Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

What Should, and Should Not, Be in NSA Surveillance Reform Legislation

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Following a wave of polls showing a remarkable turn of public opinion, Congress has finally gotten serious about bringing limits, transparency and oversight to the NSA’s mass surveillance apparatus aimed at Americans.

While we still believe that the best first step is a modern Church Committee, an independent, public investigation and accounting of the government’s surveillance programs that affect Americans, members of Congress seem determined to try to enact fixes now.  Almost a dozen bills have already been introduced or will be introduced in the coming weeks.

While we’re also waiting to see what the various bills will look like before endorsing anything, here’s—in broad strokes—what we’d like to see, and what should be avoided or opposed as a false response. We know full well that the devil is in the details when it comes to legislation, so these are not set in stone and they aren’t exhaustive. But as the debate continues in Congress, here are some key guideposts.

This first post focuses on surveillance law reform. In later posts we’ll discuss transparency, secret law and the FISA Court as well as other topics raised by the ongoing disclosures. In short, there's much Congress can and should do here, ...

Stop Congress From Taking the Fast Track to One-Sided Copyright Laws

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Copyright policies do not belong in trade agreements­—period. Negotiated without a trace of transparency or democratic oversight, these secret diplomatic processes are the worst venues to enact digital policy. Not only has the public been completely shut out, U.S. Congress members have extremely limited access to agreement texts even as they’re being negotiated. 

It gets worse: lawmakers themselves may soon pass a bill that severely limits their own ability to improve or remove language in agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement or the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). That includes any copyright or Internet control provisions that have been smuggled in by special interest groups.

Stop Secret Copyright Treaties

Fast Track, also called Trade Promotion Authority, is a process that hands away Congress’ constitutional power to set the terms of U.S. trade policy, and gives the executive branch concentrated authority to negotiate and finalize trade agreements. Under Fast Track, the White House would have the power to sign off on treaties, after which Congress will only have the power to have an up or down, Yes or No vote to ratify the deal.

All signs point to the White House’s intention to use it to override any remaining hope for Congressional oversight in these trade deals.


Best of the Blog: “There Is No Such Thing as ‘Hate Speech’”

Monday, August 5th, 2013

This week, FIRE has a special treat for you. We've rounded up some of our best blogs from over the years: pieces we think are particularly well written or cases we are particularly passionate about. Today, we have Vice President of Operations Sean Clark's post about hate speech, originally published on February 24, 2006. Please enjoy!

Yes, that is correct. “Hate speech” is not a category of speech recognized under current constitutional law. It is merely a convenient way to pigeonhole speech that some people find offensive. But what is very troubling is when people begin to treat “hate speech” as unprotected speech. For example, a student leader at Penn State, a university which was recently sued for its unconstitutionally vague and overbroad speech codes, made the following comment featured in a prominent article in the student newspaper The Daily Collegian:
“We support any and all university policies that prohibit intolerant actions against any student on this campus,” said Watson, adding that hate speech was not protected by the constitution. [Emphasis added.]
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that a statement like this has been made. This belief has become somewhat pervasive, especially on college campuses, ...

Prominent Security Researchers, Academics, and Lawyers Demand Congress Reform the CFAA and Support Aaron’s Law

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

EFF is at Black Hat and DEF CON this week, two conferences that draw a wide variety of people from tech including security researchers, coders, engineers, and everyday users. This year, EFF is pushing its campaign around making common sense changes to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act—including a phone booth called the CFAA DC Dialer that allows DEF CON attendees to call their Representative.

Alex Stamos, Nico Sell, and EFF are also publishing a letter from security researchers and members of the DEF CON community calling on Congress to reform the CFAA and to support Aaron's Law, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Jim Sensenbrenner and Senator Ron Wyden. The letter includes prominent lawyers, professors, security researchers, and members of the tech community including Jeff Moss, Ed Felten, Alex Stamos, Stefan Savage, Cory Doctorow, Nico Sell, and Avi Rubin.

The letter calls on Congress to pass Aaron's Law, noting:

While seldom heralded publicly, security researchers in academia, industry, public service, and independent practice work to identify serious security shortcomings in systems ranging from medical devices to voting machines to cloud services to critical national infrastructure. This research and investigation is especially urgent as we ...

EFF Welcomes New Senior Staff Attorney David Greene

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

EFF is proud to welcome prolific First Amendment lawyer David Greene to our legal team. As a senior staff attorney, David’s work will include free speech and privacy litigation and he has already hit the ground sprinting as one of the experts involved in EFF’s freedom-of-association lawsuit against the NSA.

David joins EFF from Bryan Cave LLP where he was senior counsel in the firm’s Media and First Amendment team. Prior to joining the firm, David served for more than a decade as executive director and lead staff counsel for the First Amendment Project, in which he worked with EFF on numerous matters including arguing the DVD-CCA v. Bunner case before the California Supreme Court and Court of Appeal. Together with EFF Executive Director Shari Steele and Senior Counsel David Sobel, David was a founding member of the Internet Free Expression Alliance, which fights to protect open and diverse speech in the digital world. David earned a 2013 California Lawyer Attorney of the Year award for his work representing journalist Seth Rosenfeld in his decades-long Freedom of Information Act lawsuits against the FBI and, in 2007, the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California awarded David its James Madison Freedom ...

Purdue Plans to Invite Freshmen to Pledge Themselves to ‘Creed’

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Kathy Mayer writes for the July/August issue of the Purdue Alumnus magazine that a new “creed,” currently being written by Purdue University students, will outline for freshmen “what’s expected of those who take on the name Boilermaker.” (The Boilermakers is Purdue’s athletic nickname.) “If you cannot follow the creed, then this is not the place for you,” says Purdue Dean of Students Danita Brown. 

Mayer reports that incoming freshmen will be “invited to pledge to the creed.” The creed idea comes from a “Resolution Against Racism at Purdue” presented to the administration by the Purdue Anti-Racism Coalition. It is unclear from the article the extent to which freshmen will be pressured into “pledging,” and the wording of the “creed” has not yet been released, though it will, according to Brown, “state a belief in academic honesty and integrity, and that we will not tolerate hatred, bigotry, injustice, or discrimination.”

But despite the lack of detail available at the moment, the mention of any sort of “pledge” should make the ears of all those concerned with students’ rights perk up. Freedom to think what one wants is at the heart of the educational enterprise. A pledge is an affront to this ...

