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EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: August 2006

August 31, 2006

Groundbreaking Bill Waits for Governor's Signature

Sacramento - The California State Senate passed tough new privacy safeguards late yesterday for use of "tag and track" devices known as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips embedded in state identification cards. The bill helps ensure that Californians can control the personal information contained on their drivers' licenses, library cards and other important ID documents.

The State Assembly passed the Identity Information Protection Act (Senate Bill 768), authored by Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), earlier this month. Governor Schwarzenegger has until September 30 to sign the bill into law. The legislation is sponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the ACLU, and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, and it is supported by groups ranging from the AARP to the California Alliance Against Domestic Violence to the Gun Owners of California.

"Without security safeguards, RFID tags can expose you to identity theft, covert tracking, and stalking," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "This bill is a good first step toward ensuring that critical state-issued IDs don't leak your personal information."

RFID tags are tiny devices connected to miniature antennae that can be used to store and transmit personal information. When an RFID reader emits a radio signal, RFID tags respond with their stored information. The federal government has decided to embed RFID tags in new U.S. passports, and states across the country are considering their use in ID cards. The Identity Information Protection Act has drawn national attention as a model for future privacy-protecting laws in other states.

"RFID technology is not in and of itself the issue. The issue is whether and under what circumstances the government should be allowed to compel its residents to carry technology that broadcasts their most personal information," said Senator Simitian. "This bill provides a thoughtful and rational policy framework for making those decisions. I hope the Governor agrees."

EFF's Identity Information Protection Act fact sheet:
http://www.eff.org/Privacy/Surveillance/RFID/sb768_fact_sheet.php

For more on RFID:
http://www.eff.org/Privacy/Surveillance/RFID/

Contact:

Lee Tien
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
tien@eff.org

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August 24, 2006

Lawsuit Fights Baseless Copyright, Trademark Threats

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked a federal court Wednesday to protect the free speech rights of a website publisher who has suffered years of baseless legal threats over his parody of the Barney and Friends television show.

Since 2002, the Lyons Partnership has repeatedly sent meritless cease-and-desist letters to Stuart Frankel because his website pokes fun at Barney the purple dinosaur, the well-known children's television character. Dr. Frankel, assisted by EFF, responded to these letters in 2002 and 2005, but Barney's lawyers have continued to harass him. The lawsuit filed by Dr. Frankel asks the court to finally resolve the matter by declaring that his parody does not infringe Barney's copyright or trademark rights.

"Barney's lawyers are sending out intimidating lawyer letters to parody websites that are clearly protected by the First Amendment and fair use," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Fred von Lohmann. "It's time for Barney to call off his lawyer armies and get back to entertaining children."

Barney's lawyers have a history of using copyright and trademark laws as a pretext for censorship. In fact, EFF itself received such a warning in 2001 after archiving a copy of a different Barney parody on its site.

"The misuse of intimidating cease-and-desist letters for censorship is a growing problem online," said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "We hope this lawsuit sends a message to Barney's owners and other corporations to think twice before sending baseless threat letters."

EFF has long defended digital artists' rights to build upon other creative works. During the 2004 election campaign, EFF helped protect JibJab Media, Inc., and its animation "This Land" after Ludlow Music claimed the work infringed the copyright of Woody Guthrie's song "This Land Is Your Land."

EFF is being assisted in this case by Elizabeth Rader, an attorney with the San Francisco office of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer &amp Feld LLP, which is defending Dr. Frankel's free speech rights on a pro bono basis.

For the full complaint:
http://www.eff.org/legal/cases/barney/frankel_v_lyons_complaint.pdf

For more on Barney's copyright abuses:
http://www.eff.org/legal/cases/barney/

Contacts:

Corynne McSherry
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
corynne@eff.org

Fred von Lohmann
Senior Intellectual Property Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
fred@eff.org

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August 23, 2006

EFF Asks Supreme Court to Protect Open Source Innovation

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has asked the United States Supreme Court to overturn a dangerous patent law ruling that could pose a serious threat to Free and Open Source Software projects.

In a recent decision, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed its own "suggestion test" as the main method for determining when a patent should be found obvious over knowledge in the public domain. Under this test, even the most obvious incremental advances and add-ons can be patented unless the Patent Office or a defendant in court produces a document that shows someone else suggested it prior to the patent being filed.

"The Federal Circuit's suggestion test forces litigants to search through reams of technical papers for a document in which someone, somewhere, bothers to state the obvious," said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry, who co-authored the amicus brief. "This is inefficient and burdensome, and contrary to the principles, policies, and standards the Supreme Court has upheld."

In its amicus brief filed Tuesday, EFF shows how this "suggestion test" has led to a massive surge in bogus patenting, especially in software. These bad patents then become weapons against legitimate innovators -- especially those working on Free and Open Source Software projects.

"Free and Open Source Software projects have become an integral part of the software industry and our nation's economy," said EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz, a co-author of the brief. "They often lack the resources or formal documentation to fight against bogus patents under the suggestion test, so it is principally important that the Supreme Court set the appropriate standard to prevent the approval of bogus patents."

The case, KSR International Co. v. Teleflex, Inc., and Technology Holding Co., is scheduled for oral argument in front the Supreme Court this fall.

For the full amicus brief:
http://www.eff.org/legal/cases/KSR_v_Teleflex/ksr_amicus.pdf

Contacts:

Corynne McSherry
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
corynne@eff.org

Jason Schultz
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
jason@eff.org

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August 14, 2006

Internet Company's Publication of Search Logs Exposes Customers' Private Lives

Washington, D.C. - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate America Online (AOL) and require changes in its privacy practices, after the company recently released search history logs that exposed the private lives of more than a half-million of its customers.

