Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Obscenity Case Files: Roth v. United States

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

It may come as a surprise, but the freedom of speech laid out by the First Amendment doesn’t actually include all forms of speech. Roth v. United States is a landmark case that held that obscene speech was a category that did not fall under the umbrella of First Amendment protection. This case also clumsily tried to define what obscenity actually is, which led to much debate until the Miller Test was established in Miller v. California almost 16 years later.

Roth v. United States is actually a combination of two lower court cases that had similar legal facts and issues. The goal of this case was to test the constitutionality of both federal and state laws that banned obscene speech.

Samuel Roth

Samuel Roth

Samuel Roth, born in 1893, immigrated from Eastern Europe to Manhattan at the age of 4. In the Land of Opportunity, he began working at extremely young age of 8 years old. Roth continued to work small jobs to help earn money for his family until the age of 16, when he discovered his love for writing while working for the New York Globe as a correspondent. Shortly after, he lost this job and became homeless but ...

EFF in Las Vegas for Computer Security Conferences

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

EFF is heading to fabulous Las Vegas next week for the summer security conferences: Black Hat USA, Security B-Sides Las Vegas and DEF CON. We're excited to see everyone there!


Photo by visage used under CC license Come by the EFF booth to learn about our latest work, renew your membership, check out the new t-shirts or just to say hello.

  • Black Hat Briefings (Caesar's Palace): Open Wednesday, July 31 to Thursday, August 1.
  • BSidesLV (Tuscany): Open Wednesday, July 31 to Thursday, Aug 1.
  • DEF CON (Rio): Two booth locations (vendor area and contests!) open Friday, August 2 to Sunday, August 4.



  • We're actually renting this phone booth.Call Congress at the CFAA DC Dialer Booth: EFF is bringing a phone booth to the DEF CON Contest & Event area, so you can make a toll-free call to your representatives to speak out on Aaron's Law, the bill designed to bring some much needed reform to the CFAA. (Yes, we're actually bringing that phone booth.)
  • DEF CON: Vegas 2.0's theSummit Party: Once again, Vegas 2.0 is hosting an event at DEF CON and raising money for EFF. "You can hobnob with similarly freedom-inclined cyberfolk, win a raffle or some door prizes, shake your pants to ...

Professors and Advocates Call Out Former Gov. Mitch Daniels for Egregious Censorship Attempts

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

For those of you who haven’t yet heard, the Associated Press recently revealed that Mitch Daniels, now President of Purdue University, attempted to ban the works of acclaimed historian Howard Zinn from classrooms in Indiana during his tenure as that state’s governor.

In 2010, after Howard Zinn’s passing, Daniels (seen here in an artist’s rendering) wrote an e-mail to the state’s superintendent of public instruction about Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. ”It is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page,” he wrote. “Can someone assure me that is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?”

Daniels also threatened to cut funding to a program run by Charles Little, a professor who was critical of Daniels policies.

More than 90 Purdue professors have now co-signed an open letter chastising Daniels for his past actions and disagreeing with his continued insistence that the book is fraudulent and inappropriate for K-12 classrooms.

Below is a statement from NCAC participating organization Project Censored on Daniels’ misdeeds, originally published on the Zinn Education ...

Report on Harvard’s Secret Email Search Released

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

In the fall of 2012, Harvard University administrators secretly searched the email accounts of 16 “resident deans.” They did so in an attempt to catch the resident dean whom they suspected of releasing, to student reporters, an email about how to advise students implicated in the Harvard cheating scandal. In other words, Harvard administrators wanted to plug a leak. 

Harvard’s faculty email policy promises complete confidentiality in faculty email accounts—except in extraordinary circumstances, in which case the Dean of the Faculty and General Counsel must both approve the searches. Faculty whose email accounts are to be searched are additionally entitled to written notification. Yet no one warned the resident deans, and only one resident dean was informed of the search before The Boston Globe broke the story in March 2013. (Some ambiguity exists as to whether resident deans are administrators or faculty; the least controversial answer is that they’re both.) 

Following intense backlash from students and faculty, Dean of the Faculty Michael Smith and Harvard College Dean Evelynn Hammonds released a statement saying the searches were limited to the resident deans’ administrative (rather than personal) accounts. In a later statement to the faculty, however, Hammonds contradicted her earlier assertions, admitting ...

Now Available in the Rewards Zone: SDCC 2013 Premiums!

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

The CBLDF Team just got back from a hugely successful (and deliriously fun) trip to San Diego for Comic-Con International, but we’re not going to let a little jet-lag stop us from making the premiums we debuted at SDCC 2013 available for your generous donations! If you visit the CBLDF Rewards Zone, you’ll now find the convention smash hit BILL GAINES WAS RIGHT t-shirt; Super Graphic creator Tim Leong’s BANNED COMICS Infographic Poster; and two limited-edition variant covers: Adventure Time #18, with a cover by Chrystin Garland, and the Quantum and Woody #1 CBLDF Liberty Variant, with a cover by Tony Millionaire!


Thanks to series creator Pendleton Ward’s quirky sense of humor and, well, adventure, Adventure Time with Finn and Jake has appealed to a wide range of people since it’s debut on Cartoon Network in 2010. Further cementing its status as one of the best (and increasingly iconic) new franchises of the past few years are the Adventure Time comics published by Boom! Studios’ all-ages KaBoom! imprint. The ongoing series, written by Ryan North (Dinosaur Comics) and illustrated by Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline, has become a major success in its own right, and ...

“Fair Use Creep,” and Other Copyright Bogeymen, Appear in Congress

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

The Congressional subcommittee that addresses copyright heard testimony today from five witnesses about the role of "the copyright sector" in the U.S. economy. As we described yesterday, there were some glaring omissions in the witness list: no representatives of the public interest, no librarians or archivists, none of the innumerable creators who depend on fair use or a balanced copyright regime. The resulting testimony and question-and-answer session were about what you'd expect from a panel made up of the executive director of a copyright expansion group and four representatives from the content industry.

Most striking was the repeated assertion that copyright should be understood primarily as a mechanism of control. Testimony from Sandra Aistars, the director of the Copyright Alliance, was explicit on this point. That’s funny, because we thought it was supposed to be a mechanism to promote new creativity. Ironically enough, Aistars also claims that copyright “is about choice” and “freedom.” Choice and freedom for some people, that is: under her construction of copyright, a grant of copyright is designed to concentrate all of the choice with the copyright owners, at the expense of the public. 

