Press Releases: March 2017
Global Community Had Faced Baseless Legal Claims and Content Removal Threats
San Francisco – Urban homesteaders can speak freely about their global movement for sustainable living, after convincing the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to cancel bogus trademarks for the terms “urban homesteading” and “urban homestead.” The authors and activists were represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and law firm of Winston & Strawn.
“This is a victory for free speech and common sense. Threats over this trademark harmed us and the whole urban homesteading community—a group of people who are dedicated to sharing information about sustainable living online and elsewhere,” said Kelly Coyne, co-author with Erik Knutzen of The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City. “We are so pleased to have this issue settled at last, so we can concentrate on making urban life healthier and happier for anyone who wants to participate in this global effort.”
“Urban homesteading” has been used as a generic term for decades, describing activities like growing food, raising livestock, and producing simple food products at home. But a group called the Dervaes Institute managed to register “urban homesteading” and “urban homestead” as trademarks with the USPTO for “educational services” like blogging.
Citing the trademarks, Dervaes got Facebook to take down content about urban homesteading, including pages that helped publicize Coyne and Knutzen’s book, as well as the Facebook page of a Denver farmer’s market. In 2011, EFF and Winston & Strawn petitioned the USPTO on behalf of Coyne, Knutzen, and book publisher Process Media, asking for the trademarks’ cancellation.
“The words and phrases we use every day to describe basic activities should never be the exclusive property of a single person or business,” said EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry. “It took six years, but we’re proud that this terrible trademark is off the books.”
“You can’t trademark generic terms and force ordinary conversations off the Internet,” said Winston & Strawn attorney Jennifer Golinveaux. “We’re relieved that the urban homesteading community can continue sharing information about their important work without worrying about silly legal threats.”
For the full opinion from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office:
For more on this case:
One Out of Two Americans Already in a Face Recognition Database Accessible to Law Enforcement
Washington, D.C.—On Wednesday, March 22, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch will testify at a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about the FBI's efforts to build up and link together massive facial recognition databases that may be used to track innocent people as they go about their daily lives.
The FBI has amassed a facial recognition database of more than 30 million photographs and has access to hundreds of millions more. The databases include photos of people who aren’t suspected of any criminal activity that come from driver’s license and passport and visa photos, even as the underlying identification technology becomes ever more powerful. The government has done little to address the privacy implications of this massive collection of biometric information.
Lynch will testify that the use of facial recognition technology will allow the government to track Americans on an unprecedented level. The technology, like other biometric programs, such as fingerprint and DNA collection, poses critical threats to privacy and civil liberties. Lynch will tell the House committee that Congress has an opportunity to develop legislation that would protect Americans from inappropriate and excessive biometrics collection and use.
What: Full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Hearing: Law Enforcement’s Use of Facial Recognition Technology
Who: EFF Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch
When: Wednesday, March 22, 9:30 a.m.
Where: 2154 Rayburn House Office Building
For more information on facial recognition:
For more on biometric data collection:
The Border Isn’t a Constitution-Free Zone
Richmond, Virginia—Border agents must obtain a warrant to search travelers’ phones, tablets, and laptops, which contain a vast trove of sensitive, highly personal information that is protected by the Fourth Amendment, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) told a federal appeals court today.
Searches of devices at the border have more than doubled since the inauguration of President Trump—from nearly 25,000 in all of 2016, to 5,000 in February alone. This increase, along with the increasing number of people who carry these devices when they travel, has heightened awareness of the need for stronger privacy rights while crossing the U.S. border.
While the Fourth Amendment ordinarily requires law enforcement officials to get a warrant supported by probable cause before searching our property, in cases that predate the rise of digital devices, courts granted border agents the power to search our luggage without a warrant or any suspicion of wrongdoing.
But portable digital devices differ wildly from luggage or other physical items we carry with us to the airport because they provide access to the entirety of our private lives, EFF said in an amicus brief filed at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in the border search case U.S. v. Kolsuz. In 2014 the Supreme Court noted that cellphones now hold “the privacies of life” for people, including highly personal, private information such as photos, texts, contact lists, email messages, and videos. Many digital devices can access personal records stored in the “cloud,” such as financial or medical information. Before smartphones were invented, that kind of information would be kept in our home offices, desk drawers, or basement storage. If law enforcement officers wanted to enter your home or lock box as part of a search, they’d need to go before a judge, prove probable cause that you’re involved in a crime, and get a warrant.