Last week, news reports revealed that AOL published to the Internet three months of search queries from about 650,000 users. In its complaint, EFF argues that the release of this data violated AOL's privacy policy and the Federal Trade Commission Act and should be investigated. EFF further requests that the FTC require AOL to notify customers affected by the disclosure and to stop logging search data except where absolutely necessary.

"Search terms can expose the most intimate details of a person's life -- private information about your family problems, your medical history, your financial situation, your political and religious beliefs, your sexual preferences, and much more," said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "At the very least, AOL should notify every customer whose privacy has been jeopardized by the company's careless handling of this incredibly private information, and AOL should not store this kind of data in the future when it doesn't have to."

While AOL has removed the data from its own web site, the data is still freely available from other sites on the Internet. And although specific AOL screen names were not released, the data is associated with unique ID numbers, allowing each user's search terms to be grouped together. Whether because of users' searches for their own names or MySpace profiles, or searches related to their cities and neighborhoods, these search histories can expose -- and in some cases, already have exposed -- particular users' private searches to the world. In support of its complaint, EFF confidentially submitted examples of search queries containing personally identifiable information and search histories that could likely be tied to particular AOL subscribers.

"We've asked the FTC to make sure that AOL rectifies the damage that's been done and improve its privacy protections for the future," said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "But this problem isn't limited to AOL -- every search company stores this kind of data. Hopefully, AOL's shocking violation of its users' privacy will spur Congress to clarify that the same law that prevents these companies from disclosing our personal emails also applies to our search logs."

For the FTC complaint:
http://www.eff.org/Privacy/AOL/aol_ftc_complaint_final.pdf

For more on the AOL data release:
http://www.eff.org/Privacy/AOL/

Contacts:

Kevin Bankston
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
bankston@eff.org

Marcia Hofmann
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
marcia@eff.org

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August 10, 2006

RIAA Should Pay Victim's Legal Costs in Baseless Suit

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), along with the American Association of Law Libraries, the ACLU, and Public Citizen, filed a brief with an Oklahoma district court Thursday, strongly urging a judge to award the innocent target of a file-sharing lawsuit the cost of her attorney's fees in battling the baseless allegations of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

The RIAA sued Deborah Foster in November of 2004, accusing her of illegally downloading copyrighted material. Foster denied the allegations and fought back in court, and the case was dismissed. But many others who are falsely accused accept settlement offers from the RIAA because the cost of settling the case is less than what they might spend defending themselves.

"The RIAA has forced many innocent Americans through an expensive and emotionally draining process to clear their names. Some, understandably, just give up," said EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz. "Deborah Foster fought a brave battle against unjust charges, and she deserves to have her attorney's fees reimbursed."

So far, the RIAA has sued over 18,000 individuals for allegedly sharing music over the Internet. But the industry uses slapdash investigative methods to find its targets, and so innocent people as well as guilty ones can find themselves entangled in an expensive and draining process. One recent victim was a woman who didn't even own a computer. Another lawsuit target was deceased. If Ms. Foster is awarded attorney's fees, it will encourage future innocent victims to stand up for themselves in court.

"Innocent victims of meritless lawsuits have the right to fight back," said Schultz. "The RIAA needs to know that it can't continue its sloppy campaign without regard to the people ensnared by it."

The amicus brief was filed in the western district of Oklahoma with the assistance of attorney A. Laurie Koller of Carr &amp Carr.

For the full amicus brief:
http://www.eff.org/legal/cases/Capitol_v_Foster/amicus_in_support_of_fees.pdf

For more on the RIAA's lawsuits:
http://www.eff.org/IP/P2P/RIAAatTWO_FINAL.pdf

Contact:

Jason Schultz
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
jason@eff.org

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August 9, 2006

EFF Battles Heavy-Handed Tactics in Copyright Lawsuit

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed a motion to block a brazen attempt to unmask the identities of anonymous members of an online discussion group for embroidery fans.

The online group was created to share information about a long-running campaign to threaten purchasers of embroidery designs and software with copyright infringement lawsuits. The Embroidery Software Protection Coalition (ESPC), a purported coalition of embroidery pattern design companies, is behind the heavy-handed campaign. Last month, ESPC filed defamation claims against some members of the group and then issued a subpoena for detailed personal information about every single person who joined the discussion group -- whether or not they had ever posted a single message.

"ESPC's shotgun approach is aimed not at redressing defamation, but at intimidating those who have sought to raise public awareness of its ham-fisted tactics," said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "The First Amendment forbids such abusive use of the courts and the discovery process."

This case is the latest in EFF's long fight to protect anonymity online. EFF lawyers have represented or provided amicus support in anonymity cases in California, Colorado, and Delaware. Most recently, in Oklahoma, a school superintendent withdrew his attempt to unmask anonymous online critics after EFF filed a motion to quash his subpoena.

"The right to engage in anonymous communication is fundamental to a free society," said McSherry. "It's critical that judges resist these attempts to turn courtrooms into vehicles to harass and intimidate people out of speaking their minds. Thankfully, court after court has recognized that plaintiffs can't pierce anonymity just because they don't like what someone has said."

For EFF's motion to quash:
http://www.eff.org/legal/cases/ESPC_v_Ebert/

For more on anonymity online:
http://www.eff.org/Privacy/Anonymity/

Contact:

Corynne McSherry
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
corynne@eff.org

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