Press Releases: June 2018
Fears of Criminal Charges Muzzle Online Speech about Sex Work and Force Community Forums Offline
San Francisco – Two human rights organizations, a digital library, an activist for sex workers, and a certified massage therapist have filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to block enforcement of FOSTA, the new federal law that silences online speech by forcing speakers to self-censor and requiring platforms to censor their users. The plaintiffs are represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Davis, Wright Tremaine LLP, Walters Law Group, and Daphne Keller.
In Woodhull Freedom Foundation et al. v. United States, the plaintiffs argue that FOSTA is unconstitutional, muzzling online speech that protects and advocates for sex workers and forces well-established, general interest community forums offline for fear of criminal charges and heavy civil liability for things their users might share.
FOSTA, or the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, was passed by Congress in March. But instead of focusing on the perpetrators of sex trafficking, FOSTA goes after online speakers, imposing harsh penalties for any website that might “facilitate” prostitution or “contribute to sex trafficking.” The vague language and multiple layers of ambiguity are driving constitutionally protected speech off the Internet at a rapid pace.
For example, plaintiff the Woodhull Freedom Foundation works to support the health, safety, and protection of sex workers, among other things. Woodhull wanted to publish information on its website to help sex workers understand what FOSTA meant to them. But instead, worried about liability under FOSTA, Woodhull was forced to censor its own speech and the speech of others who wanted to contribute to their blog. Woodhull is also concerned about the impact of FOSTA on its upcoming annual summit, scheduled for next month.
“FOSTA chills sexual speech and harms sex workers,” said Ricci Levy, executive director Woodhull Freedom Foundation. “It makes it harder for people to take care of and protect themselves, and, as an organization working to protect people’s fundamental human rights, Woodhull is deeply concerned about the damaging impact that this law will have on all people.”
FOSTA calls into serious question the legality of online speech that advocates for the decriminalization of sex work, or provides health and safety information to sex workers. Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international organization that is also a plaintiff, advocates globally for ways to protect sex workers from violence, health risks, and other human rights abuses. The group is concerned that its efforts to expose abuses against sex workers and decriminalize voluntary sex work could be seen as “facilitating” “prostitution,” or in some way assisting sex trafficking.
“HRW relies heavily on individuals spreading its reporting and advocacy through social media,” said Dinah Pokempner, HRW General Counsel. “We are worried that social media platforms and websites may block the sharing of this information out of concern it could be seen as demonstrating a “reckless disregard” of sex trafficking activities under FOSTA. This law is the wrong approach to the scourge of sex trafficking.”
But FOSTA doesn’t just impede the work of sex educators and activists. It also led to the shutdown of Craigslist’s “Therapeutic Services” section, which has imperiled the business of a licensed massage therapist who is another plaintiff in this case. The Internet Archive joined this lawsuit against FOSTA because the law might hinder its work of cataloging and storing 330 billion web pages from 1996 to the present.
Because of the critical issues at stake, the lawsuit filed today asks the court to declare that FOSTA is unconstitutional, and asks that the government be permanently enjoined from enforcing the law.
“FOSTA is the most comprehensive censorship of Internet speech in America in the last 20 years,” said EFF Civil Liberties Director David Greene. “Despite good intentions, Congress wrote an awful and harmful law, and it must be struck down.”
For the full complaint in Woodhull v. United States:
For more on FOSTA:
SAN FRANCISCO - Stephanie Lenz and Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) today announced they have amicably resolved Lenz v. Universal, the widely followed litigation sometimes referred to as the “Dancing Baby” case. Lenz filed her complaint in 2007, after UMPG requested the removal of a video in which Lenz’s then-toddler aged son dances to music playing in the background.
David Kokakis, UMPG’s Chief Counsel, said, “UMPG takes great pride in protecting the rights of our songwriters. Inherent in that objective is our desire to take a thoughtful approach to enforcement matters. The Lenz case helped us to develop a fair and tempered process for evaluation of potential takedowns.”
“From what I have seen, UMPG's current takedown review process is much better,” said Stephanie Lenz. “If UMPG's current processes had been in place eleven years ago when I posted my video of my young son dancing, I probably wouldn’t have had to contact the Electronic Frontier Foundation.”
About Stephanie Lenz
Stephanie Lenz is a writer and editor, and the child in the video—Holden Lenz—is now 12 years old and in middle school. Lenz is represented pro bono by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and by Michael Kwun at Kwun Bhansali Lazarus LLP (formerly at Keker, Van Nest & Peters LLP).
