EFF in the News
Some consumer advocates said they were unimpressed with the new principles. Lee Tien, an attorney at the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, argues that self-regulatory programs will not adequately protect privacy because consumers currently have no way of knowing their privacy has been compromised, much less complaining about it to an enforcement body.
"There's no good reason to expect self-regulation to work," Tien says, adding that companies currently compile dossiers used to target people based on behind-the-scenes data-crunching without explaining how specific information is being used.
"These wrongheaded legal claims cast a shadow over innovators who are building gadgets that help consumers get the most from their copyright privileges," the EFF said in a blog post.
Privacy experts lauded the move. Kevin Bankston, senior staff attorney at non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation, says the new options solve a long-standing issue. Some Facebook users often shared provocative photos and off-color comments with workers and casual friends, creating awkward situations.
"The new settings allow greater flexibility and control," he says. But he is concerned that even if users share intimate information only with close friends, it could leave them exposed if hackers break into accounts or the government requested access to the sensitive data.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with that logic and rejected the lawsuit (see this recap of its ruling by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed a brief in support of Cablevision); when the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal, that ended the case. Now Cablevision is free to roll out this feature--and, more importantly, other companies can experiment with other video-recoding services that rely on network storage.
Tim Jones, manager of activism and technology for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said "there is a stronger expectation of privacy when you're dealing with the government rather than ordering a pizza online . . . . This is an opportunity for government to create new technology."
In any event, we left the office Thursday of last week feeling uneasy; we just didn’t understand how or why someone could get hit so hard for illegally downloading two dozen songs. With that in mind, we went back and checked in with Fred von Lohmann, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation out in San Francisco, to bring us up to speed.
“The real core question is, is this a fair use or not?” said Corynne McSherry, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group. “Frankly the answer is, we don’t know.” Ms. McSherry suggests playing it safe and always asking.
Now the EFF appears to be looking to get its hands on a copy of the equivalent manual for the FBI—the agency's Domestic Investigative Operational Guidelines, which details the rules of the road for FBI-run domestic surveillance. The only problem is that its contents are a secret. So, the EFF is filing suit to have the manual's contents released to the public.
"This is a profound question about our identity and our place in society," Peter Eckersley said Wednesday from San Francisco. He's a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He studies privacy issues brought on by rapidly advancing technologies.
"Do we," he asked, "have the right to say, 'Hey I want to escape the life I was living? I want to be a new person in a new place.' "
Ten years ago, a piece of software called Napster taught us that scarcity is no longer a law of nature. The physics of our universe would allow everyone with access to a networked computer to enjoy, for free, every song, every film, every book, every piece of research, every computer program, every last thing that could be made out of digital ones and zeros. The question became not, will nature allow it, but will our legal and economic system ever allow it?