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EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: May 2012

May 31, 2012

EFF Charts the Privacy and Transparency Practices of the Internet's Biggest Companies

For Immediate Release: Thursday, May 31, 2012

San Francisco - When you use the Internet, you entrust your thoughts, experiences, locations, and more to companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook. But what happens when the government asks these companies to hand over your private information? Will the company stand with you? Today, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) releases its second annual "When the Government Comes Knocking, Who Has Your Back?" report – this time as a white paper and chart tracking some of the Internet's biggest service providers on their public commitments to their users' privacy and security.

Increasingly, federal law enforcement agents are demanding that Internet companies provide their users' data as part of government investigations – sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly. EFF's report examines 18 companies' terms of service, privacy policies, public representations, advocacy, and courtroom track records, awarding them gold stars for best practices in categories like "tell users about government data demands" and "fight for user privacy in courts."

"This year, we saw a big increase in the number of companies making a public promise to their users to inform them whenever possible when the government comes knocking," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "This notice gives users the chance to fight back against government overreaches and to defend themselves if investigators want to unfairly fish around in their personal information. It appears that promising to notify your customers of government data demands is on the way to becoming an industry standard for responsible companies."

EFF first published its chart last year to recognize exemplary practices by some companies. We were pleased to see that Facebook, Dropbox, and Twitter have each upgraded their practices in the past year. Sonic.net, an ISP based in Santa Rosa, California, earned a gold star in every category. Cloud storage sites Dropbox and SpiderOak and business networking site LinkedIn also fared well, earning recognition in three categories each.

"Online service providers are the guardians of some of your most intimate data – everything from your messages, to location information, to the identities of your family and friends," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "We wanted to acknowledge companies that are adopting best practices and taking exceptional steps to defend their users against government overreaches in the courts and in Congress."

In addition to upgrading their own practices, many Internet companies have joined with civil liberties groups into a powerful coalition working to clarify outdated privacy laws so that there is no question about when the government needs a warrant to access sensitive users data.

"This year, we saw a number of major Internet companies join the Digital Due Process coalition, which is aimed at getting Congress to make lasting improvements in the laws that protect our electronic privacy," said EFF Activism Director Rainey Reitman. "This should be a wakeup call to Congress to clarify outdated laws so there is no question that government agents need a court-ordered warrant before accessing sensitive location data, email content, and documents stored in the cloud."

For the full report "When the Government Comes Knocking, Who Has Your Back?":
https://www.eff.org/pages/who-has-your-back

Last year's report can be viewed here:
https://www.eff.org/pages/when-government-comes-knocking-who-has-your-back-2011

Contacts:

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

Marcia Hofmann
   Senior Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   marcia@eff.org

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

Related Issues:
May 29, 2012

Internet Forum Can't Be Held Liable for What Commenters Post on Online

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked a judge today to block a reality TV star's attempts to censor critical comments about her company on a popular online fashion blog.

Corri McFadden, star of the VH1 show "House of Consignment," filed suit against Purseblog.com in a California federal court after a commenter accused McFadden's company, eDrop-Off, of "shill bidding" – making bogus bids to inflate the prices of designer goods the company sells in online auctions. But California has strong legal protections against lawsuits filed to chill participation in publicly significant discussions, and now McFadden is asking the court in California to let her dismiss the lawsuit without any penalty so that she can pursue it in a state with more favorable law. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Friday, EFF urged the court in California not to let McFadden off the hook.

"This is a classic SLAPP suit – strategic litigation against public participation – and McFadden should have to face California's tough anti-SLAPP law, which lets defendants move to strike frivolous lawsuits and recover costs and fees if they win," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "The plaintiffs set the stage by choosing to file their suit in California. The court should finish the case there as well, protecting Purseblog.com's speech rights by applying California law."

Additionally, the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA), as interpreted by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, contains uniquely strong protections for free speech online, shielding hosts of online forums from liability for the speech of their users.

"Congress decided that speakers – not their soapboxes – should be responsible for what they say," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "That's why the Internet hosts such an incredible diversity of content today. If sites could be held legally responsible for anything anyone said on them, no one would allow users to post controversial views online."

For the full brief in eDrop-Off v. Burke et al.:
https://www.eff.org/document/amicus-brief-9

Contacts:

Marcia Hofmann
   Senior Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   marcia@eff.org

Matt Zimmerman
   Senior Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   mattz@eff.org

May 23, 2012

Bogus Copyright Infringement Claims Could Add Up to Fewer Choices, Higher Prices

New York - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is urging a federal judge not to let television networks squash an innovative streaming service with a bogus copyright infringement lawsuit.

In an amicus brief filed today, EFF and Public Knowledge asked the court to block a preliminary injunction that could prevent Aereo Inc. from establishing a customer base in New York City, arguing that shutting down the service at this early stage sends a dangerous message to other start-up companies working to improve consumers' TV viewing experience.

"The threat of lengthy litigation would discourage any business from working to add value to the television viewing experience, leaving the market in the hands of a few established players," said EFF Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz. "Remember, these are the same folks who tried to keep VCRs off the market years ago, and more recently fought viciously against remote DVRs, which allow cable subscribers access to content they've already bought but is stored elsewhere. This is yet another attempt by TV networks to profit from, control, or stop new technology they didn't think of first."

Aereo lets users in New York watch local channels by renting their own small antenna located at the Aereo facility, with the signal from the antenna sent over the Internet to that single user. The TV networks argue that this somehow constitutes a public performance and therefore infringes their copyright, even though it would be perfectly legal for someone to install their own antenna and run a wire to a TV set without paying a fee to anyone.

"All Aereo is doing, conceptually, is moving the rabbit ears from your roof to theirs," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "Yet the TV networks want to play games with the law to get a cut of the profits or shut it down. We're asking the court to consider the legal and customary rights of television viewers, as well as the threats a preliminary injunction could bring to future innovation."

For the full brief in WNET v. Aereo Inc.:
https://www.eff.org/node/70851

Contacts:

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

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

May 23, 2012

New White Paper from EFF and the Immigration Policy Center Outlines Privacy and Security Concerns

San Francisco - Today the Immigration Policy Center (IPC) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) release "From Fingerprints to DNA: Biometric Data Collection in U.S. Immigrant Communities and Beyond." The paper outlines the current state of U.S. government collection of biometric information and the problems that could arise from these growing databases of records. It also points out how immigrant communities are immediately affected by the way this data is collected, stored, and shared.

There is a growing push to link biometric collection with immigration enforcement. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) takes approximately 300,000 fingerprints per day from non-U.S. citizens crossing the border into the United States, and it collects biometrics from noncitizens applying for immigration benefits and from immigrants who have been detained. In addition, state and local law enforcement officers regularly collect fingerprints and DNA, as well as face prints and even iris scans. All of these government databases are growing and are being increasingly interconnected. For example, the Secure Communities program takes the fingerprints of people booked into local jails, matches them to prints contained in large federal immigration databases, and then uses this information to deport people.

"Some people believe biometrics and databases are the silver-bullets that will solve the immigrant enforcement dilemma. But biometrics are not infallible, and databases contain errors. These problems can result in huge negative consequences for U.S. citizens and legal immigrants mistakenly identified," said Michele Waslin, Senior Policy Analyst at the IPC.

"Biometric data collection can lead to racial profiling and can disproportionately affect immigrants," said EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch. "It also gives the government a new way to find and track people throughout the United States. The government needs to act now to limit unnecessary biometric collection and address the serious privacy issues regarding the amount and type of data collected, as well as what triggers that data collection, with whom the data is shared, and the security of that data."

