Press Releases: October 2010
White House Pushes for New Powers, Yet Feds Won't Release Data to Justify Changes
San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed suit against three agencies of the Department of Justice (DOJ) today, demanding records about problems or limitations that hamper electronic surveillance and potentially justify or undermine the Administration's new calls for expanded surveillance powers.
The issue has been in the headlines for more than a month, kicked off by a New York Times report that the government was seeking to require "back doors" in all communications systems -- from email and webmail to Skype, Facebook and even Xboxes -- to ease its ability to spy on Americans. The head of the FBI publicly claimed that these "back doors" are needed because advances in technology are eroding agents' ability to intercept information. EFF filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the DOJ Criminal Division to see if that claim is backed up by specific incidents where these agencies encountered obstacles in conducting electronic surveillance.
"The sweeping changes the government is proposing, to require 'back doors' into all private communications technologies, would have enormous privacy and security ramifications for American Internet users," said EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch. "Any meaningful debate must be based on the information we're seeking in the FOIA requests, so the government's failure to comply in a timely manner is troubling."
EFF also requested records on communications that DOJ agencies had with technology companies, trade organizations and Congress about potential expansion of surveillance laws. The FBI has already agreed that the records should be disclosed quickly due to the urgency to inform the public about this issue. However, neither it nor the other DOJ agencies released documents within the time limit set by Congress to respond to a FOIA request, forcing today's lawsuit.
"A mandate requiring an easy-to-open 'back door' to electronic communications is an idea that was proposed and rejected over fifteen years ago because it would be ineffective, cause security vulnerabilities, and hurt American business -- on top of the damage it would do to Americans' privacy and free speech rights," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "Any attempt to require the same mandate today should start with a concrete and realistic evaluation of how often the government investigations are stymied by the lack of a 'back door.' Anything less than that is asking the public to blindly rubber stamp a flawed plan at a very high cost to Americans and American business."
For the full complaint:
For more on expanding surveillance law:
Electronic Frontier Foundation
EFF to Honor Steven Aftergood, James Boyle, Pamela Jones and Groklaw, and Hari Krishna Prasad Vemuru at San Francisco Ceremony
San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is pleased to announce four winners of its 2010 Pioneer Awards: transparency activist Steven Aftergood; public domain scholar James Boyle; legal blogger Pamela Jones and the website Groklaw; and e-voting researcher Hari Krishna Prasad Vemuru, who was recently released on bail after being imprisoned for his security work in India.
The award ceremony will be held at 7:30 p.m., November 8, at the 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco. Author, blogger, and digital rights activist Cory Doctorow will host. A VIP event with Cory and the Pioneer winners -- as well as EFF founders, board members, and other luminaries -- will begin at 6:30 p.m.
Steven Aftergood directs the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) Project on Government Secrecy, which works to reduce the scope of official secrecy and to promote public access to government information. He writes and edits Secrecy News, an email newsletter and blog that reports on new developments in secrecy and disclosure policy. Secrecy News also provides direct public access to various official records that have been suppressed, withdrawn, or that are simply hard to find. In 1997, Mr. Aftergood was the plaintiff in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency that successfully led to the declassification and publication of the total intelligence budget for the first time in 50 years.
James Boyle is William Neal Reynolds Professor of Law and co-founder of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School. Professor Boyle is recognized for his exceptional scholarship on the "second enclosure movement" -- the worldwide expansion of intellectual property rights -- and its threat to the rich public domain of cultural and scientific materials that the Internet might otherwise make available. An original board member of Creative Commons and co-founder of Science Commons, Professor Boyle has worked for over 20 years as both an academic and institution builder to celebrate and protect the values of cultural and scientific openness.
When Pamela Jones created Groklaw in 2003, she envisioned a new kind of participatory journalism and distributed discovery -- a place where programmers and engineers could educate lawyers on technology relevant to legal cases of significance to the Free and Open Source community, and where technologists could learn about how the legal system works. Groklaw quickly became an essential resource for understanding such important legal debates as the SCO-Linux lawsuits, the European Union antitrust case against Microsoft, and whether software should qualify for patent protection.
