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EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: July 2014

July 30, 2014

EFF Asks Appeals Court to Protect Free Speech and Innovation in Capitol v. Vimeo

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a coalition of advocacy groups have asked a federal appeals court to block record labels' attempt to thwart federal law in Capitol v. Vimeo—a case that could jeopardize free speech and innovation and the sites that host both.

In this lawsuit, the record labels sued online video site Vimeo, alleging that dozens of sound recordings were infringed in videos posted on the site. A ruling from a district court judge earlier this year found Vimeo could be responsible for copyright infringement, and in doing so imposed new, impossibly high standards for websites hosting user-generated content. In an amicus brief filed Wednesday, EFF argues that the decision undermines the safe harbors created by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and the innovation and expression those safe harbors make possible.

"The safe harbors give websites a clear set of rules. If they follow the law in their response to complaints from copyright owners, then they can predict and manage their exposure to lawsuits and other legal challenges," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. "The safe harbors are critical to the Internet's success as a forum for innovative art, discussion, and expression of all kinds, forestalling crippling litigation that would force most websites to close their doors. Yet the district court created new liability, contrary to the law and the intent of Congress."

At issue in Capitol v. Vimeo are videos that Vimeo employees viewed or interacted with, as well as pre-1972 sound recordings, which receive different copyright protection than post-1972 works. Essentially, the decision would seem to offer service providers an impossible choice: scour the website for any content that anyone could argue might include pre-1972 audio and thereby potentially lose safe harbor protections, or risk expensive copyright litigation.

"This is exactly the result that Congress was trying to avoid with the safe harbors—without them service providers unwilling to risk being sued may decide not to host videos and other works with audio at all," said EFF Staff Attorney Vera Ranieri. "We hope the appeals court steps in to reinforce the law and protect free speech and innovation online."

Also joining EFF's brief are the Center for Democracy and Technology, New Media Rights, the Organization for Transformative Works, and Public Knowledge.

For the full amicus brief:
https://www.eff.org/document/amicus-brief-23

Contacts:

Corynne McSherry
   Intellectual Property Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   corynne@eff.org

Vera Ranieri
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   vera@eff.org

July 25, 2014

Graphic Explains to Court and the Public How the NSA Seizes and Searches Innocent Americans' Communications

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today presented a federal court with a detailed explanation of how the NSA taps into the Internet backbone and requested the judge rule that the agency is violating the Fourth Amendment by copying and searching the collected data.

EFF argues there are now enough agreed-upon facts in our lawsuit, Jewel v. NSA, to reach a constitutional conclusion. To shed light on how the mass surveillance violates the Fourth Amendment, EFF crafted a new infographic that details each stage of the surveillance. The graphic is freely available for republication.

"We believe there is enough on the record now for the judge to rule that both the initial mass seizure and the subsequent searching of the content of Internet communications are unconstitutional," EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn said. "By installing fiber-optic splitters on the Internet backbone, and then searching through tens of millions of Internet communications it collects, the NSA is conducting suspicionless and indiscriminate mass surveillance that is like the abusive 'general warrants' that led the nation's founders to enact the Fourth Amendment."

Jewel v. NSA was filed in 2008 on behalf of San Francisco Bay Area resident Carolyn Jewel and other AT&T customers. EFF has amassed a mountain of evidence to support the case, including documents provided by former AT&T telecommunications technician Mark Klein showing that the company has routed copies of Internet traffic to a secret room in San Francisco controlled by the NSA. Telecommunications specialist and former FCC technical adviser J. Scott Marcus also has given expert testimony confirming the mass, domestic nature of the collection. Other whistleblowers—including Thomas Drake, Bill Binney and Edward Snowden—have revealed more detail about how this technique works and feeds data into the NSA's massive collection of communications. Over the last year, the government has confirmed that it searches the content of much of what it collects as part of its "upstream" activities without a warrant. Instead, it currently claims the searches are justified under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act.

"By sitting on the Internet 'backbone' at key junctures, the government is operating a digital dragnet—a technological surveillance system that makes it impossible for ordinary Americans not suspected of any wrongdoing to engage in a fully private online conversation, to privately read online, or to privately access any online service," Cohn said. "The Constitution was written to ensure that Americans felt secure in their papers, digital or otherwise, and we're asking the judge to rule that the NSA's mass seizures and searches are illegal."

EFF is also currently fighting with the NSA over its failure to preserve evidence, including years of Internet-backbone data it collected, as well as telephone records and Internet metadata. Jewel v. NSA is one of three of EFF's cases aimed at ending NSA spying. The two others are First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA and Smith v. NSA.

Note on Graphic: The graphic is available under the Creative Commons Attribution License. Attribute to Electronic Frontier Foundation/Hugh D'Andrade.

