Press Releases: November 2016
Mobile Provider Battled Gag Order That Forced It to Keep Customers in the Dark
San Francisco - CREDO Mobile representatives confirmed today that their company was at the center of the long-running legal battle over the constitutionality of national security letters (NSLs), and published the letters the government sent three years ago.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has represented CREDO in this matter since 2013—and the case, bundled with two other NSL challenges, has reached the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Until now, CREDO was under a gag order, preventing CREDO officials from identifying the company or discussing their role in the case. In March, a district court found that the FBI had failed to demonstrate the need for this gag, and struck it down pending an appeal by the government. But earlier this month, the government decided to drop its appeal of that order, leaving CREDO free to talk about why the legal challenge is important to the company and its customers.
“A founding principle of CREDO is to fight for progressive causes we believe in, and we believe that NSLs are unconstitutional. These letters, and the gag orders that came with them, infringed our free speech rights, blocking us from talking to our members about them or discussing our experience while lawmakers debated NSL reform,” said Ray Morris, CREDO CEO. “We were proud to fight these NSLs all these years, and now we are proud to publish the letters and take full part in the ensuing debate.”
The NSLs statutes have been highly controversial since their use was expanded dramatically by the PATRIOT Act in 2001. Soon after that, internal reviews by the Department of Justice found that they had been widely misused. With an NSL, the FBI—on its own, and without court approval—can issue a secret letter to a communications provider, demanding information about its customers, nearly always accompanied by a gag order. That prevents recipients from notifying users about the NSL or even discussing the letter at all.
While the government has stopped pursuing the NSL gag orders on CREDO in this case, EFF’s two other NSL challenges are still being litigated in the appeals court. EFF’s clients—who still must remain secret—argue that they are being unconstitutionally barred from discussion and debate about government use of NSLs and surveillance reform.
“The FBI issues NSL demands for customer information without a warrant or any court supervision, and slaps on a gag order to make it hard for anyone to complain,” said EFF Staff Attorney Andrew Crocker. “The years-long fight in this case demonstrates the difficulty of challenging these orders, and we’re grateful to CREDO for stepping up for its customers and the public to fight these NSLs.”
CREDO Mobile has been in business for 31 years, originally as Working Assets. CREDO believes in bringing social change through every day acts of commerce. Since its founding, it’s donated $81 million to progressive causes.
For more on this case:
EFF and Visualizing Impact Analyze Reports of Content Moderation Gone Awry
San Francisco - User reports of censorship of social media posts show a deep frustration with companies’ content moderation policies, according to an analysis by Onlinecensorship.org, a project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Visualizing Impact.
In “Censorship in Context: Insights from Crowdsourced Data on Social Media Censorship,” researchers analyzed reports of content takedowns received from users of Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube from April to November of 2016. At a time when many are asking for more content moderation—like calls for Facebook to crack down on “fake news”—election-related censorship complaints focused on the desire of users to speak their minds and share information about a tight election without worrying that their posts will disappear.
“Social media is where we receive news, debate, and organize. These companies have enormous impact on the public sphere, yet they are still private entities with the ability to curate the information we see and the information we don’t see at their sole discretion,” said Jillian C. York, EFF Director for International Freedom of Expression and co-founder of Onlinecensorship.org. “The user base is what powers these social media tools, yet users are feeling like they don’t have any control or understanding of the system.”
“Censorship in Context” recommends best practices for social media content moderation, including transparency in how company policies are enforced and any available remedies. The researchers also urge strengthening systems of redress when content is removed in error, and doing a better job of educating users about what is acceptable on a given platform and what isn’t.
“Many people depend on Facebook to talk to friends, family, clients, and fans, and to debate the issues of the day,” said Project Strategist Sarah Myers West. “While these companies have the right to set their own rules, the least they can do is to tell everyone how they’re enforced.”
Onlinecensorship.org was launched in November of 2015 to spot trends in content removals and learn how these takedowns impact different communities. The site also includes a guide to appealing a content takedown and hosts a collection of news reports on content moderation practices.