Press Releases: September 2009
Government Must Provide More Information on Campaign to Give Telecoms Retroactive Immunity
San Francisco - A judge ordered the government Thursday to release more records about the lobbying campaign to provide immunity to the telecommunications giants that participated in the NSA's warrantless surveillance program. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White ordered the records be provided to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) by October 9, 2009.
The decision is part of EFF's long-running battle to gather information about telecommunications lobbying conducted as Congress considered granting immunity to companies that participated in illegal government electronic surveillance. Telecom immunity was eventually passed as part of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) of 2008, but a bill that would repeal the immunity -- called the JUSTICE Act -- was introduced in the Senate last week.
"Today's ruling is a major victory for government transparency," said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "As the court recognized, it was unlawful for the government to deny Americans access to this information in the midst of the debate over telecom immunity last year. We're pleased these records will now be available to the public as Congress considers the JUSTICE Act."
EFF has been seeking information about the telecom lobbying campaign under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) since 2007, as news reports detailed an extensive and expensive lobbying campaign seeking immunity for telecommunications companies that participated in unlawful surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans. Officials at the Bush Administration's Department of Justice (DOJ) and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) were vocal supporters of the immunity proposals, working closely with telecoms. Using the FOIA, EFF asked the DOJ and the ODNI for any communications between the agencies, members of Congress, and telecom companies related to lobbying for telecom immunity.
The DOJ and ODNI argued that the records requested by EFF were protected by FOIA exemptions covering agency deliberations and other privileged communications. But in today's order, the judge ruled that as the communications were with Congress and lobbyists, the exemptions did not apply. The judge also found that the identities of telecom representatives who lobbied for immunity could not be kept from the public on privacy grounds.
"Today's ruling shows that aggressive use of the Freedom of Information Act is necessary to challenge government secrecy," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "We cannot allow the government to drag its feet in making relevant information available to the American public."
EFF also represents the plaintiffs in Hepting v. AT&T, a class-action lawsuit brought by AT&T customers accusing the telecom of violating their rights by illegally assisting in widespread domestic surveillance. In June of 2009, a federal judge dismissed Hepting and dozens of other lawsuits against telecoms, ruling that the companies had immunity from liability under the FAA. EFF is appealing the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, primarily arguing that the FAA's immunity provision is unconstitutional in granting the president broad discretion to block the courts from considering the core constitutional privacy claims of millions of Americans.
For the full order:
For more on the litigation:
For more on the JUSTICE Act:
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Ability to Track Readers Puts Privacy at Risk
New York - A coalition of authors and publishers—including best-sellers Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, and technical author Bruce Schneier—is urging a federal judge to reject the proposed settlement in a lawsuit over Google Book Search, arguing that the sweeping agreement to digitize millions of books ignores critical privacy rights for readers and writers.
The group of more than two dozen authors and publishers, represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public Policy Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (Samuelson clinic), filed an objection to the settlement today. The coalition is concerned that Google’s collection of personal identifying information about users who browse, read, and make purchases online at Google Book Search will chill their readership.
"Google Book Search and other digital book projects will redefine the way people read and research," said Lethem, winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award. "Now is the moment to make sure that Google Book Search is as private as the world of physical books. If future readers know that they are leaving a digital trail for others to follow, they may shy away from important intellectual journeys."
The settlement, currently pending approval from a New York federal district court, would end the legal challenges brought by the Authors' Guild over the Google Book Search project. It would give Google the green light to scan and digitize millions of books and allow users to search for and read those books online. However, Google’s system could monitor what books users search for, how much of the books they read, and how long they spend on various pages. Google could then combine information about readers’ habits and interests with additional information it collects from other Google services, creating a massive "digital dossier" that would be vulnerable to fishing expeditions by law enforcement or civil litigants.
"I believe that the fear of tracking will create a chilling effect on my readers and reduce my readership, and therefore my revenue, from these books," said Schneier, a computer security expert. "Moreover, I write these books in order to participate in the public debate on security issues. Reduced readership negatively impacts my expressive interests as an author."
A hearing on the fairness of the proposed Google Book Search settlement is set for October 7, 2009, in New York.
For today's filing:
For more on this case:
Media Relations Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public Policy Clinic
American Civil Liberties Union