pay. So you go online and post an angry, anonymous comment about it on a Yahoo! message board. Although you could lose your job if your boss discovered what you've said, you feel safe because nobody who reads the comment knows who you are. Plus, your right to engage in anonymous free speech is protected under the First Amendment, right? Wrong.

In California, it is currently legal for anyone to subpoena personal information from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) without any court oversight - and without notifying you. That means you have no chance to protect your anonymity or secure legal representation before the person requesting the subpoena figures out who you are and takes action against you. Your boss could read that anonymous comment, subpoena your ISP to get your name, and fire you the next day.

Over the past few years, EFF and other organizations have defended dozens of individuals whose identities have been sought after they criticized corporations or other people online. Nearly all of the cases are dropped once opposition begins, indicating that the lawsuits are aimed at silencing criticism and identifying critics, not addressing legitimate legal claims.

To remedy this problem, California Assembly Member Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) is sponsoring Assembly Bill 1143, the Internet Communications Protection Act (ICPA). The bill protects anonymous speakers on the Internet by requiring service providers to notify them before handing over personal information that's been subpoenaed. This information could include addresses, phone numbers, and any other private details a person provided to enable him or her to get Internet connectivity. Once a user is notified and given the basic information about the claims, he or she is given a window of time to respond and thus gain the opportunity to secure legal representation to contest the validity of the subpoena and protect personal information.

"This act ensures that you have a reasonable opportunity to protect your own privacy," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "It levels the playing field by giving you the time and information you need to defend yourself if the claim against you is invalid, while preserving the right of those who have legitimate claims to find out who has harmed them."

"Internet users deserve to have their privacy and their anonymity protected. And they deserve due process in defending themselves against frivolous lawsuits," added Assemblyman Simitian.

AB 1433 is backed by EFF, which is represented by the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at UC Berkeley's School of Law. Thee bill also has the support of the ACLU, the California Anti-SLAPP project, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

For the full press release:

Action alert for California residents:

EFF Asks Public to Identify "Bad" Patents in Patent Busting Contest

Organization Seeks Ten Patents to Challenge

EFF is calling on the public to help identify patents that are having negative effects on Internet innovation and free expression. As part of EFF's Patent Busting Project, EFF seeks nominations for the ten worst offenders in the world of intellectual property. Winners will become the first targets for the project's team of attorneys, technologists and experts, who will file "re-examination" requests with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), asking the agency to revoke the patents.

EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz, who heads the project, said he can't wait to see what the contest turns up. "We have seen illegitimate patents asserted on such simple technologies as one-click online shopping, video streaming, and paying with credit cards online. When individuals and small businesses are faced with million-dollar legal demands, they have no choice but to capitulate and pay license fees. We aim to change that."

To qualify for the contest, a bad patent has to be more than just stupid and invalid. It must be issued in the United States and be software or Internet-related. Contest judges are particularly interested in patents for technologies that enable free expression, such as streaming video, blogging tools, and voice over IP (VoIP). Equally important, the patent owner must be actively threatening or suing people for licensing fees. "Patent owners who claim control over communication tools can threaten anyone who uses them, even for personal or non-commercial purposes," explained Schultz. "Overreaching patent claims unfairly reduce the tremendous benefits that software and technology bring to freedom of expression."

The contest opens today and closes on June 23. Winners will be announced on June 30.

Enter the contest:

NGOs Unite Against WIPO Broadcasting Treaty

This week, from June 7-9, a subcommittee of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) met to discuss a controversial draft treaty that could have a profoundly negative impact on the future of fair use, the public domain, scientific research, and innovation. The WIPO Broadcasting Treaty proposes to expand both the scope and duration of currently recognized rights for broadcasting organizations. It would give broadcasters, cablecasters, and, under the U.S. proposal, webcasters, a broad range of new rights for an astonishing 50 years. While broadcasters may have legitimate claims to needing additional protection against signal-theft, the proposed treaty goes much further, creating novel rights likely to overlap with copyright owners' existing rights in the *content* carried by broadcasters.

The treaty also proposes new legal sanctions for circumventing technological protection measures used by broadcasters on their signal. This would mean technology mandates for many consumer technologies, which would stifle technological innovation. These sorts of mandates are likely to restrict fair and non-infringing uses that are currently permitted under individual countries' national laws, hamper scientific research, and stem the flow of information that is in the public domain or not copyrightable.

Fortunately, EFF and other non-government organizations (NGOs) are at the front lines fighting back. EFF's Cory Doctorow and Wendy Seltzer attended the meeting and joined other NGOs in proposing a less expansive draft treaty that focuses narrowly on signal protection. Representatives from India endorsed the approach in the NGO proposal. In addition, many countries expressed concerns or reservations about extending rights to webcasters. Finally, Brazil, Chile, and India raised a number of critically important issues about the impact of including broadcaster technological measures in the treaty, stressing the need for exceptions to protect consumers, educational uses, scientific research, and technological development.

The next step is for the WIPO General Assembly to schedule a possible diplomatic conference on the protection of broadcasting organizations. The General Assembly will hold its next meeting in September/October 2004, so a conference could be convened as early as 2005. As an interim step, a revised version of the Broadcasting Treaty will be prepared by November 17-19, 2004. The revised treaty will mark in brackets the proposals that won the least support, and further plans will hinge on its interpretation.

NGO draft treaty:

EFF statement on the WIPO Broadcasting Treaty:

Complete notes and commentary on the WIPO meeting by Cory Doctorow, Wendy Seltzer, and David Tannenbaum:


miniLinks features noteworthy news items from around the Internet.

Big Content Wants Biometrics in Media Players
On the off-chance you weren't feeling enough like a criminal, the movie and music industries are experimenting with a media player that will lock content to your fingerprints:

Putting Two and Two Together
The Free Expression Policy Project with a new paper explaining the connection between a healthy democracy and a free information commons:

Iraqis Vie for Control of ".iq" Domain and the Country of Iraq
They're petitioning ICANN only for the former:

EU Tries to Put Kibosh on Digital Counterfeiting
A new regulation would force makers of image-editing software to recognize and reject attempts to manipulate currency:,6903,1232480,00.html

Cities, States Oppose PATRIOT's Games
Wired News on the 300 cities and four states - home of 51 million people - that have passed resolutions against the USA PATRIOT Act:,1848,63702,00.html
EFF's action alert opposing the renewal of some of PATRIOT's most controversial provisions:

To Cut or to Keep the FCC
That is the question posed by CNet's Declan McCullagh in this op-ed:

Some Fear New Law May Increase Spam
CAN-SPAM is supposed to trash spam, but some say that it's actually putting *more* junk in your email diet:

Banning Subway Photography to Fight Terrorism?
When you take photos on the train, you commute with Bin Laden:

Amateur Videos Targeted by Chinese Government
The Chinese government is cracking down on amateur videos exposing the country's social problems by banning their broadcast or distribution on the Internet:

Brazil Opens Up to Open Source
Governments around the world are warming up to open source software, and now Brazil's private industries are adopting Linux tools at an astonishing rate:

Korea Launches "Clean Internet" Campaign
The government of South Korea, one of the most connected societies in the world, will launch a media blitz against Net-addiction, pornography, and spam:

Music Industry Lowers CD Prices
A nice, short piece on some of the reasons for the decision:

Iceland Supreme Court Freezes DNA Database
The court ruled that Iceland's Health Database Act violates constitutional privacy protections:

Staff Calendar

For a complete listing of EFF speaking engagements (with locations and times), please visit the full calendar.


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