KC Johnson on Due Process at Vassar

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Yesterday on Minding the Campus, Brooklyn College professor KC Johnson commented on some of the details of former Vassar College student Xiaolu “Peter” Yu’s allegations that he was expelled from the school without due process. In his article, Johnson summarizes the circumstances leading up to the finding that Yu was guilty:

Though [the complainant] waited a year to file her charges, Vassar gave Yu almost no time to mount a defense: he was found guilty and expelled from the college two-and-a-half weeks after the complaint was filed.

Vassar--which explicitly affirms that its disciplinary panels do not use "formal rules of process, procedure, and/or technical rules of evidence, such as are applied in criminal or civil court"--denied Yu the right to an attorney and limited his ability to introduce exculpatory evidence at the hearing; the complaint also alleges that he did not receive an opportunity to cross-examine [the complainant] fully. (This claim is impossible to verify, since the hearing was private.) Yu was found guilty, on the preponderance of evidence threshold, by a three-person faculty committee; his request that a student serve on the committee was denied.

Johnson gives further context by looking at some of Vassar’s sexual assault ...

On Working with Administrators: Five Principles for Student Activists

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

David Hicks is a FIRE summer intern. 

At FIRE’s sixth annual CFN Conference, past-FIRE intern Luke Wachob talked about his student group’s work at James Madison University to bring his school from a FIRE “red light” to a “green light” rating by changing unconstitutional speech codes on the campus. He highlighted the willingness of JMU’s administrators to work with, rather than against, students to reform these policies. After years of cooperation, JMU administrators and students are now able to stand together in their respect for free speech.

Like the students at JMU, I have had positive experiences working with the administrators at my college. A leadership development program has given me the chance to work directly with the president of my college, seeing much of the behind-the-scenes work that most students think little about. Additionally, I have partnered with the dean of students and other administrators to question policies as part of my work for the student government. Conversations with these people have taught me a lot about how and why administrators make the decisions that they do. Reflecting on the experience of myself and others, five rules stand out to me as being invaluable when working with an ...

CBLDF Joins Defense of The Bluest Eye and Speak

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

bluesteyeThis week, CBLDF-sponsored Kids’ Right to Read Project sent two letters on behalf of challenged books: One defends the use of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye in schools in Colorado, and the second defends Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, which is being challenged in Florida.

The Bluest Eye, which is one of the most frequently challenged books of the past decade is under fire in Adams County, Colorado, where a small group of parents launched an online petition asking their school district to remove The Bluest Eye and other unidentified books from high school reading lists. The Bluest Eye is being used in advanced placement English classes in the Adams 12 Five Star School District. The book deals with difficult issues, including rape and incest, and students have the option of completing an alternate assignment. The parents who want The Bluest Eye removed from classrooms have called for outright censorship. It has been called “trash literature,” and another parent claimed that “[r]eading about this could promote [rape] instead of preventing it.” Current and former students from the district started their own petition to retain the challenged books

The full text of the KRRP letter in defense of The Bluest ...

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Removed From Queens Reading List

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

absolutelytrueSherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which CBLDF has defended from challenges in the past, was apparently removed from a sixth-grade reading list in Queens, New York, earlier this week after complaints from parents. Unfortunately the few news sources that have reported on the case are biased and provide scant information, with one going so far as to label the Young Adult novel a “book on masturbation.”

Under a headline announcing that students “no longer must read racy Diary,” the New York Daily News seemed proud to note that Public School/Middle School 114 removed the book from the reading list — or possibly just made it optional rather than required — under “pressure from…outraged parents and after inquiries from the Daily News.” The article includes a quote from a parent who said the book “was like Fifty Shades of Grey for kids,” but no statements from school officials or details on the assignment. Fox News then picked up the story and slapped it with a headline that was even more biased, considering that masturbation is briefly mentioned only a few times in the 288-page novel.

The biased coverage was noted at YA review ...

Speech Code of the Month: Florida Atlantic University

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for August 2013: Florida Atlantic University (FAU)

Perhaps in response to some of the recent controversy at the university, FAU—a public university—has adopted a new policy on “Free Speech and Campus Civility” (PDF). That policy states, in relevant part:

Here at FAU, we encourage our campus community to exercise this cherished freedom in lively debate. In fact, we protect and promote that right. What we do insist on, however, is that everyone in the FAU community behave and speak to and about one another in ways that are not racist, religiously intolerant or otherwise degrading to others. (Emphasis added.)

This policy prohibits a great deal of constitutionally protected speech and expression. The ban on “religiously intolerant” speech has the potential to chill speech regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which has been a source of recent controversy at FAU. Heated debate on this and many other topics could quite easily lead, on either side, to claims of “religious intolerance.” 

Similarly, the prohibition on any “racist” speech could be used to punish protected speech on controversial issues like immigration and affirmative action, opponents of which are often accused of racism. ...

Criminalizing Online Innovation: State Attorneys General Seek to Amend Section 230

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Deceptively invoking the ‘save the children’ mantra yet again, State AG’s are reigniting the battle against online escort advertising websites, this time calling on Congress to amend one of the Internet’s few statutory guardians: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  Section 230, arguably the most important law to date in terms of protecting online speech and innovation, provides immunity to certain online service providers against liability for their users’ content or publications.  If you’re getting a sense of déjà vu, it’s rightfully so.  Going all the way back to 2009, State AG’s across the country have been waging the same war against online escort ads for years.

Directly on the heels of the Summer 2013 National Association of Attorneys’ General meeting, 47 State AG’s penned a letter to the Legislature, asking them to amend Section 230(e)(1) to include two simple words: “or State.”  By amending this provision of the statute, all state criminal laws would be excepted from Section 230’s immunity, thus exposing service providers to a grand scope of potential legal liability never before seen throughout the history of the Internet.  The proposed language would essentially afford State AG’s the latitude and discretion to prosecute online service ...

Encryption is Key: T-Shirt and Puzzle at DEF CON 21

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

EFF's fourth annual DEF CON t-shirt is a killer. Special donors will be able to pick up the limited edition "Encryption is Key" design in Las Vegas this year, but that's not all. This t-shirt is a solveable puzzle. The first 10 individuals to decipher it, retrieve the correct passphrase, and reveal it to the staff at the EFF vendor booth will receive a special prize. This t-shirt will not be available online unless some remain after DEF CON, but don't worry. There are some amazing things available right now.

After donating at our booth in Las Vegas, be sure to catch EFF in action at talks for Black Hat USA, Security BSidesLV, and DEF CON!

