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EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: April 2011

April 20, 2011

Wide Deployment of Encryption Protocol Provides Basic Security for Web Surfing

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Access have launched an international campaign for HTTPS Now, rallying consumers around the world to help us make web surfing safer.

"We've heard a lot about how malicious tools like Firesheep can be used to steal data, including passwords for email and social networking accounts," said EFF Activist Eva Galperin. "HTTPS Now is aimed at protecting users from attacks like these by spreading the word about HTTPS and how to use it correctly. HTTPS provides the minimum level of security for websites. Without it, no site can make any meaningful security or privacy guarantees to its users."

HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) protects web surfing by encrypting requests from a user's browser and the resulting pages that are displayed, but many websites default to using the unencrypted and vulnerable HTTP protocol. The HTTPS Now campaign takes a three-pronged approach to protecting web surfing, including distributing updated tools for people to use to protect their web browsing, taking an Internet-wide survey of the state of HTTPS deployment, and helping website operators implement HTTPS.

As a first step, individuals using the web are encouraged to install HTTPS Everywhere, a security tool for the Firefox browser developed by EFF and the Tor Project. HTTPS Everywhere automatically encrypts a user's browsing, changing it from HTTP to HTTPS whenever possible.

Often, however, security vulnerabilities can't be cured by changes to a user's browser. Many websites have not deployed HTTPS, leaving their visitors vulnerable to malicious attacks. For the second prong, we are asking users to let us know whether the sites they visit use HTTPS. We are hoping that our crowd-sourced survey of websites will give us a relatively accurate picture of the current state of HTTPS deployment and Internet security.

Finally, we have created detailed resources for website operators who are interested in learning how to deploy HTTPS and why it's important for them to do so.

"We want to make it easier for web users to get the security they need and deserve, but we can't do it alone. We need an accurate picture of the state of HTTPS on the Internet. After that, we can target website operators and make it easy for them to update their sites," said Jochai Ben-Avie of Access. "Working together, we can all be safer from identity theft, security threats, viruses, and other things that come from an insecure Internet."

For more on HTTPS Now:
https://www.httpsnow.org

Contacts:

Eva Galperin
Activist
Electronic Frontier Foundation
eva@eff.org

April 19, 2011

EFF and ACLU Argue Against Government Attempt to Collect Private Data

UPDATE: Friday's hearing about whether the government can collect the private records of three Twitter users as part of its investigation related to Wikileaks has been canceled.

Alexandria, VA - On Friday, April 22, at 10 a.m., a district court in Virginia will hear oral argument about whether the government can collect the private records of three Twitter users as part of its investigation related to Wikileaks.

Last month, following an initial challenge, a magistrate judge ruled in favor of the government and against the privacy rights of the users. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are challenging the magistrate's ruling on behalf of Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic parliamentarian who is appealing jointly with fellow Twitter users Jacob Appelbaum and Rop Gonggrijp. Also at issue is whether the users can learn which other Internet companies were ordered to turn over information about them to the government.

EFF cooperating counsel John Keker of Keker and Van Nest will urge the court Friday to require the government to protect the First Amendment freedoms of speech and association of the Twitter users and the Fourth Amendment rights of the users in their locations. ACLU attorney Aden Fine will ask the court to unseal all documents related to other requests for private data.

WHAT:
Oral argument in re application of the U.S. for an order pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 2703(d)

WHEN:
Friday, April 22
10 a.m.

WHERE:
Albert V. Bryan U.S. Courthouse
401 Courthouse Square
Alexandria, VA 22314
Judge Liam O'Grady

Contact:

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

Related Issues:
April 7, 2011

Legal Attack on Online Video Site Could Throttle Innovation with Fears of Litigation

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a coalition of advocacy groups have asked a federal appeals court to reject attempts to thwart federal copyright law and saddle online communities with new litigation fears in the appeal of Viacom v. YouTube.

In an amicus brief filed Thursday, EFF argues that the infringement claims made by Viacom and the other plaintiffs threaten to undermine the "safe harbor" provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) -- safe harbors that have fostered free speech and innovation around the globe. Without the clear legal structure of the DMCA process, companies that host user-generated expression could be hit with potentially massive damage awards, which would encourage over-blocking of content or even the shutdown of services altogether.

"If the DMCA safe harbors are undermined in the way Viacom and the other content companies would like, the free flow of information will be seriously threatened," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Abigail Phillips. "Communications platforms like YouTube have enabled political and other speech to flourish online. We've all seen the critical role digital communications have been playing in protests across the Middle East. The safe harbors make posting of user-generated content like this possible."

