Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

U.S. opposes religious-defamation bans

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday that Islamic nations and others were restricting free speech by attempting to ban statements defaming religion. She declared the Obama administration's opposition.

Presenting the State Department's annual international survey of religious freedom, Clinton said the U.S. would oppose efforts at the United Nations to condemn the defamation of religion even if they are intended to protect society.

"Some people propose that to protect religious freedom, we must ban speech that is critical or offensive," she said. "We do not agree. The United States joins with all nations coming together to condemn hateful speech. But we do not support the banning of that speech."

As it has in past years, the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference is pushing a resolution at the U.N. General Assembly that condemns "religious defamation" — this time after winning approval at the U.N. Human Rights Council. The General Assembly adopted the resolution in 2009 despite objections from the U.S. and other Western nations.

The resolution is nonbinding and largely symbolic, but can provide justification in some countries for tougher domestic laws against defamation. The effort is widely seen as a response to the publication in ...

EFF Discusses the Future of Internet Privacy at UN Internet Governance Forum

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

EFF recently participated in the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Vilnius, Lithuania, advocating for the respect of citizens' fundamental rights online. The IGF is an experimental and influential multi-stakeholder policy forum convened by the United Nations Secretary General in 2006, where civil society, industry, the technical community, and decision makers discuss key aspects of Internet governance issues on an equal footing. The informal nature of the IGF is designed to promote the full and frank exchange of ideas on important Internet policy issues without the knock-down-and-dragged-out conflicts that characterize other international fora where recommendations or binding treaties are made. This year, IGF brought together over 1,400 participants from around the world. Videos and transcripts of all the official meetings are now online and make for interesting viewing.

EFF participated in several panels and co-organized a workshop on The Future of Privacy together with the Internet Society. The speakers included representatives from the US Federal Trade Commission, the Spanish Data Protection Authority, the Council of Europe Consultative Committee of Convention 108, Oracle Corporation, the European Data Protection Supervisor, AT&T, Google, the Internet Society, and EFF. All of them expressed their views on existing laws and international frameworks on privacy, ...

Violent video games in the Supreme Court

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
There were quite a few surprising moments at the Supreme Court argument Tuesday about California’s attempt to ban violent video games. There were references to “gratuitous violence” as material that “appeals to a base instinct especially [in] minors.” It made me wonder whether the scene in the Odyssey where Ulysses puts out the Cyclops’ eye [...]

The fuss over GQ’s ‘Glee’ photo

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
The Parents Television Council has done a lot of things bordering on the inane, but this time they’ve outdone themselves by saying that the cover of GQ magazine “borders on pedophilia.” As Frank Bruni pointed out in the New York Times, the women pictured on the cover are 24. Somebody at PTC should check the [...]

Florida high school cancels production of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
A Florida high school production of a play based on Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer prize-winning novel about racial conflict, To Kill a Mockingbird, has been cancelled. At the center of the controversy that prompted the cancellation was the historically necessary use of the word “nigger”. The reason “nigger” is a word that carries such painful [...]

TSA chief: No religious exemptions to airport screening

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

WASHINGTON — The Transportation Security Administration says airline passengers won’t get out of body imaging screening or pat-downs based on their religious beliefs.

TSA chief John Pistole told the Senate Homeland Security Committee yesterday that passengers who refuse to go through a full-body scanner machine and reject a pat-down won’t be allowed to board, even if they turned down the in-depth screening for religious reasons.

“That person is not going to get on an airplane,” Pistole said in response to a question from Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., on whether the TSA would provide exemptions for passengers whose religious beliefs do not allow them to go through a physically revealing body scan or be touched by screeners.

Civil rights groups contend the more intensive screening violates civil liberties, including freedom of religion, the right to privacy and the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches.

The issue is getting new attention after a man posted an item online saying he was thrown out of the San Diego airport for rejecting a full-body scan and pat-down groin check and instead insisting on passing through a metal detector.

Pistole acknowledged the incident was drawing wide attention but told the committee an officer involved was “very ...

Girls sue Pa. school over ‘boobies’-bracelet ban

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

PHILADELPHIA — Two middle schoolers have filed a free-speech lawsuit against a Pennsylvania school district that suspended them for wearing the popular "I (heart) boobies!" bracelets.

The American Civil Liberties Union says it believes the lawsuit filed Nov. 15 is the first in the country over a school's ban on the $4 bracelets, which are designed to raise breast-cancer awareness among young people. The rubber jewelry has become wildly popular among students, prompting bans across the country.

School officials in Easton argue that the slogan is distracting and demeaning, and that some staff feel it trivializes a serious illness.

The district banned the bracelets in October, a month into the school year and after students had been wearing them without serious incident, the ACLU said.

Kayla Martinez, 12, and Brianna Hawk, 13, had their parents' permission to wear the bracelets but soon found themselves in the principal's office at Easton Area Middle School, the lawsuit states. They were also banned from school dances for a month.

Amy Martinez says her daughter's suspension seems unduly harsh, given that the seventh-grader had agreed to wear the bracelet inside out, with only a breast cancer-awareness website address showing. That, too, was deemed inappropriate ...

