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EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: March 2009

March 17, 2009

Law Enforcement Must Get a Warrant Before Seizing Records

Philadelphia - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged a U.S. appeals court Monday to block the government's repeated attempts to seize cell phone location information -- a record of where the cell phone user travels throughout each day -- without a warrant in violation of communications privacy statutes and the Constitution.

In September of last year, a federal court affirmed that location information stored by a mobile phone provider is legally protected and that a judge can and should require law enforcement to show probable cause in order to access the stored data. However, the government appealed that decision to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Cell phone providers store an extraordinary amount of data about where you are when making or receiving a call, based on the cell towers your phone uses. In the amicus brief filed Monday, EFF argues that Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Fourth Amendment protect this location information from unfettered search and seizure.

"The government argues that federal law requires judges to approve their applications for location information from cell phone companies -- even if the police don't have probable cause to obtain this sensitive information," said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. "Courts have the right under statute -- and the duty under the Constitution -- to demand that the government obtain a search warrant before seizing this private location data."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU Foundation of Pennsylvania, and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) joined EFF's brief.

For the full amicus brief:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/celltracking/Filed%20Cell%20Tracking%20Brief.pdf

For more on cell phone tracking:
http://www.eff.org/issues/cell-tracking

Contact:

Jennifer Stisa Granick
Civil Liberties Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
jennifer@eff.org

March 17, 2009

EFF Urges U.S. Sentencing Commission to Reject Amendments on Use of Proxies

Washington, D.C. - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today urged the United States Sentencing Commission to reject modifications to federal sentencing guidelines that would require extra prison time for people who use technology that hides one's identity or location.

Under current rules, a criminal defendant can get additional time added to a prison sentence if he used "sophisticated means" to commit the offense. In its testimony before the commission, EFF will argue that sentencing courts should not assume that using proxies -- technologies that can anonymize users or mask their location -- is a mark of sophistication. In fact, proxies are widely employed by corporate IT departments and public libraries and, like many computer applications, can be used with little or no knowledge on the part of the user.

"It would be a serious mistake for the United States Sentencing Commission to establish a presumption that using a common technology is worthy of additional punishment," said Jennifer Granick, EFF Civil Liberties Director. "Whether or not a convicted person's use of a proxy is worthy of increased penalties is a case-by-case determination most appropriately made by a court."

"While proxies may be an advanced technology, using a proxy is often no more difficult than using Microsoft Word," said Seth Schoen, EFF Staff Technologist. "Many kinds of people use proxies for all sorts of legitimate purposes, so only a court can reliably assess which uses are truly employed as a 'sophisticated means' of committing a crime and which are for privacy, free speech or some other innocent purpose."

Schoen will testify about EFF's comments at the Sentencing Commission's public hearing on March 17th in Washington, D.C.

For the full testimony:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/ussc-schoen-statement.pdf

For more on the hearing:
http://www.ussc.gov/AGENDAS/20090317/Public_Hearing.htm

Contacts:

Jennifer Stisa Granick
Civil Liberties Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
jennifer@eff.org

Rebecca Jeschke
Media Coordinator
Electronic Frontier Foundation
press@eff.org

March 16, 2009

New Search Engine Highlights EFF's Transparency Efforts During Sunshine Week

San Francisco - In celebration of Sunshine Week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today launched a sophisticated search tool that allows the public to closely examine thousands of pages of documents the organization has pried loose from secretive government agencies. The documents relate to a wide range of cutting-edge technology issues and government policies that affect civil liberties and personal privacy.

EFF's document collection -- obtained through requests and litigation under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) -- casts light on several controversial government initiatives, including the FBI's Investigative Data Warehouse and DCS 3000 surveillance program, and the Department of Homeland Security's Automated Targeting System and ADVISE data-mining project. The documents also provide details on Justice Department collection of communications routing data, Pentagon monitoring of soldiers' blogs, mismatches in the Terrorist Screening Center's watchlist, and FBI misuse of its national security letter subpoena authority.

The new search capability enables visitors to EFF's website to conduct keyword searches across the universe of government documents obtained by EFF, maximizing the value of the material.

"Until recently, documents obtained under FOIA often gathered dust in filing cabinets," said David Sobel, EFF Senior Counsel and director of the organization's FOIA Litigation for Accountable Government (FLAG) Project. "We believe that government information should be widely available and easy to research, and our new search engine makes that a reality."

EFF is launching the tool during national Sunshine Week, an annual, non-partisan event that promotes government transparency. The celebration is particularly significant this year, because it comes after eight years of a presidential administration that was widely criticized for its secrecy and two months into a new administration that has promised "unprecedented" openness.

"We welcomed President Obama's declaration -- on his first full day in office -- that he will work to make the federal government more open and participatory," EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann said. "There's certainly a lot of work to do -- so much government activity has been hidden from public view in the name of 'national security' and the 'war on terror.'"

For the new FOIA document search tool:
http://www.eff.org/issues/foia/search

For more on EFF's FLAG Project:
http://www.eff.org/issues/foia

Contacts:

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

David Sobel
Senior Counsel
Electronic Frontier Foundation
sobel@eff.org

Related Issues:
March 3, 2009

'Surveillance Self-Defense' Gives Practical Advice on Protecting Your Private Data

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) launched its Surveillance Self-Defense project today -- an online how-to guide for protecting your private data against government spying. You can find the project at http://ssd.eff.org.

EFF created the Surveillance Self-Defense site to educate Americans about the law and technology of communications surveillance and computer searches and seizures, and to provide the information and tools necessary to keep their private data out of the government's hands. The guide includes tips on assessing the security risks to your personal computer files and communications, strategies for interacting with law enforcement, and articles on specific defensive technologies such as encryption that can help protect the privacy of your data.

"Despite a long and troubling history in this country of the government abusing its surveillance powers, most Americans know very little about how the law protects them or about how they can take steps to protect themselves against government surveillance," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "The Surveillance Self-Defense project offers citizens a legal and technical toolkit with tips on how to defend themselves in case the government attempts to search, seize, subpoena or spy on their most private data."

Surveillance Self-Defense details what the government can legally do to spy on your computer data and communications, and what you can legally do to protect yourself against such spying. It addresses how to protect not only the data stored on your computer, but also the data you communicate over the phone or the Internet and data about your communications that are stored by third party service providers.

"You can imagine the Internet as a giant vacuum cleaner, sucking up all of the private information that you let near it. We want to show people the tools they can use to encrypt and anonymize data, protecting themselves against government surveillance," said EFF Staff Technologist Peter Eckersley. "Privacy is about mitigating risks and making tradeoffs. Every decision you make about whether to save an email, chat online, or search with or sign into Google has privacy implications. It's important to understand those implications and make informed decisions based on them, and we hope that Surveillance Self-Defense will help you do that."

Surveillance Self-Defense was created with the support of the Open Society Institute.

For Surveillance Self-Defense:
http://ssd.eff.org

Contacts:

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

Peter Eckersley
Staff Technologist
Electronic Frontier Foundation
pde@eff.org

Related Issues:
March 3, 2009

Government Claims Unfettered Right to Tag Your Car with Tracking Devices

Washington, D.C. - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area (ACLU-NCA) urged a U.S. appeals court today to reject government claims that federal agents have an unfettered right to install Global Positioning System (GPS) location-tracking devices on anyone's car without a search warrant.

In this case, FBI agents planted a GPS device on a car while it was on private property and then used it to track the position of the automobile every ten seconds for a full month, all without securing a warrant. In an amicus brief filed today, EFF and the ACLU-NCA argue that unsupervised use of such tactics would open the door for police to abuse their power and continuously track anyone's physical location for any reason -- never having to go to a judge to prove the surveillance is justified.

"This gives police unbridled discretion to collect location data on everyone, even if there are no reasonable grounds for suspicion," said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. "Investigators could track Americans on a whim -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

At the same time, the cost of GPS tracking is dropping dramatically, while the accuracy keeps improving. This would allow law enforcement to create a massive database of Americans' movements without any judicial oversight whatsoever.

"GPS tracking enables the police to know when you visit your doctor, your lawyer, your church or your lover," said Arthur Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU-NCA. "And if many people are tracked, GPS data will show when and where they cross paths. Judicial supervision of this powerful technology is essential if we are to preserve individual liberty."

Daniel Prywes and Kip Wainscott of Bryan Cave LLP also volunteered their services to assist in preparing the EFF-ACLU brief

For the full amicus brief:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/US_v_Jones/Jones.DCCirBrief.EFFACLU.PDF

Contact:

Jennifer Stisa Granick
Civil Liberties Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
jennifer@eff.org

Related Issues:
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