For the full white paper "From Fingerprints to DNA: Biometric Data Collection in U.S. Immigrant Communities":
https://www.eff.org/document/fingerprints-dna-biometric-data-collection-us-immigrant-communities-and-beyond

For "From Fingerprints to DNA: By the Numbers":
https://www.eff.org/document/fingerprints-dna-numbers

For more on biometrics:
https://www.eff.org/issues/biometrics

Contacts:

Jennifer Lynch
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   jlynch@eff.org

Related Issues:
May 9, 2012

Copyright Office to Hear Public Testimony in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles

Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles - Experts from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will testify at public hearings held by the U.S. Copyright Office this month, urging officials to renew and expand the critical exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that the Copyright Office granted in 2009 in response to EFF's requests to protect the rights of American consumers who modify electronic gadgets and make remix videos.

EFF Staff Technologist Dan Auerbach will testify on Friday, May 11th, in Washington, D.C., demonstrating the technology of "jailbreaking" – liberating gadgets to run operating systems and applications from any source, not just those approved by the manufacturer. On Thursday, May 17th, in Los Angeles, EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann will testify about why it's important to clarify the legality of jailbreaking smart phones, tablets, and videogame consoles. At the same hearing in Los Angeles, EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry will testify to why artists and critics deserve legal protection for creating and using short excerpts of video content to make new works of commentary and criticism. Hofmann and McSherry will testify again on June 4 and June 5 in Washington, D.C., to respond to opponents of EFF's exemption requests.

EFF's testimony is part of the Copyright Office's rulemaking process, convened every three years to consider exemptions to the DMCA's prohibitions on "circumventing" digital rights management (DRM) and "other technical protection measures" used to protect copyrighted works. While this ban was meant to deter copyright infringement, many have misused the law to chill competition, free speech, and fair use. Exemptions are meant to mitigate the harms the law has caused to legitimate, non-infringing uses of copyrighted materials. In 2009, EFF won exemptions for jailbreaking smartphones and for artists who remix videos. EFF filed new exemption requests in 2011, seeking to renew and expand the 2009 rulings.

WHAT:

Public hearings on DMCA Rulemaking

WHEN AND WHERE:

May 11 – 10 a.m.
Copyright Hearing Room, LM-408
James Madison Building, Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave. SE.
Washington, D.C.

May 17 – 9 a.m.
Moot Courtroom, Room 1310
University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law
405 Hilgard Avenue
Los Angeles, CA

For more on the DMCA rulemaking and EFF's testimony:
https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/05/2012-dmca-rulemaking-primer

Contact:

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

Related Issues:
May 7, 2012

Speculative Claims Against Yelp Barred by Federal Law

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is urging a federal appeals court to block an attempt by disgruntled businesses to make an end-run around the federal law that protects Yelp and other online forums from liability for their users' reviews. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit Friday, EFF argues that the strong protections for hosts of forums in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) must be upheld to foster free speech online.

CDA 230 protects online service providers from liability and lawsuits over user-generated content, except in very narrow circumstances where the providers created or developed content themselves. In this case, several businesses filed suit against Yelp, claiming without factual support that the popular review site manipulated and manufactured reviews in order to coerce businesses to advertise on the website. A lower court already found that mere speculation of interference with public reviews was insufficient to evade the broad protection Congress created for online forums, and granted Yelp's motion to dismiss the case. In its amicus brief, EFF argued that lowering the standards for when a forum like Yelp has to be dragged through litigation would effectively chill online speech.

"The broad protections provided by CDA 230 are one of the main reasons we have so much speech online," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "If online service providers like Yelp could be held liable for material posted by any one of their millions of users merely upon thin claims of 'manipulation,' providers would feel pressured to censor or eliminate forums altogether. The result is fewer places for people to participate online and a loss all of us who rely on user reviews and other user-generated material."

"The goal of Congress in enacting CDA 230 was clear: to ensure the Internet is a robust platform for users' free speech," said Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "Users post millions of reviews on Yelp each year, but sites like this wouldn't exist without CDA 230's protections. We're asking the appeals court to make sure that sites like Yelp continue to thrive and remain vigorous forums for Internet users to share opinions and recommendations."

For the full amicus brief in Levitt v. Yelp:
https://www.eff.org/document/amicus-brief-7

Contacts:

Matt Zimmerman
   Senior Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   mattz@eff.org

Marcia Hofmann
   Senior Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   marcia@eff.org

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