Breyer says high court must adapt to Facebook world

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Don’t expect a Facebook friend request from Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer any time soon.

The 72-year-old justice said in a speech at Vanderbilt Law School yesterday that he was perplexed when he recently saw the film “The Social Network” about the origins of Facebook.

But Breyer said the film illustrates his argument that modern conditions — like the development of the social-networking site — should inform justices when interpreting a Constitution written in the 18th century.

“If I’m applying the First Amendment, I have to apply it to a world where there’s an Internet, and there’s Facebook, and there are movies like ... ‘The Social Network,’ which I couldn’t even understand,” he said.

Breyer said of the high court: “It’s quite clear, we don’t have a Facebook page.”

Although Breyer was making a point about judicial philosophy, he also touched on the Court’s sometimes limited grasp of technological developments. For example, Chief Justice John Roberts in a public-employee privacy case before the Court earlier this year tried to figure out the role of a text-messaging service in enabling an exchange between two people.

“I thought, you know, you push a button; it goes right to the ...

Legal Attack on Internet Music Storage Threatens ‘Safe Harbor’ Rules for Online Businesses

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

New York - In a legal battle over Internet music storage that could impact innovation and free expression on the Internet, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Public Knowledge, and other public interest groups asked a federal judge in an amicus brief Tuesday to protect the "safe harbor" rules for online content in EMI v. MP3Tunes.

MP3Tunes offers a locker service where users can sync their personal digital music and video up to "the cloud" to access from any web browser or many mobile and home entertainment devices. Recording giant EMI claims that MP3Tunes should be held responsible for infringing content stored in the lockers of some of its users. MP3Tunes contends that it is immune from liability because it does not engage in, encourage or benefit from copyright infringement and it quickly removes material identified in a copyright holder's complaint against its users, as required by the "safe harbor" provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). In the amicus brief filed Tuesday, EFF and its co-amici argue that EMI is trying to rewrite the "safe harbor" provisions and hold service providers liable for the actions of their users.

"The DMCA safe harbors were designed to encourage the growth of ...

Who’s Paying for our Elections?

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

People For’s President Michael Keegan has a new op-ed in the Huffington Post today examining the impact of anonymous donors on this year’s midterm elections. He looks at the difference between spending by shadowy groups like the American Future Fund and another type of big spender in elections: self-funded candidates.

Polling shows that the vast majority of Americans really don't like the idea of corporations and interest groups pouring money into elections...and also really don't like it that outside groups don't have to reveal the major sources of their money.

But not liking the idea of wealthy people or corporations or powerful special interest groups trying to buy elections isn't much help when you're seeing a convincing ad on TV from a group with a name like the "Commission on Hope, Growth, and Opportunity" -- and have no way of finding out what the money and motivations behind the ad are.

Self-financed candidates are, to a large extent, "known knowns." When a candidate is bankrolling her own campaign, voters go into the polling place knowing full well who's most invested in that candidate's success and where the money comes from. Voters knew that Carly Fiorina made her fortune by sending ...

National Public Radio Affiliate Latest to Cover Syracuse’s Investigation of Law Student

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

National Public Radio affiliate WRVO, in Oswego, NY, published a story Friday on FIRE's ongoing case at Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL), where law student Len Audaer continues to face possible disciplinary charges for his alleged role with the satirical blog SUCOLitis.

Torch readers will remember that Audaer is being investigated for harassment due to the content of the blog, which makes clear that it is a satirical publication that contains no actual news. SUCOL Professor Gregory Germain has been leading the investigation, a fact which would be unexceptional were it not for the numerous statements Germain has made condemning the blog and hinting heavily at Audaer's presumed guilt, such as in these comments for the student newspaper The Daily Orange:

He said the situation is not normal and described the website as "designed to be offensive."

"Is it normal for blogs to be put up that ridicule certain students' character?" Germain said.

[...]

This is not an issue of free speech, Germain said, because the site is libelous and there are limitations to individual rights.

SUCOL, meanwhile, has made a joke of due process by not even telling Audaer what the specific charges are and which ...

First Amendment Rodeo, November 1-12

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

A biweekly round-up of intellectual freedom news around the nation

“It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.” – Justice Louis D. Brandeis

Book Challenge: Brave New World

Privacy: EPIC Protests Full-Body Imaging Machines

United States Supreme Court: Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association

The issues in this case are as follows: (1) whether the First Amendment permits limitations on  violent video games sold to minors, and (2) whether a state regulation for displaying offensive, harmful images to children is invalid if it fails to satisfy the exacting “strict scrutiny” standard of review.  To pass strict scrutiny, a law or regulation must be narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest and must also be the least restrictive means for achieving that interest.  The Freedom to Read Foundation submitted an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in this case.

A Misguided Call for Censorship in University of Georgia Student Newspaper

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

At FIRE, we are very concerned about the increasingly large number of college students who believe it's OK or even commendable to censor certain forms of speech. This phenomenon is widespread enough that Greg coined a phrase for it: "unlearning liberty." Samantha Shelton, one such student who has apparently unlearned liberty, gives us yet another reason for concern in her column yesterday for the University of Georgia's independent newspaper The Red & Black.

