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EFFector - Volume 30, Issue 12 - When the government comes knocking, will companies stand by users?

EFFector! Electronic Frontier Foundation

In our 722nd issue:

Who Has Your Back?

While many technology companies continue to step up their privacy game by adopting best practices to protect sensitive customer information when the government demands user data, telecommunications companies are failing to prioritize user privacy when the government comes knocking. Even tech giants such as Apple, Facebook, and Google can do more to fully stand behind their users.

EFF's seventh annual “Who Has Your Back” report digs into the ways many technology companies are getting the message about user privacy in this era of unprecedented digital surveillance.

We evaluated the public policies at 26 companies and awarded stars in five categories, with nine companies earning a perfect five-star score this year: Adobe, Credo, Dropbox, Lyft, Pinterest, Sonic, Uber, Wickr, and Wordpress. Each has a track record of defending user privacy against government overreach and improved on their practices to meet the more stringent standards in this year's Who Has Your Back.

AT&T, Comcast, T-Mobile, and Verizon scored the lowest, each earning just one star. While they have adopted a number of industry best practices, like publishing transparency reports and requiring a warrant for content, they still need to commit to informing users before disclosing their data to the government and creating a public policy of requesting judicial review of all National Security Letters.

Tell Congress: We Want Trade Transparency Reform Now!

The failed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a lesson in what happens when trade agreements are negotiated in secret. Powerful corporations can lobby for dangerous, restrictive measures, and the public can't effectively bring balance to the process. Now, some members of Congress are seeking to make sure that future trade agreements, such as the renegotiated version of NAFTA, are no longer written behind closed doors. We urge you to write your representative and ask them to demand transparency in trade.

Passage of this bill may be the best opportunity that we'll have to avoid a repetition of the closed, secretive process that led to the TPP. With the renegotiation of NAFTA commencing with the first official round of meetings in Washington, D.C. next month, it's urgent that these transparency reforms be adopted soon. You can help by telling your representative in Congress to support the bill in committee.

EFF Updates

Deciphering China's VPN Ban

Apple removed several Virtual Private Network (VPN) applications that allowed users to circumvent China's extensive Internet censorship apparatus from its Chinese mainland app store. In effect, the company has once again aided the Chinese government in its censorship campaign against its own citizens.

By locking down their devices, Apple can be forced to strip a feature—access to the full, global Internet—from its own products. When the manufacturer controls what kind of software you can have on your devices, it creates a single chokepoint for free expression and privacy.

Internet Censorship Bill Would Spell Disaster for Speech and Innovation

There's a new bill in Congress that would threaten your right to free expression online.

Don't let its name fool you: the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA, S. 1693) wouldn't help punish sex traffickers. What the bill would do is expose any person, organization, platform, or business that hosts third-party content on the Internet to the risk of overwhelming criminal and civil liability if sex traffickers use their services. For small Internet businesses, that could be fatal: with the possibility of devastating litigation costs hanging over their heads, we think that many entrepreneurs and investors will be deterred from building new businesses online.

Bassel Khartabil, In Memoriam

Bassel Khartabil—the Syrian open source developer, blogger, entrepreneur, hackerspace founder, and free culture advocate—has been executed by the Syrian authorities. Noura Ghazi Safadi, his wife, received confirmation of her husband's death by the Assad-led Syrian government this month.

We at EFF are heartbroken at the news of Bassel's unjust and unlawful killing. The single consolation is that Bassel, before and after his detention, inspired so many to join the cause he cared so much about.

Stupid Patent of the Month: HP Patents Reminder Messages

The Patent Office recently issued a patent to HP on reminder messages. It's yet another example of the Patent Office failing to consider real products when assessing prior art before issuing a patent. Set yourself a reminder message: this stupid patent on reminder messages will expire on December 16, 2035.

Throttling on Mobile Networks May Be a Sign of Things to Come

Major mobile carriers are slowing down video streams, a net neutrality violation that heralds things to come if they get their way and roll back legal protections against data discrimination.

Right now, these throttling technologies seem to be used to slow down video data generally, rather than to favor the ISP's content over competitors, but that reality may not be far off.

Without net neutrality protections, little will stop carriers from using that same throttling infrastructure to discriminate against competitors, speech they dislike, or your favorite app.

The Pregnancy Panopticon

There are a staggering number of applications for Android and iOS which claim to help people keep track of their monthly cycle, know when they may be fertile, or track the status of their pregnancy. These apps entice the user to input the most intimate details of their lives.

EFF and Gizmodo reporter Kashmir Hill have taken a look at some of the privacy and security properties of nearly twenty different fertility and pregnancy tracking applications.

After uncovering several privacy issues and security flaws, we conclude that while these applications may be useful and engaging, women should carefully consider the privacy and security tradeoffs before deciding to use any of these applications.

Librarians Call on W3C to Rethink its Support for DRM

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) has called on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to reconsider its decision to incorporate digital locks (sometimes referred to as digital rights management or simply DRM) into official HTML standards.

The IFLA expressed concern that making it easier to impose tech-based protections against infringement without accommodating "legitimate uses of work" puts librarians and other professionals in legal danger when they come across DRM in the course of their work.

EFF is in the process of appealing W3C's controversial decision, and we're urging the standards body to adopt a covenant protecting security researchers from anti-circumvention laws.

Border Agents May Not Search Travelers’ Cloud Content

Border agents may not use travelers' laptops, phones, and other digital devices to access and search cloud content "regardless of whether those servers are located abroad or domestically," according to a new document by U.S. Customs and Border Protection published by NBC on July 12.

Much more must be done to protect travelers' digital privacy at the U.S. border. An excellent first step would be to enact Sen. Wyden's (D-OR) bipartisan bill to require border agents to get a warrant before searching the digital devices of U.S. persons.

Australian PM Calls for End-to-End Encryption Ban

When Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stated that "[t]he laws of mathematics are very commendable but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia," he was rightly mocked for this nonsense claim.

A ban on end-to-end encrypted messaging in Australia would have no effect on law breakers, who would simply switch to apps that use strong end-to-end encryption. It would instead hurt ordinary citizens who rely on encryption to make sure that their conversations are private.

If enough countries go down the same misguided path, the future could be a new international agreement banning strong encryption. Indeed, the Prime Minister's statement is explicit that this is what he would like to see.

miniLinks

Your Roomba May Be Mapping Your Home, Collecting Data That Could Be Shared

Some Roomba models map your home while they clean, creating a potentially shareable trove of data. (The New York Times)

Majority of Civilian Oversight Body Wants L.A. County Sheriff to Stop Flying Drone

In response to numerous community concerns, most commissioners for the Los Angeles County Sheriff Civilian Oversight board do not support the use of drones. (Los Angeles Times)

U.S. Senators to Introduce Bill to Secure 'Internet of Things'

In an effort to halt cyber security threats, U.S. Senators are proposing to place uniform security standards on e-vendors. (Reuters)

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If you aren't already, please consider becoming an EFF member today.

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Administrivia

Editor: Camille Ochoa, Activist
editor@eff.org

EFFector is a publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
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Enigma Interviews featuring Alex Stamos and Eva Galperin

On Wednesday, August 23, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm in San Francisco, Alex Stamos, CSO of Facebook, and Eva Galperin, Director of Cybersecurity at EFF will discuss the challenges of securing the most vulnerable among us while also protecting society at large.

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