As for the invocation of “freedom,” it appears that some of ...

Robert Shibley on the Right to an Attorney in Campus Courts

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

In an article for Durham, N.C.’s The Herald-Sun published Wednesday, FIRE’s Robert Shibley (who lives in North Carolina) explains why public university students need lawyer advocates in campus disciplinary hearings, and why the North Carolina State Senate should act now to protect student rights. 

Robert explains that as North Carolina law stands now, college students are alone in their lack of legal representation:

Every K–12 student in North Carolina’s public schools is guaranteed the right to a lawyer when facing suspension or expulsion. But on our state’s public college campuses, that right evaporates. ...

And while students in the UNC system can’t have a lawyer represent them when accused of crimes, there’s no such restriction on administrators. In fact, nothing prevents a UNC campus from staffing the hearing process entirely with lawyers, leaving an accused teenager as the only person in the room without a law degree.

This is especially dangerous where the outcomes of campus disciplinary hearings can have such a significant impact on a student’s life. As Robert argues:

Students may be tried in campus courts for theft, assault, rape and other felony crimes. Being labeled a felon and kicked out by your school carries serious, life-altering consequences. ...

State AGs Ask Congress to Gut Critical CDA 230 Online Speech Protections

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Earlier today, 47 state attorneys general asked Congress to severely undermine the most important law protecting free speech on the Internet. In a letter to Congressional leaders, the AGs asked Congress to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act -- which protects online service providers from liability for the vast majority of what their users do -- to carve all state criminal laws from the statute's protection. The letter highlights long-cited concerns about the use of the Internet by child sex traffickers, legitimate concerns shared by law enforcement officials and advocates who dedicate significant time and resources towards fighting this practice.

In their enthusiasm, however, the AGs have gone far, far beyond these concerns by asking Congress to gut existing protections and put online platforms and the diverse array of legitimate speech that they enable in harm's way. Moreover, unfortunately, the AGs' letter is also remarkably misleading, not only about the nature and purpose of Section 230 but also about the state of the law and -- by not mentioning it at all -- the consequences of their proposal. Their approach is wrong, and dangerously so, but even if the AGs disagree and want a debate about how ...

Let’s Create an Alternative Copyright Agenda by and for the Users

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) have excluded public participation from the entire process, while allowing Big Content interests to see and direct the terms of this trade agreement. That is why the Fair Deal Coalition, of which EFF is a member, is launching an open platform to crowdsource alternative copyright proposals that reflect the broad interests of Internet users and businesses that are shut out from the talks. Your Digital Future asks citizens and businesses around the world to consider what kind of rules we need to encourage creativity, participation, and innovation. We’ll take this wide-ranging feedback and bring it directly to policymakers to make sure they listen to the Internet community’s demands.

Negotiators are rushing to close the secretive deal by this fall, despite ongoing conflicts over the terms of the copyright chapter. Some countries are resisting U.S. pressure to enact heightened digital enforcement standards, but this may come to a head if delegates are forced to make difficult compromises to bolster other industrial or agricultural sectors at the cost of Internet users’ rights. Still, all we know about this massive trade deal is from leaked documents, and delegates may sign the deal in the coming ...

In a Close Vote, Congress Shamefully Defeats Amendment That Sought to Curtail NSA Surveillance

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

The US House of Representatives came within a few votes of passing a novel amendment that attempted to strike out funding for the highly contentious NSA calling records surveillance program. Under this program, the NSA acquires the records of who you called, when you called, and how long you spoke—for all calls made within the United States, including international, long distance, and even local.

The amendment was part of the Defense Appropriations Bill (basically, the budget for the Department of Defense, of which NSA is a part), and was eloquently supported by a bipartisan coalition of Reps. Justin Amash, John Conyers, Jr., Thomas Massie, Mick Mulvaney, and Jared Polis. The push by Rep. Amash was a great step forward and comes in the wake of a combative House Judiciary hearing during which many members voiced opposition to unconstitutional NSA spying.

Unfortunately, Congress was unable to muster the votes to pass this important amendment. The amendment failed, with an extremely close vote of 205 to 217.

"This amendment reflected the deep discomfort of Americans who don’t want the government collecting data on them indiscriminately. This type of surveillance is unnecessary and unconstitutional, a needless return to the general warrants that our ...

Real Copyright Reform Starts With Listening to Users, Not Just the Usual Suspects

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

In the next baby step on the long march toward reforming the Copyright Act, the House Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on the importance of the “copyright and technology sectors” to the U.S. economy. The first will be held tomorrow.

The Committee's approach has left us scratching our heads. For example, what is “the copyright sector” anyway?  After all, given that virtually any minimally creative expression is automatically protected by copyright, millions of Americans are copyright owners (though they may not know it). Are they the "copyright sector”? What about artists and fans that make noncommercial remix videos? Bloggers? Independent filmmakers, and comedians who have found ways to thrive in a changing economy? Academic authors? Innovative businesses like Aereo? If so, perhaps the hearings could offer an opportunity to educate Congress about how all kinds of creators are using new technologies to build and share new works, connect to audiences, and innovate. It could also be an opportunity to remind Congress of the essential role fair use plays in ensuring that copyright law fosters, rather than stifles, that creativity. And it could be an opportunity to remind Congress of the broad array of stakeholders that could be affected ...

Authorities Shut Down Tibetan Religious Gathering, Disperse Attendees

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Chinese authorities in a Tibetan-populated county in Qinghai province have closed down a large religious gathering and ordered participants to disperse, sources said this week amid tightening controls as Tibetans take bolder steps to affirm their religious and cultural identity.

The Kalachakra religious ceremony was held in Gepasumdo (in Chinese, Tongde) county in Qinghai’s Tsolho (Hainan) prefecture last week and was attended by several thousand Tibetan monks and laypeople.

It was conducted by a respected elderly lama, Dragkar Lobsang Choekyi Nyima Rinpoche, who had spent many years in prison during China's Cultural Revolution.

Exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has also conducted the event—a complex Buddhist ritual including formal blessings, initiations, and advanced meditation instructions—more than 30 times outside Tibet.

Tibetan residents of Gepasumdo county applied last year for formal permission to hold the event, but were refused, a resident of the area told RFA’s Tibetan Service this week.

