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EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: December 2009

December 15, 2009

Message Board Poster Faces Baseless Lawsuit for Criticizing USA Technologies

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has asked a federal judge in San Francisco to quash a baseless subpoena aimed at outing an anonymous online critic of a Pennsylvania company called USA Technologies. A hearing in the case is set for Friday.

Earlier this year, EFF's client -- Yahoo! user "stokklerk" -- posted to the Yahoo! message board dedicated to the company, criticizing USA Technologies and its CEO George Jensen, Jr., for plummeting stock prices, high compensation rates for executives, and consistent lack of profitability. Another anonymous poster had similar complaints. In response, USA Technologies filed suit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleging that the statements violated federal securities regulations because they were part of a "scheme" for the authors to "enrich themselves through undisclosed manipulative trading tactics." USA Technologies also alleged that the online posts were defamatory. As part of that lawsuit, USA Technologies issued a subpoena out of the Northern District of California to Yahoo! asking for the critics' identities.

"The First Amendment protects the right to speak anonymously so people can express their views without fear of retribution or reprisal," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "USA Technologies might not appreciate the glare of such public criticism, but Internet users like 'stokklerk' have a right to post such criticism in a public forum."

The First Amendment protects the right to speak anonymously, especially about matters of public concern such as the performance of management of publicly traded companies. In addition, several state legislatures -- including California -- have passed laws to further protect individuals against lawsuits targeting them for exercising First Amendment rights. In its reply brief filed Friday, EFF underscores the problems with the USA Technologies lawsuit and asks the court to block attempts to enforce the Yahoo! subpoena.

For more information on attending Friday's hearing, contact press@eff.org.

For the full brief in support of the motion to quash the subpoena:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/usatechnologies/USAT-motiontoquashreply.pdf

For more on this case:
http://www.eff.org/cases/usa-technologies-v-stokklerk

Contact:

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

Related Issues:
December 1, 2009

Government Agencies Withholding Information on Data-Gathering from Facebook, Twitter, and Other Online Communities

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), working with the Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public Policy Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (Samuelson Clinic), filed suit today against a half-dozen government agencies for refusing to disclose their policies for using social networking sites for investigations, data-collection, and surveillance.

Recent news reports have publicized the government's use of social networking data as evidence in various investigations, and Congress is currently considering several pieces of legislation that may increase protections for consumers who use social-networking websites and other online tools. In response, the Samuelson Clinic made over a dozen Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on behalf of EFF to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies, asking for information about how the government collects and uses this sensitive information.

"Millions of people use social networking sites like Facebook every day, disclosing lots of information about their private lives," said James Tucker, a student working with EFF through the Samuelson Clinic. "As Congress debates new privacy laws covering sites like Facebook, lawmakers and voters alike need to know how the government is already using this data and what is at stake."

When several agencies did not respond to the FOIA requests, the Samuelson Clinic filed suit on behalf of EFF. The lawsuit demands immediate processing and release of all records concerning policies for the use of social networking sites in government investigations.

"Internet users deserve to know what information is collected, under what circumstances, and who has access to it," said Shane Witnov, a law student also working on the case. "These agencies need to abide by the law and release their records on social networking surveillance."

For the full complaint:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/social_network/social_networking_FOIA_complaint_final.pdf

Contacts:

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

Shane Witnov
Law student
Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public Policy Clinic
switnov@berkeley.edu

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