Press Releases: October 2016
EFF Supports Citizen Journalists’ Role in Reporting on Law Enforcement Use of Force
Philadelphia—In an era when bystander recordings of police shootings have shined a much-needed light on law enforcement activities—greatly contributing to public discussion about police use of force—it’s never been more important to establish that citizen journalists have a free speech right to record and share videos of public police activity, EFF told a federal appeals court today.
“Individuals have the unambiguous right under the First Amendment to record police officers exercising their official duties in public,” said EFF Staff Attorney Sophia Cope. “Bystander videos published online have alerted the public to the use of deadly force in numerous cases—Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, the list goes on. These recordings have informed the public and elected officials about what is happening on our streets. The Supreme Court has made it clear that the process of taking these photos and videos is protected by the First Amendment as an inherently expressive activity or as a form of information and news gathering, and this is true regardless of the intent of the maker at the time of the recording.”
EFF filed filed an amicus brief today with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in support of two plaintiffs in consolidated cases, Fields v. City of Pennsylvania and Geraci v. City of Pennsylvania. Both plaintiffs were detained for recording the Philadelphia police in 2012 and 2013. Richard Fields, a Temple University college student, was arrested for photographing about 20 officers breaking up a house party. In a separate incident, Amanda Geraci, was detained and prevented from filming an officer arresting a participant at a public environmental protest. The appeals came after a federal judge improperly ruled earlier this year that individuals have no First Amendment right to record the police unless they do so while also engaging in a verbal confrontation with officers or otherwise expressing an intent to criticize law enforcement.
“The district court decision is wrong and could force people into dangerous altercations with police officers in order to justify recording the police,” said Cope. “Worse, if government is granted the power to restrict recording, it can control what information is available to the public about police conduct. Bystander recordings of police misconduct have repeatedly ensured that these troubling episodes receive the public attention they deserve, and we’re fighting for the right of people to continue playing such a vital role in our democracy.”
For the brief:
High Court Urged To Review Fourth Amendment Cases, Hold Warrantless Cell-Site Data Collection Unconstitutional
Washington, D.C.—Cell phone location data, which can provide an incredibly detailed picture of people’s private lives, implicates our Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches, requiring police to obtain a warrant to gain access, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) told the Supreme Court today.
Weighing in on separate cases where two courts have applied 1970s-era law to digital communications in the information age, EFF urged the nation’s highest court to step in and establish that Americans have the right to expect location data generated from their cell phones is private and protected by the Constitution against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Cell phones constantly connect to cell towers and antennas—which number in the hundreds of thousands—that handle traffic from an estimated 378 million U.S. cell phone accounts. The data generated about these connections, known as cell-site location information (CSLI), create a highly detailed picture of people’s private lives. We carry our cell phones when we leave our homes each day, when we walk into a therapist or lawyer’s office, visit a gun shop, attend a political meeting or sleep at a friend’s. Location information about these private activities is tracked and stored, for years, by cell service providers.
Defendants in U.S. v. Carpenter and U.S. v. Graham were convicted after police obtained, without warrants, hundreds of days of location data produced by their phones to connect them to crimes. The defendants maintained that the use of CSLI violated their Fourth Amendment rights. But the appeals courts in both cases followed Smith v. Maryland, a Supreme Court decision from 1979, when many Americans used rotary-dial land-line phones. In Smith, the Court said that people who voluntarily give certain information to third-parties—such as banks or the phone company—have no expectation of privacy in this information, and thus the government does not need a warrant to access it.
“Cell phone users don’t voluntarily provide location data to their providers—it happens automatically without their control and is generated whether or not the phone is being used,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch. “Other federal courts and judges in several states have recognized that the so-called ‘third party doctrine’ doesn’t apply to CSLI. It’s time for the Supreme Court to consider whether a decision it made before the existence of commercial cell phones, which are now ubiquitous and reveal our every move, can still be used to override Fourth Amendment protections.”
In 2014, the high court recognized in a unanimous ruling that the astounding amount of sensitive data stored on modern cell phones requires police to obtain a warrant before accessing data on an arrestee’s device. And in a landmark 2012 decision, the court held that GPS tracking is a search under the Fourth Amendment. Yet police are obtaining extensive historic cell-site information without warrants.