About Universal Music Publishing Group
Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) is a leading global music publisher with 44 offices in 37 countries. Headquartered in Los Angeles, UMPG represents music across every genre from some of the world’s most important songwriters and catalogs. These include ABBA, Adele, Jhené Aiko, Alabama Shakes, Alex Da Kid, Axwell & Ingrosso, J Balvin, Bastille, Beach Boys, Beastie Boys, Bee Gees, Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Jeff Bhasker, Justin Bieber, Benny Blanco, Chris Brown, Kane Brown, Mariah Carey, Michael Chabon, Desmond Child, The Clash, Coldplay, J. Cole, Elvis Costello, Miley Cyrus, Jason Derulo, Alexandre Desplat, Neil Diamond, Disclosure, Dua Lipa, Danny Elfman, Eminem, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Florence + the Machine, Future, Martin Garrix, Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, Al Green, HAIM, Halsey, Emile Haynie, Jimi Hendrix, Don Henley, Kacy Hill, Hit-Boy, Sam Hunt, Imagine Dragons, Carly Rae Jepsen, Jeremih, Tobias Jesso Jr., Billy Joel, Elton John/Bernie Taupin, Joe Jonas, Nick Jonas, Lil Yachty, Linkin Park, Demi Lovato, the Mamas & the Papas, Steve Mac, Maroon 5, Shawn Mendes, Metro Boomin, Miguel, Nicki Minaj, Stephan Moccio, Mumford & Sons, Jimmy Napes, Randy Newman, New Order, Ne-Yo, Pearl Jam, Rudy Perez, Post Malone, Otis Redding, R.E.M., Rex Orange County, Carole Bayer Sager, Gustavo Santaolalla, Sex Pistols, Carly Simon, Paul Simon, Britney Spears, Bruce Springsteen, Stax (East Memphis Music), Harry Styles, SZA, Shania Twain, Justin Timberlake, U2, Keith Urban, Troy Verges, Diane Warren, Jack White, Zedd and many more.
Universal Music Group
Electronic Frontier Foundation
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New Data Shows Law Enforcement Abused Network 143 Times in 2017
San Francisco - Responding to years of investigations and pressure from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the California Attorney General's Office has overhauled and improved its oversight of law enforcement access to a computer network containing the sensitive personal data of millions of state residents, which police abused 143 times in 2017.
The new policies and data will be presented at a regular oversight meeting on Thursday, June 21, 2018 at the Folsom City Council Chambers.
EFF has been investigating abuse of the California Law Enforcement Telecommunication System (CLETS)—the computer network that connects criminal record and DMV data with local and federal agencies across the state—since 2015. Law enforcement personnel access this data more than 2.8 million times daily.
EFF’s research found that misuse of this system was rampant. Examples include officers accessing confidential data for domestic disputes and running background checks on online dates. One particularly egregious case involved an officer who allegedly planned to hand sensitive information on witnesses to the family member of a convicted murderer.
Not only did the Attorney General’s CLETS Advisory Committee fail to hold these agencies accountable, in many cases it failed to enforce requirements that agencies disclose misuse investigations at all. As a result, the Attorney General has not maintained reliable data on misuse.
Earlier this month, the Attorney General’s office began implementing several changes to their oversight of law enforcement agencies, including stiffer penalties when agencies fail to report misuse. The agency also directed a team to bring several hundred delinquent agencies into compliance with misuse disclosure requirements.
“Accountability starts with good data, and so it’s a great start for the Attorney General’s office to give better instructions to law enforcement agencies and to use the enforcement mechanism to ensure disclosure of database abuse,” EFF Senior Investigative Researcher Dave Maass said. “But this should only be the first step. We will be watching closely to see if the Attorney General actually follows through on his threats to sanction agencies who sweep CLETS abuse under the carpet.”
EFF hopes that accurate data on misuse of CLETS will lead to investigations and accountability for any agency that fails to adequately protect people’s privacy. In addition, EFF is calling on the California Attorney General’s office to tighten its scrutiny of federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, to ensure that they not abusing CLETS for immigration enforcement.
“The California Attorney General is finally taking police database abuse seriously,” EFF Staff Attorney Aaron Mackey said. “It’s great that we will finally have good aggregate data on misuse. Now law enforcement needs to follow up on any improper behavior with thorough investigations.”
For deeper analysis and links to the records: