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EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: September 2011

September 27, 2011

Federal Officials Withhold Records on Obama Appointments

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed suit today against the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) demanding records of who is on the Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB) -- the presidentially appointed, civilian panel in charge of reviewing all misconduct reports for American intelligence agencies.

The IOB is supposed to alert the president and attorney general when it spots behavior that is unlawful or contrary to executive order. However, in his nearly three years in office, President Obama has not yet announced any appointments to the IOB. EFF's suit comes after the ODNI refused to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for membership, vacancies, and other information about the IOB made earlier this year.

"The IOB has a critically important mission – civilian oversight of America's intelligence activities. The board exists to make sure government agencies are not overstepping their authority and abusing citizens' rights," said EFF Open Government Legal Fellow Mark Rumold. "History has shown that intelligence agencies overseeing their own behavior is like the fox guarding the henhouse. If the IOB is ineffective, impaired, or short-staffed, that's information Americans need to know."

EFF's ongoing FOIA litigation work has already uncovered widespread violations in intelligence investigations. Most recently, EFF revealed that the U.S. Army issued three National Security Letters (NSLs) for phone records, even though the law authorizes only the FBI to make these extraordinary requests for information. EFF also obtained documents detailing how the Army improperly attempted to investigate participants at a law school conference on Islamic law.

"We're trying to create a picture of the federal government's intelligence violations as Congress considers updates and changes to current surveillance law and oversight," said EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch. "Part of that picture is who is on the IOB. We're asking the government to follow the law and release the records on IOB membership."

For the full complaint in EFF v. ODNI:
https://www.eff.org/files/filenode/FOIA_IOB/ODNIIOBComplaint_92711.pdf

For more on the Defense Department intelligence violations:
https://www.eff.org/foia/intelligence-agencies-misconduct

Contacts:

Mark Rumold
Open Government Legal Fellow
Electronic Frontier Foundation
mark@eff.org

Jennifer Lynch
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
jlynch@eff.org

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September 23, 2011

EFF Urges Appeals Court to Scrutinize Seizure Campaign

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged a federal appeals court in an amicus brief today to order the return of two domain names seized by the U.S. government in violation of the First Amendment.

The domain names -- Rojadirecta.com and Rojadirecta.org, owned by Spanish company Puerto 80 -- were seized by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as part of "Operation in Our Sites," an initiative ICE claims will help stop piracy. It appears ICE targeted the sites because they contained links to live sport video streams, but the domain seizures impeded access to all of the content on the websites, including obviously non-infringing content like user-created forums, discussions, and technical tutorials. Prior to the seizure, Spanish courts found that Puerto 80 had not violated copyright law.

"Domain name seizures are blunt instruments that cause unacceptable collateral damage to free speech rights," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "Web site operators must have the confidence that government actions ostensibly targeting copyright infringement are undertaken legally. We urge the Court of Appeals to ensure that that happens."

Puerto 80 first tried to work with ICE and other U.S. government authorities to resolve the matter without court involvement, but when that was unsuccessful, petitioned the district court to return the domain names. The judge rejected the request, and so Puerto 80 appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"ICE's domain name seizures, including this one, are occurring without meaningful court oversight, with no chance for the targets to defend themselves before their websites are taken down and a highly cumbersome process for challenge afterwards," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. "The government should stop these seizures until they comply with the law."

The Center for Democracy and Technology and Public Knowledge joined EFF's amicus brief.

For the full amicus brief:
https://www.eff.org/files/filenode/puerto80_v_US/rojaamicus92311.pdf

For more on Puerto 80 v. U.S.:
https://www.eff.org/cases/puerto-80-v-us

Contacts:

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

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

Related Issues:
September 22, 2011

Coalition Urges Appeals Court to Block Government Attempts to Hide Illegal Surveillance

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a coalition of whistleblowers, intelligence experts, and veterans urged a federal appeals court Wednesday to reject government attempts to bury yet another lawsuit challenging illegal surveillance with baseless claims of "state secrets."

"This group includes experts from throughout America's intelligence community, and they are all concerned about the government's abuse of the state secrets privilege," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "If courts cannot review potentially illegal behavior by the government, then there's no meaningful oversight. That's unconstitutional. America needs to be able to protect against officials who abuse their power."

EFF's amicus brief, filed in Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation v. Obama, was joined by Coleen Rowley, a retired FBI agent who blew the whistle on intelligence failures before the September 11th attacks, and Thomas Drake, a former NSA executive and whistleblower about systemic privacy violations in intelligence programs.

Also signing the brief was James Bamford, author of three important books on the NSA, and the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower organization. Other signers include a counterterrorism deputy from the Bush Administration, a senior CIA analyst, a former intelligence officer from the U.S. Army, and other military veterans.

The Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation alleges in its lawsuit that federal agents illegally wiretapped calls between the charity and its lawyers. The government has refused to confirm or deny any court order authorizing surveillance, arguing only that the state secrets privilege protects the government from any litigation. A district judge disagreed, and ruled that the government violated federal surveillance law.

The government appealed that ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In the brief filed today, EFF and other signers asked the court to uphold the district judge's decision, and allow the court to do its job.

"Congress has already provided the courts with strong, clear security procedures for handling evidence related to secret government surveillance. Letting the courts do their job and judge the legality of government wiretapping will not risk national security," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "The real risk is in allowing government officials to shield their conduct from judicial scrutiny based on broad assertions of state secrecy, which is a recipe for abuse."

EFF has two cases of its own aimed at obtaining court review of warrantless domestic surveillance: Hepting v. AT&T was the first lawsuit against a telecom over bulk interception of Americans calls and emails; Jewel v. NSA is directed against the government and government officials. Both Hepting and Jewel are currently at the appeals court, which heard oral arguments in each case last month.

For the full amicus brief:
https://www.eff.org/files/filenode/att/AlHaramainAmicus92111.pdf

For more on this case:
https://www.eff.org/cases/al-haramain

Contacts:

Kevin Bankston
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
bankston@eff.org

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

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