T-shirts and stickers are a small way of thanking the donors that allow EFF to fight for digital freedom. It also helps you start conversations about the issues that matter most in a rapidly-changing digital age. In a climate of rampant surveillance, strong encryption and robust security research matter more than ever. Thanks!

EFF is a U.S. 501(c)(3) organization and donations are tax deductible to the full extent provided by law.

Oakland’s Creepy New Surveillance Program Just Got Approved

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

This is a guest post by ACLU of Northern California Staff Attorney Linda Lye. You can follow her on Twitter at @linda_lye.

Earlier this week, the Oakland City Council voted to approve the second phase of a $10.9 million surveillance center that would enable the City to engage in widespread warrantless surveillance of Oakland residents who have engaged in no wrongdoing whatsoever. This is a terrible blow to privacy.

The so-called Domain Awareness Center (DAC) would consolidate a vast network of surveillance data. The project was initially supposed to be about port security. But in a classic illustration of mission creep, the project as proposed would have pulled in over 1,000 cameras and sensors pointed at Oakland residents, including 700 cameras in Oakland schools. While surveilling schoolchildren is not going to secure the Port of Oakland, it would allow for the comprehensive tracking of innocent Oakland residents. The DAC would enable the city to track individuals when they visit the abortion clinic, the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, or the union hall, or engage in other private activities. Although proponents of the project claimed that it did nothing more than consolidate existing surveillance systems, the mere combination of surveillance ...

Not-Quite-Open Wireless: What Does it Mean to Be Really Open?

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

In addition to the vast number of open community wireless networks all over the world, there has been a recent uptick in business plans from start-ups and well-established companies that aim to increase wireless Internet access. The Open Wireless Movement encourages free, open, and unrestricted wireless access we welcome private sector participation alongside the work of communities, non-profits, governments, and dedicated individuals, in order to realize this vision.

But not all business plans that promote wireless access are equal. Here are some guiding principles for those who are looking to build or grow solutions that promote wireless Internet access consistent with the Open Wireless Movement:

  1. No captive portals. Unfortunately, captive portals have become a common tool for doling out wireless access, especially in developed areas like San Francisco, where EFF's office is located. But captive portals hinder important security services that require an unfettered connection between the user and the remote origin. Moreover, captive portals are incompatible with browser-less embedded devices and non-browser client software, and are unnecessary for distributing Terms of Service agreements.

  2. No authentication required for users. Users should not have to authenticate in order to use the Internet. This factor is crucial to uphold user ...

“Tech Sector” Does Its Part to Promote Reality-based Copyright Policy: Will Congress Listen?

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

This morning the House Judiciary Committee held the latest in a series of hearings designed to set the stage for a deeper dive into copyright law and its discontents. Last week, the Committee heard from the "copyright sector"; this week it was a "tech sector." (We still believe those are essentially meaningless categorizations, but anyway). In sharp contrast to last week's hearing, which was largely populated by the usual suspects — industry association representatives, heads of traditional content corporations and so on — the witnesses this week came from a variety of small to mid-size companies and nonprofits that are experimenting with new technologies and new business models. Their overriding message: we, and our users, are innovating despite, not because of, intellectual property restrictions and the traditional development and distribution models that depend on those restrictions. 

Danae Zingelmann of crowdfunding platform Indiegogo testified that the company was born, in part, from her frustration at watching her parents struggle for years to get funding for their small business, and then later her own unsuccessful efforts get funding for her artist clients. "You had to know the right people." Today, she noted, anyone with a good project can use crowdfunding and ...

China’s Graft Whistle-Blowers Pay Heavy Price

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Chinese citizens who take the anti-corruption campaign of President Xi Jinping to heart by blowing the whistle on graft are likely to pay a high personal price, according to analysts.

President Xi Jinping has warned that the ruling Chinese Communist Party must beat graft or lose power, sparking a nationwide clampdown on corruption.

However, police continue to detain activists who call for greater transparency.

According to a recent estimate by the China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group, at least 14 activists associated with a nascent anti-graft movement have been formally arrested or criminally detained since March, on charges ranging from subversion to public order offenses.

Sichuan-based activist Huang Qi, who founded the Tianwang rights website, said that low-ranking officials and members of the public who informed on corruption were often the targets of mafia-style revenge attacks.

"In the 15 years we have been running Tianwang, we have dealt with more than 100,000 cases of informers on corrupt officials at every level," Huang said in a recent interview. "Less than one percent of those cases were able to inform [on officials] successfully."

"The proportion who weren't the target of revenge attacks were less than one percent; more than 99 percent suffered ...

Stokoe, Roy, and Graham Deliver the Goods!

Thursday, August 1st, 2013


From the Great White North, hidden deep within the mysterious world of our northern neighbor Canada, three outstanding artists recently took time to sketch some bookplates for CBLDF, and the results were spectacular.

Brandon Graham and Simon Roy’s work on Prophet has been a delicious treat for fans of classic Heavy Metal and the European sci-fi comics of the 1970s and early 1980s. Graham and Roy tag-teamed on a stack of bookplates, and now these volumes of Prophet have gone from being an amazing things to own to very rare and beautiful things as well.


The modern classic King City is now back in stock, as well, from Mr. Graham. Each one is lovingly remarqued and often with one of his singularly lovely ladies.


James Stokoe’s work on Orc Stain has been particularly amazing and occasionally terrifying, and the sketches he created for these bookplates are no different. Fans of classic fantasy fiction, giant monsters, and those long forgotten days of sun-bleached videocassete covers of Ralph Bakshi classics in the video rental store will be delighted by not only Stokoe’s graphic novel, but by the awesome sketches found inside.


CBLDF sends a huge thanks to the artists in question: Messrs ...

David Hacker on Implications of ‘Nassar’ for First Amendment Claims

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

In a Jurist guest column published on Monday, Alliance Defending Freedom’s David Hacker writes on the significance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar (PDF). 

In Nassar, a closely-divided Court held that plaintiffs must establish “but-for” causation to succeed on retaliation claims under Title VII, the portion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting employment discrimination based on protected characteristics. This means that the plaintiff must show that but for the discriminatory motive, the adverse employment action would not have been taken. This sets a particularly high bar for plaintiffs who have less-than-spotless performance records, as they must demonstrate that they would not have suffered the adverse action for any of those other shortcomings.

Hacker’s column focuses on Nassar’s implications for First Amendment retaliation claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a federal statute:

The Court's opinion indicates that § 1983 claims, which protect against retaliation undertaken in response to the exercise of constitutional rights, are not subject to but-for causation, but remain governed by "mixed-motive" causation. This difference ensures robust protection of academic freedom and free speech for students and faculty and is essential to preservation of the ...

