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EFFector - Volume 30, Issue 10 - We're suing over Geek Squad, FBI spying

EFFector! Electronic Frontier Foundation

In our 720 issue:

We're Suing the FBI for Records About Best Buy Geek Squad Informant

A federal case in California has revealed that the FBI has been working for several years to cultivate informants in Best Buy’s national repair facility in Brooks, Kentucky, including reportedly paying eight Geek Squad employees as informants. According to court records, the scheme would work as follows: customers with computer problems would take their devices to the Geek Squad for repair. Once Geek Squad employees had the devices, they would surreptitiously search the unallocated storage space on the devices for evidence of suspected child porn images and then report any hits to the FBI for criminal prosecution

We think the FBI’s use of Best Buy Geek Squad employees to search people’s computers without a warrant threatens to circumvent people’s constitutional rights. That’s why we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the FBI seeking records about the extent to which it directs and trains Best Buy employees to conduct warrantless searches of people’s devices.

EFF has long been concerned about law enforcement using private actors, such as Best Buy employees, to conduct warrantless searches that the Fourth Amendment plainly bars police from doing themselves. The key question is at what point does a private person’s search turn into a government search that implicates the Fourth Amendment.

Despite Transparency Promises, Intel Agencies Won't Give Congress Info on Spying Law Impact

Lawmakers should know how the laws they pass impact their constituents. That’s especially true when the law would reauthorize a vast Internet and telephone spying program that collects information about millions of law-abiding Americans.

But that’s exactly what the Intelligence Community wants Congress to do when it considers reauthorizing a sweeping electronic surveillance authority under the expiring Section 702, as enacted by the FISA Amendments Act, before the end of the year.

Intelligence officials have been promising Congress they would provide lawmakers with an estimate of the number of American communications that are collected under Section 702. That estimate is a critical piece of information for lawmakers to have as they consider whether and how to reauthorize and reform the warrantless Internet surveillance of millions of innocent Americans in the coming months.

But during a hearing on Section 702 in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, despite previous assurances, said he won’t be providing that estimate out of national security and, ironically, privacy concerns.

Questions on Printer Dot Tracking after Arrest of NSA Leaker

EFF's work on a secret tracking code embedded in many printed documents is back in the news, as journalists and experts have recently focused on the fact that a scanned document published by The Intercept contained tiny yellow dots. Those dots allow the document's origin and date of printing to be ascertained, which could have played a role in the arrest of Reality Leigh Winner, accused of leaking the document.

EFF has previously researched this tracking technology at some length; our work on it has helped bring it to public attention, including in a somewhat hilarious video.

While this tracking technology is pervasive in color laser printers--thanks to secret agreements between governments and the printer industry--it's quite possible that printer dots did not play any role in this investigation at all. However the government identified its suspect in this case, it's worth remembering that forensic techniques are very powerful and can often reveal the origins of documents in unexpected ways.

EFF Updates

A Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality

Net neutrality is under assault once again, with the Federal Communications Commission looking to reverse the legal underpinnings of its 2015 rules that keep ISPs from blocking or slowing customers' access to certain websites and services. It’s our Internet, and we will defend it. If you remember the censor bar of the online protests opposing SOPA in 2012 or the spinning wheel of Internet Slowdown Day in 2014, you know that the Internet can rise up and force regulators to listen in times of great need. Now is such a time. Mark your calendars for a day of digital protest on July 12.

EFF Asks Court to Dismiss Terrorism Claims Against Twitter

Holding Twitter responsible for users' discussions of terrorist activities would threaten the First Amendment as well as legal protections for Internet platforms, EFF recently told a federal court. In a brief filed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, we argued that Twitter should not be held legally responsible for providing material support to terrorists by providing accounts to users who discussed and promoted terrorism. Finding Twitter responsible would impede on the First Amendment right of Internet users to access unpopular speech, the First Amendment right of Twitter to publish unpopular speech, and Section 230, as enacted by the Communications Decency Act, which protects Internet platforms from being held responsible for their users' actions.

Federal Circuit Hits Stupid Patent Owner With Fee Award

Patent litigation abuse thrives when patent trolls can force defendants into making a hard choice: pay the troll (even though the claim is absurd) or potentially pay even more to your lawyers to fight the case in court. This week, the Federal Circuit issued an encouraging ruling that will make it harder to use this gambit. Overturning a contrary decision by the patent-friendly Eastern District of Texas, the appellate court required a notorious patent troll that appears to be practicing this model to pay the defendant’s attorney’s fees. This case should make it at least a little bit easier easier for defendants to choose not to pay the troll.