“The border isn’t a constitution-free zone,” said Adam Schwartz, EFF senior staff attorney. “The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that mobile phones are a window into our private lives and police need to show there’s probable cause that the people they arrest have committed crimes and obtain a warrant to search their phones. There should be no less protection for individuals who have not been arrested or shown to have committed any crime, but who instead simply want to enter the United States.”
It’s never been more important for courts to follow the standard set by the Supreme Court about cell phone searches and apply it to borders searches. Reports have surfaced of border agents searching the devices of innocent U.S. citizens, green card holders, and foreign visitors. While all kinds of travelers have suffered this intrusion, many reports involve journalists, Muslim-Americans, and Americans with Middle Eastern-sounding names. Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, Brennan Center for Justice, Council on American-Islamic Relations and six of its chapters, and The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers joined EFF in filing the brief.
“Law enforcement officials should be required to meet the same standards for searching our cell phones wherever we are—in our cities, on the highway, at vehicle checkpoints, and at the border. Regardless of the location, when officials want to crack open the private information in someone’s phone, they must first obtain a warrant,” said Schwartz.
For EFF’s new border guide:
For EFF’s new border pocket guide:
EFF to Argue NSL Gag Orders Are Unconstitutional in San Francisco Appeals Court
San Francisco – The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will urge an appeals court Wednesday to find that the FBI violates the First Amendment when it unilaterally gags recipients of national security letters (NSLs), and the law should therefore be found unconstitutional. The hearing is set for Wednesday, March 22, at 1:30pm in San Francisco.
EFF represents two communications service providers—CREDO Mobile and Cloudflare—that were restrained for years from speaking about the NSLs they received, including even acknowledging that they had received any NSLs. Early Monday, just days before the hearing, the FBI finally conceded that EFF could reveal that these two companies were fighting a total of five NSLs.
CREDO and Cloudflare have fought for years to publicly disclose their roles in battling NSL gag orders. Both companies won the ability to talk about some of the NSLs they had received several months ago, but Monday’s decision by the FBI allows them to acknowledge all the NSLs at issue in this case.
On Wednesday, EFF Staff Attorney Andrew Crocker will tell the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that these gags are unconstitutional restrictions on CREDO and Cloudflare’s free speech and that the FBI’s belated decision to lift some of the gags only underscores why judicial oversight is needed in every case. The gag orders barred these companies from participating in discussion and debate about government use of NSLs—even as Congress was debating changes to the NSL statute in 2015.
In re National Security Letters
EFF Staff Attorney Andrew Crocker
Courtroom 3, 3rd Floor Room 307
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
James R. Browning U.S. Courthouse
95 Seventh Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
For the FBI notice allowing the companies to identify themselves:
For more on this case:
Protect Yourself While Traveling To and From the U.S.
San Francisco - Increasingly frequent and invasive searches at the U.S. border have raised questions for those of us who want to protect the private data on our computers, phones, and other digital devices. A new guide released today by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) gives travelers the facts they need in order to prepare for border crossings while protecting their digital information.
“Digital Privacy at the U.S. Border” helps everyone do a risk assessment, evaluating personal factors like immigration status, travel history, and the sensitivity of the data you are carrying. Depending on which devices come with you on your trip, your gadgets can include information like your client files for work, your political leanings and those of your friends, and even your tax return. Assessing your risk factors helps you choose a path to proactively protect yourself, which might mean leaving some devices at home, moving some information off of your devices and into the cloud, and using encryption. EFF’s guide also explains why some protections, like fingerprint locking of a phone, are less secure than other methods.
“Border agents have more power than police officers normally do, and people crossing the border have less privacy than they usually expect,” said EFF Staff Attorney Sophia Cope. “Border agents may demand that you unlock your phone, provide your laptop password, or disclose your social media handles. Yet this is where many of us store our most sensitive personal information. We hope this guide makes preparing for your trip and protecting your devices easier and more effective.”
Many travelers are confused about what is legal at the border, and the consequences for running afoul of a border agent can run the gamut from indefinite seizure of your phone and computer, to denial of entry for foreign visitors, although American citizens always have the right to re-enter the country. EFF’s new guide hopes to clear up misinformation while recognizing that there is no “one size fits all” approach to crossing into the United States. In addition to the full report, EFF has also created a pocket guide for helping people concerned with data protection.
“The border is not a Constitution-free zone, but sometimes the rules are less protective of travelers and some border agents can be aggressive,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Adam Schwartz. “That can put unprepared travelers in a no-win dilemma at the U.S. border. We need clearer legal protections for everyone, but in the meantime, our report and pocket guides aim to put more power back into the hands of travelers.”
For “Digital Privacy at the U.S. Border”:
For EFF’s pocket guide:
For EFF’s summary of your constitutional rights: