EFF in the News
Popular websites and apps like Facebook, Amazon and Instagram aren't coming after your first born, but they do intentionally draft privacy policies, terms of service and end user license agreements (EULAs) that they know (or hope) no one will ever read. "There's a clear advantage to them to being unreadable," says Kit Walsh, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy group. "It would take you two months to read all of the agreements that you click through in a year. The PayPal terms of service is longer than ‘Hamlet' and lot less interesting to read."
In a controversial move, President Obama commuted the sentence of known whistle blower and Army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning, a transgender woman who served under the name Bradley. Manning has a strong support network in the Bay Area. One group here raised $1 million for her legal defense. "She is so gentle, so intelligent and so sensitive," said Rainey Reitman, who started the Chelsea Manning Support Network. "And just a wonderful human being."
FamilyTreeNow.com is raising concerns about internet privacy. Launched in 2014, the site claims to have one of the largest collections of genealogy records anywhere. Accessing the site is easy, which requires a first and last name and state of residence. Not only will it list your name and address, but it also lists the names and addresses of relatives as well. This is an obvious concern for public figures, police officers, stalking and domestic violence victims, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out this could be dangerous for just about anyone. EFF Activism director Rainey Reitman said, “Let’s say you’re on vacation with your family and posting photos on Instagram. Anybody who happens to see those photos can look up your home address. So everyday people have lots of good reason to keep their address private.”
An unclassified document released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence spells out how the NSA, under Executive Order 12333, can share raw data that beforehand was sanitized before it was shared with any of the 16 other IC agencies.“That’s a huge and troubling shift in the way those intelligence agencies receive information collected by the NSA. Domestic agencies like the FBI are subject to more privacy protections, including warrant requirements,” said Kate Tummarello, a member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Activism Team.
In his final public address as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler implored the incoming Trump administration to press ahead with efforts to preserve and strengthen net neutrality amid increasingly strong signals that the policy designed to keep the Internet fair and open may be in jeopardy. Ernesto Falcon, legislative counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that while his group is anticipating an “aggressive effort to roll back” the scope of net neutrality, he remains optimistic that the broad public support behind the regulations will help to shape the president-elect’s selection for the next FCC chair.
Over the last month, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Attorney General Loretta Lynch signed off on changes to NSA rules that allow the agency to loosen the standards for what raw surveillance data it can hand off to the other 16 American intelligence agencies. “The fact that they’re relaxing these privacy-protective rules just as Trump is taking the reins of the surveillance state is inexplicable to me,” says Nate Cardozo, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
How far do laws go? Can businesses be forced to cooperate with authorities? Kurt Opsahl, deputy executive director of the US civil liberties organization Electronic Frontier Foundation, addressed these issues in Hamburg. He used the example of a hotly debated fight between the FBI and Apple, in which authorities sought a court order to force the smartphone manufacturer to crack the encryption of an iPhone owned by a suspected terrorist.
Is there a way, then, for the government to compel these companies to offer assistance or to seize the data on their servers? According to Nate Cardozo, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the answer is not really. “They don’t even need to go to companies like Google or Facebook or Apple,” he said, “and frankly that’s pretty unlikely. They’re gonna go to a company like Palantir.”
David Greene, civil liberties director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said courts across the United States have affirmed the fact that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields Backpage and other online publishers from liability for the content their users create. And shaming a website like Backpage into shutting down its adult listings will have a chilling effect on constitutionally protected free speech, he said. "Ads for adult services are not presumptively illegal," Mr. Greene said in a statement emailed to the Monitor.
If you’re creeped out by Facebook’s ability to identify your friends when you upload a photo, you’re not alone. An Illinois citizen is suing Facebook, claiming the social media giant’s use of facial recognition violates Illinois’ law protecting residents’ biometric data. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch said biometric data isunique to an individual’s body -- like a fingerprint. “But it could also be the face-recognition data, which is the shape of your face, how far apart your eyebrows are, where your ears are on your head,” she said. “That’s sort of a very basic example of face recognition data.”