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EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: June 2014

June 27, 2014

Flight Promotes StandAgainstSpying.org, New Site Calling on Congress to Act

Bluffdale, UT - The environmental campaigning group Greenpeace, digital rights watchdog Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Tenth Amendment Center (TAC) joined forces today to fly an airship over the NSA's data center in Utah to protest the government's illegal mass surveillance program.

Greenpeace flew its 135-foot-long thermal airship over the Bluffdale, UT, data center early Friday morning, carrying the message: "NSA Illegal Spying Below" along with a link steering people to a new web site, StandAgainstSpying.org, which the three groups launched with the support of a separate, diverse coalition of over 20 grassroots advocacy groups and Internet companies. The site grades members of Congress on what they have done, or often not done, to rein in the NSA.

"Rights rise or fall together," Greenpeace Senior IT Campaigner Gary Cook said. "Greenpeace has learned firsthand that people cannot protect their right to clean air and water if our civil rights – including the right to free association and the right to be free of unreasonable searches – are stripped away."

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"The public needs to be brought into the Congressional debate around surveillance reform happening right now," EFF Activism Director Rainey Reitman said. "We're flying an airship over the Utah data center, which has come to symbolize the NSA's collect-it-all approach to surveillance, and demanding an end to the mass spying. It's time for bold action in defense of our privacy."

"Our right to privacy is not a partisan issue. It's a human rights issue," said Michael Boldin, executive director and founder of the Tenth Amendment Center. "This coalition gives great hope for the future because it shows that people across the political spectrum can set aside differences to work together for common cause."

Greenpeace is a co-plaintiff on a lawsuit filed against the NSA by a broad coalition of membership and political advocacy organizations, represented by EFF, for violating their First Amendment right of association by illegally collecting their call records.

Photos of the airship flight are available here under a Creative Commons Attribution license:

https://www.eff.org/files/2014/06/27/8.14.68_utah_airship_flight.1137.jpg

https://www.eff.org/files/2014/06/27/8.14.68_utah_airship_flight.2072.jpg

https://www.eff.org/files/2014/06/27/8.14.68_utah_airship_flight.1051.jpg

https://www.eff.org/files/2014/06/27/8.14.68_utah_airship_flight.1108.jpg

Please attribute to Greenpeace.

Contacts:

Rainey Reitman
   Activism Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   rainey@eff.org

David Pomerantz
   Greenpeace
   david.pomerantz@greenpeace.org

Andy Stepanian
   Fitzgibbon Media
   andy@fitzgibbonmedia.com
  

Related Issues:
June 27, 2014

Diverse Coalition Reveals Lawmakers Who Aced, Failed and Were Missing in the Debate Over Mass Spying

San Francisco, CA - A coalition of 22 organizations from across the political spectrum today launched StandAgainstSpying.org, an interactive website that grades members of Congress on what they have done, or often not done, to rein in the NSA.

Led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Sunlight Foundation and Greenpeace, the coalition aims to inspire constituents to hold their elected officials accountable on mass surveillance reform, as well as give lawmakers the opportunity to improve their positions. Using a report card-style format, the grading criteria included whether the legislator was a sponsor of the USA FREEDOM Act or, in the case of the House of Representatives, voted for the "Amash Amendment" to defund NSA mass surveillance. Legislators had multiple avenues for receiving high marks.

Of the 100 senators and 433 representatives included, 241 members (45 percent) received "A" grades. However, 188 members (35 percent) flunked the scorecard, while another 77 members (14 percent) received question marks for taking no measurable action.

Website visitors can enter their zip codes to look up their congressional members' scores. They then are encouraged to tweet directly at their members of Congress, thanking them for defending privacy or asking them to do more in the fight against mass spying. Additionally, all visitors can sign an open letter to President Barack Obama urging him to end the mass surveillance programs immediately, without waiting for Congress to act.

"We must hold members of Congress accountable by making clear to the public who in Congress is standing up for surveillance reform, who is acting as a roadblock, and who is failing to take a stand," EFF Activism Director Rainey Reitman said. "More Americans than ever now think the NSA has gone too far. The American people—and frankly people all over the world—can't wait any longer for Congress to rein in the NSA."

EFF built StandAgainstSpying.org after analyzing the key NSA reform bills in Congress and weighting the prominent proposals on the degree to which they would end mass data collection. Sunlight Foundation technologists populated the site with data from its repository of Congressional actions.

"Just as the Internet has become an avenue for surveillance, it is also a mechanism for the public to hold the government accountable for its unchecked secrecy," said John Wonderlich, policy director at the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation. "People care about secrecy and state power and are willing to stand up and demand reform."

More than 18 groups and companies with diverse interests joined Greenpeace, EFF, Tenth Amendment Center (TAC) and Sunlight Foundation as partners in launching StandAgainstSpying.org, including Association of Alternative Newsmedia, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Demand Progress, Fight for the Future, FreedomWorks, Free Press Action Fund, Freedom of the Press Foundation, Libertarian Party, Liberty Coalition, Open Media, PEN America, reddit, Restore the Fourth, Taskforce.is, TechFreedom and ThoughtWorks.

The launch of the scorecard also coincided with a joint campaign by Greenpeace, EFF and TAC to fly an airship over the NSA data center in Bluffdale, UT, which carried a sign that read "NSA Illegal Spying Below" with a link to StandAgainstSpying.org.

For information and photos of the airship's flight over the data center earlier today will be available shortly.

Contacts:

Rainey Reitman
   Activism Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   press@eff.org

David Pomerantz
   Greenpeace Electronic Frontier Foundation
   david.pomerantz@greenpeace.org

Andy Stepanian
   Fitzgibbon Media
   andy@fitzgibbonmedia.com
  

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June 25, 2014

Justices Rule Changing Technology Demands Limits for Police but Requires Permission from TV Broadcasters

San Francisco - The U.S. Supreme Court issued two big rulings in important technology cases today.

In a groundbreaking decision on cell phone privacy, the court set powerful limits for police searches of cell phones, ruling in two consolidated cases that law enforcement must get a warrant before accessing the data on an arrested person's cell phone. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed amicus briefs in both of the cell phone search cases that were at issue in today's decision.

"These decisions are huge for digital privacy," EFF Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury said. "The court recognized that the astounding amount of sensitive data stored on modern cell phones requires heightened privacy protection, and cannot be searched at a police officer's whim. This should have implications for other forms of government electronic searches and surveillance, tightening the rules for police behavior and preserving our privacy rights in our increasingly digital world."

In its opinion, the court confirmed the importance of the warrant requirement, writing "Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple—get a warrant."

EFF also filed an amicus brief in American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo, a case where TV-streaming company Aereo was innovating when and how consumers watch television programs. The court decided, incorrectly we believe, that Aereo needed copyright holders' permission to stream free over-the-air broadcast TV shows, creating new uncertainty for cloud storage systems and other new technologies that transmit content.

"With this ruling, the Supreme Court said that technology companies can't rely on the words of the Copyright Act—companies can follow the letter of the law but still get shut down if a court decides that their business is somehow similar to a cable company," said EFF Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz. "This decision will make it harder for new independent media technologies to get launched and funded without the blessing of major media companies, and that's a loss for all of us."

EFF will have in-depth analysis of both these cases on its Deeplinks blog coming soon.

Contacts:

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

Mitch Stoltz
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   mitch@eff.org

June 13, 2014

Microsoft Fights to Protect Data Held on Servers in Ireland

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has urged a federal court to block a U.S. search warrant ordering Microsoft to turn over a customer's emails held in an overseas server, arguing that the case has dangerous privacy implications for Internet users everywhere.

The case started in December of last year, when a magistrate judge in New York signed a search warrant seeking records and emails from a Microsoft account in connection with a criminal investigation. However, Microsoft determined that the emails the government sought were on a Microsoft server in Dublin, Ireland. Because a U.S. judge has no authority to issue warrants to search and seize property or data abroad, Microsoft refused to turn over the emails and asked the magistrate to quash the warrant. But the magistrate denied Microsoft's request, ruling there was no foreign search because the data would be reviewed by law enforcement agents in the U.S.

Microsoft appealed the decision. In an amicus brief in support of Microsoft, EFF argues the magistrate's rationale ignores the fact that copying the emails is a "seizure" that takes place in Ireland.

"The Fourth Amendment protects from unreasonable search and seizure. You can't ignore the 'seizure' part just because the property is digital and not physical," said EFF Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury. "Ignoring this basic point has dangerous implications – it could open the door to unfounded law enforcement access to and collection of data stored around the world."

The government has argued that allowing a U.S. judge to order the collection of data stored abroad is necessary, because international storage would make it easy for U.S. Internet companies to avoid complying with search warrants. But Microsoft asserts that the government's legal theory could hurt U.S. technology companies that are trying to do business internationally. Additionally, EFF argues in its amicus brief that the government's approach hurts Internet users globally, as it would allow the U.S. to obtain electronic records stored abroad without complying with mutual assistance treaty obligations or other nations' own laws.

"Microsoft is doing the right thing by pushing back here. It's great to see a tech giant fighting for its customers," said Fakhoury.

For the full brief in this case:
https://www.eff.org/document/eff-amicus-brief-support-microsoft

Contact:

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

June 10, 2014

Public Deserves to See Secret Law Written by Office of Legal Counsel

Washington, DC - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today asked the Supreme Court of the United States to weigh in on a long-standing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in which EFF sought to obtain a secret legal memo authorizing the FBI to obtain phone records without any legal process.

As part of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) issues opinions that provide the legal justification for a wide variety of executive branch activities, in ways that affect millions of Americans. The opinion sought by EFF appears to have authorized the federal government, specifically the FBI, to obtain call records without judicial approval and without citing an emergency to justify the data collection.

Some of the most controversial government practices of the past 15 years—such as torture and the targeted killing of Americans abroad—were based on OLC legal authorizations. If EFF's petition for a "writ of certiorari" is successful, the Supreme Court will have the opportunity to decide when OLC opinions should be released to the public.

"The public has a fundamental right to know how the federal government is interpreting surveillance and privacy laws," EFF Senior Counsel David Sobel said. "If the Office of Legal Counsel has interpreted away federal privacy protections in secret, the public absolutely needs access to that analysis. There is no way for the public to intelligently advocate for reforms when we're intentionally kept in the dark."

The existence of this opinion first came to light in a report issued by the Justice Department's Inspector General on the FBI's use of its surveillance authorities in national security investigations. The Inspector General's report indicated the OLC issued a determination that appeared to conflict with the Stored Communications Act, a federal privacy law that safeguards customer call records from disclosure to the government without valid legal process.

EFF submitted a FOIA request for more information. The Justice Department refused to comply and subsequently EFF filed a lawsuit in May 2011 to obtain the records. While the case was unsuccessful at the district and appeals court levels, EFF believes the issue is of such significance that it merits review by the highest court.

"OLC opinions have formed the legal basis for some incredibly controversial government actions," EFF Staff Attorney Mark Rumold said. "It can't be left to the executive branch's discretion to release these critically important opinions. We hope the Supreme Court will take the opportunity to clarify that this type of secret law has no place in a democratic society."

For the petition for writ of certiorari: https://www.eff.org/document/eff-v-doj-petition-writ-certiorari

For more on this case: https://www.eff.org/foia/foia-secret-surveillance-law-memo

Contacts:

Mark Rumold
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   mark@eff.org

David Sobel
   Senior Counsel
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   sobel@eff.org

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June 6, 2014

EFF Told Court Yesterday Government Still Destroying Evidence Despite Court Order

Oakland, CA - A federal judge today ordered an emergency hearing today at 2 p.m. PT after EFF learned that the government is apparently still destroying evidence of NSA spying despite a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the court in March.

Yesterday afternoon, EFF filed an emergency motion with U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White, explaining that communications with government lawyers over the last week had revealed that the government has continued to destroy evidence relating to the mass interception of Internet communications it is conducting under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. The judge responded less than two hours later, reiterating that his TRO was still in place and continues to prohibit the destruction of evidence collected under Section 702. Late Thursday evening, the government filed papers with the court, claiming that compliance with the preservation order that has been in effect since March "would cause severe operational consequences" for the NSA, "including the possible suspension of the Section 702" program.

"This TRO has been in place since March. Yet we are only hearing these excuses now," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "Once again, the government has secretly and unilaterally reinterpreted its obligations about the evidence preservation orders, and determined that it need not comply with a federal court order, and now is asking for a blessing from the court after the fact. We are pleased that Judge White has called this emergency hearing to get to the bottom of this."

The government will appear by phone at the Oakland, California hearing.

WHAT:
Emergency Hearing in Jewel v. NSA

WHEN:
2 p.m.
Friday, June 6

WHERE:
U.S District Court
Northern District of California
Courtroom 5, Second Floor
1301 Clay Street
Oakland, CA

For the full order from Judge White:
https://www.eff.org/document/order-setting-hearing-0

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

Contact:

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

June 6, 2014

Government Argues Court's Order Does Not Apply to Certain Categories of Surveillance

San Francisco - A federal judge asked for more briefing today after an emergency court hearing over destruction in a case challenging NSA spying from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Andrew Crocker, Rick Wiebe, and Cindy Cohn

Andrew Crocker, Rick Wiebe, and Cindy Cohn

"We are pleased the court is receptive to our arguments – that this is the information that court ordered the government to retain, and is an important element of our litigation," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "It's unfortunate that the court's order today allows the government to continue destroying evidence that the government itself insists we need, but we are looking forward to giving the judge all the information he needs to come to a final decision."

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) blocking evidence destruction in March. But yesterday afternoon, EFF filed an emergency motion, explaining that communications with government lawyers over the last week had revealed that the government has continued to destroy evidence relating to the mass interception of Internet communications it is conducting under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. Today, Judge White called an emergency hearing, where the government argued that preserving the surveillance data gathered under Section 702 would be gravely harmful to national security programs. While the TRO remains in effect, that Judge White ruled that the government nevertheless did not need to preserve data collected pursuant to Section 702 until the court makes a further ruling on the issue.

EFF has been litigating against illegal NSA surveillance for more than eight years. Jewel v. NSA is a case brought on behalf of AT&T customers who were subject to unconstitutional NSA spying. In First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA, EFF represents 22 groups whose First Amendment rights to association are violated by the NSA program. EFF also filed one of the first lawsuits against the surveillance program back in 2006, Hepting v. AT&T.

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

Contact:

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

June 5, 2014

Judge Requires Explanation by Friday About Whether Government Is Still Destroying Evidence Despite Court Order

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked a judge today to schedule an emergency hearing, after learning that the government is apparently still destroying evidence of NSA spying despite a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the court in March. In an order issued in response this afternoon, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White instructed the government not to destroy any more materials and file a brief responding to EFF's allegations by 12 p.m PT on Friday.

"In communications with the government this week, EFF was surprised to learn that the government has been continuing to destroy evidence relating to the mass interception of Internet communications it is conducting under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act even though the court explicitly ordered it to stop in March," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "Specifically, the government is destroying content gathered through tapping into the fiberoptic cables of AT&T."

She added: "Once again, the government has apparently secretly and unilaterally reinterpreted its obligations about the evidence preservation orders, and has determined that it need not comply. Today marks a year to the day that Edward Snowden leaked documents confirming the NSA's massive spying, yet the government is still engaging in outlandish claims and gamesmanship – even destroying evidence – to block an adversarial court ruling on whether its mass spying is legal or constitutional."

EFF filed its Jewel v. NSA lawsuit in 2008. In recent weeks, declarations from the government in the Jewel case made it clear that the government has destroyed five years of the content it collected between 2007 and 2012, three years worth of the telephone records it seized between 2006 and 2009, and seven years of the Internet records it seized between 2004 and 2011, when it claims to have ended the Internet records seizures. In an emergency hearing last March over that evidence destruction, Judge White issued the current TRO, ordering the government to stop any further destruction of records or content until the matter could be sorted out.

"There can be no dispute that the government was aware of the broad scope of this TRO, and in his order this afternoon, Judge White confirmed that it reached materials gathered under Section 702," Cohn said. "We're asking Judge White to enforce the order and impose on the government whatever further measures are necessary to ensure that no further destruction of evidence occurs. It will be very interesting to see what the government says in its defense in its briefing tomorrow."

For EFF's full emergency application:
https://www.eff.org/document/plaintiffs-emergency-application-enforce-courts-tro

For the judge's order:
https://www.eff.org/document/order-re-evidence-preservation-0

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

Contacts:

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

About EFF:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading organization protecting civil liberties in the digital world. Founded in 1990, we defend free speech online, fight illegal surveillance, promote the rights of digital innovators, and work to ensure that the rights and freedoms we enjoy are enhanced, rather than eroded, as our use of technology grows. EFF is a member-supported organization. Find out more at https://www.eff.org. 

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June 2, 2014

Church Claims It Owns the Term 'Mormon'

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged a federal judge to quickly resolve a dispute over the use of the term "Mormon" in an online dating site, arguing that extended litigation based on a frivolous claim could bury a small business in its infancy.

Intellectual Reserve, Inc., which manages intellectual property rights for The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, has made numerous trademark claims against a website called "Mormon Match," which offers online dating services for members of the LDS church. Intellectual Reserve concedes that the term "Mormon" can be used to describe church members generally, but claims that its "family of marks" using "Mormon" (such as "Mormon Tabernacle Choir") gives it the power to silence any business that dares to use the term in commerce. In an amicus brief filed Friday, EFF argues that because "Mormon" is undisputedly a descriptive term, its use in the name of the website is fair and legal.

"The name of this service simply describes what it's doing – matching up Mormons," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. "Trademarks are supposed to be used to protect from unfair competition, not to stifle a small business or to control language."

Often, when websites or other projects get trademark complaints, the creators decide to change their content or services in order to avoid expensive litigation – even if they know they are in the right. Merely the threat of a trademark lawsuit, and the costs associated with it, is enough to chill many entrepreneurs, artists, and activists from innovative projects.

"This case can and should be dismissed now," said EFF Staff Attorney Vera Ranieri. "The specter of expensive litigation shouldn't be a tool used to coerce Internet entrepreneurs and other content creators into succumbing to meritless infringement claims."

For the full amicus brief:
https://www.eff.org/document/amicus-brief-21

Contacts:

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

Vera Ranieri
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   vera@eff.org

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