“CLSI can give law enforcement far more information about a person’s movement than GPS tracking—cell phones go everywhere their owners go,” said EFF Staff Attorney Andrew Crocker. “If GPS tracking implicates Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights, prolonged cell-site data collection—which provides sensitive details about where we went, who we met with, and what we did—should also be protected against warrantless searches. We’re asking the court to grant review of these important cases and address the Fourth Amendment privacy implications of CSLI.”
EFF filed identical petitions in U.S. v. Carpenter and U.S. v. Graham.
For the brief:
For more on these cases:
Over 11,000 People Join EFF’s Call to Protect Security Research and Repair
San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged the U.S. Copyright Office today to protect the public’s right to research and repair everything from phones to refrigerators to tractors, to support the right of people with print disabilities to convert media into an accessible format, and to restore users’ rights to make fair and lawful uses of the software and media they buy.
EFF’s comments are part of the Copyright Office’s ongoing study into whether the “anti-circumvention” provisions of Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) are working for the public. Section 1201 bans anyone from accessing a copyrighted work when a technology like digital rights management software (DRM) is in place to block access. The law is meant to stop illegal copying, but instead, companies use digital locks in all sorts of products to obstruct those who want to look inside for any reason—blocking competition, innovation, security research, and other legal activities. To vindicate these activities, the public must resort to a burdensome exemption process that allows the digital locks to be broken in certain cases. EFF and a host of other public interest organizations must repeatedly plead for temporary exemptions that expire every three years. Moreover, the law expects users to figure out for themselves how to circumvent digital locks to take advantage of exemptions: no one is allowed to give them the technology to do so.
“We are surrounded by computerized devices: our cars, phones, appliances, and more. Software defines what we are able to do with these devices, whether they are safe and secure, and whether they collect or leak our most private information,” said EFF Staff Attorney Kit Walsh. “Right now, you could be sued or even jailed for trying to understand the software in your devices, or for helping others do the same. That has to change.”
The Copyright Office requested comment on whether Congress should permanently exempt certain activities from Section 1201 liability, or exempt software from the sweep of Section 1201. Exempting software would be progress, as would properly worded exemptions for research, repair, and accessibility. In its comments, EFF encouraged the Copyright Office to move forward with these reforms and provided guidance on how to implement them effectively. These comments were supported by over 11,000 signers of a petition calling for reform.
The proposed exemptions should only be a starting point in reform of Section 1201, since they leave a wide range of speech and innovation at the mercy of the law and its flawed rulemaking process – including remix video, documentary filmmaking, media literacy education, or even basic household activities like backing up videos from a DVR or converting an e-book to work on your phone.
A bill in Congress, the Unlocking Technology Act, would protect everyone who wants to break digital locks for reasons that don’t involve infringing copyright. This simple approach would restore the public’s traditional rights to express themselves by building upon copyrighted works and to tinker with their property. It would also bring the law back in line with the limits required by the Constitution to accommodate free speech.
“Section 1201 is unconstitutional, violating the rights of American researchers, entrepreneurs, artists, and in the end, all of us, ” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz. “It’s been in place for 18 long years, and it’s time for real reform.”
EFF is also challenging provisions of Section 1201 as unconstitutional restraints on free speech. EFF and the law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati represent security researcher Dr. Matthew Green, software developer Dr. Andrew “bunnie” Huang, and Alphamax LLC, who want to continue their work without legal threats.
For the full comments to the Copyright Office:
For more on DRM and the DMCA:
Malware Attack Highlights Troubling Outbreak of State-Sponsored Digital Spying
Washington, D.C.—Ethiopia must be held accountable in the United States for an illegal malware and digital spying attack on an American citizen, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) told a federal appeals court today in a case where a foreign government claims it is immune from liability for wiretapping a man’s Skype calls.
Malicious digital surveillance and malware attacks against perceived political opponents, dissidents, and journalists have become all-too-common tactics used by governments with poor human rights records, such as Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, and Vietnam. When foreign governments carry out these digital attacks on Americans in their homes, violating our wiretapping and privacy laws, their victims must be allowed to take them to court, EFF and its co-counsels said in a filing at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
EFF, Robins Kaplan LLP, and Guernica 37: International Justice Chambers represent a Maryland man whose home computer was infected by state-sponsored malware known as FinSpy. The program recorded his private Skype calls, monitored his web searches and emails, and tracked his family’s use of the computer for weeks. Forensic analysis showed the information was surreptitiously sent to a secret server located in Ethiopia and controlled by the Ethiopian government. EFF’s client is an Ethiopian by birth who is a U.S. citizen and has worked with other members of the Ethiopian diaspora. The courts have allowed him to use the pseudonym Mr. Kidane to protect himself and his family from retaliation.
