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EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: August 2009

August 21, 2009

EFF Battles Heavy-Handed Tactics Threatening Free Speech

Chicago - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has asked an Illinois Circuit Court judge to quash subpoenas aimed at outing opponents of a controversial city project.

In December, local residents filed a lawsuit in state court against the city of Chicago and local developers, challenging the legality of a development project in the city's Uptown neighborhood. In response, the "Wilson Yard Defendants," six firms associated with Chicago developer Peter Holsten, issued subpoenas directing Google and a local neighborhood association to unmask anonymous online critics who had discussed either the project or Alderman Helen Shiller, the primary governmental sponsor of the project.

EFF and co-counsel Charles Mudd Jr. obtained a temporary order protecting the anonymous speakers in July, while the defendants asked that the court wait to consider whether to dismiss the subpoenas until after the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint. With the amended complaint now filed, providing no support for the subpoenas, EFF and Mudd have moved to quash the subpoenas outright.

"The right to speak anonymously is a fundamental element of the First Amendment. Individuals need to know that they can express their views, and do so without fear of legal reprisal," said EFF Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "Efforts to target critics of government-sponsored activity are precisely what the First Amendment is designed to prevent."

While anonymous online speakers can be unmasked in certain narrow circumstances, none of them apply in this case. In a motion to quash the subpoenas filed Friday, EFF argues that the identities of the critics have no bearing on issue before the court -- a lawsuit that concerns land-use ordinances. EFF has repeatedly tried to resolve the matter with the developer's attorneys but to no avail.

"Enough is enough," said Zimmerman. "The defendants are demonstrating a callous disregard for the First Amendment and cannot be allowed to abuse the judicial process any longer."

The sites targeted by the subpoena to Google were community websites "Uptown Update" (www.uptownupdate.com) and "What the Helen" (defunct since 2007). Also targeted with a separate subpoena was non-profit neighborhood association Buena Park Neighbors (www.buenaparkneighbors.org).

For the full motion to quash the subpoenas:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/fix_wilson_yard/FIXWILSONYARD92109.pdf

Contacts:

Matt Zimmerman
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
mattz@eff.org

Related Issues:
August 5, 2009

On Locational Privacy, And How to Avoid Losing it Forever

San Francisco - Innovative new technologies can make it easier to pay your bridge toll or bus fare, to search for nearby businesses from your cell phone, and to get in and out of secure areas with a card instead of a key. But these systems also pose a dramatic threat to locational privacy -- your ability to move in public spaces without the systematic recording of where you are and when you are there.

In a report released today, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) documents how your location information is collected by various popular electronic devices and services, and argues for concrete technological solutions that would allow you to enjoy these systems' benefits without sacrificing your privacy in your everyday life.

"There are nifty new location-based technologies like electronic road-toll tags and cell-phone apps that alert you when your friends are nearby -- but these systems often create and store records of your movements," said EFF Staff Technologist Peter Eckersley, one of the co-writers of the white paper. "This could make it possible for others to know when you visited a health clinic, what church or bar you spend time in, or who you go to lunch with. It is essential that privacy-protecting algorithms are built into these devices and services, so we can enjoy their convenience without making our private lives into open books."

Systems that track people's movements are gaining in popularity, and over the next decade, it's likely that these technologies will be indelibly woven into the fabric of everyday life. The report tackles specific services in use today, and details encryption strategies and designs that would protect sensitive location information.

"The technical solution to preserving privacy in digital services lies in modern cryptography and careful design," said Stanford University mathematician Andrew J. Blumberg, the white paper's other co-writer. "It may seem counterintuitive, but using cryptography, these systems can function without collecting and storing personal data at all. The best way for systems to protect user data is not to collect it in the first place; then the information is not available for anyone to buy, steal, or obtain by subpoena -- it would stay truly private."

For the full white paper "On Locational Privacy, and How to Avoid Losing it Forever":
http://www.eff.org/wp/locational-privacy

Contacts:

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

Andrew J. Blumberg
Postdoctoral Fellow
Stanford University
blumberg@math.stanford.edu

Related Issues:
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