EFF has long fought to reform vague, dangerous computer crime laws like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. In a month packed with Supreme Court decisions that could change the digital rights (and human rights) landscape, we're gratified by the Court’s important decision in Van Buren. The Court acknowledged that overbroad application of the CFAA risks turning nearly any user of the Internet into a criminal based on arbitrary terms of service. We remember the tragic and unjust results of the CFAA's misuse, such as the death of Aaron Swartz, and we will continue to fight to ensure that computer crime laws no longer chill security research, journalism, and other novel and interoperable uses of technology that ultimately benefit all of us.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court barred the courthouse door to thousands of people who were wrongly marked as “potential terrorists” by credit giant TransUnion. The Court’s analysis of their “standing” —whether they were sufficiently injured to file a lawsuit—reflects a naïve view of the increasingly powerful role that personal data, and the private corporations that harvest and monetize it, play in everyday life. It also threatens congressional efforts to protect our privacy and other intangible rights from predation by Facebook, Google and other tech giants.
People around the world have been horrified at the role that technology companies like Cisco, Yahoo!, and Sandvine have played in helping governments commit gross human rights abuses. That’s why EFF has consistently called out technology companies, and American companies in particular, that allow their internet surveillance and censorship products and services to be used as tools of repression and persecution, rather than tools to uplift humanity. Yet legal mechanisms to hold companies accountable for their roles in human rights violations are few and far between. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has now further narrowed one mechanism: the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). We now call on Congress to fill the gaps where the Court has failed to act.
The Patent Office grants thousands of patents a year, including many that would be invalidated if a court considered them. Fortunately there is a way to challenge these junk patents at the Patent Office rather than wasting the courts’ time and going through expensive litigation. Unsurprisingly, patent owners keep trying to convince the Supreme Court those post-grant challenges are unconstitutional. They failed again when the Court held that the administrative patent judges who preside over post-grant reviews were constitutionally appointed.
Nominations are now open for the 2021 Pioneer Awards to be presented at EFF's 30th Annual Pioneer Award Ceremony. Established in 1992, the Pioneer Award Ceremony recognizes leaders who are extending freedom and innovation in the realm of technology. You could nominate the next winner today!
The built environment of surveillance—in, over, and under our cities—makes it an entwined problem that must be combatted through entwined solutions. To make it easier to see, we've visualized it in a cross-section of the average city block. We've created downloadable, shareable graphics to show how the varying surveillance technologies and legal authorities overlap, how they disproportionately impact the lives of marginalized communities, and what tools we have at our disposal to halt or mitigate their harms.
The State of California recently released what it calls a “Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Record.” It is part of that state’s recent easing of public health rules on masking within businesses. California’s new Record is a QR code that contains the same information as is on our paper vaccine cards, including name and birth date. We all want to return to normal freedom of movement while keeping our communities safe. But we have two concerns with this plan.
An expanding category of software, apps, and devices is normalizing cradle-to-grave surveillance in more and more aspects of everyday life. At EFF we call them “disciplinary technologies.” They typically show up in the areas of life where surveillance is most accepted and where power imbalances are the norm: in our workplaces, our schools, and in our homes. We’re working to craft solutions, from demanding anti-virus companies and app stores recognize spyware more explicitly, pushing companies to design for abuse cases, and exposing the misuse of surveillance technology in our schools and in our streets.
After a marathon markup, a number of bills targeting Big Tech’s size and power, including the critical ACCESS Act, were passed out of committee and now await a vote by the entire House of Representatives. This week, decisions by a federal court tossing out both the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) antitrust complaint against Facebook and a similar one brought by 48 state Attorneys General, underscore why we need those new laws.
Maryland and Montana recently passed laws requiring judicial authorization to search consumer DNA databases in criminal investigations. These are welcome and important restrictions on forensic genetic genealogy searching (FGGS)—a law enforcement technique that has become increasingly common and impacts the genetic privacy of millions of Americans.
Imagine this: a limited liability company (LLC) is formed for the sole purpose of acquiring patents, including what are likely to be low-quality patents of suspect validity. The LLC approaches high-tech companies and demands licensing fees. If it doesn't get paid, the company will use contingency-fee lawyers and a litigation finance firm to make sure the licensing campaign doesn’t have much in the way of up-front costs. This helps give them leverage to extract settlements from companies that don’t want to pay to defend the matter in court, even if a court might ultimately invalidate the patent if it reached the issue. That sounds an awful lot like a patent troll.
“Black lives matter on the streets. Black lives matter on the internet.” A year ago, EFF’s Executive Director, Cindy Cohn, shared these words in EFF's statement about the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. While there is still an immeasurably long way to go toward becoming a truly just society, EFF is inspired by this leaderful movement and humbled as we reflect on the ways in which we have been able to support its critical work.
Amazon Ring has announced that it will change the way police can request footage from millions of doorbell cameras in communities across the country. Rather than the current system, in which police can send automatic bulk email requests to individual Ring users in an area of interest up to a square half mile, police will now publicly post their requests to Ring’s accompanying Neighbors app. But Ring’s small reforms invite bigger questions.
On July 13, 2021, 3:00pm PT, Restore the 4th MN—a local organization in the Electronic Frontier Alliance (not EFF)—will host a panel to walk through the steps activists can take before, during, and after a protest that will help maximize their data security while still being effective.
On July 13, 2021, at 5:00pm PT, EFF Austin, a local organization in the Electronic Frontier Alliance (not EFF), will host a roundup of several bills that passed during the 87th regular session of the Texas Legislature that touch upon the domains of technology, surveillance, personally identifying information and data, and digital civil liberties.
Mark your calendars for Wednesday, July 28, 2021 at 5 pm Pacific Time! As an end to EFF's year-long celebration of our 30th anniversary, join us for a candid live discussion with some of our founders and early board members. EFF's Executive Director Cindy Cohn will be joined by Esther Dyson, Mitch Kapor, John Gilmore, and Steve Wozniak to discuss a variety of topics from EFF's origin story and its role in digital rights to where EFF is as an organization today.
EFF seeks an Associate Director of Institutional Support who is an outstanding and experienced writer to assist with the institutional funding strategy and the development and prospecting of institutional funders, organizational members and donors.
In a quick look back over 30 years of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), its creator, Phil Zimmermann, says "the need for protecting our right to a private conversation has never been stronger. " We agree.
On June 4, NPR re-aired an episode of This American Life featuring EFF co-founder John Perry Barlow describing an experience that began at the boundary of two conventions.
Did you know law enforcement can seize money from a person that has not been found guilty and never will be? This money often goes straight to funding surveillance technology.
It took two and a half years and one national security incident, but Venmo did it, folks: users now have privacy settings to hide their friends lists. Now, it should make privacy the default, not an option buried in the settings.