“They applied again this year but received no clear guidance in reply, and went ahead with plans for the event, hoping they would be allowed to proceed,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Kalachakra ceremony in Gepasumdo county began on July 17 when several thousand monks and lay ...

Adult Anxieties Over Young Adult Fiction Endure

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

speakEvery once in a while, some blogger or columnist garners a lot of pageviews 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 it by playing killing games on their consoles and watching endless serial killer stuff on TV. So why not in children’s books too? How else are publishers going to compete and make a ...

‘Editor & Publisher’ Article Overlooks Supreme Court Precedent

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Sandy Davidson wrote for Editor & Publisher last week to criticize free speech advocates who argue that the First Amendment should protect university newspapers just as it protects private newspapers. FIRE is, of course, among such free speech advocates, and it is disappointing to see Davidson, a professor at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism and School of Law, support censorship and take such a narrow view of freedom of the press.

Davidson’s article, though, displays more than just a failure to appreciate the principles of free speech that might guide a moral analysis of this issue. It overlooks important Supreme Court precedent—rulings that public universities are legally bound to follow.

Davidson starts by asking and answering her own misleading question:

What does First Amendment freedom of the press mean, freedom to write anything one wants, whether it be inaccurate, libelous, invasive of privacy, offensive, or just plain stupid? Unbridled freedom!

Readers should be extremely skeptical of anyone who starts a pro-censorship argument by implying that free speech advocates are trying to defend even those categories of speech that the Supreme Court has ruled are unprotected—e.g., libel. But to be clear, the First Amendment does protect the freedom to ...

Victory for Fair Use and Consumer Choice: Ninth Circuit Rejects Networks’ Appeal in Fox v. Dish.

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

In a crucial ruling today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed that a major TV network can't use copyright to limit consumer choice.

You are now free to hop.

Last year, Fox Broadcasting Company, with the support of other broadcast networks, sued Dish for its "Hopper" DVR and its "Auto Hop" feature, which automatically skips over commercials.  According to the Fox, the Hopper automatically records eight days' worth of prime time programming on the four major networks that subscribers can play back on request. Beginning a few hours after the broadcast, viewers can choose to watch a program without ads.  As we observed when the it started, this litigation was yet another in a long and ignominious series of efforts by content owners to use copyright law to control the features of personal electronic devices, and to capture for themselves the value of new technologies no matter who invents them.

Happily, this effort has been unsuccessful. In November 2012, the district refused to enjoin Dish’s operation.  The court found that (1) Dish can’t be held directly liable for the conduct of its customers (according to the volitional conduct doctrine, the person who causes the copy to be made ...

In Troubling Opinion, Federal Judge Dismisses Free Speech Lawsuit Against Oakland University

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Yesterday, Judge Patrick Duggan of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan dismissed former student Joe Corlett’s free speech lawsuit against Oakland University in a deeply flawed opinion (PDF) that has broad and troubling implications for free speech on campus. 

While there is much to be said about this opinion, for now I want to briefly highlight its two most troubling aspects. First, the judge held that non-academic discipline (e.g., conduct code charges) is an acceptable response to speech deemed inappropriate for a classroom setting. Second, in deciding this case—which involves an adult college student—the judge relied heavily on cases involving the free speech rights of elementary and secondary schoolchildren. 

We understand that Corlett’s expression in this case—entries in his creative writing journal expressing his sexual attraction to his creative writing instructor—is unlikely to garner much sympathy. But even unsympathetic speech is protected by the First Amendment, and the university’s actions in this case go far beyond giving Corlett a poor grade or even asking that he transfer to a different writing class. In this case, the university charged him with “Unlawful Individual Activity” and suspended him for three semesters, during which time he was physically ...

Save the Date: Barbara Perry to Speak on Her Recently Published Biography of Rose Kennedy

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013


On August 28, 2013 at 11:00 AM, longtime friend of the Thomas Jefferson Center Barbara Perry will speak on her recently published biography, “Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch.” Perry will be speaking at Charlottesville’s The Miller Center.  The event is free and open to the public but seats are awarded on a first come, first served basis.

In her compelling and intimate portrait, Perry captures Rose Kennedy’s essential contributions to the incomparable Kennedy dynasty. This biography—the first to draw on an invaluable cache of Rose’s newly released diaries and letters—unearths the complexities behind the impeccable persona she showed the world. The woman who emerges in these pages is a fascinating character: savvy about her family’s reputation and resilient enough to persevere through the unfathomable tragedies that befell her. Perry is senior fellow and associate professor in the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program and is a well-known scholar of the U.S. Supreme Court and the American presidency. A book signing will follow her Forum.


Summer of Transparency: The Public’s Right to Know Prevails in Two Courts and the California Legislature

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Open-government advocates have much to celebrate this summer, particularly in California where three EFF-involved efforts have resulted in conclusive victories for the public’s right to know what their government is up to.

In two lawsuits—one before the California Supreme Court and another before a federal judge in San Francisco—the courts rejected outlandish government secrecy claims. Last month, transparency activists and media outlets in California also successfully defeated legislation that would have gutted the state’s transparency laws.

Upheld: Public’s Right to Access Information, Regardless of its Electronic Format

In early July, the California Supreme Court unanimously upheld (pdf) the public’s right to access public records maintained by the government, regardless of the electronic format in which they are stored.

At issue in Sierra Club v. County of Orange, which we blogged about previously here, was Orange County’s GIS-compatible parcel database—a collection of public-property information, formatted for the creation of maps that scientists, journalists and public interest organizations, like Sierra Club, use to present data in new and illuminating ways.

Orange County conceded that the information that comprised the database was public information that must be disclosed in paper format. But county officials balked at disclosure of the digitized information ...

Call To Put Human Rights at Front and Center of US-Vietnam Summit

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

U.S. President Barack Obama has received a deluge of requests from lawmakers, families of detained dissidents, and nongovernmental organizations to put human rights at the front and center of his talks with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang on Thursday.

But Sang, the second Vietnamese head of state to visit the White House since the former foes resumed relations nearly two decades ago, has said that concerns over human rights abuses in Vietnam should not dampen closer military and economic ties with the Southeast Asian nation.

"With almost 50 human rights defenders jailed this year alone and the government of Vietnam cracking down on freedoms of expression, assembly and association, we hope that you will take this meeting as an opportunity to stand up for the people of Vietnam," the families of 35 key political prisoners said in a letter  to Obama this week.

They said that their loved ones had peacefully advocated for human rights and social justice in the interest of Vietnam, but for their efforts "they were violently arrested and interrogated, denied a fair trial, and are now arbitrarily detained."

"They are shut off from the outside world: refused family visitations, given paltry food and water, and denied ...

Today, Congress Votes on an Amendment to Defund Domestic Spying: Here’s How You Can Help

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

There’s a fight brewing in Washington around NSA surveillance, and pro-privacy Representatives from both parties are taking the battle to the budget. The House is gearing up for a vote on the Defense Appropriations Bill (basically, the budget for the Department of Defense) and a bipartisan coalition of Representatives will be introducing a novel amendment that attempts to strike at funding for one type of particularly egregious surveillance power of the NSA.

EFF thinks this amendment is an important step in curbing the NSA's domestic surveillance and urges concerned citizens to call immediately to voice your support. You can call your Representative (look up your Representative by zip code here, or find the phone number here) or you can use the easy call-in tool at Defund the NSA, which lets you look up your Representative by zip code and gives you a sample script for the call.

Reps. Justin Amash, John Conyers, Jr., Thomas Massie, Mick Mulvaney, and Jared Polis are proposing an amendment that would curtail funding for the implementation of orders under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act unless the order is explicitly limited in scope.

The new limitation reads (emphasis added):

This Order ...

Myanmar Releases Scores of Political Prisoners

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Myanmar President Thein Sein ordered the release Tuesday of more than 70 jailed political prisoners following a pledge made last week in London that there would be “no prisoners of conscience” left in the formerly military-ruled country by the end of year.

“We have been informed by the Department of Prisons that they released 73 political prisoners on Thein Sein’s orders,” presidential adviser Hla Maung Shwe told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“There are now less than 100 remaining political prisoners in Myanmar for the first time in many years.”

Aung Min, a minister in Thein Sein’s office who negotiated a tenuous peace deal between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in May after two years of hostilities, said that more than two dozen of the prisoners released were from Kachin state.

“The president released about 70 prisoners including 26 from Kachin state,” he said from the regional capital Myitkyina.

Aung Min personally escorted well-known Kachin political prisoner Brang Shawng, who was sentenced to two years in prison last week under the Unlawful Association Act for his alleged role in the KIA, back to his home Tuesday from Myitkyina Prison.

Tin Maung Oo, of the Former Political Prisoner Organization in ...

EFF to Court: Forced Decryption Unconstitutional

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

You shouldn't have to surrender your constitutional rights in order to safeguard your electronic privacy.  In a new amicus brief we filed today, we told a federal court in Wisconsin that ordering a man to decrypt the contents of computers seized from his apartment would violate the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

The case involves the FBI's attempts to decrypt the contents of more than ten storage devices and hard drives found in the apartment of Jeffrey Feldman in the course of a child pornography investigation. After spending months trying to decrypt the drives, the government applied for a court order forcing Feldman to provide the government with the decrypted contents of the drives.

The Fifth Amendment protects a person from being "compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." The question here is whether forcing Feldman to decrypt the contents of the computer drives is "testimony" that is protected by the Constitution. The issue ultimately boils down to whether the government is forcing him to reveal the contents of his mind and communicate a fact to the government it doesn't already know. If so, then the Fifth Amendment applies and the only way the government can ...

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Challenged Again

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

wallflowerIf you’re experiencing déjà vu right now, don’t worry because we are too! Just over a month after The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky was restored to classrooms in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, the popular teen novel’s inclusion on a school reading list has again been challenged, this time by the mother of a 9th grader in Tampa, Florida. In a letter to officials at Wharton High School, Lori Derrico says that her daughter “lost a big chunk of innocence” by reading the book and asks that it be removed from the summer reading list for incoming freshmen.

Although there was an alternate reading assignment available — John Knowles’ A Separate Peace, which has seen its own share of challenges since being published in 1959 — this was not made clear on the school’s website, where the reading list was posted. Nevertheless, Derrico says that Perks shouldn’t even be an option because it deals with sexual situations and drug use. In her letter, she asked:

What happened to To Kill a Mockingbird, The Secret Life of Bees, Life of Pi, The Great Gatsby, The Giver, or Three Cups of Tea ...

A Recap of FIRE’s 2013 Campus Freedom Network Conference

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Aaron Coven is a FIRE summer intern.

In the same week that the First Amendment Center (FAC) released a study that noted the “significant increase in those who claimed that the First Amendment goes too far in protecting individual rights,” including 47% of those surveyed between 18 and 30 years old, FIRE hosted its sixth annual Campus Freedom Network (CFN) Conference at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. While the FAC’s findings are disheartening, one may find solace in the fact that this year’s CFN conference was the highest attended yet, with more than seventy students traveling from across the country (including several students coming all the way from California!) to attend the event. I found it particularly interesting to see the variety of students who attended the conference; some were non-traditional students, while others had only just graduated high school, or were in the midst of a gap year and had not yet begun their college careers. However, despite their varying backgrounds, all of the students enjoyed the extensive programming organized by FIRE’s Jaclyn Hall and Emily Buck.

This year, conference attendees were treated to a wide variety of sessions: FIRE staff members gave lectures ...

Congress and the Justice Dept’s Dangerous Attempts to Define “Journalist” Threaten to Exclude Bloggers

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Lawmakers in Washington are again weighing in on who should and should not qualify as a journalist—and the outcome looks pretty grim for bloggers, freelancers, and other non-salaried journalists.

On July 12, the Justice Department released its new guidelines on investigations involving the news media in the wake of the fallout from the leak scandals involving the monitoring of AP and Fox News reporters. While the guidelines certainly provide much-needed protections for establishment journalists, as independent journalist Marcy Wheeler explained, the DOJ’s interpretation of who is a “member[] of the news media” is dramatically narrower than the definition provided in the Privacy Protection Act and effectively excludes bloggers and freelancers from protection. This limiting definition is causing alarm among bloggers like Glenn Reynolds on the right as well.