Hari Krishna Prasad Vemuru is a security researcher in India who recently revealed security flaws in India's paperless electronic voting machines. He has endured jail time, repeated interrogations, and ongoing political harassment to protect an anonymous source that enabled him to conduct the first independent security review of India's electronic voting system. Prasad spent a year trying to convince election officials to complete such a review, but they insisted that the government-made machines were "perfect" and "tamperproof." Instead of blindly accepting the government's claims, Prasad's international team discovered serious flaws that could alter national election results. Months of hot debate have produced a growing consensus that India's electronic voting machines should be scrapped, and Prasad hopes to help his country build a transparent and verifiable voting system.
"These winners have all worked tirelessly to give critical insight and context to the tough questions that arise in our evolving digital world," said EFF Executive Director Shari Steele. "We need strong advocates, educators, and researchers like these to protect our digital rights, and we're proud to honor these four Pioneer Award winners for their important contributions."
Tickets to the Pioneer Awards ceremony are $35 if purchased in advance or $40 at the door. Tickets are available online at http://www.eff.org/pioneerfundraiser. Sponsors of the 2010 Pioneer Awards ceremony include the Computer Electronics Association (CEA), JibJab, and Junk Email Filter.
Awarded every year since 1992, EFF's Pioneer Awards recognize leaders who are extending freedom and innovation on the electronic frontier. Past honorees include World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, security expert Bruce Schneier, and the Mozilla Foundation and its chairman Mitchell Baker, among many others.
Pioneer Award candidates are nominated by the public. The winners were chosen by a panel of judges including Kim Alexander (president and founder, California Voter Foundation), Jim Buckmaster (CEO, craigslist), Cory Doctorow (award-winning author and activist), Mitch Kapor (Kapor Capital; co-founder and former chairman EFF), Drazen Pantic (co-director, Location One), Barbara Simons (computer scientist, IBM Research [retired] and former president ACM), and James Tyre (co-founder, The Censorware Project and EFF policy fellow).
For more information about the Pioneer Awards:
Electronic Frontier Foundation
EFF Asks Judge to Dismiss Two Defendants from Mass Movie-Downloading Suits
Washington, D.C. - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has asked a judge in Washington, D.C., to dismiss copyright infringement claims against two defendants wrongfully ensnared in mass movie-downloading lawsuits.
In an amicus brief filed Friday, EFF argues that the copyright troll behind the suits -- a law firm calling itself the "U.S. Copyright Group" (USCG) -- is flouting court rules and engaging in unfounded speculation in order to pressure people into paying premature settlements. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of the Nation's Capital, and Public Citizen Litigation Group joined EFF in the amicus brief.
USCG has filed these suits against approximately 16,000 defendants so far in Washington, D.C., alleging that they participated in unauthorized downloading of films including "Far Cry" and "The Hurt Locker." Two of the defendants have submitted evidence that they do not live in Washington, D.C., and since neither of the plaintiffs is located there either, the court ordered the plaintiffs to explain why D.C. is the proper place to sue those individuals. EFF and its co-amici filed Friday's brief to urge the court to dismiss those defendants and put a stop to USCG's legal gamesmanship.
"Imagine being accused of something and threatened with a huge court judgment, but in order to defend yourself you had to hire a lawyer thousands of miles away," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "Wouldn't you be tempted to pay a smaller settlement to make it go away, even if you were innocent? That's what we think USCG is counting on. And that's why we have rules about where people can be sued, and how -- rules that USCG has ignored here."
Attempting to show why the case is properly in D.C., USCG engaged in speculation with no factual support, arguing that even though the defendants live in other places, they may have been visiting Washington, D.C., when the alleged downloading occurred -- and somehow managed to use their home IP addresses while engaging in illegal downloading during their trips. USCG also speculated that even if the defendants were at home, it was possible that they downloaded the movies from or uploaded the movies to someone who was in Washington, D.C. USCG presented no evidence that either of these unlikely scenarios actually occurred.
"USCG was ordered to show that these defendants were in the court's jurisdiction," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "Instead of facts, it offered wildly improbable scenarios and asked the court to delay dismissing anyone until it researched and identified all 6,230 people it sued in the two lawsuits at issue. Meanwhile, USCG continues to sue more targets and pressure more people into premature settlements, even where the case may have been brought in the wrong place. We're asking the judge to dismiss these individuals immediately and to force USCG to follow the rules for the thousands of other people sued as well."
For the full amicus brief:
For more on USCG and copyright trolls:
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation