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EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: July 2013

July 31, 2013

Coalition Led by Electronic Frontier Foundation Crowdsources Demand Letters

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a coalition of organizations and law schools today launched the newest tool in the fight against patent trolls: Trolling Effects (trollingeffects.org). The online resource aims to unite and empower would-be victims of patent trolls through a crowdsourced database of demand letters and to serve as a clearinghouse of information on the troll epidemic.

"Patent trolls will no longer be able to hide under a cloak of legal darkness," EFF Activist Adi Kamdar said. "Trolling Effects will shine a light on companies that abuse the patent system to shake down innovators."

Patent trolls use the threat of expensive and lengthy patent litigation to extort settlements from innovators large and small. Because the majority of these threats never become lawsuits, most of the threatening letters never show up in public dockets.

In June, the White House joined calls from Congress for more transparency around demand letters. Trolling Effects aims to provide that transparency. The site will allow demand-letter recipients to post the documents online, find letters received by others, and research who is really behind the threats. The site also features comprehensive guides to the patent system and a blueprint for patent reform. Journalists, academics, and policy makers will find the site a one-stop resource for researching the patent system.

"Trolling Effects began with the idea that people need to come together to defeat patent trolls," said EFF Staff Attorney Julie Samuels, who also holds the Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents. "Innovators who previously would have had to face the troll threat alone can use this new collaborative tool to share information and intelligence."

Other members of the Trolling Effects coalition include: Application Developers Alliance, Ask Patents, Engelberg Center on Innovation Law & Policy at NYU School of Law, Engine Advocacy, Public Knowledge, PUBPAT, and the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at Berkeley Law.

Trolling Effects is one of several ways EFF is combating the troll plague on the U.S. patent system. Currently, EFF is collecting information on legislative proposals as part of its Defend Innovation project and will publish a report later this year. EFF also recently launched an effort to challenge patents held by Personal Audio, a notorious patent troll that has been shaking down podcasters across the country.

"The tide is turning on patent trolls," said EFF Staff Attorney Daniel Nazer. "The more people learn about their business practices, the more pressure we're able to put on them. It's time to shut down this business model once and for all."

Contacts:

Adi Kamdar
Activist
Electronic Frontier Foundation
adi@eff.org

Julie Samuels
Staff Attorney and The Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents
Electronic Frontier Foundation
julie@eff.org

Related Issues:
July 31, 2013

100+ Organizations Sign Thirteen Principles to Protect Human Rights

San Francisco - More than 100 organizations from across the globe – including Privacy International, Access, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) – are taking a stand against unchecked communications surveillance, calling for the governments around the world to follow international human rights law and curtail pervasive spying.

The coalition of groups have all signed the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communication Surveillance – 13 basic principles that spell out how existing human rights law applies to modern digital surveillance. Written in response to the increasing number of government surveillance standards that focus on law enforcement and "national security" priorities instead of citizens' rights, the principles include advice on how surveillance laws should respect the law, due process, and include public oversight and transparency. Current debates over government surveillance are often limited by outmoded definitions of content versus metadata, or stored data versus data in transit. The principles released today concentrate on the core issue: how human rights protect all information that reveals private information about an individual's communications.

"It's time to restore human rights to their place at the very heart of the surveillance debate," said EFF International Director Danny O'Brien. "Widespread government spying on communications interferes with citizens' ability to enjoy a private life, and to freely express themselves – basic rights we all have. But the mass metadata collected in the U.S. surveillance program, for example, makes it extraordinarily easy for the government to track what groups we associate with and why we might contact them. These principles announced today represent a global consensus that modern surveillance has gone too far and must be restrained."

The organizations signing the principles come from more than 40 different countries. The principles will be used to advocate for a change in how present laws are interpreted, and new laws are crafted.

"International human rights law binds every country across the globe to a basic respect for freedom of expression and personal privacy," said EFF International Rights Director Katitza Rodriguez. "The pervasiveness of surveillance makes standing up for our digital rights more important than ever. And we need those rights to survive in a digital world, where any state can spy on us all, in more detail than ever before. We know that surveillance laws need to be transparent and proportionate, with judicial oversight, and that surveillance should only be used when absolutely necessary. Everything we've heard about the NSA programs indicate that they fall far outside these international human rights principles."

For the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance:
https://necessaryandproportionate.org/

For more on how the principles were developed:
https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/07/thirteen-principles-for-human-rights

Contacts:

Danny O'Brien
   International Outreach Coordinator
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   danny@eff.org

For Spanish-language interviews:
   Katitza Rodriguez
   International Rights Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   katitza@eff.org
  

July 16, 2013

Broad Coalition of Organizations Team Up for Freedom of Association Lawsuit

San Francisco - Nineteen organizations including Unitarian church groups, gun ownership advocates, and a broad coalition of membership and political advocacy organizations filed suit against the National Security Agency (NSA) today for violating their First Amendment right of association by illegally collecting their call records. The coalition is represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a group with years of experience fighting illegal government surveillance in the courts.