While the DOJ’s effort to limit the scope of who can be recognized as a journalist is problematic, it doesn’t have teeth. Guidelines are, well, guidelines. But the report is part of a broader legislative effort in Washington to simultaneously offer protection for the press while narrowing the scope of who is afforded it. Importantly, Congress introduced federal shield bills in May—both ironically named the “Free Flow of Information Act ...

The Perceived Conflict Between Diversity and Free Speech

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Daniel Chapman is a FIRE summer intern.

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has made headlines after releasing a “blueprint” for campus sexual misconduct policies that broadly redefines sexual harassment, ostensibly under OCR’s authority to enforce Title IX. Administrators are now presented with a choice between upholding the First Amendment or abridging free speech in order to avoid investigations, fines, and potentially loss of federal funding. This isn’t the first time OCR has put administrators in this sort of dilemma over Title IX, and the restriction of protected speech in the name of complying with supposed statutory obligations is not limited to Title IX.

Universities have an obligation to comply not only with Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, but also with Title II, which bans discrimination based on disability, and Title VI, which forbids discrimination on the basis of race. Efforts to comply with Title IX have typically involved promoting gender equality and addressing sexual misconduct on campus, while Title VI compliance efforts often take the form of programs to promote diversity.

In recent years diversity has become a buzzword in higher education. Offices and training programs having to do with diversity ...

Cambodia’s Election Panel Rejects Sam Rainsy Request to Contest Polls

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Cambodia’s National Election Committee on Monday rejected a request by opposition leader Sam Rainsy to register to vote and contest the country’s polls next week following his return from self-imposed exile to a rapturous welcome.

Sam Rainsy, head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), wrote a letter to NEC President Im Suosdey on Sunday requesting that he be added to voter registration and candidate lists after receiving a pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni for convictions he claims were politically motivated.

“Based on this request and the King’s amnesty dated July 12, I would like his Excellency to seek any the possibility of including my name on the official voting list and also include my name in the CNRP candidate list for the election dated July 28, 2013,” Sam Rainsy wrote in the letter, which was also copied to King Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The opposition leader had spent four years abroad to avoid jail time for the convictions, but returned last week to Phnom Penh after being granted amnesty by the King at Hun Sen’s request and was greeted by tens of thousands of supporters.

The NEC said on his return that he could not contest the ...

New Crackdown by China on Dalai Lama Photos

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Chinese authorities in Tibetan-populated counties in Qinghai province are placing new restrictions on the display of photos of the Dalai Lama, searching personal vehicles and beating and detaining those who resist the photos’ confiscation, Tibetan sources say.

The move follows reports in June of a relaxation on the ban of images of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader in Qinghai and neighboring Sichuan. The reports were rejected by Chinese authorities, saying there will be no softening in the ruling Chinese Communist Party's "struggle" against the Dalai Lama.

“On July 15, the police were stopping all vehicles in the Yulshul [in Chinese, Yushu] area and checking for photos of the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa,” another senior Tibetan religious figure, a local resident told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“Photos of Buddhist protector deities were also confiscated,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Those who tried to resist were severely beaten up,” he said.

“These days, all vehicles owned by common Tibetans are being stopped by the police and searched for photos of the Dalai Lama,” a U.S.-based Tibetan named Lobsang Sangye told RFA, citing contacts in the region.

“If they find any photos of the Dalai Lama, those are confiscated,” he ...

Momentum Continues on the Hill with Two New Patent Reform Bills

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Traditionally, D.C. slows down over the summer months. This year, that is not the case with patent reform. Two new bills have already been introduced since Congress returned from its July 4th recess.

The first, a comprehensive bill called the Patent Litigation and Innovation Act, was introduced by Reps. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). It includes many of the types of reforms we've been talking about, such as:

  • Heightened pleading: Requiring patent holders to explicitly make its case when it files by specifying which patents and claims are at issue, as well as exactly what products allegedly infringe and how. It also requires patent holders to remove the veil of secrecy and specifically identify who is behind the action—not just the patent's owner, but everyone who stands to financially benefit. This kind of transparency is long overdue, and we are encouraged to see it in the proposal.
  • Protection of end users: Allowing an "interested party"—such as the manufacturer or supplier of equipment—to intervene on behalf of its customers. More importantly, upon request, any underlying case against the consumer would be stayed, essentially put on hold, until the "interested party" finished its case. While this type of protection ...

KC Johnson on Biased Journalism in Sexual Assault Cases

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Writing for Minding the Campus yesterday, Brooklyn College professor KC Johnson criticized the trend of journalists effectively presuming guilt of those accused of sexual assault in order to protect the feelings of their accusers. In his article, Johnson takes a close look at a Columbia Journalism Review piece by Alexis Sobel Fitts in which she directs journalists on the “right way to write about rape” while using problematic language herself:

Fitts ... offers the following advice to reporters: "Make sure your story won't compromise the safety of the survivor. Also consider the perpetrator, especially if he or she hasn't been convicted." How can an accused person be a "perpetrator" if he "hasn't been convicted"? The CJR doesn't explain. And does Fitts belief that the mere filing of a criminal complaint (or, in the case of most college allegations, not even filing a criminal complaint at all) transforms an accuser into a "survivor"?

Read the rest of Johnson’s critique at Minding the Campus and see what Fitts herself had to say on Columbia Journalism Review’s website.

SDCC 2013: Sunday Events with CBLDF

Sunday, July 21st, 2013


CBLDF’s Banned Comics Jam!
Sunday, July 21 • 12:15pm – 1:45pm • Room 5AB
Celebrate Banned Comics with Jeffrey Brown (Darth Vader and Son), Chris Burnham (Batman Incorporated), Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise), Tim Seeley (Hack/Slash), and special guests who will create live art, paying homage to the cartoonists, authors and characters who’ve created the great banned books of our time. Some of the greatest authors have been banned, from Judy Blume and Neil Gaiman to Alan Moore and Mark Twain. Join the CBLDF and these great creators as they talk censorship and make once-in-a-lifetime art about the banned greats! Get a chance to watch live art made before your eyes, learn about censorship, and bid to win the pieces made here to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.


3:00 p.m.: Lee Moyer

Teenage Monk Burns Himself to Death Crying for Tibetan Freedom

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

A Tibetan teenage monk burned himself to death Saturday after shouting slogans for Tibetan freedom in a restive county in China's Sichuan province where authorities have imposed among the tightest controls to check self-immolation protests, according to local residents.