Singapore’s State Prosecutor Drops Sedition Charges Against Cartoonist

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Sedition charges against Singapore cartoonist Leslie Chew, have been dropped. Back in May, we reported that Chew had been arrested for alleged racial insensitivity and sedition as a result of a complaint about one of his Facebook comic strips called Demon-cratic Singapore.

(c) Leslie Chew

Chun Han Wong writes for The Wall Street Journal‘s Southeast Asia blog, describing the law under which Chew was being investigated:

Singapore law broadly defines sedition as acts agitating against the government and the administration of justice, fostering discontent among citizens, and promoting hostility between ethnic groups. Human-rights groups say the law stifles political dissent, but officials defend its use as essential for maintaining social harmony in multi-ethnic Singapore. Mr. Chew has not been charged.

As a result of the sedition charges being dropped, Chew’s bail will be allowed to lapse and his passport will be returned to him. Unfortunately, Singapore’s state prosecutor plans to proceed with charging Chew with four incidents of contempt of court for cartoons that questioned disparities in convictions and sentencing. Jeanette Tan writes for Yahoo News, highlighting the cartoons which brought these charges:

In the first comic, published on 20 July 2011, Chew featured four separate cases ...

University of California System Protects Faculty Freedom of Speech

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

FIRE is pleased to note that the University of California (UC) Board of Regents has taken an important step to protect the expressive rights of its faculty. On July 18, it approved an amendment (PDF) to the Faculty Code of Conduct that gives professors the “freedom to address any matter of institutional policy or action when acting as a member of the faculty whether or not as a member of an agency of institutional governance.”

The Code of Conduct guaranteed faculty free inquiry and the right to exchange controversial ideas related to their fields of expertise, but this amendment extends that right of expression to criticism of how the schools in the system are run. 

This amendment was four years in the making, in part because all 10 campuses in the UC system had to approve it. According to Inside Higher Education, its impetus was a Supreme Court decision, Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006). In Garcetti, the Court ruled that public employees do not enjoy First Amendment protections when engaging in speech while discharging their official duties. Garcetti involved a prosecutor who was not promoted after he disclosed that one of his colleagues was withholding ...

Ninth Circuit Rules That Celebrity “Rights” Trump Free Speech

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Should a minor celebrity's right to wring every drop he can from his fame trump the right to create a realistic work?  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals put its thumb on the scales today, issuing a terrible decision holding that a celebrity’s right of publicity is more important than any First Amendment right to depict real people in a video game. This ruling follows closely on the heels of a similar decision from the Third Circuit and threatens a wide range of speech—such as biographies and documentaries—which seeks to realistically depict famous people.

The plaintiff, Sam Keller, brought the case to challenge Electronic Art (EA)’s use of his likeness in its videogame NCAA Football. This game includes realistic digital avatars of thousands of college players. The game never used Keller’s name, but it included an avatar with his jersey number, basic biographical information, and statistics. Keller sued EA claiming that the game infringed his right of publicity—an offshoot of privacy law that gives a person the right to limit the public use of her name, likeness and/or identity for commercial purposes.

EA argued that it has a First Amendment right to use Keller’s likeness in an expressive work such ...

August 4th Rallies Protest Unconstitutional Surveillance

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

This Sunday August 4th, rallies are being held in cities across the country to protest unconstitutional surveillance.  Known as 1984 Day, the events are planned on 08/4 to emphasize how the themes of unchecked state surveillance fictionalized in George Orwell’s classic 1984 have creepy real-life parallels with the current dragnet surveillance of our digital communications. The nonpartisan, reddit-driven, grassroots movement that organized the Restore the Fourth rallies on July 4th are planning these events in order to harness the growing public discomfort with the NSA’s newly-confirmed spying programs.  Currently, sixteen different rallies are planned in locations across the country. You can find the closest rally by visiting the 1984 Day website.

EFF isn’t organizing or sponsoring the events, but we’re happy to support them by getting the word out. If you’re an EFF member or fan looking for ways to get more involved in the fight against unconstitutional surveillance, attending or organizing one of these local rallies is a fantastic way to get started. And if you’re planning on attending one, we urge you to wear your EFF swag (which you can get by becoming a member) and look for others who are similarly dressed to ...

MIT in Aaron Swartz Case: Not Neutral, Not Leading, Not Standing Up for Technologists

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

In January, our friend Aaron Swartz killed himself.  Aaron was unable to carry on against an overzealous government prosecution enforcing a grossly unfair and outdated law.  We, and millions of others around the world, were saddened beyond words.  Aaron was prosecuted for using legendary academic institution Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s open network to download articles from JSTOR, the digital library that sells scholarly articles, largely funded by public tax dollars, back to the public at something like $5-12 per article. Academic institutions like MIT, however, don't pay for each article but instead pay subscription fees that give access to everyone within their communities, including visitors like Aaron. 

In light of Aaron's death, we and many others (including prominent alumni) have asked whether MIT could have done more to halt or limit his prosecution.  Even JSTOR publicly and privately opposed the prosecution, so MIT had an easy path to follow, but chose not to. So we were somewhat heartened when we heard that MIT was appointing esteemed computer science Professor Harold Abelson to do a thorough report.  We have tremendous respect for Professor Abelson and waited patiently for he and his colleagues to complete their work.  We hoped that ...

Markup Brings Minor Improvements to Phone Unlocking “Bandaid Bill”

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Update 7/31: After a week's delay and some additional minor amendments, the bill has now passed out of committee. We'll keep you posted as the legislation continues to wend its way through Congress.

Original post July 23, 2013:

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a markup session today for HR 1123, Chairman Bob Goodlatte's "Unlocking Consumer Choice" bill addressing the current (and wildly unpopular) ban on phone unlocking. Unfortunately, although Chairman Goodlatte has introduced a manager's amendment [pdf] that somewhat improves bill, this legislation still doesn't go far enough in bringing about sorely needed reform to a fundamentally broken section of copyright law.

From its introduction, Goodlatte's bill has been a bandaid of sorts: it narrowly and temporarily addresses the symptom, but fails to go after the underlying problem. 

That underlying problem sits at the core of Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). That law makes breaking digital right management software (DRM) illegal as a default (subject to some narrow exceptions).  Recognizing that this default could impede otherwise lawful activities (like phone unlocking) the DMCA contains a rulemaking procedure that puts the burden on the public to explain every three years why circumvention ...