"The First Amendment protects the freedom to associate and express political views as a group, but the NSA's mass, untargeted collection of Americans' phone records violates that right by giving the government a dramatically detailed picture into our associational ties," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "Who we call, how often we call them, and how long we speak shows the government what groups we belong to or associate with, which political issues concern us, and our religious affiliation. Exposing this information – especially in a massive, untargeted way over a long period of time – violates the Constitution and the basic First Amendment tests that have been in place for over 50 years."

At the heart of First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA is the bulk telephone records collection program that was confirmed by last month's publication of an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) further confirmed that this formerly secret document was legitimate, and part of a broader program to collect all major telecommunications customers' call histories. The order demands wholesale collection of every call made, the location of the phone, the time of the call, the duration of the call, and other "identifying information" for every phone and call for all customers of Verizon for a period of three months. Government officials further confirmed that this was just one of series of orders issued on a rolling basis since at least 2006.

"People who hold controversial views – whether it's about gun ownership policies, drug legalization, or immigration – often must express views as a group in order to act and advocate effectively," said Cohn. "But fear of individual exposure when participating in political debates over high-stakes issues can dissuade people from taking part. That's why the Supreme Court ruled in 1958 that membership lists of groups have strong First Amendment protection. Telephone records, especially complete records collected over many years, are even more invasive than membership lists, since they show casual or repeated inquiries as well as full membership."

"The First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles has a proud history of working for justice and protecting people in jeopardy for expressing their political views," said Rev. Rick Hoyt. "In the 1950s, we resisted the McCarthy hysteria and supported blacklisted Hollywood writers and actors, and we fought California's 'loyalty oaths' all the way to the Supreme Court. And in the 1980s, we gave sanctuary to refugees from civil wars in Central America. The principles of our faith often require our church to take bold stands on controversial issues. We joined this lawsuit to stop the illegal surveillance of our members and the people we serve. Our church members and our neighbors who come to us for help should not fear that their participation in the church might have consequences for themselves or their families. This spying makes people afraid to belong to our church community."

In addition to the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, the full list of plaintiffs in this case includes the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Calguns Foundation, Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch, People for the American Way, and TechFreedom.

EFF also represents the plaintiffs in Jewel v. NSA, a class action case filed on behalf of individuals in 2008 aimed at ending the NSA's dragnet surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans. Last week, a federal court judge rejected the U.S. government's latest attempt to dismiss the case, allowing the allegations at the heart of the suit to move forward under the supervision of a public federal court.

For the full complaint in First Unitarian v. NSA:
https://www.eff.org/node/75009

Contacts:

Rebecca Jeschke
   Media Relations Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   press@eff.org

Dave Maass
   Media Relations Coordinator
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   press@eff.org

July 9, 2013

Air-Conditioning Group Agrees Not to Claim Copyright Ownership of a Public Law

In a victory for free speech and open government, the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors Association (SMACNA) has conceded that it will no longer use trumped up copyright claims to try to stop Public.Resource.Org (Public Resource) from publishing safety standards that have been incorporated into law.  Thanks to a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Public.Resource.Org is now free to continue its mission of improving public access to the laws that govern our daily lives. 

Public.Resource.Org is a non-profit organization that acquires and makes available online a wide variety of public documents such as fire safety codes, food safety standards, and other regulations that have been incorporated into U.S. and international laws.  Such documents are often difficult to access otherwise, meaning the public cannot read them, much less comment on them.

In January, SMACNA demanded that Public.Resource.Org take offline a federally mandated air-duct standard, claiming the posting violated SMACNA’s copyright in the standard.  Represented by EFF, Fenwick & West LLP, and David Halperin, Public Resource fought back and asked a federal court to declare that the standards became part of the public domain once they were incorporated into law.

After initially attempting to avoid responding to the lawsuit at all, SMACNA has now surrendered and agreed to publicly affirm that it will no longer claim copyright in the standards.

“Whether it’s the Constitution or a building code, the law is part of the public domain,” said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry.  “We’re glad SMACNA is abandoning its effort to undermine that essential principle.”

In today’s technical world, public-safety codes are some of the country’s most important laws.  Public access to such codes can be crucial when, for example, there is an industrial accident, a disaster such as Hurricane Katrina, or when a homebuyer simply wishes to independently consider whether her house was built to code standards.  Publishing the codes online, in a readily-accessible format, also makes it possible for reporters and other interested citizens to search, excerpt, compare, and copy them.

“It’s about time Standards Development Organizations recognized that if a technical standard has been incorporated into federal law, the public has a right to read it, speak it and copy it freely,” said Public.Resource.Org founder Carl Malamud.  “We hope SMACNA has finally learned that lesson.”

For the stipulation:
https://www.eff.org/document/smacna-stipulation-and-judgment

For more on Public.Resource.Org vs. SMACNA:
https://www.eff.org/cases/publicresourceorg-v-smacna

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

July 8, 2013

Rejects Government's State Secret Privilege Claims in Jewel v. NSA and Shubert v. Obama

San Francisco - A federal judge today rejected the U.S. government's latest attempt to dismiss the Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF's) long-running challenge to the government's illegal dragnet surveillance programs. Today's ruling means the allegations at the heart of the Jewel case move forward under the supervision of a public federal court.

"The court rightly found that the traditional legal system can determine the legality of the mass, dragnet surveillance of innocent Americans and rejected the government's invocation of the state secrets privilege to have the case dismissed," said Cindy Cohn, EFF's Legal Director. "Over the last month, we came face-to-face with new details of mass, untargeted collection of phone and Internet records, substantially confirmed by the Director of National Intelligence. Today's decision sets the stage for finally getting a ruling that can stop the dragnet surveillance and restore Americans' constitutional rights."

In the ruling, Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California federal court agreed with EFF that the very subject matter of the lawsuit is not a state secret, and any properly classified details can be litigated under the procedures of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). As Judge White wrote in the decision, "Congress intended for FISA to displace the common law rules such as the state secrets privilege with regard to matter within FISA's purview." While the court allowed the constitutional questions to go forward, it also dismissed some of the statutory claims. A status conference is set for August 23.

EFF's Jewel case is joined in the litigation with another case, Shubert v. Obama.

"We are pleased that the court found that FISA overrides the state secrets privilege and look forward to addressing the substance of the illegal mass surveillance," said counsel for Shubert, Ilann Maazel of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP. "The American people deserve their day in court."

Filed in 2008, Jewel v. NSA is aimed at ending the NSA's dragnet surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans and holding accountable the government officials who illegally authorized it. Evidence in the case includes undisputed documents provided by former AT&T telecommunications technician Mark Klein showing AT&T has routed copies of Internet traffic to a secret room in San Francisco controlled by the NSA. The case is supported by declarations from three NSA whistleblowers along with a mountain of other evidence. The recent blockbuster revelations about the extent of the NSA spying on telecommunications and Internet activities also bolster EFF's case.

For the full decision:
https://www.eff.org/node/74895

For more on Jewel v. NSA:
https://www.eff.org/cases/jewel

Contacts:

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

Kurt Opsahl
   Senior Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   kurt@eff.org

Lee Tien
   Senior Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   tien@eff.org

Related Issues:
July 1, 2013

EFF Asks Federal Appeals Court to Clear Researcher Who Revealed AT&T Security Flaw

San Francisco - A team of computer-crime legal experts on Monday filed an appeal of the federal felony conviction and lengthy prison sentence handed down to Andrew "Weev" Auernheimer, a computer researcher who revealed a massive security flaw in AT&T's website and was subsequently prosecuted under the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act (CFAA).

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) joined law professor Orin Kerr, Internet attorney and EFF fellow Marcia Hofmann, and Weev's trial lawyers Tor Ekeland and Mark Jaffe in filing the brief with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeal argues the government's flawed prosecution theory under the CFAA resulted in an improper conviction and prison sentence.

"The government set out to make an example of Auernheimer," EFF Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury said. "But the only message this sends to the security-research community is that if you discover a vulnerability, you could go to jail for sounding the alarm."

In 2010, Auernheimer's co-defendant Daniel Spitler discovered that AT&T had configured its servers to make the email addresses of iPad owners publicly available on the Internet. Spitler wrote a script and collected roughly 114,000 email addresses as a result of the security flaw. Auernheimer then distributed the list of email addresses to media organizations as proof of the vulnerability, ultimately forcing AT&T to acknowledge and fix the security problem.

"This case is about the freedom to surf the Internet," said Kerr, a professor at the George Washington University Law School. "Congress never intended to criminalize visiting a public website."

Nevertheless, federal prosecutors went after Auernheimer and Spitler, charging each with identity theft and conspiracy to violate the CFAA—the same law used against Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide this year amidst a similarly heavy-handed federal prosecution. Spitler accepted a plea deal in June 2011, while Auernheimer unsuccessfully fought the charges in a trial. Auernheimer was convicted and sentenced to 41 months in prison in March.

"Auernheimer was aggressively prosecuted for an act that caused little harm and was intended to be—and ultimately was—in the public interest," Hofmann said. "The CFAA's vague language gives prosecutors great latitude to abuse their discretion and throw the book at people they simply don't like. That's as evident here as it was in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz."

Auernheimer is currently incarcerated in a Special Housing Unit at the Allenwood Federal Correctional Complex in White Deer, Penn.

"Anyone who cares about the free flow of information on the Internet should be concerned about this case," Ekeland said. "The government is criminalizing computer behavior that millions of Americans engage in every day. The government's reckless and myopic prosecution of Auernheimer for obtaining public information from a public website endangers that vital aspect of the Internet and our national economy, which depends on the free flow of information."

On June 20, Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Jim Sensenbrenner, and Sen. Ron Wyden introduced "Aaron's Law" in Congress, a bill that would reform the CFAA. One element of the legislation would reform the laws that were used to convict Auernheimer.

For the full opening brief for the appeal:
https://www.eff.org/cases/us-v-auernheimer

Contacts:

Hanni Fakhoury
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   hanni@eff.org

Marcia Hofmann
   Internet Lawyer and EFF Fellow
   Law Office of Marcia Hofmann
   marcia@marciahofmann.com

Tor Ekeland
   Tor Ekeland, P.C.
   tor@torekeland.com

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