Konchok Sonam, 18, torched himself outside his Thangkor Soktsang monastery in Dzoege (in Chinese, Ruo’ergai) county in the Ngaba (Aba) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture after morning prayers, in the first Tibetan self-immolation in five weeks, the residents said.

Hundreds of Tibetans have gathered at the monastery in support of monks from the institution who prevented Chinese authorities from taking away his body, they said.

“He self-immolated and died between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. after crying for Tibetan freedom," a Dzoege resident told RFA's Tibetan Service.

"The Chinese authorities insisted on taking possession of his body but the monks of the monastery refused to comply," the resident said. "People have flocked to the monastery in sympathy with the self-immolator and to support the monastery, which has 300 monks."

The deadly burning protest by Konchok Sonam, from Thangkor village in Dzoege brought to 121 the total number of self-immolations since the wave of burnings began in February 2009 in protest against Chinese rule ...

SDCC 2013: Saturday Events with CBLDF

Saturday, July 20th, 2013


Manga-is-not-a-crime-300x300CBLDF Presents: Defending Manga
Saturday, July 20 • 12:00pm – 1:00pm • Room 30CDE
For those in the know, manga is a powerful form of storytelling that has its roots in Japan but reaches out to speak to the inner life of audiences all over the world. Unfortunately, manga is also one of the most misunderstood forms of expression in the modern cultural landscape, and for librarians, educators, and aficionados looking to share their passion for this amazing medium, overcoming those misunderstandings can be a daunting task. Comic Book Legal Defense Fund executive director Charles Brownstein is joined by experts to discuss the history of manga, its genre and demographic categories, and the issues affecting its readers in a panel that will provide audience members with more tools to defend this amazing category against uninformed attacks.

CBLDF’s Comics on Trial, Part 3: War on Thought Crime: How Artists and Readers Are Prosecuted For Comics
Saturday, July 20 • 1:00pm – 2:00pm • Room 30CDE
In 1994, a Florida jury convicted cartoonist Mike Diana of creating obscene material in his hand-made zine Boiled Angel. As part of his sentence he was forbidden from drawing in his own home. ...

Pioneer Award Nominations Are Now Open

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

Nominations are now open for EFF’s 22nd Annual Pioneer Awards, to be presented on September 19th in San Francisco. EFF established the Pioneer Awards in 1992 to recognize leaders on the electronic frontier who are extending freedom and innovation in the realm of information technology. Nominations will be open until Thursday, August 1st. Nominate the next Pioneer Award winner today!

What does it take to be a Pioneer? There are no specific categories, but nominees must have contributed substantially to the health, growth, accessibility, or freedom of computer-based communications. Their contributions may be technical, social, legal, academic, economic or cultural. This year’s pioneers will join an esteemed group of past award winners that include World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, security expert Bruce Schneier, open source advocate Mozilla Foundation, and privacy rights activist Beth Givens.

Remember, nominations are due no later than midnight on Thursday, August 1st! Then, after you nominate your favorites, we hope you will join us on September 19th at The Lodge at the Regency Center in San Francisco to celebrate the work of this year’s winners. Tickets are available now.

Barrett Brown Prosecution Threatens Right to Link, Could Criminalize Routine Journalism Practices

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Twitter was abuzz yesterday when an unknown person published what was alleged to be a group of passwords for the email accounts of Congressional staffers. Multiple journalists, including reporters from the Daily Beast and Buzzfeed, commented on the list while linking to it.

While one would assume linking to the list is a First Amendment-protected activity—given the journalists had nothing to do with stealing the passwords—Barrett Brown is currently under indictment, in part, for remarkably similar behavior. And if he is convicted, it could have dire consequences for press freedom.

Brown, who has written for Vanity Fair and the Guardian among other publications, started a website called “Project PM” in 2009, which crowdsourced public information about security contractors who worked with government agencies like the NSA. Part of what Brown and other Project PM users investigated were leaked emails from security contractors like HB Gary and Stratfor.

Now, it’s important to note that, despite his fascination with Anonymous, Brown has never been accused of participating in any hacking. In fact, he lacks the expertise to even do so. Northwestern professor Peter Ludlow described what happened after Stratfor emails were leaked online by Anonymous: “When the contents of the ...

Walter Olson Tackles the ‘Blueprint’

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Last week on The Torch we recommended checking out Cato Institute Senior Fellow Walter Olson’s article in Commentary on the historical context and future repercussions of the Departments of Education and Justice’s May 9 “blueprint” for campus sexual harassment policies. Previously subscription-only, the article is now available for free on Commentary’s website and is still well worth a read.

State Courts Join State Lawmakers in Demanding Warrants for Location Information

Friday, July 19th, 2013

We've all heard a lot in the last month about the government's flimsy excuse for the NSA's massive collection of telephone and Internet metadata: that this sensitive information is somehow just "business records" that don't require a warrant for government access.  That same argument has been used by the government to also justify the warrantless collection of cell site data -- the mobile company's record of which tower your phone connects to -- despite the fact that these records can reveal enormous amounts of information about where you go and with whom.

Thankfully, we're seeing some significant strides to put this dangerous idea to rest.

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled this week that under the state's constitution police need a search warrant before tracking a person's location through their cell phone. This follows on the heels of a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision in June that found the state's constitution prohibited extensive GPS monitoring of an individual -- regardless of whether they are the driver or passenger of a car -- unless police obtained a search warrant. State legislatures are acting too; Montana recently became the first state to require police get a search warrant by statute before tracking ...

A Third of Americans Believe First Amendment Goes Too Far

Friday, July 19th, 2013

The Newseum Institute released the results of their annual survey about the First Amendment this week, revealing a disturbing statistic: 34% of the people surveyed believe the First Amendment goes too far.

Sponsored by the First Amendment Center, the Newseum Institute has conducted the survey annually since 1997 to gauge public perception of the First Amendment and the rights it guarantees. This year’s results represent a huge increase over last year, when only 13% of respondents stated that the First Amendment goes too far.

First Amendment Center President Ken Paulson responded to the survey results, citing the need for more education about the First Amendment:

“It’s unsettling to see a third of Americans view the First Amendment as providing too much liberty,” said Paulson, who also is the dean of the College of Mass Communication at Middle Tennessee State University. “This underscores the need for more First Amendment education. If we truly understand the essential role of these freedoms in a democracy, we’re more likely to protect them,” Paulson said.

Despite the large number of people who are opposed to the scope of freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, 47% cited freedom of speech as the most important of our ...

FIRE’s Largest Student Conference Yet Begins Today!

Friday, July 19th, 2013

FIRE’s 2013 Campus Freedom Network Conference begins today! Students from across the country are heading to Bryn Mawr College for FIRE’s largest CFN Conference yet. The conference will kick off this evening with a meet and greet followed by an address from noted author and news analyst Juan Williams. 

Tomorrow, attendees have a packed day with talks from FIRE staff on student rights and break-out sessions on topics such as “Your FIRE Case: Knowing When You Have One, Documenting it, and Publicizing it,” and “Student Media, Campus Newspapers, and the First Amendment.” Students will also hear from Robert Corn-Revere, an expert in First Amendment law and the lead counsel for Hayden Barnes in Barnes v. Zaccari, a federal civil rights case with major implications for student rights on campus. After dinner, attendees will hear from journalist Megan McArdle of Bloomberg and get to know their fellow free speech-loving counterparts at a reception. 

Sunday kicks off with a program, “Free Speech in Jeopardy!,” created and run by FIRE’s summer interns, followed by a panel discussion with students who have successfully fought censorship on their own campuses. After a closing luncheon, students will head home armed with the tools ...

SDCC 2013: Friday Events with CBLDF

Friday, July 19th, 2013


RasingaReaderCoverCBLDF: Raising a Reader
Friday, July 19 • 12:00pm – 1:00pm • Room 30CDE
An all-star panel of kids comics creators and educators discuss ways to get children excited about reading, encourage creativity, and cultivate a love of literature using great graphic novels and comics. Panelists include Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm (Babymouse), Kazu Kibuishi (Amulet), Raina Telgemeier (Smile), Dave Roman (AstronautAcademy), Alex Fajardo (Peanuts), Charles Brownstein (CBLDF), and Meryl Jaffe (Johns Hopkins University). Q&A to follow.

CBLDF’s Comics on Trial, Part 2: Counter Attacks: How Prosecution of Retailers Changed the History of Comics
Friday, July 19 • 1:00pm – 2:00pm • Room 30CDE
In 1970 two Manhattan bookstore clerks were arrested and convicted of selling obscene material for Zap #4, featuring work by R. Crumb, Spain and other underground greats. Later in that decade, convention promoter and high school English teacher Phil Seuling was busted for selling a book in the same series, hastening a chain of events that would create the comics specialty market, where the CBLDF has been defending retailers since 1986. Learn the true story of how retailers have been prosecuted for selling ...

Beijing Social Think-Tank Shut Down Amid Crackdown

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Authorities in the Chinese capital have closed down a non-government think-tank amid an ongoing clampdown on rights activists, rights groups said.

Dozens of municipal civil affairs bureau officials and police searched the offices of the Transition Institute on Social Economic Research in Beijing, confiscating its publications and issuing it with an abolition order, the institute's director Guo Yusan said in an interview.

"About 20 people showed up from the civil affairs bureau and shut down the institute," Guo said. "The reason is that we allegedly didn't register."

"But in fact, we did set up as a company."

Guo said officials had confiscated more than 600 copies of institute publications.

He said the move had come with no official warning: "This was a sudden attack," he said.

The Institute is closely allied to the now-banned Gongmeng public interest and civil rights group, which has provided legal support to activists campaigning for political representation, land rights, migrant rights and other reforms.

The Institute was also a vocal supporter of blind Shandong activist Chen Guangcheng before his escape from nearly two years of house arrest in April 2012.

Widening crackdown

The banning of the institute comes soon after the detention of leading anti-graft ...

U. of Montana Deadline Passes: Where Are the New Policies?

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Those who oppose the Departments of Education and Justice’s May 9 “blueprint” for campus sexual harassment policies may recall that the University of Montana (UMT) was instructed in its resolution agreement with the Departments to adopt revised sexual misconduct policies by July 15 (PDF).

As far as we at FIRE can tell, there are no signs that UMT has met this deadline for policy implementation. Perhaps most critically for purposes of preserving students’ rights, the sexual harassment policy on UMT’s website is the old one, which means that even if UMT administrators have written a new policy and intend to enforce it, students have no notice of the standards by which they will be judged.

Further, despite indications nearly a month ago that UMT had already drafted a new policy, FIRE has been unable to obtain a copy of such a draft, deepening our suspicion about whether it could achieve the impossible: compliance with both the Departments’ letter and with the First Amendment, as UMT General Counsel Lucy France has promised.

As always, check back to The Torch for updates; in the meantime, rest assured that the passage of this deadline has not escaped our notice.

Police Raid Cutting-Edge Film School in Beijing

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Students at a cutting-edge independent film school in Beijing were recently hauled aboard buses and ordered back to their hometowns, in what is believed to be part of a wider crackdown on independent film festivals and filmmakers, sources at the school said.

"This year, there was a sudden crackdown on the day the students enrolled for class," an employee at the Li Xianting Film School said in an interview.

"They forced the students to get onto on buses and took them to a guest-house under their control, and then they sent them back [to their hometowns]," said the employee, who gave only her surname, Fan.

She said the school, which is funded by the Li Xianting Film Foundation along with the Beijing Independent Film Festival (BIFF), was no stranger to harassment from the authorities.

"They have always put obstacles in the way of our film festival," Fan said. "It runs into trouble every year... But not actually the film school [until now]."

She said the students had refused to promise the authorities to return home and that the film school would continue in a secret location to avoid further official harassment.

Hotbed of talent

The BIFF and the school are ...

The Bluest Eye Challenged in Colorado School District

Friday, July 19th, 2013

The Bluest EyeOne of the most frequently challenged and banned books of the past decade is again under fire, as some parents in Adams County, Colorado, have launched an online petition asking their school district to remove Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and other unidentified books from high school reading lists. In response, current and former students from the district also started their own petition to retain the books and protect the free expression of teachers and students.

The Bluest Eye, which is used in advanced placement English classes in the Adams 12 Five Star School District, deals with difficult issues including rape and incest. Students who prefer not to read it have the option of completing an alternate assignment, but the parents who want it removed from classrooms say that’s not enough: One petition signatory called the book “trash literature,” while another claimed that “[r]eading about this could promote the act instead of preventing it.” (“The act” presumably being rape, which most students have surely heard of sometime before taking AP English.)