At issue in this case is copyright infringement on YouTube before the online video service voluntarily implemented content filtering technologies in May of 2008. The district court correctly found that YouTube was shielded by the DMCA safe harbors, and Viacom and others appealed the ruling to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"All the online services you use every day -- Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, eBay -- depend on the DMCA safe harbors in order to allow user-generated content on their sites," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. "That's why Congress designed the safe harbors -- to allow innovators to manage legal risk and develop new services without fear of devastating litigation, while offering copyright owners an expedited process for taking down infringing content. Viacom's arguments here misinterpret the law, with potentially disastrous results."

Also joining EFF's brief are the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, the American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries, the Association of Research Libraries, and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

For the full amicus brief:
https://www.eff.org/files/filenode/viacom_v_youtube/ViacomvGoogleAmicus.pdf

For more on this case:
http://www.eff.org/cases/viacom-v-youtube

Contacts:

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

Abigail Phillips
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
abigail@eff.org

Related Issues:
April 5, 2011

Takedown Targets Petition to Cancel Bogus 'Urban Homesteading' Trademarks

San Francisco - Activists in the urban homesteading movement petitioned today to cancel the registration of bogus trademarks for the terms "urban homesteading" and "urban homestead" -- trademarks that have been used to threaten other urban homesteaders and remove online content and discussion.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has teamed up with the law firm of Winston & Strawn to represent Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, authors of The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City, as well as their publisher, Process Media. The book, published in 2008, was the culmination of years of participation in the global urban homesteading movement, which supports sustainable living techniques in urban areas. Urban homesteading includes growing food, raising livestock, and producing simple food products.

Despite the fact that "urban homesteading" and "urban homestead" have been used as generic descriptions for decades, a group called the Dervaes Institute managed to register the terms as trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for "educational services" like blogging. Dervaes has used the trademark registrations to claim broad ownership rights and threaten urban homesteaders who use the term online.

"Dervaes got Facebook to take down pages that talk about urban homesteading and help publicize our book, and Facebook won't put those pages back up because of the bogus trademarks," said Ms. Coyne. "This doesn't just hurt our business and our book sales, it hurts the whole urban homesteading community -- a group of people who are dedicated to sharing information about sustainable living."

The Dervaes Institute has submitted similar complaints to Facebook and other online services causing a variety of online content to be taken down, including the Facebook page of a Denver farmer's market.

"For years, the bedrock of the urban homesteading community is the sharing of information -- spreading the word about how to become self-sustaining in food and energy production," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. "The Dervaes Institute is trying to shut down this thriving community with its outrageous trademark complaints. The USPTO should cancel the trademark, so urban homesteaders can get back to work free of threats."

"The efforts to control all use of these generic and descriptive terms is a classic example of trademark bullying," said Winston & Strawn Partner Jennifer Golinveaux. "We're glad to help push back against these unreasonable demands."

For the full petition to cancel:
https://www.eff.org/files/filenode/urbanhomestead/petitiontocancel_001.pdf

Contacts:

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

Jennifer A. Golinveaux
Partner
Winston & Strawn LLP
JGolinveaux@winston.com

April 4, 2011

Law Enforcement Shouldn't Have Free Rein to Rummage Through Data

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged the Oregon Supreme Court to block warrantless searches of arrestees' cell phones Friday, arguing in an amicus brief that granting law enforcement free rein to search data on the devices violates basic privacy protections guaranteed by the Constitution.

Other state supreme courts have considered the issue, but they have split in their rulings.

In this case, a criminal suspect was arrested and placed in a holding cell. Forty minutes after the arrest, without a warrant, an investigator fished through the suspect's cell phone looking for evidence related to his alleged crime. Law enforcement officials claim they didn't need a warrant because the search was "incident to arrest" -- an exception to the warrant requirement intended to allow officers to perform a search for weapons or to prevent evidence from being destroyed in exigent circumstances.

"This is an empty excuse from the police -- the suspect was in custody and unable to destroy evidence on his cell phone," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable intrusions by the police and ensures that a neutral magistrate decides when the police can search private information. There was no need for the police to sidestep the warrant process here. If courts give police the freedom to rummage through the cell phones of anyone they arrest, then the constitutional protection of the warrant process is meaningless."

The average cell phone now includes much more than your calling history. It holds address books, calendars, and emails -- along with websites you've visited, pictures of your family and friends, and often things like lists of questions to ask your doctor or your accountant. This makes questions of privacy in cell phone data critically important.

"Of course, criminal suspects could have information on their cell phones that might be of interest to police. When investigators have enough information to get a warrant, they should be able to search them," said Hofmann. "But judges should not allow a narrow exception to the warrant requirement to swallow the basic rule meant to protect everyone's privacy rights."

EFF's local counsel in this case is J. Ashlee Albies of Creighton & Rose, PC. Mr. Nix is represented by Bronson James, of JDL Attorneys, LLP. Petitioner's briefing is available at http://www.jdlattorneys.com.

For EFF's full amicus brief:
https://www.eff.org/files/filenode/oregon_v_nix/nix_amicus_final.pdf

Contact:

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

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