Press Releases: May 2004
EFF Urges Court to Find USA PATRIOT Act Powers Unconstitutional
San Francisco -- The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) yesterday filed a friend-of-the court brief supporting the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a suit challenging the constitutionality of National Security Letters (NSLs). Authorized by the USA PATRIOT Act and issued directly by FBI agents without any court supervision and without a show of probable cause, the letters are used to demand detailed information about people's private Internet communications from ISPs, web mail providers, and other communications service providers. The people whose communications are searched are not notified, and every letter is accompanied by a gag order that prohibits the letter's recipient from ever revealing its existence.
"Before PATRIOT, the FBI could use National Security Letters only for securing the records of suspected terrorists or spies," said EFF Attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow Kevin Bankston. "Now the FBI can use them to get private records about anybody it thinks could be relevant to a terrorism or espionage investigation, without ever having to show probable cause to a judge."
In its brief, EFF argues that the portion of the PATRIOT Act authorizing these warrantless government demands is unconstitutional, violating both First Amendment free speech rights and the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. By allowing FBI agents to access the complete online history of innocent Americans without proper safeguards against abuse, PATRIOT threatens to chill free speech on the Internet and make it impossible for Internet users to share unpopular ideas or associate with controversial groups anonymously.
"Using National Security Letters, the FBI can see what websites you visit, what mailing lists you subscribe to, who you correspond with, and much more -- all without judicial oversight of any kind," Bankston explained. "Yet this unrestrained power to examine innocent citizens' First Amendment activities online is merely one of the unconstitutional surveillance authorities granted to the FBI by the PATRIOT Act."
A favorable judgment in the ACLU's case would prohibit the FBI from using the National Security Letters any further.
Co-signatories to the EFF brief include the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Online Policy Group, Salon Media Group's division the WELL, and the U.S. Internet Industry Association.
Download the brief.
Attorney, Equal Justice Works / Bruce J. Ennis Fellow
Electronic Frontier Foundation
+1 415 436-9333 x126
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
+1 415 436-9333 x102 (office), +1 510 501-8755 (cell)
Amicus Brief and White Paper Support Shelley's Plan for Secure, Accessible E-Voting
San Francisco, CA -- EFF today filed an amicus brief in Benavidez v. Shelley (case number 2:04-cv-03318-FMC-PJW), a suit brought by Riverside County and several disability rights groups against California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley. The suit seeks to delay Shelley's order, issued April 30, that every California voter have the option to cast a paper ballot in the November presidential election. In its brief, EFF, joined by VerifiedVoting.org, the California Voter Foundation and VotersUnite!, argues that the court should deny this request.
Donation to Support Patent-Busting Project
San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the leading civil liberties organization working to defend freedom in the digital world, has received a $50,000 grant from The Parker Family Foundation of Lexington, Massachusetts, for EFF's Patent-Busting Project.
The World Intellectual Property Organization of the United Nations (WIPO) has accredited EFF to attend and observe the 11th session of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights in Geneva on June 7-10, 2004.
The committee meeting will discuss the proposed Broadcasting Treaty, which would extend the scope and duration of rights of broadcasters, cablecasters, and possibly, webcasters. EFF is concerned that, as currently drafted, this treaty may frustrate the free flow of information, even if that information is in the public domain. EFF will be attending with a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including the Consumer Project on Technology (CPTech), which aims to educate national delegates about the public interest concerns with the treaty's more problematic clauses.
"Big entertainment companies are present in force at these meetings, and it's high time that public-interest groups took a seat at the table to explore a range of balanced approaches," said Cory Doctorow, EFF European Affairs Director.
"We welcome the opportunity to participate in this important discussion and look forward to working together with the delegates in future meetings." added EFF staff attorney Gwen Hinze.
After Daylong Debate, the Future of H.R. 107 Looks Bright
Washington, D.C. - Today at 10:00 AM., the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Trade, Commerce and Consumer Protection held a hearing on H.R. 107, also known as the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act (DMCRA). Introduced by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) and Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), the DMCRA aims to reform the DMCA and require the recording industry to label CDs containing technological barriers that restrict consumers' rights.
EFF staff attorney Fred von Lohmann attended the hearing and reported that news from the Capitol is promising.
EFF this week filed comments (PDF) in the FCC's "Cognitive Radio" proceeding (ET Docket No. 03108) asking the Commission to answer empirically the question of what spectrum is actually in use (as opposed to simply allocated to a licensee), and to uphold its duty under the First Amendment by creating opportunities for flexible, software-defined radios to thrive on open hardware and in open systems.
"Radios built on PCs present unique enforcement challenges for the Commission," said Cory Doctorow, EFF's European Affairs Coordinator. "But retarding innovation in the hope that its enforcement tools will remain effective is the wrong way to meet these challenges. Instead, the Commission should assume
that our computers will be the basis of open, frequency-agile radios, then determine how best to address the problem of radios that harmfully interfere."