Shelton calls for censorship of "extremist Christian" groups like the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR), a pro-life organization which recently erected a display on campus featuring pictures of aborted fetuses. Shelton was revolted by the display and the brochures that the group handed out, but she was more upset because she believed that CBR's display broke campus rules:

It wasn't CBR's brochures that bothered me, or their gigantic displayrather, the fact that they got away with breaking the rules.

The rules Shelton is referring to are found in the University of Georgia Code of Conduct, and she's all too happy to read relatively innocuous regulations as broadly as possible to further her censorship crusade. Her first complaint is:

The display infringed upon the ...

In Data Portability Deathmatch, Users Lose Out

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Co-authored by Rainey Reitman and Marcia Hofmann

In the last few weeks, Facebook and Google have been engaging in a public tussle over an issue that is near and dear to EFF's heart: data portability. The crux of the issue is that when you sign up for Facebook, you can find your Gmail contacts or invite them to join the social networking service with a few quick clicks. But when you sign up for Google, Facebook prevents you from easily inviting all of your Facebook friends to Google, despite the fact that Facebook makes it easy for users to export their contacts to other services like Yahoo!.

Earlier this month, Google altered its terms of use for API users in an attempt to push Facebook into making contacts more portable. Basically, if services (such as Facebook) aren't willing to make contact data portable to Google, then Google will stop making Gmail contacts exportable to their sites. Somewhat ironically, Google is promoting data portability by restricting data portability.

This comes at a time when Facebook is launching a messaging product that may rival Google's communication applications and rumors abound that Google is looking to make a foray into the realm ...

‘God’ in Pledge doesn’t violate students’ rights, 1st Circuit rules

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

BOSTON — The constitutionality of a New Hampshire law that requires schools to authorize a time each day for students to voluntarily recite the Pledge of Allegiance has been upheld by a federal appeals court that found the oath's reference to God doesn't violate students' rights.

On Nov.12, a unanimous three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston affirmed a ruling by a federal judge who found students can use the phrase "under God" when reciting the pledge.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wis., educational group working for the separation of church and state; two group members, identified as Jan and Pat Doe; and their three children, who attend public schools in the Hanover school district in New Hampshire and the Dresden district in New Hampshire and Vermont.

The parents, who identified themselves and their children as atheist and agnostic, say the pledge is a religious exercise because it uses the phrase "under God." They argued the recitation of the pledge at school made their children "outsiders" to their peers on the grounds of their religion.

The pledge, written in 1892 by socialist writer and Baptist ...

House votes for bill to stop animal ‘crush videos’

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

WASHINGTON — The House voted yesterday to ban so-called crush videos that depict the abuse and killing of animals.

The measure would revive, with some modifications, a 1999 law that was struck down by the Supreme Court last April in United States v. Stevens on the grounds it was too broadly written and violated First Amendment free-speech protections.

Congress has been trying since then to come up with a more narrowly crafted law. The measure the House passed still differs slightly from a version approved by the Senate in September. It now goes back to the Senate.

"We need a law that stays on the books," House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., said in explaining the decision to tinker with the Senate language.

The bill, H.R. 5566, was the first to be taken up in the lame-duck session of Congress that opened yesterday.

The legislation, which the House originally passed in July, would make it a crime to sell or distribute videos that violate bans on animal cruelty by showing animals being burned, drowned, suffocated or impaled.

Such videos appeal to a sexual fetish by showing women, often barefoot or wearing high heels, stomping small animals to death.

Every ...

Calif. middle schooler gets apology in U.S. flag flap

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

DENAIR, Calif. — A Stanislaus County school official has apologized to a student who was told to remove an American flag from the back of his bicycle.

Last week, a supervisor at Denair Middle School told 13-year-old Cody Alicea to remove the flag over concerns for the teen's safety. School officials said some students had made threatening remarks amid racial tensions stemming from the display of a Mexican flag during Cinco de Mayo.

Cody's stepfather called local media, and a civil rights group threatened to sue the district for First Amendment violations.

The Modesto Bee reported that Denair schools Superintendent Ed Parraz later apologized to Cody and community members who were upset by the flag flap.

Yesterday morning, several hundred people waving U.S. flags of their own, gathered for a rally to celebrate Cody's victory and then to escort him to school.

High court won’t hear free-speech challenge to grand jury subpoenas

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

WICHITA, Kan. — The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday rebuffed a subpoena challenge mounted by an outspoken advocate for chronic pain patients who is under a grand jury investigation for possible conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The high court didn’t comment on its refusal to take up the appeal by Siobhan Reynolds. Reynolds sought to quash grand jury subpoenas and overturn a contempt citation issued against her and her organization, the Pain Relief Network, stemming from her refusal to turn over subpoenaed e-mails and other documents.

Her subpoena challenge climbed secretly to the Supreme Court, which last month agreed to make a redacted version of her appeal available while it decided whether to take the case.

Reynolds’ subpoena challenge received widespread attention after The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press tried unsuccessfully to intervene in the case.

Lucy Dalglish, the committee’s executive director, said her biggest disappointment with yesterday’s ruling was that the case would have been an opportunity for the Supreme Court to revisit its 1972 ruling in a First Amendment case, Branzburg v. Hayes, and decide what standard of review was appropriate for subpoenas that have the appearance of being issued out of retaliation.

“The U.S. Supreme Court hates ...

Reverse Engineering the Kinect: The Street Starts to Find Uses for Microsoft’s New Gaming Device

Monday, November 15th, 2010

When Microsoft announced that it was launching a webcam-style peripheral for its Xbox360 that would allow users to interact with the game system without the need for a game controller, the excitement was not limited to gamers. The Kinect, which allows a user to control games through gestures, speech, and presented objects or images immediately intrigued the hardware hacking community. The folks at AdaFruit Industries gushed, “Imagine being able to use this off the shelf camera for Xbox for Mac, Linux, Win, embedded systems, robotics, etc. We know Microsoft isn’t developing this device for FIRST Robotics, but we could!”

Given the range of possibilities for this technology, it is no surprise that it was immediately reverse engineered. Like the CueCat and Aibo and many other technologies before and after them, the Kinect has so many cool potential new uses that limiting those who can use it to those approved by Microsoft would be a tremendous waste and a lost opportunity for innovation. After all, reverse engineering is a crucial component of any healthy technical ecosystem.

To that end, AdaFruit offered a prize to the first person to write an open source driver for the Kinect. They then raised their ...

Retweet Gets Bride Labor Camp

Monday, November 15th, 2010
A Chinese court sends a bride-to-be to toil in a labor camp for anti-Japanese rhetoric.

Quinnipiac Nixes Ads in Student Paper

Monday, November 15th, 2010
Quinnipiac University wants to ban off-campus housing ads from its student newspaper. Why? The university's not saying. From the Student Press Law Center.

Thank You From EFF!

Monday, November 15th, 2010

On behalf of the EFF staff, thank you for helping us to compete in PayPal's matching challenge. Together we raised over $70,400! Individual donors like you make EFF's work possible. EFF will also receive $5,000 in matched funds directly from PayPal, and additional matched funds from two very generous EFF members.

Don't forget to match your gift with your employer:

  • Ask your human resources department if your employer matches donations.
  • Fill out the paperwork and forward it to EFF for completion (if necessary).
  • You're done! It's a simple step that maximizes your impact and keeps EFF going strong.

Even if you don't use PayPal or don't have funds to contribute, there are many valuable ways to help and get involved with digital rights. Thank you for all of the ways you support EFF!

‘Hateful’ Flyers at Texas A&M?

Monday, November 15th, 2010
From CampusReform.org, reports of a free speech controversy at Texas A&M over "hateful" flyers and events about Islam.

Kan. town to pay $8K to settle dispute over yard sign

Monday, November 15th, 2010

WICHITA, Kan. — A Valley Center homeowner can again display a yard sign criticizing the city and its administrator without fear.

News emerged this weekend of the court settlement in a First Amendment case that arose after homeowner Jarrod West put a sign in his yard protesting inaction on a water-drainage problem. The Wichita suburb of Valley Center sued West for criminal defamation and later withdrew the lawsuit.

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri moved forward with a lawsuit it filed on West's behalf, asking a judge to order Valley Center to stop interfering with his freedom of speech after the city refused to assure him it would not refile the charge if he put the sign up again. A Nov. 12 court filing indicated the case had been settled, just days before an injunction hearing that had been scheduled for this week.

"I am thrilled that sanity has returned to Valley Center," ACLU attorney Doug Bonney said on Nov. 13. "It was very unfortunate that the ACLU had to file this classic free-speech case in order to ensure that Jarrod West could protest his city government's inaction and failure to address a basic issue ...

N.C. medical examiners drop SIDS checklist

Monday, November 15th, 2010

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The North Carolina medical examiner’s office says it is dropping a standardized checklist for suspicious infant deaths after learning the information in those reports must be made public.

The Charlotte Observer reported Nov. 13 that the change in policy came after the attorney general issued an opinion that the information in those reports would be public.

For the past six years, the state medical examiner’s office had encouraged the use of the reports as a way to standardize the investigation of infant deaths. Just last month, a state task force said it wanted police to use the checklist as part of all infant death investigations as a way to help prevent deaths in the future.

While admitting that the checklist is considered a best practice for investigating unexplained child deaths, the state’s new chief medical examiner, Dr. Deborah Radisch, says families might feel betrayed if the information isn’t kept private.

The state attorney general’s office said certain portions of the reports that wouldn’t be public include who medications in the household belong to, medical histories and any involvement with social services, mental health or other agencies.

At a meeting in Raleigh earlier this month, lawmakers, child advocates ...

N.Y. judge keeps 911 calls secret in shooting of student

Monday, November 15th, 2010

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — A state judge has refused to release 911 calls and other evidence to the parents of a college football player who was shot and killed by police, saying they failed to include any firsthand account of what happened.

Danroy and Angella Henry of Easton, Mass., had requested access to any audio and video recordings relevant to the death of their son, Danroy Henry Jr.

Danroy Henry Sr. said he didn't consider the ruling a setback.

"The law isn't a grieving parent," he said during a telephone news conference. "Just because we want to see something to really help us get down to the truth, unfortunately it's clear to us that isn't how the law is written."

"We'll accept it ... and continue our fight toward the truth," he added.

Henry's son, a Pace University student, was killed in his car on Oct. 17 during a disturbance outside a bar in the New York City suburb of Thornwood, near the Pace campus. Police said the 20-year-old sped away and hit two officers after a third officer knocked on his car window. Some witnesses and the family dispute that account and a grand jury investigation has begun.

The ...

Judge: N.Y. must release records on monkey research

Monday, November 15th, 2010

ALBANY, N.Y. — A state trial judge has ruled that New York must release records on substance-abuse experiments on monkeys and other animals.

The state's Office of Mental Health tried to block the Freedom of Information Act request from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, saying research scientists may be targeted by animal-rights terrorists.

In a ruling dated Nov. 3, state Supreme Court Justice Richard Platkin rejected the state's argument.

PCRM wants records on taxpayer-funded research at a state psychiatric institute in New York City. OMH provided some records but not all. Many of the experiments conditioned rhesus monkeys to have drug and alcohol addictions, then tested if medications broke the addictions.

Spokeswoman Jill Daniels said OMH had not decided if it would appeal.

Christian group to sponsor ‘Day of Dialogue’ about homosexuality

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

DENVER — A conservative Christian group has announced that it will sponsor a school-outreach program to talk about sexual orientation.

Focus on the Family of Colorado Springs says it will take over sponsorship of the former "Day of Truth," which has been co-sponsored since 2005 by Exodus International, a Christian group in Orlando, Fla. It has renamed the April observance "Day of Dialogue" and is promoting it as a day to talk about homosexuality in schools, not to decry gays.

Exodus International announced last month it would drop sponsorship because it was "always perceived in an adversarial manner," according to an Exodus International statement.

The "Day of Dialogue" is a counter to the "Day of Silence," a gay-rights promotion asking students to remain silent for a day in protest of anti-gay bullying.

Focus spokesman Gary Schneeberger said the sponsorship wouldn't cost much because there weren't plans to advertise the day. Instead, Focus will give advice on how to adopt the program to interested teens.

"There's really a minimal cost," Schneeberger said. "The event itself is student-driven. We're there as a provider of information and resources and maybe some guidance about how to engage in that dialogue."

The new name indicated ...

Freedom of Speech in School

Friday, November 12th, 2010

We were all pretty shocked by this story out of California today:

A Stanislaus County school is forcing a student to take an American flag off of his bike.

Thirteen-year-old Cody Alicea put the flag there as a show of support for the veterans in his family.

But officials at Denair Middle School told him he couldn't fly it. He said he was told some students had complained.

But the superintendent said he's trying to avoid tension on campus.

"(The) First Amendment is important," Superintendent Edward Parraz said. "We want the kids to respect it, understand it, and with that comes a responsiblity."

Parraz said the campus has recently experienced some racial tension. He said some students got out of hand on Cinco de Mayo.

"Our Hispanic, you know, kids will, you know, bring their Mexican flags and they'll display it, and then of course the kids would do the American flag situation, and it does cause kind of a racial tension which we don't really want," Parraz said. "We want them to appreciate the cultures."

School officials later explained that they felt Cody’s safety was at risk from children who were bullying him, and that they were addressing ...

Supreme Court Lets DADT Enforcement Continue

Friday, November 12th, 2010

The Supreme Court today declined to reverse a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that let the military continue to discriminate against gay and lesbian servicemembers while the legal battle against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell continues. The ban on openly gay Americans serving in the military was stopped temporarily after a federal judge in California ruled the policy unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit demanded that enforcement continue while the case makes its way through the court system.

The high court’s decision makes it even more urgent for Congress to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell during this years's lame duck session. With a strong Republican majority in the House next year—including many new members who are not at all open to LGBT equality—there will be little hope for legislative repeal.

In the meantime, the vast majority of Americans, across party lines, continue to oppose Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. One of these Americans is Cindy McCain, whose husband John McCain is the leading the Senate effort to keep the discriminatory policy in place. Watch the video Cindy McCain made for the anti-bullying group NO H8, in which she slams Dont Ask Dont Tell: "Our government treats the LGBT community like second class citizens, ...

Mosque foes use Tenn. trial as forum to question Islam

Friday, November 12th, 2010

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Islam is suddenly on trial in a booming Nashville suburb, where opponents of a new mosque have spent six days in court trying to link it to what they claim is a conspiracy to take over America by imposing restrictive religious rule.

The hearing is supposed to be about whether Rutherford County officials violated Tennessee's open-meetings law when they approved the mosque's site plan. Instead, plaintiffs’ attorney Joe Brandon Jr. has used it as a forum to question whether the world's second-biggest faith even qualifies as a religion, and to push a theory that American Muslims want to replace the Constitution with extremist Islamic law.

"Do you want to know about a direct connection between the Islamic Center and sharia law, a.k.a. terrorism?" Brandon asked one witness in a typical line of questioning.

Brandon has repeatedly conflated a moderate version of sharia with its most extreme manifestations, suggesting that all Muslims must adhere to those interpretations.

At one point, he asked whether Rutherford County Commissioner Gary Farley supported hanging a whip in his house as a warning to his wife and then beating her with it, something Brandon claimed was part of "sharia religion."

The commissioner protested ...

N.J. district punishes teacher for comments on secret recording

Friday, November 12th, 2010

PASSAIC, N.J. — A New Jersey special education teacher was suspended for nine days and docked a pay raise for comments that were caught on a secretly recorded video.

Alissa Ploshnick was due to return to work today after being punished over comments that appeared in an online video dubbed "Teachers Unions Gone Wild." The undercover footage was shot at a New Jersey Education Association leadership conference last summer and was released by self-styled muckraker James O’Keefe.

Ploshnick is heard on the tape saying how hard it is to fire tenured teachers and telling a story about a teacher who had used the "N'' word to a student and was not fired.

Passaic Superintendent Robert Holster told The Star-Ledger of Newark that he considered bringing a harsher punishment of tenure charges. Holster said Ploshnick's comments were "professionally insulting" and not "the responsible behavior of a professional person employed by the Passaic Board of Education."

"The character of an educator has to be beyond the school bell. It doesn’t take place only in school," Holster was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

The superintendent said the incident that Holster described did not occur in Passaic.

"Passaic is multicultural and everyone has ...

Colo. police investigate, protect pedophilia author

Friday, November 12th, 2010

PUEBLO, Colo. — Police in Colorado are both investigating and protecting the author of a guide for pedophiles.

Phillip Ray Greaves II of Pueblo has drawn national attention because his self-published book was for sale on Amazon. The book offers advice to pedophiles on how to make a sexual encounter with a child as safe as possible.

Amazon is no longer selling the book but it's not clear whether the company or Greaves removed it. Amazon did not return messages from the Associated Press and the author refused to comment.

The Pueblo Chieftain reported today that police hadn't found anything to indicate that Greaves had committed a crime, but would monitor him.

Police say threats have been made against Greaves and they are keeping an eye on him to protect him from any potential attackers.

High court rejects plea to block ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

Friday, November 12th, 2010

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is refusing to block enforcement of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military while a federal appeals court considers the issue.

The Court today denied a request from the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group, to step into the ongoing federal court review of "don't ask, don't tell." The Obama administration urged the high court not to get involved at this point.

Last month, a federal judge ruled that the policy violates the civil rights of homosexual Americans and she issued an injunction barring the Pentagon from applying it. But the San Francisco-based appeals court said the policy could remain in effect while it considered the administration's appeal.

President Barack Obama has pledged to push lawmakers to repeal the law in the lame-duck session before a new Congress is sworn in. But administration lawyers have in the meantime defended "don't ask, don't tell" in court.

The policy, which prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, was lifted for eight days in October after U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that it is unconstitutional. The Obama administration asked the appeals court to reinstate the ban until it could ...

Leaked Pentagon Study Says DADT Repeal Won’t Harm War Efforts

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

The case for keeping the discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell became even weaker today, as leaks from a Pentagon study of the policy suggest that the policy could be repealed “with only minimal and isolated incidents of risk to the current war efforts.”

The Washington Post confirmed with two people familiar with the report that the Pentagon study group found overwhelming support or ambivalence to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell among current servicemembers:

More than 70 percent of respondents to a survey sent to active-duty and reserve troops over the summer said the effect of repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy would be positive, mixed or nonexistent, said two sources familiar with the document. The survey results led the report's authors to conclude that objections to openly gay colleagues would drop once troops were able to live and serve alongside them.

One source, who has read the report in full, summarized its findings in a series of conversations this week. The source declined to state his position on whether to lift the ban, insisting it did not matter. He said he felt compelled to share the information out of concern that groups opposed to ending the ban would mischaracterize the ...

Amazon.com no longer selling guide for pedophiles

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

NEW YORK — Amazon is no longer selling a self-published guide for pedophiles that generated outrage on the Internet and threats to boycott the online retailer.

It wasn't immediately clear whether Amazon.com Inc. had pulled the item, or whether the author withdrew it. Amazon did not return messages today seeking comment for this story.

The book, The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover's Code of Conduct, offers advice to pedophiles on how to make a sexual encounter with a child as safe as possible. It includes first-person descriptions of such encounters, purportedly written from a child's point of view.

Once discovered yesterday, the book triggered outrage from commenters on sites such as Twitter. Some people threatened to boycott the online store until Amazon removed the book. Two petitions on Facebook alone won more than 13,500 supporters.

The availability of the book called into question whether Amazon has any procedures — or even an obligation — to vet books before they are sold in its online stores.

The Pedophile's Guide is an electronic book that was available for Amazon's Kindle e-reader and the company's software for reading Kindle books on mobile phones and computers. Amazon allows authors to submit ...

Report: White House altered drilling-safety report

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

WASHINGTON — The Interior Department’s inspector general says the White House edited a drilling-safety report in a way that made it falsely appear that scientists and experts supported the administration’s six-month ban on new drilling.

The inspector general says the editing changes resulted “in the implication that the moratorium recommendation had been peer reviewed.” But it hadn’t been. The scientists were only asked to review new safety measures for offshore drilling.

