Press Releases: May 2016
Serial Troll Tries To Extort Money From Mail-Order Business with Frivolous Infringement Claims
West Palm Beach, Florida—The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a lawsuit today against a well-known patent troll that tried to shake down a small business owner for tens of thousands of dollars on bogus claims of infringement on patents that were never used and were expired or invalid.
Defendant Shipping & Transit LLC has filed hundreds of lawsuits asserting frivolous patent infringement claims as part of its business model to intimidate and extort money from people, EFF alleged in a complaint filed with co-counsel Julie Turner of California-based Turner Boyd and Matthew Sarelson with Miami-based Kaplan Young & Moll Parrón. Shipping & Transit sends out letters accusing businesses of patent infringement and demanding thousands of dollars to license the patents or settle the matter. It then routinely sues those who don’t pay up to extort “nuisance value” settlements.
In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, EFF is representing Jason Cugle, who last year began running a small business selling accessories for electronic cigarettes. Cugle, a Maryland resident, received a letter accusing his company and website (Triple7vaping.com) of violating Shipping & Transit’s patents, which relate to ideas for monitoring and reporting the status of delivery vehicles. Cugle simply sent customer shipments through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and manually emailed each customer a message saying the package had been shipped and providing the USPS tracking number. Florida-based Shipping & Transit claims its patents cover a variety of methods of notifying people when a vehicle is about to reach its destination, including Cugle’s.
“The claims are absurd. Not only did three of the four patents expire two years before Mr. Cugle started his mail order business, they are not valid in the first place and he hasn’t infringed anything,” said EFF Staff Attorney Vera Ranieri. “What is worse, Shipping & Transit tried to force Mr. Cugle to sign a vaguely-worded affidavit swearing that he wasn’t using ‘monitoring systems’ and threatened him with a document that made it look like there was a lawsuit against him, though the complaint wasn’t filed in any court. These are the tactics of patent trolls who hope to intimidate and bully innocent people and businesses into paying them money to avoid the high costs of a lawsuit.”
Shipping & Transit used to be known as ArrivalStar, a notorious patent troll that sued towns and cities claiming that notifying citizens when a bus was due to arrive infringed its patents.
“Filing complaints in bad faith, asserting infringement of unenforceable patents, falsely accusing people of infringing, and abusing the court system to wrangle settlements out of people violate Maryland law,” said Ranieri. “We are asking the court to hold Shipping & Transit accountable for its improper tactics, and also rule that the patents aren’t valid and were not infringed. Shipping & Transit’s baseless patent infringement claims and shady tactics must be stopped.”
For the complaint:
Broadband Providers Have Unique Ability to Spy on Customers
San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today to update privacy rules to prevent broadband Internet access service providers from recording and sharing their customers’ every move online.
EFF’s comments are part of the FCC’s rulemaking on consumer privacy and telecommunications services. As broadband providers are uniquely positioned to track every communication and activity—often in real time—the FCC is proposing to update current telecom policy to protect the privacy and security of consumers.
As part of this update, EFF calls on the FCC to enact rules that clearly protect customers’ confidentiality, curtailing data collection to only what is needed to provide Internet access. The current FCC plan includes a tiered consent system, allowing for “implied approval” for sharing personal information, as well as some “opt-in” and “opt-out” sharing. But “implied approval” amounts to treating “no approval” as “approval.” That opens the door to scores of other companies getting information about your online activities without your consent.
“Many decisions about what to do with personal data are done behind customers’ backs, exposing their information to marketers and data brokers without any transparency in the process,” said EFF Staff Technologist Jeremy Gillula. “To protect privacy, you have to have true consent, along with clear data sharing policies and retention and deletion practices. We are asking the FCC to make sure that customers have real control, instead of just an illusion of it.”
Furthermore, EFF advised the FCC to prohibit broadband companies from offering financial inducements in exchange for consent to collect and share personal information.
“Privacy isn’t just for people who can afford it,” said EFF Legislative Counsel Ernesto Falcon. “Customers often don’t understand the implications of giving up personal information—and telecoms aren’t eager to explain the situation clearly—and that’s simply unfair.”
For the full comments to the FCC:
User Advocates, Tech Companies, and Studios Debate Impact of Copyright Law on the ‘Internet of Things’
San Francisco—On Tuesday and Wednesday, May 24-25, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Staff Attorney Kit Walsh and Senior Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz will participate in public roundtable discussions about the impact of U.S. copyright law on freedoms to investigate and improve the software embedded in everyday products, devices, and appliances.