One student who actually did choose not to read the book for religious reasons, however, signed the counter-petition to keep it in classrooms, saying:

I did not ...

Tibetan Monk Jailed 10 Years, Blamed for Self-Immolation Deaths

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Chinese authorities have sentenced a Tibetan monk to 10 years in jail in Qinghai province after blaming him for three deadly Tibetan self-immolation protests against Chinese rule, according to sources.

Tsultrim Kalsang, 25, from the Zilkar Monastery in Dzatoe (in Chinese, Zaduo) county in the Yulshul (Yushu) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, was sentenced for "triple homicide" by the Intermediate People’s Court in Ziling (Xining) prefecture last week, the sources said.

He was among four monks from the Zilkar Monastery first detained in September last year for "political reasons or on suspicion of having 'outside contacts,'" a Tibetan source told RFA's Tibetan Service.

Homicide charges are "used frequently by the Chinese authorities to crack down on self-immolation protests and to persecute critics of Chinese policy in Tibet," according to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), based in Dharamsala, India.

A total of 120 Tibetans have self-immolated in protest against Chinese rule since the wave of fiery protests began in February 2009.

Chinese authorities have recently tightened controls in Tibetan-populated areas in a bid to check the self-immolation protests, arresting and jailing more than a dozen Tibetans who they accuse of being linked to the burning protests. Some have been ...

FIRE Seeks Program Associate for Campus Outreach!

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network is growing steadily in size and impact—more students are attending the CFN Conference this year than ever before, and FIRE’s goal of educating students about their rights on campus has never been more critical. To help in its efforts, FIRE is hiring a Program Associate for Campus Outreach, who will join Program Officer Emily Buck in building relationships with student activist groups, recruiting new CFN members, and educating students about the importance of free speech and how to defend student rights on campus. The Program Associate will also help coordinate the CFN Conference each summer and represent FIRE at other conferences throughout the year.

If you’re detail-oriented and thrive in a fast-paced work environment, if you work magic with social media and are a persuasive advocate, and most importantly if you believe in FIRE’s mission to protect individual rights on campus, apply to be FIRE’s Program Associate for Campus Outreach! Check out the full position description for more details.

What Will Japan’s Entry Into TPP Mean for Internet Users?

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement threatens the rights of Internet users in all its potential signatories, from Peru to Canada to the United States. This week as part of the 18th round of meetings in Kota Kinabulu, Malaysia, a new country, Japan, officially joins the negotiations. Japan is arriving late to the TPP table, but its participation already risks making Japanese law harsher while demolishing the hard-won victories of copyright reformers in the country.

Japan has its fair share of severe copyright laws. Those who upload unauthorized copyrighted content can face up to 10 years in prison or approximately $125,000 in fines. Last year, the Japanese government passed a copyright bill that created criminal penalties for downloading and simply viewing copyrighted materials. A charge for infringement can now result in a two-year prison sentence or close to a $25,000 fine. The same bill criminalized the circumvention of DRM, leading to approximately $30,000 in fines or a 3-year prison sentence for publishing anti-circumvention tools or methods that strip DRM off digital content.

In order to track which users are downloading “pirated” materials, the Recording Industry Association of Japan pressured ISPs to install spying technologies that will ...

Who Has Your Back? Companies Demand Transparency Around Government Data Requests

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

EFF has joined a broad coalition of technology companies and other civil liberties groups in demanding that online services be allowed to report for the first time complete information about the government’s requests for user data. In a letter addressed to President Barack Obama, Congressional leaders, and top intelligence officials, over 50 organizations laid out the need for more transparency around national security requests. 

This letter comes after last month's revelations about previously classified National Security Agency datamining programs have shed new light on when the government can issue requests for user data that companies are not allowed to disclose.

In particular, no company has been allowed to reveal to users or in transparency reports complete information about National Security Letters, Section 702 FISA requests, and Section 215 business records requests.

These restrictions present a complication for the conclusions in EFF's annual "Who Has Your Back?" report. While the report still provides a comparison of different online companies' commitments to transparency about their interactions with law enforcement, we now know that these transparency reports paint an incomplete picture.

So to build on the information in "Who Has Your Back?" EFF, along with every one of the companies that ...

House Judiciary Committee Rails Against Domestic Spying

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

The House Judiciary Committee's hearing on the government's unconstitutional spying provided the Obama Administration with a marvelous opportunity to answer Congress’s questions about abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, the laws being used by the government to order phone companies provide the calling information from every American's calling information. Representatives from both parties grilled the government’s witnesses about the spying, the lack of transparency, the violation of the law, and the violation of the Fourth Amendment. Sadly, the witnesses were caught off guard, unable to answer questions, and hid behind secrecy.

"You've Already Violated the Law"

Many of the representatives were incensed the government believes it has the legal authority to collect every American's calling information without violating the law or the Constitution. A core issue is the government's use of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. Section 215 allows the government to obtain "any tangible thing" to be obtained by the government if "relevant" to an authorized national security investigation. In his introduction, Rep. John Conyers spoke plainly of the abuses, noting:

"We never—at any point during this debate—approved the type of unchecked, sweeping surveillance of United States citizens."

Rep. ...

Why Doesn’t Skype Include Stronger Protections Against Eavesdropping?

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Skype has long claimed to be "end-to-end encrypted", an architectural category that suggests conversations over the service would be difficult or impossible to eavesdrop upon, even given control of users' Internet connections. But Skype's 2005 independent security review admits a caveat to this protection: "defeat of the security mechanisms at the Skype Central Server" could facilitate a "man-in-the-middle attack" (see section 3.4.1). Essentially, the Skype service plays the role of a certificate authority for its users and, like other certificate authorities, could facilitate eavesdropping by giving out the wrong keys.

This security limitation has concerned us for a long time. Last year, Chris Soghoian argued that, for this reason, "Skype is in a position to give the government sufficient data to perform a man in the middle attack against Skype users." Soghoian argued that Skype should change its design to eliminate this ability, or else disclose the risk more prominently. One way of limiting man-in-the-middle attacks would be for Skype to introduce a way for users to do their own encryption key verification, without relying on the Skype service. As Soghoian notes, that's what many other encrypted communications tools do—but such a verification option is missing from ...