The investigation is the latest in a string of incidents where the Obama administration has been accused of overstating the science behind official reports and political decisions made after the massive Gulf oil spill. In the wake of the April 20 disaster, the administration struggled to portray that it — not BP — was in charge of responding to the blowout, which killed 11 and spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf.

Last month, staff for the presidential oil-spill commission said that the White House’s budget office delayed publication of a report by federal scientists that forecast how much oil could potentially reach the Gulf’s shores. Federal scientists initially used a volume of oil that did not account for the administration’s various cleanup efforts. A smaller volume ...

Minn. court rejects free-speech challenge to aided-suicide case

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

MINNEAPOLIS — A former Minnesota nurse who prosecutors say sought out depressed people in Internet chat rooms and encouraged two of them to kill themselves won’t get his case dismissed on free-speech grounds, a judge ruled yesterday.

William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, of Faribault, is charged with two counts of aiding suicide, for allegedly advising and encouraging an English man and a Canadian woman to take their own lives.

His attorney had asked that the case be dismissed, saying Melchert-Dinkel had no direct participation in any suicides, and that his e-mail and Internet conversations involved protected speech. Rice County District Judge Thomas Neuville disagreed, saying in a 21-page ruling that speech that aids the suicide of another is not protected by the First Amendment.

The judge said Minnesota law doesn’t prevent people from “expressing opinions or discussing suicide,” but it does make it a crime to participate in a narrow and precise type of speech — speech that “intentionally and directly advises, encourages or aids a specific person to end their own life.”

“Thus, speech that directly encourages and imminently incites the act of suicide ... falls outside the protection of the First Amendment,” Neuville wrote.

According to Rice County Attorney Paul ...

No charges for destroying CIA interrogation videos

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

WASHINGTON — A special prosecutor cleared the CIA's former top clandestine officer and others yesterday of any charges for destroying agency videotapes showing waterboarding of terror suspects, but he continued to investigate whether the harsh questioning went beyond legal boundaries.

The decision not to prosecute anyone in the destruction of the videotapes came five years to the day after the CIA destroyed its cache of 92 videos of two al-Qaida operatives, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri, being subjected to waterboarding, which evokes the sensation of drowning. The deadline for prosecuting someone under most federal laws is five years.

The part of the nearly 3-year-old criminal investigation that examines whether U.S. interrogators went beyond the legal guidance given them on the rough treatment of suspects will continue, a Justice Department official said. The Associated Press reported that the official spoke on condition of anonymity because that part of the probe is still under way.

CIA Director Leon Panetta said the agency welcomed the decision and that "we will continue, of course, to cooperate with the Department of Justice on any other aspects of the former program that it reviews."

Jose Rodriguez, who was the CIA's top clandestine officer when the tapes ...

20 Banned Album Covers

Thursday, October 21st, 2010
On occasion of the controversy over the sexually suggestive cover of Kanye West’s upcoming album “My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy,” Billboard has created a fun slideshow of 20 banned album covers. Check them out here: If you want to learn more about music censorship, you can check out NCAC’s Timeline of Music Censorship, which was [...]

Book censorship round-up for this week

Thursday, October 21st, 2010
Suzanne Collins’s young adult novel The Hunger Games is challenged in New Hampshire by a parent whose 11-year old said the book gave her nightmares. The parent has yet to file a formal complaint or read the book. Regardless, the Superintendent is gathering a committee to review the book while it remains in the classroom. [...]

Kudos to YouTube

Thursday, October 21st, 2010
Earlier this year we reported on YouTube’s removal and subsequent restoration of videos by dance-artist Amy Greenfield. At that point we voiced serious concerns about the lack of an appeals process for individuals who believe that their work has been unfairly removed from the site as well as the absence of “art” in the list [...]

Announcing the 2010 YFEP Film Contest Judges!

Thursday, October 21st, 2010
Announcing our esteemed judges for our youth film contest I’m All For Free Speech, BUT…! Jordan Allen, 2009 Film Contest Winner Tom Shadyac, filmmaker/screenwriter (including Ace Ventura, Liar Liar, Evan Almighty) Cecily von Ziegesar, author of young adult books Gossip Girl Debra Zimmerman, Executive Director of Women Make Movies and the New York Film Academy [...]

Freedom of Expression and the First Amendment

Thursday, October 21st, 2010
The freedom of expression enshrined in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution underpins the rights to self-governance understood around the world.

Syracuse University Law Student Charged with Harassment for Satirical Website

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

At the Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL), student Len Audaer is being investigatedby both the law school and Syracuse University's judicial affairs officefor allegedly being one of the writers of a satirical blog called SUCOLitis, which lampoons the people and affairs of the law school.

According to student paper The Daily Orange in an article published yesterday:

SUCOLitis, a WordPress blog, began publishing online at the beginning of October. A group of second- and third-year law students write on the website with the goal of entertaining those in SU's College of Law, according to the blog. But some officials and students at the law school are calling for the site to be removed and for legal action to be taken against the author.

SUCOLitis, whose authors are anonymous, was popular and widely readwith more than 9,000 hits as of the Daily Orange article's publication and close to 13,000 by the end of yesterday, when the blog was taken down. While the names of some SUCOL students and faculty members do appear in some of the SUCOLitis posts, the blog's disclaimer makes clear that "SUCOLitis is a satirical publication and not ...

