EFF in the News
Facebook’s change in policy, which took place at some point in the spring, came after the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) called attention to a process that allowed prisons to remove accounts simply by submitting a notice. As a result, profiles—and any photos or comments they contained—simply vanished at the whim of prison officials.
The EFF, which has a full account of the changes, commended Facebook for the new procedures, but said the company should start including deleted prisoner accounts in its semi-annual Transparency Report, a document that reports on government censorship.
Others were equally baffled. Hanni Fakhoury, a former public defender and current lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wasn't worried about the lack of usage records necessarily.
"An important tool for preventing use of the technology is to be clear with officers about what they can and can’t do," he told Ars. "It does both the officers and the public a disservice when decisions governing the use of the device are left to the whims of the officers in the field."
Jewel filed the case seven years ago, claiming the government acquires AT&T customers' email and other data using spy devices attached to the company's network. Digital watchdog group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) represents Jewel in the action.
“Facebook did recently adjust their procedures,” says Dave Maass of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a San Francisco-based digital civil liberties nonprofit. “They’re now asking at least very basic questions of the prison before they take a prisoner’s page down—such as, ‘What exactly is the inmate doing that’s so dangerous?’”
Hanni Fakhoury, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says the feds' broad interpretation of Sarbanes-Oxley in the digital age is part of a wider trend: federal agents' feeling "entitled" to digital data.
Fakhoury compares the broad application of Sarbanes-Oxley in the digital realm to the federal government's resistance to cellphone companies that want to sell encrypted phones that would prevent law enforcement from being able to access users' data. When the new encrypted iPhone came out, FBI Director James Comey told reporters that he didn't understand why companies would "market something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law."
"At its core," Fakhoury says, "what the government is saying is, ‘We have to create a mechanism that allows everybody's [cellphone] data to be open for inspection on the off-chance that one day in the future, for whatever random circumstance, we need to see that data.'"
Similarly, Fakhoury says the government's underlying theory in cases like Kernell's is, "Don't even think about deleting anything that may be harmful to you, because we may come after you at some point in the future for some unforeseen reason and we want to be able to have access to that data. And if we don't have access to that data, we're going to slap an obstruction charge that has as 20-year maximum on you."
In a call with reporters this afternoon, Cindy Cohn, Electronic Frontier Foundation executive director, said it means “nothing.” She referenced several review groups commissioned by the government in the wake of the Snowden revelations that found the bulk phone record collection program had not thwarted terrorst attacks. Additionally several judicial bodies, including recently an appellate court, have questioned the legality of these programs.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) noted during a press call on Monday that the public's had an immense response to the current law and proposed bills. The EFF attributed all the online debate, legislative conversations and general back and forth on the legislation to the large amount of action constituents have taken, such as calling legislators and emailing Congress.
“It's a really important piece in all of this,” said Nadia Kayyali, an activist at the EFF. “Maybe [the USA Freedom Act] isn't the perfect bill, but we are in a sunset now and that's huge.”
“We will see a final vote on the USA Freedom Act with poison pill amendments that will try to weaken the bill," says Mark Jaycox, legislative analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The Senate must hold strong and ensure that the USA Freedom Act as passed by the House is the version they vote on,” he says.
That might not make much of a difference either, says Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
"So if you’ve got a small ISP and it sits on top of AT&T or on top of Sprint, even if they couldn't get it from the little ISP or the little telecom carrier, they could go upstream and generally those records are available," Cohn says.
But as Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says, “We’ve always known that [federal] entities have internally conflicting missions. On the one hand they do enforce privacy laws and secure networks. But when they go after bad guys, their job is to infiltrate. They are dual-hatted.”