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EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: May 2010

May 19, 2010

Describing Company's Pay Packages as 'Legalized Highway Robbery' Held Not Defamatory

San Francisco - A federal judge in San Francisco has quashed a baseless subpoena aimed at outing an anonymous online critic of Pennsylvania corporation USA Technologies after the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) successfully argued that the First Amendment shields the identity of anonymous speakers who engage in lawful speech.

"All too frequently, companies turn to the courts in misguided attempts to chill speech and 'out' their critics, believing that those critics lack the resources or will to defend themselves," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "The First Amendment ensures that vigorous debates about matters of public concern can continue unabated, a fact that the court correctly recognized."

EFF represents Yahoo! user "Stokklerk," who criticized USA Technologies and its CEO, George Jensen, Jr., on a Yahoo! message board, drawing attention to plummeting stock prices, high compensation rates for executives, and a consistent lack of profitability. Other anonymous posters had similar complaints.

In response, USA Technologies filed a lawsuit 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 -- which characterized USA Technologies' executive compensation practices as, among other things, "legalized highway robbery" and a "soft Ponzi" -- were defamatory. Pursuant to that lawsuit, USA Technologies issued a subpoena out of the Northern District of California to Yahoo! demanding the critics' identities.

In her ruling, Judge Susan Illston agreed with Stokklerk and quashed the subpoena, recognizing "the Constitutional protection afforded pseudonymous speech over the internet, and the chilling effect that subpoenas would have on lawful commentary and protest." Judge Illston further found that none of the statements at issue were defamatory in context and were instead "protected opinions" under the First Amendment.

"We're gratified that the Court saw it the way we did," said David M. Given of Phillips, Erlewine & Given LLP, which served as co-counsel with EFF in the matter. "The First Amendment principle at stake in this case is paramount to preserving the free interchange of ideas and opinions on the Internet."

For the full ruling:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/usatechnologies/USAT-order-051710.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

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May 17, 2010

EFF Research Shows More Than 8 in 10 Browsers Have Unique, Trackable Signatures

San Francisco - New research by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has found that an overwhelming majority of web browsers have unique signatures -- creating identifiable "fingerprints" that could be used to track you as you surf the Internet.

The findings were the result of an experiment EFF conducted with volunteers who visited http://panopticlick.eff.org/. The website anonymously logged the configuration and version information from each participant's operating system, browser, and browser plug-ins -- information that websites routinely access each time you visit -- and compared that information to a database of configurations collected from almost a million other visitors. EFF found that 84% of the configuration combinations were unique and identifiable, creating unique and identifiable browser "fingerprints." Browsers with Adobe Flash or Java plug-ins installed were 94% unique and trackable.

"We took measures to keep participants in our experiment anonymous, but most sites don't do that," said EFF Senior Staff Technologist Peter Eckersley. "In fact, several companies are already selling products that claim to use browser fingerprinting to help websites identify users and their online activities. This experiment is an important reality check, showing just how powerful these tracking mechanisms are."

EFF found that some browsers were less likely to contain unique configurations, including those that block JavaScript, and some browser plug-ins may be able to be configured to limit the information your browser shares with the websites you visit. But overall, it is very difficult to reconfigure your browser to make it less identifiable. The best solution for web users may be to insist that new privacy protections be built into the browsers themselves.

"Browser fingerprinting is a powerful technique, and fingerprints must be considered alongside cookies and IP addresses when we discuss web privacy and user trackability," said Eckersley. "We hope that browser developers will work to reduce these privacy risks in future versions of their code."

EFF's paper on Panopticlick will be formally presented at the Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium (PETS 2010) in Berlin in July.

For the full white paper: How Unique is Your Web Browser?:
https://panopticlick.eff.org/browser-uniqueness.pdf

For more details on Pantopticlick:
http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/05/every-browser-unique-results-fom-panopticlick

For more on online behavioral tracking:
http://www.eff.org/issues/online-behavioral-tracking

Contacts:

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

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May 11, 2010

Lawsuit Seeks Information on Three Controversial Surveillance Provisions in Advance of Congressional Debate

Washington, D.C. - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed suit today against the Department of Justice (DOJ), demanding records on three controversial PATRIOT Act surveillance provisions that expire early next year unless Congress renews them.

EFF is seeking the immediate release of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reports on the provisions' effectiveness, lawfulness, and potential misuse in a lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). These controversial PATRIOT provisions give the FBI expanded powers to seize electronic records and property and to wiretap phone conversations, and are set to expire in February of 2011. Congress will likely begin debate on potentially reauthorizing the provisions before the end of the year.

"The PATRIOT Act provisions have faced criticism from both Congress and the general public for the lack of privacy safeguards for ordinary Americans who might mistakenly be caught in overbroad FBI surveillance," said EFF Senior Counsel David Sobel. "The records we are seeking here -- how well the law works, and how it may have been misused -- should be an integral part of the decisions made on how to reform the law."

EFF filed its FOIA request with the DOJ in September of 2009, when initial discussions about reauthorization were beginning in Congress. The FBI initially approved EFF's request for expedited processing, but has not yet disclosed any records. EFF filed its lawsuit today in order to ensure the information is released in time to inform the upcoming congressional debate.

"If the FBI continues to withhold these records, Americans won't have the information they need to make important decisions about reforming the PATRIOT Act," said Sobel. "The DOJ needs to follow the law and release its reports to the public."

For the full complaint:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/patriot_records/complaint_patriotrecords.pdf

Contact:

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

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May 4, 2010

Facebook Tries to Make Violations of Terms of Use Into Criminal Violations

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is urging a federal judge to dismiss Facebook's claims that criminal law is violated when its users opt for an add-on service that helps them aggregate their information from a variety of social networking sites.

Power Ventures makes a web-based tool that users can set up to log into their multiple social networking accounts and aggregate messages, friend lists, and other data so they can see all the information in one place. In a lawsuit against Power Ventures, Facebook claims that Power's tool violates criminal law because Facebook's terms of service ban users from accessing their information through "automatic means." By using Power's tool, Facebook argues that its users are accessing Facebook "without permission" under the California penal code. EFF argues in an amicus brief filed Monday that users have the right to choose how they access their data, and turning any violation of terms of use into a criminal law violation would leave millions of Facebook users unwittingly vulnerable to prosecution.

"California's computer crime law is aimed at penalizing computer trespassers," said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. "Users who choose to give their usernames and passwords to aggregators like Power Ventures are not trespassing. Under Facebook's theory, millions of Californians who disregard or don't read terms of service on the websites they visit could face criminal liability. Also, any Internet company could use this argument as a hammer to prevent its users from easily leaving the service as well as to shut down innovators and competitors."

Even the simple use of the automatic login feature of most browsers would constitute a violation under Facebook's theory, since those services are "automatic means" for logging in. But the risk for users is even broader. If any violation of terms of use is criminal, users who shave a few years off their age in their profile, claim to be single when they are married, or change jobs or addresses without updating Facebook right away would also have violated the criminal law.

"The information you put into social networking sites is yours, and you should be able to access it, export it, and aggregate it as you please," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "If Facebook's legal argument is upheld, it will hobble companies that enable consumer choice, as well a create a massive expansion in the scope of California criminal law."

For the full amicus brief:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/facebook_v_power/poweramicus.pdf

Contacts:

Cindy Cohn
Legal Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
cindy@eff.org

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

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