Timothy Egan Calls Out the Corporate Court

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

A classic claim of pro-corporate shills regarding Citizens United is that campaign finance reform is the equivalent to banning books and government censorship. As Chief Justice Roberts said, “we don’t put our First Amendment rights in the hands of FEC bureaucrats.”

But what Americans are experiencing this election year is the emergence of political organizations with secret sources of funding, an increase in corporate “Astroturfing” through front groups, and an avalanche of money to run misleading advertisements across the country.

In the New York Times, Timothy Egan points out how the astronomical amount of money poured into this election is actually drowning-out the voices of citizens and distorting the democratic process. Egan writes that the Court’s decision in Citizens United “will go down in infamy” for giving corporations the right to easily and secretly fund political groups “to bludgeon the electorate” by flooding the airways with deceptive ads:

Here’s what’s happened: Spending by interest groups in this fall’s senate races has gone up 91 percent from the same period in 2008, according to the Wesleyan Media Project. At the same time, spending by political parties has fallen 61 percent.

So corporations, whose sole purpose is to return money ...

Eight Epic Failures of Regulating Cryptography

Thursday, October 21st, 2010
They can promise strong encryption. They just need to figure out how they can provide us plain text.
- FBI General Counsel Valerie Caproni, September 27, 2010

[W]e're in favor of strong encryption, robust encryption. The country needs it, industry needs it. We just want to make sure we have a trap door and key under some judge's authority where we can get there if somebody is planning a crime.
- FBI Director Louis Freeh, May 11, 1995

As noted in late September, the FBI is on a charm offensive, seeking to ease its ability to spy on Americans by expanding the reach of the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). Among other things, the government appears to be seriously discussing a new requirement that all communications systems be easily wiretappable by mandating "back doors" into any encryption systems.

(Encryption allows users to have private conversations and secure transactions, among other uses, on technologies from cell phones to web browsing to email. Learn more about encryption from EFF's Surveillance Self-Defense guide.)

If this sounds familiar, it's because regulating encryption was a monstrous proposal officially declared dead in 2001 after threatening Americans' privacy, free speech rights, and ...

N.D. law barring video voyeurism is unconstitutional, court says

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

FARGO, N.D. — The case against a male North Dakota State University student accused of secretly recording nude videos of a female roommate has been dismissed by a judge who says a new state law dealing with the subject is poorly written.

Judge Steven McCullough says the law passed by the Legislature last year barring the secret creation of sexually expressive images is unconstitutional because it’s overly broad and outlaws material protected by free-speech rights.

The law criminalizes nude images that aren’t obscene without any regard to potential artistic or scientific value, and doesn’t account for whether the subject of an image expected privacy, McCullough said.

As an example, the judge said it would be illegal for private investigators to hide while taking photos of a cheating spouse.

NDSU senior Anoop Singh had been charged with surreptitious creation or possession of a sexually expressive image. He was accused of hiding a cell phone with the video camera running in a bathroom.

Assistant Cass County State’s Attorney Tristan Van de Streek told The Forum newspaper that prosecutors are still reviewing the decision and haven’t decided their next step.

Defense attorney William Kirschner said his client was pleased with the ruling.

“Glad ...

Questioning in Tenn. mosque case hinges on Islam

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — A lawyer for opponents of a proposed mosque in Murfreesboro veered away from the procedural issues at the heart of a legal challenge and peppered witnesses yesterday with questions about the religion Islam.

The attorney equated Islamic religious law with terrorism during a hearing in Rutherford County Chancery Court and taunted a witness who said he believed Islam was a religion, in part, because it was defined as such by the federal government.

“Are you one of those people who believes everything the government says?” attorney Joe Brandon Jr. asked Rutherford County Commissioner Gary Farley. “Are you aware the government once said it was OK to own slaves?”

Plaintiffs who oppose the mosque want a temporary restraining order to block construction on the site. They claim county officials violated state law by failing to provide adequate notice of the meeting where the site plan was approved.

But many of Brandon’s questions had nothing to do with procedural issues, and he repeatedly drew objections from lawyers for the county.

“Do you want to know about a direct connection between the Islamic Center and Sharia law, a.k.a. terrorism?” Brandon asked Farley.

Islamic religious law, or Sharia, is composed of ...

9th Circuit keeps military’s ‘don’t ask’ policy for now

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court has frozen a judge's order halting the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, even as the Pentagon has announced it will accept openly gay recruits.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday temporarily granted the U.S. government's request for a freeze on the judge's order.

The appellate court instructed lawyers for the gay-rights group that brought the lawsuit successfully challenging the policy to file arguments in response by Oct. 25.

The judges would then decide whether to extend the temporary stay while it considers the government's appeal of U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips' ruling that the policy was unconstitutional.

The 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" rule says gays may serve but only if they keep secret their sexual orientation.

President Barack Obama said last week that the Clinton-era law "will end on my watch" but added that "it has to be done in a way that is orderly, because we are involved in a war right now." He said he supports repeal of the policy, but only after careful review and an act of Congress.

A new CBS News Poll says a majority of respondents supports allowing gays ...