EFF in the News
The online exposure of the Ashley Madison cheating sites' membership data has, to say the least, shaken the Internet like a giant earthquake.
Many of the site's members have been unmasked as one of the millions of cheaters searching for an affair. Some have committed suicide. Extortionists have taken advantage of those fearing being named. And now it appears that the site's Canadian owner, Avid Life Media, is misusing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in a bid to make people unpublish the data that lists millions of Ashley Madison members' e-mail addresses and other information. The problem with this scenario is that such data isn't subject to copyright, the Electronic Frontier Foundation says.
"Ashley Madison’s owners have been sending numerous DMCA takedown notices to platforms like Twitter, Reddit, and others in an attempt to stop the dissemination of millions of names and email addresses of the site’s users...," Mitch Stoltz, an EFF staff attorney, wrote in a recent blog post. "While there’s no doubt that the leak is embarrassing and potentially disastrous for the millions of people who have been revealed as users of a site that promotes marital infidelity, Ashley Madison’s attempts to use the DMCA to put the genie back in the bottle are misguided, and in some cases, may violate the DMCA itself."
One non-Iranian target who agreed to come forward is longtime cyber-rights activist Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation based in San Francisco.
“I was visiting a friend in Sarajevo, and was awoken by a phone call at 9:30 a.m.,” York told VOA via email. “The person calling claimed to be a journalist and, in my sleepy state, asked if he could please email me before we hung up.”
York said he called back less than five minutes later to make sure she had seen the email, which raised her suspicion.
“First, because that's odd behavior for a journalist, and second because the email was a Google Doc request from a generic-sounding Reuters email address, and ‘Reuters’ was misspelled in the body of the message.”
York said it wasn’t clear why she was targeted, but added she does know many Iranians active in “the digital rights scene.”
Jennifer Lynch, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, agreed.
"Any time a law enforcement agency decides to reduce the amount of time it retains records on private citizens, that’s a good thing," she said by e-mail.
"When agencies aggregate this kind of location-based data over long periods of time (and share it with every other law enforcement agency in the Bay Area), they are accumulating sensitive information, not just about where people go but also, potentially, about their religious and political beliefs, medical issues, who they’re associating with, where they live and work, and when they deviate from their common path through life," she added.
"In the U.S., there are now states where jail sentencing guidelines are being set by data," said Jeremy Gillula, a staff technologist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Data has a huge impact on people's lives, and that's only going to increase."
Much of today's data collection happens on the websites people visit, and it's done both by the websites themselves and by the advertising networks that power them. That, in turn, can spill over into surveillance by governments as well, Gillula said, such as when organizations like the National Security Agency tap Internet backbones.
“Not only is it extremely unlikely that there is any copyright, the chances of those tweets then not being considered fair use seems small,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Vera Ranieri, in response to an email query about certain tweets Ashley Madison has sought to remove.
Ranieri added, however, that courts have traditionally been reluctant to apply the punishment for copyright misrepresentation. This could change, however, in light of a recent court order and in response to the EFF’s ongoing attempts to seek lawyers’ fees and damages on behalf of the mother in the “dancing baby” case (a long-running dispute over a short YouTube clip showing a toddler dancing to a Prince song).
"The exciting thing about platforms like Twitter when politicians and public officials are using them is that it can provide more accountability and more transparency," said Parker Higgins, an activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Twitter's action, he said, cripples that ideal. The EFF typically advocates for privacy online.
“The problem is you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have it be some super-secret national security terrorist finder and then use it to solve petty crimes,” Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Hanni Fakhoury said.
Ultimately it is hard to hold Facebook responsible for the copyright infringement on its site, says Kit Walsh, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online civil liberties group. There is a safe harbor protecting websites under copyright law.
"An intermediary that accepts content from users is not responsible for copyright infringement that they commit," Walsh says.
The bill does a lot of things right, said Lee Tien, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that advocates for the protection of civil liberties online. The legislation notably acknowledges the risk of spying by law enforcement but may place too much faith in consent policies, he said.
"Notice is not consent," Tien said.
“His videos are so personal, they’re like DIY make-up tutorials,” says Andrew Crocker, a lawyer at Electronic Frontier Foundation who works with hackers, including Kamkar, to help them disclose vulnerabilities to companies without getting in trouble. “He embodies the hacker’s glee without being devious or malicious.”