The spying program unleashed on Mr. Kidane was contained in an attachment to a Microsoft Word document that Mr. Kidane inadvertently opened. A government agent in Ethiopia planted the malware on the Word document, but the program to wiretap his conversations resided on his computer in Maryland and automatically began recording, with no one in Ethiopia having to pull the trigger.
The Ethiopian government, which hasn’t denied it wiretapped Mr. Kidane, won dismissal of a 2014 lawsuit after claiming it has immunity because the malware attack was initiated in Ethiopia and thus outside the reach of U.S. courts. It has made the absurd assertion that spyware—marketed to repressive regimes by companies like Gamma International and Hacking Team—gives countries the ability to invade Americans’ homes, wiretap their conversations, violate their privacy, and face no consequences.
“The court’s decision is out of step with the times and completely ignores how other laws treat computer attacks, allowing a prosecution or lawsuit to be brought where the attacked computer is. The appeals court should overturn this ruling and let Mr. Kidane have his day in court,” said EFF Executive Director Cindy Cohn, “Cybersecurity is one of the most important issues of our time, and when foreign governments invade Americans’ privacy, just as with foreign-based criminals, our laws must let victims like Mr. Kidane go to court to hold them accountable.”
If a foreign state’s agent had placed a recording device in Mr. Kidane’s home or on his telephone line, Mr. Kidane could indisputably sue the government in U.S. courts, said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo. The fact that Ethiopia used software instead of a person to launch a wiretap attack against Kidane in no way allows the country to evade legal liability.
“Today, all governments have to do to illegally spy on people is purchase the right software,’’ said Cardozo. “The D.C. Circuit should recognize that the malware in this case took the place of a human spy, and reinstate Mr. Kidane’s lawsuit.”
“Giving Ethiopia immunity for state-sponsored hacking would strip away one of the few protections Americans have against cyberattacks by foreign powers,” said Scott Gilmore, counsel at Guernica 37. “The invasion of our client’s home, through his computer, could happen to any of us. We all should have the right to seek justice.”
For more on Kidane v. Ethiopia:
New Reports Show How Vague Laws Can Pave the Way for Human Rights Violations in the Digital Age
San Francisco - The people of Latin America need comprehensive legal reform to protect themselves from unlawful government surveillance, according to a new series of reports published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
The reports apply the “Necessary and Proportionate” Principles to surveillance practices in twelve different countries in Latin America. The Principles—cooperatively written by privacy organizations and advocates worldwide, and launched three years ago at the 24th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council—act as guidelines for fair and just government surveillance practices to protect the privacy of people around the world.
The reports, released today in partnership with digital rights organizations across the region, conclude that while every Latin American constitution recognizes a right to privacy and data protection, most countries do not implement those rights in a way that fully complies with international human rights standards.
“Current technology allows governments to easily conduct sophisticated and pervasive digital surveillance of ordinary individuals. But just because they can doesn’t mean that they should,” said EFF International Rights Director Katitza Rodríguez. “New surveillance technologies are in widespread use without any specific authorization nor human rights protections in place. Too often, these technologies are cell-site simulators—which intercept cell phone signals by imitating cell towers—or malware, which is software that is used to harm computer users by disrupting computer operation, gathering sensitive information, or gaining access to private computer systems. At the same time, executive regulation authorizing surveillance or mandating data retention are regularly issued without any public discussion or input. Some of those decisions remain secret, including confidential regulations and decrees. All of these activities violate the Necessary and Proportionate Principles for conducting surveillance within the bounds of human rights law.”
The reports, in both Spanish and English, currently cover eight Latin American countries as well as the United States, and include an overall comparative survey for twelve countries in the region, analyzing whether government surveillance is used only when it is prescribed by law, necessary to achieve a legitimate aim, and proportionate to the aim pursued. Overall, secrecy surrounding tactics and prevalence of surveillance is widespread in Latin America, and many countries have yet to develop a culture of transparency reporting by communications providers. Without this transparency, citizens are unable to hold governments accountable for overuse of surveillance technologies.