Trolling Effects: Taking on Patent Trolls with Your Help

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

In the midst of a tidal wave of momentum in the fight against patent trolls, we're proud to launch Trolling Effects (, a resource to empower would-be victims of patent trolls through a crowdsourced database of patent demand letters and a clearinghouse for information on the troll epidemic. The site allows demand letter recipients to post the documents online, find letters received by others, and research who is really behind such threats. The site also features comprehensive guides to the patent system and a blueprint for patent reform.

But in order for this tool to be successful, we need your help. We need you to spread the word and help us get as many letters into the database as possible. Each new demand letter is crucial to Trolling Effects, even if a nearly identical letter has already been posted. Each one provides key insights into the patent landscape: who the bad actors are, what patents are being asserted and how often, and who's being targeted.

If you have received a patent demand letter, submit it to Trolling Effects. The site has measures built in so particular items information can remain private.

Back in June, President ...

Liberty Requires Tough Choices: The Student Funding Dilemma

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Kanisha Parthasarathy is a FIRE summer intern. 

Allocating money to student groups is a tricky game. For many colleges, the amount of money given to groups is not increasing at the same rate as the number of student groups vying for recognition and funding. Funding boards usually solve this problem by creating guidelines to determine how much money a student group gets. The problem arises when these rules are applied without viewpoint neutrality, a requirement for public colleges’ funding boards established by the Supreme Court in Rosenberger v. Rectors of the University of Virginia (1995) and Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin v. Southworth (2000).

FIRE has seen violations of viewpoint neutrality happen before. In 2010, Northern Illinois University’s (NIU’s) Student Association Senate arbitrarily designated groups as “political” or “advocacy” organizations—categorizations that determined whether students’ groups would be deemed eligible for funding or not. The case in point involved the organization Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), a group that applied to be recognized as an “advocacy” group and receive school funding, but was denied. Instead, the student government offered SSDP recognition as a “political” group, making it ineligible for funding. This decision was especially problematic because ...

Bradley Manning Faced Harsher Prosecution Merely Because His Leaks Involved a Computer

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

We wrote yesterday about the dangerous “hacker madness” strategy used by the prosecution in the Bradley Manning trial, a tried-and-true tactic that attempts to scare judges into sustaining convictions based on a defendant’s knowledge of computers. However, another interesting fact of the Manning trial is being overlooked by the media: this is the first time we know of where the government has sustained a conviction under a controversial section of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) known as (a)(1).

Manning’s conviction under this provision looks to be yet another example of prosecutors leveraging the CFAA to force more prison time on computer users while using other, almost identical laws to punish the same acts.

Though his ultimate sentence may be significantly shorter, Manning faces a maximum of 136 years in jail for the nineteen counts on which he would found guilty. Most significantly, he was found guilty of six counts under the Espionage Act and two counts under the CFAA. But when you read both of the statutes closely, they are completely redundant except for one aspect: computers.

In fact, as the Judiciary Committee Report on the 1996 amendment to the CFAA makes clear, Congress explicitly based (a)(1) of ...

Using Graphic Novels in Education: American Born Chinese

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Welcome to Using Graphic Novels in Education, an ongoing feature from CBLDF that is designed to allay confusion around the content of banned books and to help parents and teachers raise readers. In this column, we examine books that have been targeted by censors and provide teaching and discussion suggestions for the use of such books in classrooms.

ABCcoverThis month, we take a closer look at American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.

American Born Chinese is a 2006 National Book Award Honor Book for Young People’s literature, the 2007 winner of the Michael L. Printz Award honoring literary excellence in Young Adult literature, the winner of the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album, and a 2007 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year. In this work, Yang skillfully weaves three seemingly independent stories of Chinese folklore, a teenager’s need to fit in, and adolescents’ balancing of their Chinese American heritage.

HerroAmellicaIn an effort to show and tell the effects of racial stereotyping and assimilation, Yang presents one particularly egregious Chinese character, Chin-Kee, who has just arrived from China to visit his cousin Danny. Chin-Kee embraces all the negative Chinese stereotypes into one ...

FIRE at the Young Americans for Liberty National Convention This Week!

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013


Today, FIRE staff will be heading down to George Mason University’s Arlington, Virginia, campus to attend the Young Americans for Liberty National Convention and connect with student activists from across the country. Over four days, YAL’s top 300 members will have the chance to hear from many exciting proponents of liberty including FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley, FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley, and many others. Be sure to stop by FIRE’s table and sign up for our Campus Freedom Network to receive a free FIRE t-shirt, and also be sure to attend FIRE’s breakout session at the convention. Robert and Will will be leading the breakout session, “You Can't Say That! How to Fight Back Against Campus Speech Codes,”  at 3:30 p.m. in Founders Hall at GMU-Arlington. 

The Young Americans for Liberty National Convention is one of the many national and regional conferences FIRE attends during the year. Our presence at conferences such as YAL, Campus Progress, the Conservative Political Action Conference, and more brings with it the benefit of being able to work with students of all backgrounds and viewpoints.

SPLC’s LoMonte: Why the Oakland U. Decision Puts All Students at Risk

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Last week, U.S. District Judge Patrick J. Duggan ignored important First Amendment principles and settled law when he held that Oakland University did not violate former student Joseph Corlett’s First Amendment rights by expelling him for the content of his class assignment. Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte wrote about the case yesterday to review First Amendment protections and to explain why all students have a stake in this decision.

To start, LoMonte clarifies the very limited circumstances under which student speech may be censored:

In the school setting, the Supreme Court has recognized that a few First Amendment compromises are necessary because of compelling public-policy considerations. These include: (1) the need to protect sensitive young listeners from harmful speech inappropriate for their maturity level, (2) the need to avoid provoking audience members to lash out in disruptive ways, and (3) the need for a school to disassociate itself from remarks that might be mistaken for officially school-sanctioned speech.

None of those rationales for reducing students’ First Amendment rights applies to a community college student’s essay.

But instead of conducting an analysis of whether punishing Corlett’s speech was necessary in order to protect others or preserve the school’s ...

UMass Chancellor: Campus Leaders Must Encourage Debate, Not Censorship

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Far too often, college administrators fail to recognize the value of free speech in education and instead take action to censor students’ protected expression. However, Kumble Subbaswamy, Chancellor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, commendably advocated for free speech in a recent article for The Huffington Post

Commenting on recent free speech controversies involving Rolling Stone magazine and Northwestern University, Subbaswamy voiced his support for the freedoms FIRE works hard to defend:

The Bill of Rights in the Constitution is unprecedented in its protection of free speech, even hateful speech. It is those protections that form the enduring foundation of U.S. democracy.

FIRE certainly agrees. 

In his book Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff addressed the importance of debate and discussion in creating an informed, democratic society. College campuses play an integral role in fostering debate—but without a guarantee of free speech, such debate cannot occur. Subbaswamy likewise stresses the role of higher education and, more importantly, college administrators in enabling these discussions:

One feature of a pluralistic, multicultural democracy like ours is that no matter what position someone takes on social or political issues, some faction or the other is ...

Jennifer L. Holm and Meryl Jaffe on RAISING A READER

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

RasingaReaderCoverDuring SDCC, CBLDF Board Member Jennifer L. Holm (Babymouse) and Raising a Reader writer Meryl Jaffe sat down with GeekRoom’s Tom Misuraca to talk about CBLDF’s new resource and how comics can be used to inspire kids to read.

Jaffe’s enthusiasm for graphic novels as teaching tools is palpable in the interview:

…“It can help kids with language issues because there is now a visual component to the storytelling,” Meryl told me. “Graphic novels can empower these weaker students to have a voice in the classroom because they read a graphic novel that covers the same topic. They don’t feel incompetent.”

“You can take a graphic novel and use it in a book club,” Meryl told me. “Because now, you don’t just talk about the story, you talk about the images of the story. And why do you think the author used an image to show this and not something else? Why is there a full page here? It’s another form of storytelling.”

Holm spoke to another impetus for creating Raising a Reader: overcoming misconceptions about comics and graphic novels.

“There is a history of censorship with comics and children and comics in general,” Jennifer told me. “We ...

Jailed Tibetan Monk’s Supporters Held After Beijing Petition Trip

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Chinese authorities in Sichuan have detained four supporters of jailed Tibetan monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche after forcibly returning them from Beijing, where they had gone to present a 30,000-signature petition for the religious leader’s release, according to Tibetan sources.

The four had traveled to the Chinese capital on July 9 and were accompanied by Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s sister, who was sent back from Beijing with the others to Sichuan’s Nyagchukha (in Chinese, Yajiang) county but was not detained, Tsering Dorje, a Tibetan living in exile, told RFA’s Tibetan Service, citing contacts in the region.

“On July 9, 2013, Dolkar, the sister of Tulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, and four male disciples of Rinpoche secretly traveled to Beijing and presented an appeal for Rinpoche's release,” Tsering Dorje said.

“They presented a written appeal supported by over 30,000 signatures to the relevant departments in Beijing, emphasizing Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s innocence in a bomb blast case.”

Charged with involvement in an April 3, 2002 bombing in the central square of Sichuan’s capital Chengdu, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, now 63, was sentenced to death in December 2002 along with an assistant, Lobsang Dondrub.

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death sentence was then suspended and was later commuted to ...

Tomorrow: Free Google Hangout “Revisiting CIPA 10 Years Later”

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Re-posted from ALA Washington Office’s District Dispatch Blog

Join us tomorrow for “Revisiting CIPA 10 Years Later,” a national online symposium that will consider the impact of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) on access to electronic information. Librarians nationwide can join the virtual conversation with two Google Hangouts on Tuesday, July 30.

The first Hangout will start at 11 a.m. EDT and focus on an “Introduction and Overview of CIPA 10 Years Later.” The second one will share “Symposium Themes and Conclusions” starting at 12:15 p.m. EDT. The online discussions will be hosted by the American Library Association and Google, Inc.

Here’s how to join the conversation:

  • You can watch the live stream directly on YouTube on the ALA Washington Office channel ( ). ALA will tweet the URL using #CIPA_ALA13 at 10:45am EDT, right before the Hangout goes live.
  • You can also tweet @oitp and @oif using our hash tag #CIPA_ALA13.  We’ll be watching the Twitter feed and passing these comments to the speakers, as well.

Revisiting the Children’s Internet Protection Act: 10 Years Later” is part of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) and Office for Intellectual Freedom’s (OIF) larger project ...

South Carolina Group Challenges Fun Home as Pornographic

Monday, July 29th, 2013

FunhomecoverAlison Bechdel’s Fun Home has been challenged once again, this time for it’s inclusion on a freshman recommended reading list at the College of Charleston (CofC) in Charleston, South Carolina. The conservative religious group opposed to the book has labeled it “pornographic.”

CofC participates in an annual program that selects a book and provides free copies of the book to all incoming students and fulltime faculty. Fun Home was selected as this year’s book. Students are encouraged to read the book and to participate in a discussion during orientation. However, students are not required to read it.

A Charleston-based ABC News affiliate reported on the challenge, brought by the Palmetto Family Council:

“If this book were a magazine it would be wrapped in brown paper,” said Oran Smith, director of Palmetto Family Council. “We reviewed every book assigned in SC this year. Many were provocative. This one is pornographic. Not a wise choice for 18-year-olds at a taxpayer-supported college.”

Upon learning of the book’s selection for the reading program, the Palmetto Family Council posted an inflammatory blog that compared CofC’s selection to those of other colleges. After a list of books that included several overtly religious titles, the Council asked, “Which one ...

Adult Anxieties Over Young Adult Fiction Endure

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Over at NCAC participating organization CBLDF, Maren Williams has a great blog post refuting arguments that “dark lit” irrevocably harms the innocent minds of today’s youths. We’re sharing it here for you as well…

perksEvery once in a while, some blogger or columnist garners a lot of page-views by rekindling the simmering debate as to whether Young Adult fiction has become “too dark.” Two years ago, for example, this hand-wringing column from the Wall Street Journal inspired a Twitter backlash under the hashtag #YAsaves, where devoted readers testified to the positive impact that Young Adult books — including and often especially the “dark” ones — had on their lives. Earlier this month, children’s author Shoo Rayner dredged up the debate once again with a blog post about the “morally corrupt” books that the Youth of Today are reading.

Seemingly unaware that he was invoking an argument that’s been attempted and discredited at least since the invention of the novel, Rayner suggested that impressionable readers of Young Adult fiction might become hardened to violence and begin to engage in it themselves:

Why are we no longer surprised when kids join gangs and shoot each other on the streets? They’re conditioned to ...

Not Plausible That the First Amendment Protects Offensive Classroom Speech?

