EFF in the News
On Friday, July 10, the Electronic Frontier Foundation celebrated its 25th anniversary. The San Francisco-based group has been a stalwart of tech and legal advocacy since its founding and has played a key role in a number of seminal cases.
To celebrate, Ars interviewed Executive Director Cindy Cohn, who mentioned that, within the list of cases that the organization has worked on, she had a number of favorites.
Here’s a quick summary of those cases, in chronological order.
Mitch Kapor, a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, noted Reddit users were predominantly male and 18 to 29 years in age.
“In my view, her job was made more difficult because as a woman, she was particularly subject to the abuse stemming from the pockets of toxic misogyny in the Reddit ecosystem,” said Kapor, now a partner at Kapor Capital.
“The government was very interested in laws that would prohibit the use of encryption or criminalize the use of encryption … or require backdoors for encryption,” said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). “CALEA was probably the second or third round of that in Congress.”
The FBI and other agencies were worried that encryption would lock them out of criminals’ systems, but they were also worried about the ability of telephone providers to respond to wiretap requests. As phone networks switched from analog to digital systems, the government began to doubt the phone companies’ capacity to execute wiretap requests. “Fiber is harder to tap than copper,” Tien said. “IP networks are different from packet-switched networks.” So the government went looking for new legal authority to shape how phone companies could build and configure their networks.
The resulting legislation required phone companies to be able to respond to a certain number of wiretap requests at a certain speed, thus ensuring that the government would have the evidence it needed on its own schedule. “There were things like switch capacities: ‘You must be able to handle this many simultaneous wiretaps in a given geographic area,’” Tien said.
“There was effectively this order to the industry,” said Seth Schoen, senior staff technologist at the EFF. “Come up with technical standards that are acceptable to the government for an interface between the government and the phone companies around these wiretaps, and then deploy this capability so that you’ll be able to perform wiretaps in a standardized way on every phone facility in the U.S.”
The three-judge panel next turned to Lenz's lawyer, Corynne McSherry, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Tallman asked McSherry for help clarifying the law for copyright holders.
McSherry said that under the DMCA, Universal needed to come to a legal conclusion about fair use before it issued a takedown notice. "A copyright owner needs to make a legal decision," she said, adding that the decision can be made based on the facts presented, without additional investigation.
A better approach would be to eschew sanctions and export control altogether, says Nate Cardozo, staff attorney at EFF.
"When companies turn a blind eye, there are already legal tools available to hold them accountable without increasing the export control load," Mr. Cardozo says. If Hacking Team for instance sold surveillance tools to Sudan, the company can already be held accountable under existing laws, he said.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has announced its first DefCon 23 Badge Hack Contest, in a release last week. Each year the convention provides attendees with high tech badges consisting of circuit boards, LED's, and cryptographic puzzles.
Senior membership advocate with EFF Aaron Jue told SCMagazine.com via email correspondence that the goal is to see what someone can create out of the badges once hardware restrictions have been lifted.
“Carriers usually track things like location, who you’re communicating with and when, what websites you visit, what apps are asking for data, things like that,” says Jeremy Gillula, a technologist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit with a stated mission of defending civil liberties in the digital world. “If you’re someone who’s logged into Chrome, using Google Maps, Google Voice and Gmail, they’re already getting most of this information.”
But Kurt Opsahl, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF's) general counsel, believes that's little more than a nod to CYA:
[It's] an attempt by the intelligence community to comply with the Fourth Amendment. But it doesn’t come from a court, it comes from the executive.
...and that there's nothing built into XKeyscore that would serve as a technical roadblock to illegal searches taking place in the first place:
The document discusses whether auditors will be happy or unhappy. This indicates that compliance will be achieved by after-the-fact auditing, not by preventing the search.
July 7 marks the last day of the ICANN working group’s public comment period. Nadia Kayyali, an activist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and another co-signatory of the letter, hopes the flood of responses will force the organization to take these criticisms seriously. “I don’t know if ICANN is used to getting so much scrutiny over the kind of work that they’re doing,” she said. “I’m really curious to see how they respond.”
A long-running copyright fight between the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Universal Music over fair use in the digital age was considered by an appeals court today, a full eight years after the lawsuit began.
EFF and its client Stephanie Lenz sued Universal Music Group back in 2007, saying that the music giant should have realized Lenz's home video of her son Holden dancing to Prince's "Let's Go Crazy" was clearly fair use. Under EFF's view of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Universal should have to pay damages for a wrongful takedown.