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EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: March 2011

March 30, 2011

EFF Backs Bill to Protect Californians' Reading Habits

Sacramento, CA - California Senator Leland Yee has introduced the Reader Privacy Act of 2011 (SB 602), with backing from the California Affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The law would bring a much-needed upgrade to match Californians' reading habits. Under SB 602 the government and other third parties would need a warrant or court order for access to sensitive reading records. This would establish protections for book records—both e-books and in physical bookstores—in line with long-established protections for library records and other expressive material. The bill mirrors the privacy and free speech safeguards in the California constitution and other areas of California law.

As Californians increasingly rely on online services to browse, read, and buy books, it is essential that state law keep pace and safeguard readers in the digital age. Digital books now outsell paperbacks on Amazon.com and over 18 million e-readers are expected to be sold in 2012. Many bookstores already collect information about readers and their purchases. Digital book services can collect even more detailed information: which books are browsed, how long each page is viewed, and digital notes made in the margins. Current law doesn't anticipate this new digital reality. Without strong privacy protections, reading records can be increasingly targeted by government surveillance as well as in legal proceedings like divorce cases and custody battles.

"Current law is completely inadequate when it comes to protecting one's privacy for book purchases, especially considering the increasing popularity of online shopping and electronic books," said Yee. "Individuals should be free to buy books without fear of government intrusion and witch hunts. If law enforcement has reason to suspect wrongdoing, they can obtain a warrant for such information."

"California should be a leader in ensuring that upgraded technology does not mean downgraded privacy," said Valerie Small Navarro, Legislative Advocate with the ACLU's California Affiliates. "We should be able to read about anything from politics, to religion to health without worrying that the government might be looking over our shoulder."

"In the recent Google Books decision, the court noted the importance of the privacy concerns with digital books," said Cindy Cohn, Legal Director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "This law will ensure that the enhanced reader tracking that is possible through digital books and book services doesn't create a honeypot for government investigators and other lawyers seeking to snoop on what we search for, browse and read in digital bookstores and libraries."

The United States has a long and proud history of legal protection for reading privacy, and the California Constitution has especially strong privacy and free speech protections. Courts have long recognized that reader privacy must be protected to avoid a chilling effect on freedom of expression, as well as to maintain consumer trust. Sensitive reader information can and does come under fire. During the McCarthy hearings, Americans were questioned about whether they had read Marx or Lenin. In the years following September 11, the FBI sought patron information from more than 200 libraries. Just this past year, Amazon was asked by the North Carolina government to turn over 50 million purchase records including books, videos, and other expressive material. The Reader Privacy Act updates state law to safeguard the free exchange of ideas and open discourse by ensuring that government and third parties cannot access Californians' reading records without proper justification.

Contacts:

Rebecca Jeschke
Media Relations Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
press@eff.org

Rebecca Farmer
Media Relations Director
ACLU of Northern California
rfarmer@aclunc.org

Adam Keigwin
Senator Yee's Office
adam.keigwin@sen.ca.gov

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March 25, 2011

Secret Demands for Information Endanger Privacy Rights

Alexandria, VA - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) today appealed a ruling that the government can collect the private records of three Twitter users as part of its investigation related to WikiLeaks. The ruling further held that the users cannot learn which other Internet companies were ordered to turn over information about them to the government. EFF and the ACLU are challenging the ruling on behalf of Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic parliamentarian who is appealing jointly with fellow Twitter users Jacob Appelbaum and Rop Gonggrijp.

The secret government demands for information about the subscribers' communications came to light only because Twitter took steps to ensure its customers were notified and had the opportunity to respond. The ACLU and EFF have also asked the court to make public any similar orders to any other companies.

"Except in very rare circumstances, the government should not be permitted to obtain information about individuals' private Internet communications in secret. This is not one of those circumstances," said Aden Fine, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. "If the ruling is allowed to stand, our client might never know how many other companies have been ordered to turn over information about her, and she may never be able to challenge the invasive requests."

"Services like Twitter have information that can be used to track us and link our communications across multiple services including Facebook and Gmail," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "The Magistrate's ruling that users have no ability to protect that information from the U.S. government is especially troubling."

The ruling was issued by U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Carroll Buchanan of the Eastern District of Virginia. It is being appealed to a U.S. District Judge in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Attorneys for Jonsdottir are Fine and Benjamin Siracusa Hillman of the ACLU, Rebecca Glenberg of the ACLU of Virginia, and Cindy Cohn, Lee Tien, Marcia Hofmann and Kevin Bankston of EFF. The motions were joined by attorneys from the law firm Keker & Van Nest LLP and the Law Office of John D. Cline on behalf of Appelbaum and Gonggrijp, respectively, as well as local counsel in Virginia.

For the full brief:
https://www.eff.org/files/Objections.pdf

For more on this case:
https://www.eff.org/cases/government-demands-twitter-records

Contacts:

Rebecca Jeschke
Media Relations Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
press@eff.org

Rachel Myers
Media Relations
American Civil Liberties Union
media@aclu.org

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March 16, 2011

Adult Film Company Uses 'Reverse Class Action' Lawsuit to Ensnare More Defendants

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has asked an Illinois judge to quash subpoenas issued in a "reverse class action" lawsuit accusing thousands of people of illegally downloading pornography, and urged the court to dismiss the case. In a friend of the court brief filed Tuesday, EFF argued that the plaintiff's "class action" strategy is an improper attempt to sidestep the rights of the defendants.

