The collection and use of biometric data gets more widespread and invasive each year. That’s why it’s more important than ever to advocate for—and defend—robust privacy laws in this space.
The Illinois Biometric Privacy Act, or BIPA, is the strongest biometric privacy law in the United States. Last week, in Rosenbach v. Six Flags, the Illinois Supreme Court rejected an amusement park’s argument that violation of a privacy statute is a mere “technical violation.” The plaintiff in that case, a 14-year-old who says his thumbprint was collected without his informed consent, will be allowed to move forward with a lawsuit.
EFF, along with ACLU, CDT, and other allied groups, filed an amicus brief asking for a strong interpretation of BIPA. We’ve been resisting big business efforts to gut BIPA for years now, and we’re glad the Illinois Supreme Court agreed with us in this case.
It could have major ramifications for a separate case against Facebook, involving biometric face surveillance, that's currently on appeal in California. Like the defendant in the Illinois case, Facebook is arguing that losing one’s privacy rights isn’t enough to support a lawsuit, and that a plaintiff must show additional harm in order to sue. Hopefully, the strong result in Rosenbach shuts down that flawed argument once and for all.
If you were in Washington D.C. earlier this month, you might have passed by folks on the street passing out a parody newspaper spoofing The Washington Post. The comedic newspaper, created by the group the Yes Men, has a joke lead story about Donald Trump fleeing the White House in an “Unpresidented” move.
The parody paper, which was dated May 1, 2019, also featured unlikely articles such as a media apology for Donald Trump’s rise to power, and a fictional timeline of Trump’s rise and fall.
But The Washington Post’s lawyers didn’t get the joke. They called the parody an act of trademark infringement, and raised copyright threats. EFF wrote back on behalf of the Yes Men, explaining that political speech has strong protections from trademark claims, which aren’t supposed to be used to policing other peoples’ language. The parody paper is still online, where it belongs.
If there’s one political dynamic that’s become perfectly clear in 2019, it’s this: President Trump is calling for a physical wall to be built along the U.S. southern border. Trump's political opponents, and many other groups, oppose that wall.
In response, some congressional Democrats have suggested building up a kind of virtual wall, built on surveillance technology. They’d like to expand social media screening, deploy drones, scan license plates (and not just from cars crossing the border), and even collect DNA from immigrants. All of these methods raise serious privacy concerns.
At EFF, we’re staying focused on making sure any new border measure protects the essential liberties of both U.S. residents and foreign visitors. The border shouldn't be treated like a Constitution-free zone.
Some European negotiators are still hoping to pass Article 13 and 11, which would impose online copyright filters, as well as licensing requirements for quoting snippets of news. More than four million Europeans have publicly opposed the directive, along with copyright and technical experts and journalists. Even big movie studios and sports leagues have backed away.
We're not out of the woods yet. Our sources tell us that it's just barely possible that if an agreement is reached before February 14, legislation could be vetted, translated, and presented for a vote before EU elections this spring. Keep up the pressure!
Sometimes trademark owners seem to think that they own ordinary words. In this case, U.K. clothing giant Asos sent a cease and desist letter [PDF] to an EFF client for registering a domain with the word “collusion” in it. Our client’s domain, collusion.so, has nothing to do with clothes—it’s about contemporary U.S. political debates. It’s about as far from trademark infringement as possible.
The case has its origins in typographical errors made on Twitter by Rudy Giuliani, former New York mayor and current attorney to President Donald Trump. Giuliani's typos inadvertently created new URLs, and Twitter users creatively re-directed those newly famous web links to locations of their choosing.
EFF sent a response letter, explaining that there’s no real trademark claim here. Asos quickly apologized, saying that the letter, signed by its outside law firm, should “never have been sent” and assuring us it would take no further action against our client. We’re glad for the apology and hope the whole episode serves as a notice to others who might make overbroad trademark threats.
Federal investigators in Seattle will begin tracking and docketing their warrantless surveillance requests, under an agreement reached after EFF client The Stranger brought a petition to unseal those records. They’ll also issue reports every six months detailing the surveillance requests.
The reports will include case numbers and the main crime being investigated each time the government uses warrantless surveillance. Until now, there’s been no public docket at all on these cases. Now, the public will learn basic details about the requests, and can also request to unseal specific cases.
A misleading Wall Street Journal op-ed by Mark Zuckerberg hits some familiar points in justifying Facebook’s business model. Users don’t need to submit to massive data harvesting to see “relevant ads,” for one thing. And while Zuckerberg calls for government regulation that codifies “transparency, choice, and control,” Facebook is fighting to weaken the most important state privacy laws, like Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, and California’s Consumer Privacy Act.
From January 30 to February 1 in Brussels, EFF International Rights Director Katitza Rodriguez joins EDRi on a panel called “Avoiding a race to the bottom: bridging the gap between national legislation and human rights law.” CPDP's theme for 2019 is Data Protection and Democracy.
On February 7, join EFF Executive Director Cindy Cohn at New York City's Brooklyn Bowl for a celebration of the life and songs of our beloved founder, John Perry Barlow. Performers include: Jason Crosby, Grahaeme Lesh, Ross James & Alex Koford, Jerry and Aishlin Harrison and more. This event is a benefit for the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
EFF Special Consultant Cory Doctorow is a Special Guest at the 2019 WonderCon, the Anaheim Comic-Con, which runs from March 29 to March 31. Cory will be on a multiple panels related to his work with EFF.
This full-time activist position will focus on privacy issues, particularly around government surveillance. The ideal candidate will be a superb writer with a passion for protecting freedom online and the ability to think critically and manage time effectively.
EFF is seeking a full-time developer for Privacy Badger, who will work with our Browser Extensions team. This is one of our efforts to protect users’ privacy online and block tracking.
This 10-week fellowship gives undergraduate and graduate students a paid opportunity to work alongside EFF’s International team on projects advancing debate on key public policy issues, including censorship and global surveillance.
McSweeney’s managing editor Claire Boyle and EFF Executive Director Cindy Cohn spoke to Recode’s Kara Swisher about the special joint issue, “The End of Trust.” They discussed the state of privacy, why Facebook’s users are more like “hostages” than customers, and whether Congress will make a move to regulate tech giants. (Recode)
Cameras that can read license plates are scattered throughout the U.S., used mostly by police departments. What’s worse, some of those cameras are connected to the Internet, easily identifiable, and leaking sensitive data about vehicles and their drivers. (TechCrunch)
Several organizations, including news non-profit ProPublica, developed tools to let the public see how Facebook users are targeted by advertisers. Now, Facebook has made changes to its site to stop those efforts. ProPublica, Mozilla, and Who Targets Me have all noticed their tools stopped working this month after Facebook inserted code in its website that blocks them. (ProPublica)
Even the CEO of a global tech icon agrees: “We all deserve control over our digital lives. That’s why we must rein in the data brokers.” (Time)