For the full brief:
https://www.eff.org/document/plaintiffs-jewel-knutzen-and-waltons-motion-partial-summary-judgment

For the infographic:
https://eff.org/r.4tmr

Contact:

Cindy Cohn
   Legal Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   cindy@eff.org

July 21, 2014

Add-On for Firefox and Chrome Prevents Spying by Ads, Social Widgets, and Hidden Trackers

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has released a beta version of Privacy Badger, a browser extension for Firefox and Chrome that detects and blocks online advertising and other embedded content that tracks you without your permission.

Privacy Badger was launched in an alpha version less than three months ago, and already more than 150,000 users have installed the extension. Today's beta release includes a feature that automatically limits the tracking function of social media widgets, like the Facebook "Like" button, replacing them with a stand-in version that allows you to "like" something but prevents the social media tool from tracking your reading habits.

"Widgets that say 'Like this page on Facebook' or 'Tweet this' often allow those companies to see what webpages you are visiting, even if you never click the widget's button," said EFF Technology Projects Director Peter Eckersley. "The Privacy Badger alpha would detect that, and block those widgets outright. But now Privacy Badger's beta version has gotten smarter: it can block the tracking while still giving you the option to see and click on those buttons if you so choose."

EFF created Privacy Badger to fight intrusive and objectionable practices in the online advertising industry. Merely visiting a website with certain kinds of embedded images, scripts, or advertising can open the door to a third-party tracker, which can then collect a record of the page you are visiting and merge that with a database of what you did beforehand and afterward. If Privacy Badger spots a tracker following you without your permission, it will either block all content from that tracker or screen out the tracking cookies.

Privacy Badger is one way that Internet users can fight the decision that many companies have made to ignore Do Not Track requests, the universal Web tracking opt-out you can enable in your browser. Privacy Badger enforces users' preferences whether these companies respect your Do Not Track choice or not. Advertisers and other third-party domains that are blocked in Privacy Badger can unblock themselves by making a formal commitment to respect their users' Do Not Track requests.

"Users who install Privacy Badger aren't just getting more privacy and a better browsing experience for themselves—they are providing incentives for improved privacy practices and respect for Do Not Track choices across the Internet," said Eckersely. "Using Privacy Badger helps to make the Web as a whole better for everyone."

EFF wishes to thank Professor Franziska Roesner at the University of Washington for exceptional work in enhancing Privacy Badger's widget-handling algorithms.

To install the beta version of Privacy Badger:
https://www.eff.org/privacybadger

Contact:

Peter Eckersley
   Technology Projects Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   pde@eff.org

July 16, 2014

Court of Appeals Agrees to Expedite Case Over Telephone Records Collection

Coeur d'Alene, Idaho - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho have announced they will join Anna Smith's legal team in her challenge of the government's bulk collection of the telephone records of millions of innocent Americans.

Smith, an emergency neonatal nurse and pregnant mother of two, filed her suit against President Obama and several U.S. intelligence agencies shortly after the government confirmed revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) was conducting bulk collection of telephone records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Smith, a customer of Verizon wireless, one of the companies that was ordered to disclose records to the NSA, argued the program violated her First and Fourth Amendment rights by collecting a wealth of detail about her familial, political, professional, religious and intimate associations.

"When I found out that the NSA was collecting records of my phone calls, I was shocked," said Smith, who is also represented by her husband, Peter J. Smith IV, and Idaho State Rep. Luke Malek. "I have heard of other governments spying indiscriminately on their own citizens, but I naively thought it did not happen in America. I believe who I call, when I call them, and how long we talk is not something the government should be able to get without a warrant. I sued because I believe the Constitution protects my calls from government searches. I am thrilled that the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation agreed to assist us in this case. What Americans can reasonably expect to remain private is an issue of monumental importance."

When U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill dismissed Smith's case, he expressed grave concerns about the privacy implications of the NSA's surveillance but said that he believed that a 1979 Supreme Court case about targeted surveillance tied his hands. Smith is now appealing to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

EFF and the ACLU have each litigated numerous First and Fourth amendment lawsuits, including ongoing cases over this very NSA program. The ACLU is a plaintiff in a case currently pending before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to be heard in early September. EFF has two cases before the Northern California federal court. Smith v. Obama represents another opportunity to halt this mass surveillance.

"Anna Smith proves that a single citizen has the power to stand up for her rights and challenge the government when it tramples them," EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn said. "EFF is proud to lend our expertise in pursuing her appeal, which could very well be one of the cases that makes it to the Supreme Court."

The court has granted Smith's motion to expedite the case, with the opening brief due on Sept. 2, 2014.

"The call records program needlessly invades the privacy of millions of people," said ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer. "Even the President has acknowledged that the NSA does not need to collect information about every phone call in order to track the associations of suspected terrorists. Dragnet surveillance on this scale is both unconstitutional and unnecessary."

Contacts:

Dave Maass
   Media Relations Coordinator
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   press@eff.org

Steve Smith
   Associate Director for Strategic Communications
   American Civil Liberties Union
   media@aclu.org

Peter J. Smith
   Media Relations Coordinator
   psmith@lukins.com

Related Issues:
July 16, 2014

Agency Must Abandon Dangerous Traffic-Discrimination Plan

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that the agency must abandon its current, dangerous plan to allow for Internet traffic discrimination. Instead, EFF is urging the FCC to reclassify the Internet as a "common carrier" and also to restrict itself to limited and tightly bounded regulation.

In formal comments submitted to the FCC, EFF argues that defending the neutral Internet is critical to protecting new online applications and services – innovations that have made the Internet a global platform for free expression and commerce of every kind.

"An open, neutral, and fast Internet has sparked an explosion of innovation in everything from shopping to the way we exchange ideas and debate potential political change," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. "But its founding principles are now under threat. It's time for users to take action to protect our Internet."

The FCC has long promised to take steps to protect the open Internet, but earlier this year the agency announced a net neutrality proposal that would allow for so-called "Internet fast lanes." The plan claims to promote a neutral Internet, but embraces a "commercially reasonable" standard for network management, allowing ISPs to make special deals that would give some services privileged access to subscribers.

EFF believes that market competition should be the first line of defense against abusive ISP practices like non-neutral behavior. But because most Americans have only one or two realistic choices for residential broadband, normal market forces might not prevent discriminatory policies.

In its formal comments, EFF outlines a better way to protect the open Internet. A crucial piece is classifying broadband as a "telecommunications service" instead of an "information service," allowing the FCC to enforce "common carrier" rules like the ones that ensure fair and equal telephone service. At the same time, the FCC should only regulate narrowly, with clear rules. To prevent over-regulation, the FCC should explicitly "forbear" from applying many rules better suited for telephone service than Internet service – an official procedure the FCC has used in the past. In the meantime, the FCC can do more to require real transparency about broadband provider practices, as well as take steps to restore the open access rules that helped spark the early growth of the Internet.

"The FCC's current course is dangerous. It could undermine what makes the Internet the groundbreaking technology that it is," said EFF Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz. "It's time for the FCC to leave its flawed proposal aside and work on a better plan to support the open Internet."

The FCC is taking comment from the general public until September 10. You can send your views in through EFF's tool at DearFCC.org. So far, hundreds of thousands of people have submitted comments to the FCC, and the agency's site was only working intermittently Tuesday because of the large amount of traffic.

For EFF's full comments to the FCC:
https://www.eff.org/document/effs-formal-comments-fcc

To submit your own comments:
https://dearfcc.org

Contacts:

Corynne McSherry
   Intellectual Property Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   corynne@eff.org

Mitch Stoltz
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   mitch@eff.org

Related Issues:
July 1, 2014

Government Needs to Reveal Decision-Making Process for Publicizing Vulnerabilities

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to gain access to documents showing how intelligence agencies choose whether to disclose software security flaws known as "zero days."

A zero day is a previously unknown security vulnerability in software or online services that a researcher has discovered, but the developers have not yet had a chance to patch. A thriving market has emerged for these zero days; in some cases governments—including the United States—will purchase these vulnerabilities, which they can use to gain access to targets' computers.

In April 2014, Bloomberg News published a story alleging that the NSA had secretly exploited the "Heartbleed" bug in the OpenSSL cryptographic library for at least two years before the public learned of the devastating vulnerability. The government strongly denied the report, claiming it had a developed a new "Vulnerability Equities Process" for deciding when to share vulnerabilities with companies and the public. The White House's cybersecurity coordinator further described in a blog post that the government had "established principles to guide agency decision-making" including "a disciplined, rigorous and high-level decision-making process for vulnerability disclosure." But the substance of those principles has not been shared with the public.

EFF filed a FOIA request for records related to these processes on May 6 but has not yet received any documents, despite ODNI agreeing to expedite the request.

"This FOIA suit seeks transparency on one of the least understood elements of the U.S. intelligence community's toolset: security vulnerabilities," EFF Legal Fellow Andrew Crocker said. "These documents are important to the kind of informed debate that the public and the administration agree needs to happen in our country."

Over the last year, U.S. intelligence-gathering techniques have come under great public scrutiny. One controversial element has been how agencies such as the NSA have undermined encryption protocols and used zero days. While an intelligence agency may use a zero day it has discovered or purchased to infiltrate targeted computers or devices, disclosing its existence may result in a patch that will help defend the public against other online adversaries, including identity thieves and foreign governments that may also be aware of the zero day.

"Since these vulnerabilities potentially affect the security of users all over the world, the public has a strong interest in knowing how these agencies are weighing the risks and benefits of using zero days instead of disclosing them to vendors," Global Policy Analyst Eva Galperin said.

For the complaint:
https://www.eff.org/document/eff-v-nsa-odni-complaint

Contacts:

Andrew Crocker
   Legal Fellow
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   andrew@eff.org

Eva Galperin
   Global Policy Analyst
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   eva@eff.org

Related Issues:
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