EFF has been involved in a number of copyright troll cases where content owners and lawyers team up to try to obtain the identities of thousands of anonymous alleged file sharers at once in order to extract settlements from them. In response, judges across the country have been cracking down on such abusive strategies. Thousands of unnamed "John Does" targeted in lawsuits filed in California, Washington D.C., Texas, and West Virginia have been severed, effectively dismissing over 40,000 defendants. These rulings may have a significant impact on this misguided business model, which relies on being able to sue thousands of Does at once with a minimum of administrative expense.

In this case, OpenMind Solutions v. Does, the plaintiff has taken a new approach: calling its complaint a "class action" lawsuit against the alleged infringers. Normally a class action is used by a group of plaintiffs with similar complaints of a single defendant -- not a single plaintiff targeting thousand of defendants with no attorney in place to defend the rights of the accused. OpenMind then asked the court for permission to issue subpoenas seeking identifying information for the Does, which was granted without the opportunity for anyone to speak on the unknown defendants' behalf.

"There is a short window here, before the defendants' identities are disclosed, in which the court can ensure that these individuals are treated fairly and justly," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "The class action process was never intended to be used this way. We're asking the court to call a halt to the gamesmanship from OpenMind Solutions."

"When adult film companies file predatory lawsuits, there is the added embarrassment associated with pornography, which can convince people to quickly pay what's demanded of them even if they have legitimate defenses," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. "We hope the court takes immediate steps to restore fairness to this process."

Charles Lee Mudd Jr. and Mark Petrolis of Mudd Law Offices assisted EFF with the filing of this brief.

For the full amicus brief:

https://www.eff.org/files/filenode/openmind_v_does/openmind-amicus-filed.pdf

For more on copyright trolls:

https://www.eff.org/issues/copyright-trolls

Contacts:

Corynne McSherry
   Intellectual Property Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   corynne@eff.org

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

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March 11, 2011

ACLU And EFF Plan To Appeal Ruling In Case Challenging Government Attempt To Obtain Private Data in WikiLeaks Investigation

Alexandria, VA - A federal magistrate judge in Virginia ruled today that the government can collect the private records of three Twitter users as part of its investigation related to WikiLeaks, and that those users and the public can be prevented from seeing some of the documents that the government submitted to the court to justify obtaining their records. The court denied the government's request to conduct last month's hearing about the records in secret, however, and the court made public all of the documents related to the users' legal challenge. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union plan to appeal the decision on behalf of their client Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic parliamentarian.

The secret government demands for information about the subscribers' communications came to light only because Twitter took steps to ensure their customers were notified and had the opportunity to respond. The ACLU and EFF also asked the court to make public any similar orders to any other companies.

"This ruling gives the government the ability to secretly amass private information related to individuals' Internet communications. Except in extraordinary circumstances, the government should not be able to obtain this information in secret. That's not how our system works," said Aden Fine, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. "If this ruling stands, our client may be prevented from challenging the government's requests to other companies because she might never know if and how many other companies have been ordered to turn over information about her."

"With so much of our digital private information being held by third parties – whether in the cloud or on social networking sites like Twitter – the government can track your every move and statement without you ever having a chance to protect yourself," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "We're disappointed that the court did not recognize that people using digital tools deserve basic privacy and that the government should be required to meet a high standard before it demands private information about you from the online services you use, be they Twitter, Facebook, Gmail or Skype."

EFF and the ACLU plan to appeal the ruling on behalf of their client.

For today's ruling:

https://www.eff.org/files/filenode/dorders_twitter/MemOpinion.pdf

For more on this case:

https://www.eff.org/cases/government-demands-twitter-records

Contacts:

Rebecca Jeschke
   Media Relations Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   press@eff.org

Rachel Myers
   Media Relations
   American Civil Liberties Union
   media@aclu.org

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March 2, 2011

EFF Asks Justices to Focus on Privacy in Prescription History Data Mining Battle

Washington, D.C. - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday to focus on the privacy issues at stake in a battle over the sale and data mining of medical records, urging justices to reverse a ruling that could jeopardize patient privacy.

At issue is Vermont's Prescription Confidentially Law, which bans pharmacies from selling or using patients' prescription records for marketing purposes without the doctor's express consent. Companies that collect and sell these records challenged the law in court, arguing that they use "de-identified" information and that the law infringed their corporate free speech rights. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the companies. In an amicus brief filed Tuesday, EFF argued that the appeals court wrongly ignored patient privacy in its decision.

"There are serious questions about the efficacy of such 'de-identification.' We're concerned that the data-mining will expose patients' prescription histories, which leads to discovery of their underlying medical conditions," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "Requiring consent before using this extremely sensitive data is a reasonable protection, and claiming this information is 'public' and not really private goes against common sense. The First Amendment does not require the sacrifice of our privacy to promote data exchanges that benefit only commercial interests."

For the full amicus brief:
https://www.eff.org/files/filenode/sorrell_v_IMS/ims3111.pdf

Contact:

Lee Tien
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
tien@eff.org

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