Comcast Continues to Fight Net Neutrality Protections

If you've been following the network neutrality debate at all, you've probably seen Comcast's campaign to rewrite its long history of opposing net neutrality protections. But the company's own statements to Congress, the FCC, and to the courts make Comcast's true goal abundantly clear: free rein to use its market power to become an Internet gatekeeper. Despite their recent public statements in support of the idea of net neutrality, Comcast has repeatedly pushed back on rules that would protect Internet users' ability to do what they want online.

Supreme Court Takes Up Cell Phone Tracking Case

The Supreme Court has said it will take up a cell phone tracking case, giving the court the chance to apply Fourth Amendment privacy protections to cell phone location data. The case, United States v. Carpenter, involves long-term, retrospective tracking of a person’s movements using information generated by his cell phone and gives the court an opportunity to continue its recent pattern of applying Fourth Amendment protections to sensitive digital data. It may also limit or even reevaluate the so-called “Third Party Doctrine,” which the government relies on to justify warrantless tracking and surveillance in a variety of contexts. EFF filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to take Carpenter and a related case, so we’re hopeful the Court will rule in favor of strong constitutional protections.

The State Department's Plan to Search Visa Applicants' Social Media Accounts

EFF, the Brennan Center for Justice and others are joining forces to oppose yet another federal program to scrutinize the social media accounts of foreign visitors to the United States. Specifically, in an attempt to uncover would-be terrorists, the U.S. State Department has empowered consular officials to ask visa applicants who raise preliminary suspicions to disclose the existence of the social media accounts, and the identifiers or handles associated with those accounts, that the applicants have used over the past five years. These proposals threaten the digital privacy and freedom of expression of innocent foreign travelers, and the many U.S. citizens who communicate with them.

miniLinks

First Amendment Group Criticizes Trump for Twitter Blocking

The Knight First Amendment Institute has written to President Donald Trump, warning him that his blocking of Twitter users on his @realDonaldTrump account could violate the Constitution's free speech protections.

U.S. Lawmakers Look at WannaCry Attacks

A House committee will hold a hearing this week on the global WannaCry ransomware attacks last month.

'The Long, Lonely Road of Chelsea Manning'

Following her recent commutation, The New York Times Magazine profiles Chelsea Manning, including her decision to disclose classified information in 2010 and the resulting time she spent in prison.

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Editor: Kate Tummarello, Policy Analyst
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EFFector is a publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
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Announcements

Job Opening: Junior UX Designer

EFF is seeking a junior UX designer who can also contribute graphic design. A successful candidate will have a good understanding of the principles of UX and how to practice them with a limited budget, good judgment on graphic design and UI design, a portfolio demonstrating their skills, experience working with web developers, and the ability to collaborate with and deliver for a diverse group of colleagues.

10th Annual Cyberlaw Trivia Night

Each summer, the Bay Area’s best legal minds gather in support of online freedom--and in pursuit of the highly coveted EFF Cyberlaw Quiz Cup. This year, our 10th annual Cyberlaw Trivia Night will take place on Friday, June 16! In this friendly yet fierce battle of the minds, prepare to delve deep into the depths of your oversized brains. The night is surely to result in impressive displays of obscure, fascinating, and trivial knowledge of privacy, free speech, and intellectual property law.

June 16, 2017
San Francisco, CA

Digital Security for Friends and Neighbors (Part 2)

Are you offering security trainings and workshops to your neighbors? If so, we'd like to invite you to the second installment of our webinar series. EFF will share best practices offered by security trainers with extensive experience training dissidents in authoritarian countries.

June 20, 2017
Remote

EFA June 2017 Teleconference

Are you part of a student group, community organization, or hacker space? If not, do you know others who share your concerns about digital rights? Whether you're working to raise a voice in your community for privacy, security, creativity, access to knowledge, and free expression--or whether you're looking for ways to get involved in the digital rights movement--we'd like to help!

June 29, 2017
Remote

Day of Action to Defend Net Neutrality

It’s our Internet and we will defend it. On July 12, 2017, EFF and hundreds of organizations – including nonprofits, artists, tech companies large and small, libraries, and even ISPs – will be joining together to take action to defend the open Internet. Let’s send a strong message to the FCC and Congress: Don’t Mess With the Internet.

July 12, 2017
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