EFF in the News
Today, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that defends citizens' rights on the Internet, is fighting the Bush administration-era warrantless wiretapping, seeking the release of FBI surveillance rules, and investigating the Google Book Search settlement, which threatens to strip away the privacy and anonymity of readers everywhere. These are the cases that Ms. Cohen's lawsuit should bring to the forefront. They illustrate how precious our privacy is, and why we should fight for it, while also underlining that we must keep in mind what's good for the people and the safety of all.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco digital-rights nonprofit group that includes a lot of "burners" among its members, accused Burning Man of "fast and easy online censorship." Burning Man's Andie Grace fired back that the foundation's hit was "a startling disappointment" coming from a fellow traveler counterculture group, as both organizations are Bay Area-bred and dedicated to free expression. Burning Man is just trying to protect privacy and counter "the creep of ... commercialist wolves," she insisted.
It's like a battle between two giant, fluffy, white do-good rabbits. But this is serious business.
Marcia Hofmann, staff attorney at the EFF, says the new directives appear to be largely the same as past policy, although they do provide welcome specificity about border search procedures. "For example, the July 2008 border search policy issued by CBP said that agents could detain devices or copies for a 'reasonable period of time to perform a thorough border search,' but it wasn't clear what a 'reasonable period of time' was," she explained in an e-mail. "The new directives specify actual time lines, which is a positive change."
Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, has voiced many of these concerns himself, but he, too, doesn't see a valid legal argument for Port.
That said, he and other privacy advocates do worry about the legal precedent established, given the growing number of what are known as CyberSLAPP lawsuits. In such cases, targets of anonymous criticism file suits, often frivolous, just so they can issue a subpoena to a Web site or Internet service provider to uncover the identity of the authors and intimidate, embarrass or silence them. Cohen, in fact, has dropped her subsequent defamation suit, according to the New York Post.
"The notion that you can use the court as your personal private investigator to out anonymous critics is a dangerous precedent to set," Zimmerman said. "I think the practical impact (of the Cohen case) is that litigious people will see this as a green light to try to out critics."
Now comes the part where we all start cryin’ “free speech” and “censorship” and la, la, la …but guess what, kids? It’s Flickr’s ball and the law says Flickr gets to make the rules. Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, digital civil rights advocates, confirms the law favors Flickr. “It actually implicates the First Amendment rights of who's running the forum,” he said.
After the intervention of FIRE and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, along with the support of eleven other civil liberties organizations, MSU withdrew the charges against Kara and promised to reform its spam policy. Unfortunately, the university has put in its place a new spam policy that is not much of an improvement.
Marcia Hofmann, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a ditigal civil rights advocacy group, said in an interview the new rules are an improvement. But they don't go far enough, she said.
She said travelers should be told if information is copied from their devices. The new directive states that federal agents must tell travelers if they are looking at their property. But if officials copy the hard drive during this search, the traveler will not know.
"I don't think that's the way to go," Hofmann said.
The privacy implications of sweeping changes implemented before the legal review is finished worry Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. "As soon as you're saying that the federal government is going to be exercising this kind of power over private networks, it's going to be a really big issue," he says.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation sought the exemption, staff attorney Fred von Lohmann says, because it believes Apple is exploiting copyright laws to protect its business interests and those of its iPhone partner, AT&T. By deciding whether entrepreneurs like Arlo Gilbert get access to the iPhone platform, von Lohmann says, Apple can stymie innovation for reasons totally unconnected to copyright. He likens it to giving automakers the power to decide who can fix cars. "Sure, GM might tell us that for your own safety, all servicing should be done by an authorized GM dealer using only genuine GM parts," he says. "But we'd never accept this corporate paternalism as a justification for welding every car hood shut and imposing legal liability on car buffs tinkering in their garages."
In these and other cases, however, the White House is fighting outside groups like the ACLU, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which it can try to stonewall in the courts with relatively little press attention.