Monday, July 29th, 2013

The outcome in Corlett v. Oakland University is frustrating for numerous reasons, some of which my colleague Samantha Harris outlined when the decision was released. Joseph Corlett sued Oakland University for violating his constitutional rights after the university suspended him for three semesters based on entries in a journal that he was required to keep for a writing class. Judge Patrick Duggan dismissed Corlett’s case with prejudice. Behind those legal terms lies a damning indictment of the state of discourse on at least one college campus.

Dismissing a case means that the plaintiff is denied the opportunity to litigate his or her claim. The case is stopped before it really starts. There is no discovery (exchange of documents and deposition testimony to clarify the facts), no trial, and no resolution of the case by a jury. Judge Duggan slammed the courthouse door in Corlett’s face because he decided that Corlett had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. According to the Supreme Court, plaintiffs must provide sufficient factual allegations, which the court must accept as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. ...

Dr. Joseph Bonneau Wins NSA Award, Criticizes NSA

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

"Like many in the community of cryptographers and security engineers, I’m sad that we haven’t better informed the public about the inherent dangers and questionable utility of mass surveillance. And like many American citizens I’m ashamed we’ve let our politicians sneak the country down this path." -- Bonneau

On July 18th, Dr. Joseph Bonneau, a software engineer at Google, received the National Security Agency’s award for the best scientific cybersecurity paper.  According to its stated mission, the competition was created to help broaden the scientific foundations of cybersecurity needed in the development of systems that are resilient to cyber attacks. But Bonneau was deeply conflicted about receiving the award, noting on his blog that even though he was flattered to receive the award he didn’t condone the mass surveillance programs run by the NSA:  “Simply put, I don’t think a free society is compatible with an organisation like the NSA in its current form."

Bonneau elaborated on his feelings in a Twitter discussion as well as in an interview with Animal during which he said: "I’d rather have it [the NSA] abolished than persist in its current form. I think there’s a question about whether it’s possible ...

CDA 230 Success Cases: Wikipedia

Friday, July 26th, 2013

This is the fourth part in a series of posts about the importance of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA 230). CDA 230 limits the liability of a number of Internet services that host user-generated content.

Wikipedia is a perfect example of a site that relies on the immunities afforded by CDA 230. The website—the seventh most popular site in the world—is a completely user-generated online encyclopedia that is freely available in hundreds of different languages.

We spoke with Michelle Paulson, legal counsel at the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that operates Wikipedia and its sibling sites. Michelle, who deals with a host of issues including intermediary liability, had lots to say about the importance of CDA 230 to Wikipedia.

What types of complaints or legal threats have you encountered regarding about user content? What are the most common legal issues you encounter?

Defamation claims are the most common by far—most of the legal threats against the Wikimedia Foundation either directly invoke claims of defamation or defamation is the motivation behind the claims that are actually made. For example, a celebrity or politician may claim that their right to privacy has been violated because they did not ...

Final Rallies Ahead of Cambodia Polls

Friday, July 26th, 2013
Cambodia’s political parties have wound down their campaigns ahead of July 28 elections. Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is widely expected to retain its long grip on power, while the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), galvanized by the return from exile of recently pardoned leader Sam Rainsy, is hoping for an upset. In a final push to garner votes on Friday, the CPP and CNRP held mass rallies across the country to mark the end of the 30-day campaign period.


Friday, July 26th, 2013

CBLDF has another Comic-Con International under our belts, and what a show it was! We had a great showing at the biggest comic book convention of them all, and there are a lot of people to thank for their support:

CBLDF_PartyPostcardSDCC13-webThe sponsors of the CBLDF Comic-Con Welcome Party: Image Comics, comiXology, and Aces Weekly. Many thanks also to Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab and all of the creators who joined us for the best mixer at Comic-Con!

The folks who made the CBLDF-exclusive variant covers: Valiant (Quantum and Woody #1) and BOOM! Studios (Adventure Time #18)

The indefatigable creators who joined us at the booth for signings: Chip Kidd, Anne Ishii, Meryl Jaffe, Jennifer L. Holm, Raine Telgelmeier, Lee Moyer, James Asmus, and Tim Leong

RasingaReaderCoverThe people who donated their time to present at our Friday panel, Raising a Reader: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Babymouse), Kazu Kibuishi (Amulet), Raina Telgemeier (Smile), Dave Roman (Astronaut Academy), Alexis E. Fajardo (Peanuts), and Meryl Jaffe (Johns Hopkins University)

The people who made the CBLDF Live Art Auction such a success: The wonderful folks at, in particular ...

Bulletin Board Case Against Rock Valley College Dismissed; Amended Complaint Filed

Friday, July 26th, 2013

Last September, FIRE’s Sean Clark reported on the case of Dominic Celletti, a Rock Valley College (RVC) student who sued the Illinois public institution for its policies restricting which campus bulletin boards students not affiliated with a registered student group may use. In April, the case was quietly dismissed (PDF) from federal district court, and the school was allowed to maintain its policy. In an article for The Rock River Times, Michael Kleen reports that Celletti has filed an amended complaint and is awaiting a second decision.

Last year, Kleen relayed RVC’s posting policy at the time the lawsuit was filed:

There shall be no posting of signs or written information on campus grounds except as permitted by RVC policies/procedures, or as approved by the Manager, Student Life.” Furthermore, “If there are any conflicts with these regulations the Manager, Student Life will have the authority to approve or disapprove the request using their discretion.

Celletti enlisted help from the Rutherford Institute after he was told that since he was not a member of a registered student group, his flyer encouraging students to read the U.S. Constitution could only be posted on two campus bulletin boards. Kleen summarizes Celletti’s complaint:


Artists Take On Banned Books for CBLDF

Friday, July 26th, 2013
L to R: Chris Burnham, Time Seeley, Eric Powell, and Terry Moore

L to R: Chris Burnham, Time Seeley, Eric Powell, and Terry Moore

“Draw your favorite character from a banned book” were the marching orders for artists at this year’s CBLDF Banned Comics Jam. A Comic-Con tradition, at each year’s Banned Comics Jam creators reveal their creative processes and share their stories about censorship. It’s an opportunity to get an intimate look at how these artists make the work we love so much. This year, CBLDF was delighted to have Jeffrey Brown (Darth Vader and Son), Chris Burnham (Batman Incorporated), Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise), and Tim Seeley (Hack/Slash) on board. We were also joined by two surprise guests: Jeff Smith (Bone) and Eric Powell (The Goon)!

CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein kicked off the event with a quick introduction about this year’s theme: paying homage to the cartoonists, authors, and characters who’ve created the great banned books of our time. Jeffrey Brown, best known for his autobiographical comics and Darth Vader and Son and Vader’s Little Princess, kicked off the art jam with a sketch of himself chained to a table. Brown’s work has not been challenged, ...

Bad News For Reader Privacy: Google News Doesn’t Index HTTPS Sites

Friday, July 26th, 2013

In the ongoing effort to encrypt the entire web, news sites are an area of special importance. After all, the articles you choose to read can say a lot about you: how close you're following a political race, for example, can indicate where you stand on sensitive issues, or give clues about personal connections to the people or organizations being covered.

While a few news sites offer their content over secure HTTPS (e.g., partial support by the New York Times), far too many do not, much less by default. Our own Deeplinks blog is an exception. Readers can browse through our site without leaving a trail of which pages they viewed that can be easily picked up and stored by other people on the same wireless network or the reader's ISP—which could then be compelled to hand over that information to law enforcement or intelligence agencies like the NSA.

News sites should be given lots of encouragement to switch to HTTPS. But unfortunately, that category of sites faces a major incentive against doing so from Google. Google News, a section of the search engine that specifically searches through news sites, does not index articles available only over HTTPS. ...

Pinterest Commits to Respecting Do Not Track

Friday, July 26th, 2013

Earlier today, Pinterest received national attention by announcing its new board suggestion program, which suggests Pinterest boards for users to follow based on websites they’ve visited outside of Pinterest. In rolling out this program, Pinterest took several important steps to respect the privacy of users:

  1. Pinterest has committed to respecting Do Not Track. This means that when users enable Do Not Track in their browsers (see step-by-step instructions here), Pinterest will “zero out” any Pinterest tracking cookies the user may have. This means it won’t be able to create a unique dossier of your online web activities in order to suggest boards for you to follow.
  2. Pinterest offers account setting options to limit board suggestions.  Users of Pinterest can also ensure that their web browsing activity isn’t associated with their accounts by using privacy settings within Pinterest. To adjust your settings: click your user name in the top right and then click "Settings." Go to the setting called "Personalization" and toggle the button to "No." (Note: this feature is currently rolling out and is not yet available in all Pinterest accounts. If it's not available for you, check back in a few hours.)
  3. Pinterest allows non-users to opt ...

The End to My ‘Sexy’ Academic Career

Friday, July 26th, 2013


Madeline Gootman is a FIRE summer intern. 

As most of my friends will tell you, I am an outspoken young woman when it comes to matters of sexuality and sexual health. I recently joined the Vanderbilt Peer Sex Educators, an organization of students formed to increase the campus dialogue surrounding sexual health. In addition to my extracurriculars surrounding sexuality (I also work at the Women’s Center on campus), I am majoring in Women and Gender Studies. 

After hearing about my very feminist list of extracurriculars, a reasonable person might assume that I would not have a problem with the May 9 “blueprint” (PDF) agreement that the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) made with the University of Montana. However, if my university were to adopt the new definition of sexual harassment used by OCR, “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” (including “verbal conduct,” also known as speech), then I would need to engage in a lot of self-censorship to avoid the inevitable accusations that I could foresee being made against me. 

Last semester, I took a class entitled The History of Pornography and Prostitution. I worked my entire schedule around this course because it was ...

‘Technology Needs Individual Rights and Freedoms’

Friday, July 26th, 2013

Beijing-based writer Liu Di, known by her former online nickname "Stainless Steel Mouse," rose to fame in 2002 after being sentenced to a year in jail for blogging about China's Internet restrictions as a university student. Since then, she has continued to write online about Chinese society. Here, in a commentary broadcast on RFA's Mandarin Service, she argues that innovation can only come about in an open society:

Technology is an issue that concerns a lot of people, while some people ... think it is the only important thing.

Technology isn't manufactured behind closed doors by machines; it is the product of communication. Technology has taken off in various places; in centers of civilization around the world, and is often the result of cross-pollination with other aspects of those civilizations.

The more open a civilization, the more advanced it becomes, and the more prosperous. Countries that remain shut off from the ways of other civilizations not only don't make technological breakthroughs; they often end up losing even the technology they already have, and going into a decline.

The book "Guns, Germs and Steel" argues that the reason technological progress often ground to a halt in ancient China is that it ...

Japanese Editor Arrested for Distributing Obscene Images

Friday, July 26th, 2013

Three people, including Akira Ōta, who heads the editorial department at Core Magazine, have been arrested in Japan amid accusations of obscenity. Those arrested are being accused of selling magazines and manga that had sexual content which was insufficiently censored, a violation of Article 175 of the Japanese Penal Code, which forbids obscene content.

Ōta denies the charges, but one of the individuals arrested has reportedly admitted guilt. Anime News Network carried the story, describing the material that brought the charges:

The three suspects are accused of selling about 24,500 copies of the manga magazine Comic Mega Store with sex scenes between males and females this past March. They are also accused of selling about 36,000 copies of Nyan 2 Club, a magazine for reader-submitted adult photographs. Both magazines were marked with the 18+ label.

Earlier this year, the production of Comic Mega Store was indefinitely suspended, and Nyan 2 Club has been under investigation under Article 175. Both magazines have employed mosaic censoring, a Photoshop technique that pixelates sections of an image, to obscure content, but ANN reports that staff at Core had been warned that the amount of censoring was insufficient.

Please help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment ...

What We Learned at San Diego Comic-Con

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Shambling along the mobbed exhibition hall floor at San Diego Comic-Con, I spotted a familiar t-shirt at a booth. Wearing it was Patrick Race, an Alaskan computer-science major who founded the web-comic and short-film outfit, Alaska Robotics. What struck me, like Thor’s hammer to the noggin, was that while so many Comic-Con fans spend hours crafting intricate superhero costumes or picking out witty T-shirts riffing on entertainment franchises, Patrick was proclaiming his passion for digital civil liberties and supporting the organization that fights to protect them.

It wasn’t the only EFF member shirt we spotted among the geek masses around the San Diego Convention Center and surrounding Gaslamp District, nor was it the only symbol of enhanced interest in digital issues manifested at the largest celebration of pop culture in the world. Whether it was the preview for Alyssa Milano’s new graphic novel Hacktivist or the new CBS show Intelligence, the core law and technology issues we grapple with daily are bleeding into the public consciousness and sparking new and enthralling storytelling.

Here are some of the things we learned this year at Comic-Con.

Surveillance, privacy and science fiction

Watch_Dogs: One of the most impressive debuts at Comic-Con ...