EFF in the News
That gives drug investigators both the mandate and the incentives to constantly advance their surveillance techniques. To be clear, the DEA and local drug-fighting cops likely aren’t pushing the technological limits of surveillance as much as the NSA, intercepting router shipments to plant bugs, or secretly rewriting the hard drive firmware of their spying targets. But drug-related surveillance, which is far more domestic in its focus, does push the legal limits of that spying. Again and again, says Electronic Frontier Foundation defense attorney Hanni Fakhoury, it’s drug investigations that cross into the realm of unconstitutional search and seizure, and it’s these cases that result in the judicial system setting new legal precedents for Americans’ privacy protections—both for the better and for the worse. “If you go back and look at just about every major Fourth Amendment case in the last 30 years, it’s been a drug case,” says Fakhoury.
A year-and-a-half after the Electronic Frontier Foundation created a crowd-funded challenge to a patent being used to threaten podcasters, the patent has been invalidated.
In late 2013, after small podcasters started getting threat letters from Personal Audio LLC, the EFF filed what's called an "inter partes review," or IPR, which allows anyone to challenge a patent at the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Today's Patent Trial and Appeal Board decision comes after the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 2013 petitioned for a review of Personal Audio's U.S. Patent No. 8,112,504 for a "System for disseminating media content representing episodes in a serialized sequence," which basically describes technology for generalized subscriber-based digital audio distribution.
"We’re glad the Patent Office recognized what we all knew: ‘podcasting’ had been around for many years and this company does not own it," said Daniel Nazer, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which called for the patent's invalidation.
The PTO’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board sided with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in its bid to challenge the podcasting patent, finding that it would have been obvious under a CNN video site and anticipated by technology tested by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
"There is something fundamentally different about a drone," said Jeremy Gillula, a staff technologist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation who has a Ph.D. in robotics. "It's cheaper than a helicopter and doesn't take an expert pilot. The affordability and ease of use means it could be used to perpetually surveil people. You should have to get a warrant first, and we don't think that's unreasonable."
Hanni Fakhoury, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said cases should be reopened to examine whether police were untruthful in affidavits in requests for court orders to use the devices.
"All of this is extraordinarily insane, and so improper on so many levels," he said. "This thing is designed to keep judges in the dark."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit that focuses on defending civil liberties in the digital world, looked into the controversial technology of automatic license plate readers (ALPRs). Little boxes are placed at intersections and affixed to police cars, and they constantly scan the streets for license plates. The devices can read up to 60 plates per second and they typically record the date, time, and GPS location of any plates. That is a lot of data being gathered everyday by these machines.
The new lawsuit, filed in California on behalf of Human Rights Watch by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, won’t let the issue quietly fade. It demands declarations the collection violated First and Fourth amendment rights along with destruction of records and injunctions against future collection.
Mark Rumold, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the government will have a tough time making the case that the DEA program was legal. "Whatever constitutional wiggle room that might exist in the national security context vanishes when the surveillance program is aimed at enforcement of domestic criminal laws, like drug trafficking laws," he told me.