The discussions, being held at University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, are hosted by the U.S. Copyright Office, which is studying copyright issues related to the “Internet of Things” and the consequences of Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (). Section 1201, while intended to prevent infringement of copyrighted media, has also blocked people from accessing software that controls everything from their mobile phones and video games to cars and insulin pumps.
Section 1201 was enacted to combat copyright infringement of digital works by making it unlawful to circumvent access controls on those works, such as the encryption on a DVD. Because of the broad definition of a copyrighted work, however, Section 1201 gives legal teeth to manufacturers who want to lock product owners out of the ability to tinker with, repair, or modify their own software-enabled devices. The restrictions have also prevented independent researchers from evaluating the software in cars and other devices for impacts on security, safety, privacy, and even the environment.
At the roundtable discussions, Walsh will speak about how overly-broad copyright restrictions on everyday products combine with one-sided end user license agreements to frustrate user freedom, research, and innovation. Stoltz will speak about Section 1201's overreaching restriction on circumventing technologies that control devices and products, and the burdensome, every-three-year procedure to get exemptions from Section 1201.
U.S. Copyright Office Roundtables for Software-Enabled Computer Products and Section 1201 Studies
EFF Staff Attorney Kit Walsh
EFF Senor Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz
Tuesday, May 24, 9 am to 2:45 pm
Wednesday, May 25, 9 am to 4:15 pm
UC Hastings College of the Law
Alumni Reception Center
200 McAllister St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
Wikileaks Prosecution Included Unfair Charge Under CFAA
Fort Belvoir, Virginia—The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked a U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals Wednesday to overturn Chelsea Manning’s conviction for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), arguing that the law is intended to punish people for breaking into computers systems—something Manning didn’t do.
Manning is serving a 35-year sentence for her role in the release of approximately 700,000 military and diplomatic records to Wikileaks. She was convicted of 19 counts in all, including one under the CFAA. Her CFAA conviction stems from using unauthorized software to access a State Department database, which was prohibited by the database’s acceptable use policy.
The CFAA makes it illegal to intentionally access a computer connected to the Internet without authorization, but it doesn’t specify what “without authorization” means. Although the CFAA is aimed at computer break-ins, data theft, and destruction of computer systems, overzealous prosecutors have taken advantage of the law’s vague language to bring criminal charges that go beyond Congress’s anti-“hacking” purpose.
"Congress intended to criminalize the act of accessing a computer that you aren’t authorized to access, such as breaking into a corporate computer to steal user data or trade secrets or to spread viruses. The law should not be used to turn a violation of an employer’s computer use restrictions into a federal crime. That’s what happened here," said EFF Legal Fellow Jamie Williams.
In an amicus brief filed Wednesday, EFF told the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals that violating a written policy, which restricted Manning from using unauthorized software to access a State Department database, is not a crime under the CFAA. Because most employers impose one-sided computer use policies on their employees, such an interpretation would potentially turn millions of Americans into criminals on the basis of innocuous activities, like browsing Facebook or viewing online sports scores at work in violation of company policy.
"Three federal circuit courts have recognized that violating computer use policies isn’t a crime under the CFAA, and we’re urging the Army court to follow suit,” said EFF Staff Attorney Andrew Crocker. “We have also urged Congress to adopt Aaron’s Law, named after late programmer and activist Aaron Swartz, who faced CFAA charges. The law which would ensure that people won't face criminal liability for violating terms of service agreements or other solely contractual agreements.”
The Center for Democracy & Technology and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers joined EFF in filing the brief.
For our amicus brief:
Correction: an earlier version of this press release misstated the number of documents leaked. It's approximately 700,000 records.
Government Withholding Records About ‘Walled Off’ Law Enforcement Program
Update: This hearing has been vacated. In an order issued late Tuesday, the judge asked for supplemental briefing from the parties. A new hearing date may be set once that briefing is complete.
San Francisco – On Thursday, May 19, at 10 am, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will urge a federal judge to let the public see records about “Hemisphere,” a massive drug enforcement database containing decades of telephone metadata.
Reporters at the New York Times uncovered the Hemisphere program in 2013. Funded by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, Hemisphere places AT&T employees inside law enforcement agencies to facilitate quick access to call records data—including who called who, when, and how long they spoke—typically without any court oversight. The New York Times found that investigators were encouraged to keep Hemisphere “under the radar” by using “parallel subpoenas” and then “walling off” Hemisphere information from public scrutiny.