“The vast amount of digital communications content we create—and the increasing ease with which it can be collected—means that governments are capable of creating profiles of our lives, including things like medical conditions, political viewpoints, and religious affiliations,” said Rodríguez. “Yet laws throughout Latin America and around the world are often vague and ripe for abuse, and there is too much secrecy about what the governments are doing These reports are part of our long-term work to reform global communications surveillance until it comports with human rights standards.”
For more on the Necessary and Proportionate Principles:
EFF Argues that NSL Secrecy Violates First Amendment and Chills Debate on Government Surveillance
San Francisco - An appeals court published redacted briefing by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today arguing that national security letters (NSLs) and their accompanying gag orders violate the free speech rights of companies who want to keep their users informed about government surveillance.
EFF represents two service providers in challenging the NSL statutes in front of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Most of the proceedings have been sealed since the case began five years ago, but some redacted documents have been released after government approval.
“Just this week we’ve seen Open Whisper Systems—the company behind the Signal messaging service—successfully fight a government gag order attached to a subpoena for customer information. Meanwhile, Yahoo is facing criticism for allowing the government wide-ranging access to its users’ communications,” said EFF Staff Attorney Andrew Crocker. “Our clients want to join this conversation, using their own experiences as a basis to talk about what kind of government surveillance is appropriate and what reform is needed—but NSL gags prevent them from doing so. We’re asking the court to strike down this unconstitutional statute so we can have the robust and inclusive debate that this issue deserves.”
The NSL statutes have been highly controversial since their use was expanded under the USA PATRIOT Act. With an NSL, the FBI—on its own, and without court approval—can issue a secret letter to a communications provider, demanding information about its customers. In this case and nearly all others, the NSL is issued in conjunction with a gag order, preventing the companies from notifying users of the demand or discussing the letter at all. Congress changed some parts of the statute in 2015, but retained the basic elements of the gags. In fact, EFF’s clients still cannot identify themselves publicly or share their experiences as part of the debate over government surveillance of technology services.
“Our clients want to be able to issue accurate transparency reports and talk to their customers about how they try to defend users from overreaching government investigations,” Crocker said. “But instead, the FBI instituted indefinite gag orders to shield its demands for information. This is an unconstitutional restriction of our clients’ First Amendment rights.”
For the full redacted brief:
For more on national security letters:
Worldwide Order To Block Certain Websites Violates Users’ Rights to Freely Search the Web Without Governments Interfering
Ottawa, Ontario—A Canadian court order forcing Google to block certain websites from its search results around the world sets a dangerous precedent for online free expression, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said today.
Weighing in on a trade secret case that could have dramatic implications for free speech on the Internet, EFF told the Supreme Court of Canada in a brief that courts should be extremely reluctant to use their authority to decide what users around the world can see on the Internet. A court in British Columbia vastly overstepped, EFF said, when it issued an injunction in 2014 to “disappear” websites that not only applied to Google’s Canada-specific search, Google.ca, but to all of its searches around the world.
“The court’s overbroad ruling against Google, which had done nothing wrong and wasn’t a party in the lawsuit, put the private commercial interests of one company ahead of the interests of Internet users worldwide. That’s wrong and the Supreme Court of Canada should fix it,” said EFF Frank Stanton Legal Fellow Aaron Mackey. “Any request to issue an order in a local legal battle that affects the rights of users around the world should face a very high bar. Such orders may conflict with other nations’ laws and set the stage for authoritarian governments to impose their own speech-restricting laws on the Internet.”
In the underlying case, British Columbia-based Equustek Solutions accused Morgan Jack and others, known as the Datalink defendants, of misappropriating designs for its routers and selling counterfeit routers online. It claimed California-based Google facilitated access to the defendants’ sites. The defendants never appeared in court to challenge the claim, resulting in a default judgment against them. Although Google is not named in the lawsuit, it voluntarily took down specific URLs that directed users to the defendants’ products and ads under the local Google.ca domains. But Equustek wanted more, and the British Columbia court ruled that Google must delete the entire domain from its search results, including from all other local domains such Google.com and Google.go.uk. An appeals court upheld the decision.
EFF’s brief argues that the order issued by the British Columbia court violates both international free expression principles and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“The Canadian court order is an overbroad gag on an online speaker’s ability to publish truthful information about websites that are readily accessible on the Internet,” said EFF Staff Attorney Vera Ranieri. “The order also unlawfully restricts Internet users’ rights to access the information on those websites, which has the real potential to chill speech and access to information on the Internet. We hope the Supreme Court of Canada fixes it—and other courts around the world take heed.”