EFF filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to learn more about the program and how it was used by law enforcement, but the government released only a small amount of heavily redacted records in response. At Thursday's hearing, EFF Senior Staff Attorney Adam Schwartz will argue that the government must stop misusing public records law to hide information about Hemisphere.
Electronic Frontier Foundation v. Department of Justice
EFF Senior Staff Attorney Adam Schwartz
Thursday, May 19
United States District Court
450 Golden Gate Avenue, 15th Floor, Courtroom B
San Francisco, CA
For more about Hemisphere and EFF’s FOIA lawsuit:
User Advocates, Studios, Artists, Tech Companies Debate DMCA Protections
San Francisco—On Thursday and Friday, May 12-13, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Legal Director Corynne McSherry will participate in public roundtable discussions about the effectiveness of safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) at the United States Ninth Circuit James R. Browning Courthouse in San Francisco. The discussions are hosted by the U.S. Copyright Office, which is studying how the provisions impact copyright owners, internet service providers (ISPs) and users—including the ongoing problem of takedown abuse.
Congress passed the provisions—known as Section 512—two decades ago to establish safe harbors that allow service providers to avoid liability for copyright infringing material. Innovation, creativity, and free expression on the Internet are thriving as a result. Section 512 safe harbors have been essential to the modern Internet; without them we couldn’t have a YouTube, a Twitter, a Facebook or whatever comes next.
At the roundtable discussions McSherry will speak about continued takedown abuses, including problems with automated systems and filters for flagging and removing content. She will also discuss EFF’s opposition to proposals requiring ISPs to permanently remove allegedly infringing content, which would amount to the kind of Internet blacklist contemplated by the congressional bills SOPA and PIPA, both promoted by Hollywood but soundly defeated in 2012.
U.S. Copyright Office Section 512 Study Roundtable
EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry
Thursday, May 12, 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Friday, May 13, 1:30 p.m.
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
James R. Browning Courthouse
95 Seventh St.
San Francisco, California
EFF’s ‘Who Has Your Back’ Report Takes on Uber, Taskrabbit, Airbnb, and More
San Francisco - The “sharing” or “gig” economy is booming—you can get rides with companies like Uber, hire people to run errands with services like Taskrabbit, or find a place to stay on websites like Airbnb. These companies connect people offering services to people purchasing them, and in the process they have access to vast amounts of personal data. But how well do these companies protect your information from the government? The sixth annual “Who Has Your Back” report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) surveyed the biggest providers in the gig economy to find out.
“These companies collect information on what you buy, where you sleep, and where you travel—whether you are offering services, or purchasing them,” said EFF Activism Director Rainey Reitman. “Often they go even further, collecting contents of communications and geolocation information from your cell phone. But are these companies respecting their users’ rights when the government comes knocking? For much of the gig economy, the answer is no.”
This year’s report analyzed ten companies, and only Uber and Lyft earned credit in all the categories we assessed, including transparency around government access requests, advocacy on the federal level for user privacy, and commitment to providing users with notice about law enforcement data requests. FlipKey, Airbnb, and Instacart also received stars in some categories, but Getaround, Postmates, Taskrabbit, Turo, and VRBO received no credit in any category.
“We see a clear trend in our report: while some sharing economy companies have prioritized standing up for user privacy in the face of government demands, many others have not,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo. “This is a wake-up call to the gig economy companies and the people who use them. It’s time for these services to catch up with the rest of the industry and safeguard our data from government overreach—ensuring that law enforcement access to this trove of information is fair, just, and only in accordance with the rule of law.”
EFF has published its Who Has Your Back report—an annual overview of the public policies and practices of major technology and communications companies in response to law enforcement requests—for six years. While no company achieved credit in every category in the first report back in 2011, more than half of the companies got stars in four or five categories in 2015, and 23 of 24 followed industry best practices. As the first set of companies we looked at has improved so substantially, we decided it was time to turn to the sharing economy.
“Shifts in industry momentum can take time. It took several years before we saw widespread adoption of the best practices promoted in our first Who Has Your Back reports,” said EFF Deputy Executive Director Kurt Opsahl. “The users are the lifeblood of these companies, and next year’s report will provide them an opportunity to adopt best practices and stand up for the people who make their businesses work.”
For the full Who Has Your Back report: