Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Judge testifies he felt threatened by N.J. blogger

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

NEW YORK — A federal appeals court judge from Chicago testified yesterday that he felt threatened by a New Jersey blogger's inflammatory Internet tirades over a ruling supporting gun control.

The rant against the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel "was a threat of violence," Judge William Bauer told jurors at a retrial in Brooklyn. "It suggested that the country would be better off if we were killed."

The death threat case against Hal Turner stems from the 7th Circuit panel’s ruling in 2009 by Bauer and two other judges, Frank Easterbrook and Richard Posner, that upheld a district court decision dismissing lawsuits that challenged handgun bans in Chicago and Oak Park, Ill.

On the same day as the 7th Circuit ruling, Turner blasted the decision with a lengthy online post. In one passage, he quoted Thomas Jefferson as saying, "The tree of liberty must be replenished from time to time with the blood of tyrants and patriots," court papers said.

Authorities say Turner then went too far by writing: "Let me be the first to say this plainly: These judges must die. Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty."

Bauer testified that one of his clerks alerted ...

N.Y. governor says Islamic group won’t relocate mosque

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. David Paterson said yesterday that developers of an Islamic cultural center that would include a mosque near the 9/11 ground zero have rejected his offer to help them find a different site.

While in Manhattan, Paterson said the group apparently wanted to remain with its current plans to build near the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, Muslim terrorist attacks.

"I think they would like to stay where they are, and I certainly respect that and I certainly respect them," Paterson said after the group spoke with one of his staff members. "Having said that, how much more foresighted would it have been if the imam who is the developer of the project had been willing to hear what we are actually talking about?"

The mosque, to be located two blocks from ground zero, would be part of a 13-story, $100 million Islamic center that would feature a 500-seat auditorium, a swimming pool and a gym. It's a project of the Cordoba Initiative, an advocacy group that promotes improved relations between Islam and the West.

Critics are suspicious about who will fund the project, and developers haven't released their sources of capital. Opponents also say the ...

Victims of Fla. Ponzi scheme won’t be identified

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A list of victims of a Ponzi scheme operated by a former Fort Lauderdale attorney will not become public.

A federal judge ruled Aug. 10 that the court document be sealed in Scott Rothstein's criminal case.

The U.S. Attorney's Office argued for having the 259 names be kept out of the public file, saying it would cause "severe embarrassment and mental distress" for the victims entitled to $279 million.

This is the latest court action involving money lost in the $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.

Rothstein is serving a 50-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to money laundering and fraud.

Mayor entitled to immunity after man ejected from meeting

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

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The mayor of Cumberland, Md., is entitled to qualified immunity from a suit filed by a man who alleged he was tossed out of a city hall meeting in 2006 on the mayor’s orders, a federal judge has ruled.

William A. Taccino contended that Mayor Lee Fiedler had him ejected from the building by police simply because he was questioning a city policy.

On Oct. 17, 2006, Taccino walked to the podium during a meeting of the mayor and city council at Cumberland City Hall, according to court papers. Mayor Fiedler presided. Taccino, a private citizen (though now running for county office) who often participated in council meetings, raised the issue of insurance coverage for city-owned vehicles operated by off-duty city employees. Taccino said he became concerned after learning of a DUI charge involving an off-duty city employee.

While at the podium, Taccino began talking to the city attorney, Michael Cohen. Fiedler interrupted the conversation and asked Taccino to “please be quiet” and “please sit down.”

Taccino alleges that when the city attorney said something about the DUI in response to Taccino's question, the mayor cautioned Taccino that he was getting into a personal or personnel matter. ...

New Poll Shows Americans Want Less Corporate Influence in Politics

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Last month, we commissioned a poll asking people across the country what they thought of corporate influence in elections and the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United to expand that influence. The results were staggering.

A whopping 85% of voters surveyed said they thought corporations already have too much influence in our political system. 95 % agreed that “Corporations spend money on politics mainly to buy influence in government and elect people who are favorable to their financial interests.” 77% supported a constitutional amendment to allow Congress to limit the amount corporations can spend on elections, and 74% said they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who shared that view.

Yesterday, MoveOn.org released the results [PDF] of a new poll on corporate money in politics, and guess what?

The MoveOn poll found:

  • “79% of voters polled, including 72% of Republicans and 75% of Independents, believe that it’s important that a candidate commit to reducing the influence of corporations over elections”
  • “Almost two out of three voters (60%) disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case. Sixty-seven percent of those would be more likely to support a candidate who backs a constitutional amendment ...

Citizens United and State Laws

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

The Citizens United decision didn’t merely overturn nearly a century of federal laws and precedents; it also threw state campaign finance laws into turmoil. Before Citizens United, 24 states restricted corporate spending in elections. After the Supreme Court invalidated the federal laws governing corporate influence in political campaigns, states started scrambling to prepare for their own campaign finance laws to be struck down. And none too soon: as we’ve mentioned before, legal challenges have already started to bring down some of these state-level laws.

On Monday, Wisconsin’s attorney general formally announced that the state’s campaign finance laws would have to be repealed. A local news station reported that lifting these restrictions could lead to an increase in campaign spending from $30 million last year to $90 million this year. It remains to be seen whether Wisconson, like many of the other states affected by the Supreme Court decision, will enact disclosure laws to lessen the impact of corporate money on elections.

The conservative majority on the Roberts court didn’t just invalidate the anti-corruption measures enacted by our democratically elected Congress. It also limited the ability of state governments to decide for themselves how to regulate their own elections. Wisconsin’s ...

Panel Picker Voting Begins for SXSW 2011: Vote for EFF’s Panels!

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

The panel picking process has begun for SXSW 2011, which runs March 11-20 in Austin, Texas. This is your chance to vote for the panels you want to see at SXSW Music, Film, and Interactive. EFF has proposed several panels this year, including The Epic Fail of BitTorrent Indie Film Lawsuits, Legal Bootcamp: Electronic Privacy Law for Internet Startups, Identity Correction: Fair Use or Fraud?, I Can Has Appz and Privacy Too? and Big Brother on a Big Screen.

SXSW represents one of EFF's greatest opportunities to reach out directly to the filmmakers, writers, musicians, and software engineers who create online content, as well as the fans who want to post, critique, and remix that content. Every vote takes us one step closer to bringing EFF issues to SXSW. Vote now, because voting closes on Friday, August 27th.

In Case You Couldn’t Find Harvard’s Free Speech Policy …

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Yesterday we noticed that Harvard University no longer lists its "Free Speech Guidelines"--Harvard's decades-long promise of free speech--in its usual place. It used to be at http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~secfas/public/FreeSpeech.html in a text-searchable HTML file. In case you were looking for it, the only copy we can find right now on Harvard's website is linked from the bottom of this page in a non-searchable PDF of the 1990 document.

Of course, if you want a searchable version, FIRE still has one online here. Meanwhile, Harvard should immediately fix the many embarrassing broken links now strewn about its site, lest vistors be unable to find the Guidelines. Or, better yet, Harvard could simply repost the document that for some reason was moved or removed.

Publisher, Former Partners Agree to Destroy Personal Information About Gay Customers

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Last month, we wrote about a New Jersey case in which the former publisher of a magazine and dating website for gay youth had declared bankruptcy. He and his former business partners were fighting over ownership of various business assets of XY Magazine and XY.com, including extensive personal information about more than a million customers. XY's privacy policies, however, had promised customers that their personal information would never be given to anybody.

The Federal Trade Commission warned (pdf) that any transfer or further use of the data would not only violate the privacy promises that XY had made to consumers, but would also likely be unlawful under the Federal Trade Commission Act, which prohibits unfair and deceptive acts and practices. The Commission suggested that the data be destroyed, which we agreed would be the best course of action.

We're happy to report that this potential privacy fiasco has ended well for XY's customers. The parties reached an agreement (pdf) under which the publisher is required to destroy all personally identifiable information about XY's customers. He may keep a limited amount of data for a short time to authenticate the identities of customers who have ordered back issues of the ...

University of Texas Police Arrest Man for Standing Around Talking about Politics

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

President Obama was at the University of Texas at Austin on Monday to give a speech and, as expected, the Presidential visit drew the usual complement of protesters and political activists. Among them was John Bush, the executive director of a group called Texans for Accountable Government, along with several others.

A video has been posted to YouTube showing Bush's arrest at the hands of the UT police for what appears to be the crime of standing around on campus talking to students about his political views. Prepare to be appalled by what looks like a total and ridiculous overreaction on the part of the campus police handcuffing and taking away the very reasonable-sounding Bush, whose repeated questions about what law he is supposedly breaking go completely unanswered.

This video picks up right at the beginning of the arrest, so it's not clear whether Bush was engaging in some sort of illegal activity beforehand--but it looks very unlikely. Bush is wearing a press pass and is acting quite calmly, and at no point do the officers appear to have told him what he is supposed to have done wrong and why he is being arrested. Once they find out ...

Julian Bond: In the Kagan Hearings, Echoes of the Past

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Last month, Republican senators turned to a surprising strategy in their questioning of Supreme Court nominee (and now Supreme Court Justice) Elena Kagan. They attempted to smear Kagan by connecting her with a figure who most of us don’t see as a liability—the revered civil rights leader Justice Thurgood Marshall. The attacks Senators Charles Grassley, Jon Kyl, and Jeff Sessions levied at Marshall rang a bell for former NAACP member and People For board member Julian Bond. Bond writes in today’s Des Moines Register:

These attacks didn't surprise me because they're completely consistent with a party locked in the past, echoing the anti-civil rights message of those who opposed Justice Marshall's own confirmation in 1967.

Grassley, Sessions and their fellow Republicans roasted Solicitor General Kagan with the same attacks used against Marshall four decades earlier. Then, the late Sen. Sam Ervin of North Carolina complained about the likelihood that Marshall would be "a judicial activist," which he defined as someone "unable to exercise the self-restraint which is inherent in the judicial process when it is properly understood and applied, and who is willing to add to the Constitution things that are not in it and to subtract from the ...

Are you hosting a Banned Books Week event in your area?

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Banned Books Week 2010 will be held September 25 through October 2. If you plan on hosting an event during this week, please consider promoting it on www.bannedbooksweek.org, a site maintained by the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.  If you would like to enter your event for this site, please fill out this form.  All events will be posted here.

If you will be in Chicago, IL on Saturday, September 25, please consider joining us for the national kick-off of the Banned Books Week Read-Out! More information on this event can be found online here.

A Review of Verizon and Google’s Net Neutrality Proposal

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Efforts to protect net neutrality that involve government regulation have always faced one fundamental obstacle: the substantial danger that the regulators will cause more harm than good for the Internet. The worst case scenario would be that, in allowing the FCC to regulate the Internet, we open the door for big business, Hollywood and the indecency police to exert even more influence on the Net than they do now.

On Monday, Google and Verizon proposed a new legislative framework for net neutrality. Reaction to the proposal has been swift and, for the most part, highly critical. While we agree with many aspects of that criticism, we are interested in the framework's attempt to grapple with the Trojan Horse problem. The proposed solution: a narrow grant of power to the FCC to enforce neutrality within carefully specified parameters. While this solution is not without its own substantial dangers, we think it deserves to be considered further if Congress decides to legislate.

Unfortunately, the same document that proposed this intriguing idea also included some really terrible ideas. It carves out exemptions from neutrality requirements for so-called "unlawful" content, for wireless services, and for very vaguely-defined "additional online services." The definition ...

President signs ‘libel-tourism’ bill

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Aug. 10 signed into law a bill protecting American authors, journalists and publishers from foreign libel judgments that undermine free speech.

Some countries with weak free-speech protections make it easy to sue foreigners for libel — a practice known as “libel tourism.”

Under the new law, H.R. 2765, U.S. federal courts would be prevented from recognizing or enforcing a foreign judgment for defamation that is inconsistent with freedom of speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment. Defendants in foreign cases can obtain a U.S. court order declaring that a foreign judgment would not be enforceable under American law.

N.Y. governor offers help moving ground-zero mosque

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. David Paterson offered state help yesterday if the developers of a mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks agree to move the project farther from the site.

Paterson, a Democrat, said that he doesn’t oppose the project as planned but indicated that he understands where opponents are coming from. He said he was willing to intervene to seek other suitable state property if the developers agreed.

“I think it’s rather clear that building a center there meets all the requirements, but it does seem to ignite an immense amount of anxiety among the citizens of New York and people everywhere, and I think not without cause,” Paterson said in a news conference in Manhattan.

The developers declined to comment. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who last week made an impassioned defense of the project planned for lower Manhattan, declined to comment through a spokesman.

“I am very sensitive to the desire of those who are adamant against it to see something else worked out,” Paterson said.

Paterson said he expects the state Public Service Commission, which must sign off on the Cordoba Initiative’s project, to follow the law and not politics in its review.

...

Minn. appeals court rejects access to absentee votes

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

MINNEAPOLIS — Rejected absentee ballots count as private information under the state's Data Practices Act, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled yesterday, rejecting a TV station's effort to gain access to ballots that were never counted in the state's 2008 U.S. Senate race.

The appeals court reversed a ruling by a Ramsey County judge in a lawsuit brought by KSTP-TV, which was seeking access to thousands of absentee ballots that were rejected and went uncounted in the hotly disputed race. After a protracted recount and court trial, Democrat Al Franken edged Republican incumbent Norm Coleman by 312 votes out of 3 million cast.

The appeals court said the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act unambiguously states that sealed absentee ballots are classified as private data until opened by an election judge, so rejected absentee ballots that have never been opened also count as nonpublic data.

Mark Anfinson, an attorney for KSTP-TV, said the station would appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court and will likely ask the high court for a temporary order to ensure that the unopened ballots are preserved in the meantime.

Anfinson said the TV station disagreed with the Court of Appeals' conclusion that the language on absentee ballots ...

The Blurred Limit of Expression at the Home of the Free Speech Movement

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

To many people, "Berkeley" is synonymous with "protest." Mentioning the University of California, Berkeley often conjures up images of bearded bohemians and flower children peacefully rallying for a "hippie" cause of the past, such as the famous Free Speech Movement of the mid-sixties. Indeed, Berkeley's protest culture has given the university a reputation for being a bastion for freedom of expression, which can be quite attractive to prospective students looking for a unique college experience. I know because I was once one of them. At Berkeley, so I thought, I would be immersed in an Eden of free speech, a liberal's utopia, where all opinions were tolerated.

Unfortunately, I have found this idealistic vision of my university to be more fiction than fact nowadays. While Berkeley's tolerance for free speech (for the most part) lives up to its reputation, my school has also come to tolerate many illiberal and even unlawful actions that make a mockery of the marketplace of ideas.

As University of Wisconsin­-Madison professor Donald Downs pointed out in a recent article (which was also highlighted in a July blog post by Adam), Berkeley has a long history of allowing "free expression" to go too ...

Government Finds Uses for Social Networking Sites Beyond Investigations

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Recent news has made it abundantly clear that the government uses the Internet and social networking sites as tools for investigation. But what’s not clear, and what the government has been reluctant to reveal, is how this information has been collected and utilized. To get answers, EFF, with help from Berkeley Law’s Samuelson Clinic, made a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests asking various law enforcement agencies to disclose documents detailing their use of social networking sites in their investigations. When the government refused to comply with these requests, we went to court to compel them to respond. The latest disclosures from this litigation reveal just some of the ways the government is obtaining and using information from the Internet.

In addition to using this information for law enforcement investigations, the government has been considering using it for all background checks in security clearances. The ODNI has released this study [PDF] from 2008 on the potential of Internet searches in government security clearances. With just a name, address, date of birth, and social security number, government-hired Internet investigators were able to find “noteworthy” search results for as many as 53% of the 349 study participants. “Noteworthy” ...

Blog Round -Up – Literacy

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010
This week’s blog round-up features a potpourri of blogs and commentaries on literacy—for educators and all their students. For younger students: In "Summer Must-Read for Kids? Any Book" (New York Times August 2, 2010), Tara Parker-Pope shares research from two NCTE members at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen ‘s three-year study found that children

NYC Area Volunteers needed

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

The CBLDF is in need of a few volunteers this week to help organize and record our inventory. We need a commitment of 8-16 hours this week, anytime before Sunday.

We have boxes of books that need to be counted, organized and final locations recorded. You’ll be working from a clipboard so clear penmanship is a must.

We will be restocking our books on shelves so warehouse or retail experience is strongly encouraged. Please be able to lift 50-60 lbs and be comfortable on a small ladder.

Please email brady.bonney@cbldf.org or cheyenne.allott@cbldf.org for the volunteer application.

We look forward to working with you!

-The CBLDF Staff

Student in San Luis Obispo ‘Tribune’ Hopeful for Cal Poly’s Future with Next President

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

The Tribune of San Luis Obispo, California, recently published a guest column by Brendan Pringle, a California Polytechnic State University junior and columnist for the Mustang Daily student newspaper. The article remarks on the retirement of long-serving Cal Poly president Warren Baker and looks forward to Cal Poly's future.

Baker's record on free speech is marred by his mishandling of a 2002 incident in which student Steve Hinkle was punished for posting a flier on a public bulletin board to advertise a campus speaker. FIRE defended Hinkle, who won a settlement from Cal Poly. Pringle recounts the Hinkle case and its effect on campus speech:

Although the administration would prefer to erase this incident from its memory, Cal Poly lost $40,000 in attorney fees after trying to punish a student for exercising his right to free speech.

Eight years later, Cal Poly still remains a yellow-light campus in matters of free speech (as rated by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), as current regulations still produce chilling effects for students trying to exercise their First Amendment rights.

You can check out Cal Poly's yellow-light rating here.

Pringle rightly notes that the change in university leadership at Cal Poly offers ...

EFF Urges Supreme Court to Block NASA’s Invasive Background Checks

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Washington, D.C. - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged the United States Supreme Court Monday to uphold an appeals court decision that blocks invasive and unnecessary background checks at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), arguing that the over-collection of personal data puts employees' privacy at risk.

The case was originally filed by federal contract employees working at CalTech's Jet Propulsion Lab, which houses NASA's robotic spacecraft laboratory. The workers were low-risk, by NASA's own admission, and did not work on classified projects. Yet the government instituted sweeping background checks, including a requirement to list three references who were then questioned about the employees' general behavior. NASA said it needed the information to assess "suitability" for government employment, and would check factors like "carnal knowledge," "homosexuality," "cohabitation," and "illegitimate children."

"Many of these CalTech employees have worked at the JPL for decades, but now NASA is asking their references open-ended questions in search of derogatory information," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "This technique is sadly familiar -- in the McCarthy era, federal employees had to disclose personal facts via personnel forms as part of loyalty programs -- and has no place in the United States today."

The ...

East Georgia College Update: Professor Sues over Violation of Free Speech

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Here comes another free speech lawsuit for college officials in the University System of Georgia.

Torch readers likely are aware of the ongoing Valdosta State University (VSU) federal lawsuit, in which a district court has issued an order denying various VSU officials qualified immunity (which means they can be personally sued and held liable for monetary damages) because of their role in the expulsion of student Hayden Barnes, who was peacefully protesting the construction of new parking garages on campus. If you don't remember that case, it's outrageous--so outrageous that the judge in the case agreed that if Barnes' allegations are true, reasonable college officials should have known they were violating his constitutional rights:

Having already determined, for purposes of this motion to dismiss, that Barnes's speech was protected by the First Amendment, the court finds that the defendants were on notice and had fair warning that retaliating against him for his speech and expression against the proposed construction of the parking garage would violate his constitutional rights.

Last Thursday, August 5, a new free speech lawsuit put the President and the Vice President for Legal Affairs of East Georgia College (EGC) in similar danger. As FIRE has been ...

Ky. plaintiffs drop sex-abuse case against Vatican

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Three men who sought to hold the Vatican liable in an American court for sexual abuses by Roman Catholic priests in a Kentucky diocese are abandoning the case.

Lawyers looked to question Pope Benedict XVI under oath but had to leap the high legal hurdle of the Vatican’s sovereign immunity status in the U.S. But plaintiffs filed a motion yesterday asking a federal judge in Louisville to dismiss their claims.

Their attorney, William McMurry, said he was seeking to end the case because of an earlier court ruling that recognized the Vatican’s immunity and failure to turn up new plaintiffs to add to the lawsuit who haven’t yet been involved in a Catholic clergy-abuse case.

“Virtually every child who was abused and will come forward as an adult has come forward and sued a bishop and collected money, and once that happens, it’s over,” McMurry told the Associated Press. McMurry represented more than 240 abuse victims who settled with the Louisville Catholic archdiocese for $25 million in 2003.

The Vatican said today it was satisfied that the three men had decided to abandon the case.

“It is good news that a case that has lasted six years ...

Ousted music critic loses lawsuit against Ohio newspaper

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

CLEVELAND — An ousted music critic who claimed he was removed from his beat because of his critical coverage lost a lawsuit late last week against his newspaper and the Cleveland Orchestra.

Donald Rosenberg, 56, claimed in the lawsuit that the orchestra lobbied The Plain Dealer of Cleveland to replace him as orchestra reviewer because he frequently panned its conductor, Franz Welser-Moest. The Cuyahoga County jury ruled Aug. 6 in favor of the orchestra on Rosenberg's accusations of defamation and interference with employment, and in favor of the newspaper on an age-discrimination charge.

Rosenberg's removal from the beat in September 2008 sparked an outcry in the arts community, and the Music Critics Association of North America asked the newspaper to reinstate him. After 16 years as the newspaper's orchestra critic, he was reassigned to cover other music groups and replaced on the orchestra beat by a younger reviewer.

Rosenberg's attorney, Steve Sindell, said freedom of the press independent of "the influence of corporate power" was the real loser in the verdict.

"If critics are at risk of losing their beats if they express their honest and courageous views — because they're unpopular — this nation is in serious trouble," Sindell ...

Judge lacks First Amendment right to insult litigants

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

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A judge has no First Amendment right to belittle and berate litigants in her courtroom, the Washington Supreme Court ruled in ordering that a state district judge be suspended for five days without pay.

Numerous complaints had been filed against Judith Raub Eiler, a King County district judge since 1992. The complaints centered on her treatment of pro se litigants (individuals who represent themselves without the services of an attorney). The bulk of Eiler’s caseload consisted of traffic offenses.

The Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct investigated numerous complaints about Eiler’s treatment of litigants in 2008. The commission identified 15 cases of misconduct by Eiler and determined that she had violated several canons of judicial ethics. Among them: that judges should uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary, should avoid the appearance of impropriety, should be polite and forbearing during judicial proceedings and should give each person a full hearing.

Canon 3(A)(3) of the Washington Code of Judicial Conduct says that “judges should be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, and others with whom judges deal in their official capacity.”

Eiler’s objectionable conduct consisted mainly of caustic and intemperate remarks to litigants in ...

U.S. military judge seals sentence for Gitmo inmate

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — A U.S. military judge yesterday ordered that a plea agreement capping the maximum sentence of an Osama bin Laden aide be sealed, shrouding in secrecy the first Guantanamo conviction under President Barack Obama.

The judge, Air Force Lt. Col. Nancy Paul, said the deal limiting how much more time Sudanese detainee Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi spends in confinement will not be revealed until after his release. She said the condition of the plea bargain was requested by the government and agreed to by al-Qosi's lawyers.

The sealing of the sentence is a first for the military tribunal system, which the Obama administration has pledged to make more transparent.

Al-Qosi, who worked as a cook and driver for al-Qaida, pleaded guilty July 7 to one count each of providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy.

A spokesman for prosecutors, Navy Capt. David Iglesias, said he could not comment on the reasons for the secrecy on the sentencing deal. But he said it was consistent with federal courts' handling of matters involving national security and claimed it was also in al-Qosi's best interest.

"We don't want to create a disincentive for a detainee to plead guilty," ...

Calif. appeals court reviewing judge’s photo ban

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Editor’s note: The original posted story said the California appeals court had ordered Judge Merritt to reverse her prior restraint on publishing courtroom photos. However, the Los Angeles Times reported later on Aug. 10 that the court had not made a final decision. This story has been revised to reflect the corrected information.

LOS ANGELES — The California Court of Appeal is reviewing a judge's order prohibiting the Los Angeles Times from publishing pictures of a quadruple-murder suspect taken in a courtroom.

The newspaper reported that the appeals court on Aug. 10 had “put off a decision for at least another week” on whether the order by Superior Court Judge Hilleri Merritt, who initially allowed photographer Al Seib to take photos of Alberd Tersargyan, who is accused of murdering a Hollywood family. Merritt later barred Seib from taking photos or using those he’d already shot, after a defense attorney objected.

Attorney Jeff Glasser, who represents the Times, argued that the order was a prior restraint and a violation of the First Amendment.

Merritt had said she was worried that photos of Tersargyan in a jail jumpsuit could influence potential witnesses and interfere with his right to a fair trial.

The ...

First Boehner Billboard Up, Second On the Way

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Last month, PFAW Voters Alliance joined up with the AFL-CIO and Blue America PAC to host a contest to choose a billboard to grace a busy highway near House Minority Leader John Boehner’s home district. The winning concept is now a reality, by the side of a Cincinnati-area stretch of I-75:

The contest was such a success that we’ll be putting up a second billboard with the runner-up slogan:

Take a look at this segment on the first billboard from Cincinnati’s WLWT:

It’s not too late to contribute to the effort to confront Boehner on his home turf. You can find the billboard options here.

But first, let’s take a minute to remember why we’re putting up these billboards in the first place—and why it’s so important that Boehner doesn’t end up with more power in Congress than he already has. Just in the past two months, Boehner has:

  • Referred to the nation’s financial crisis as an insignificant “ant
  • Suggested that taxpayers bail out BP
  • Suggested that Congress not impose any new regulations on any industry (including, say, the oil industry) until there is an “emergency
  • Has repeatedly insisted on extending Bush’s tax cuts for the ...

Podcast: Greg Discusses ‘CLS v. Martinez’ with School Reform News

Monday, August 9th, 2010
FIRE President Greg Lukianoff sat down recently with Ben Boychuk, Managing Editor of the Heartland Institute's School Reform News, to discuss the Supreme Court's disappointing ruling in CLS v. Martinez. Their conversation is now available as a free podcast, which you can download here (mp3).

Watch an Excerpt from Daphne Patai’s 2010 CFN Conference Keynote Address

Monday, August 9th, 2010
Daphne Patai, member of FIRE's Board of Directors and professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at University of Massachusetts Amherst, delivered a rousing keynote address at the 2010 CFN Conference.



Professor Patai's speech was framed by her study of dystopian literature. This excerpt includes her humorous discussion of the film Demolition Man, which inspired several attendees to watch the movie together that night. FIRE's many absurd censorship cases certainly confirm her point that "it's become extremely hard to parody reality."

Also, be sure to check out Professor Patai's excellent article about the conference from Minding the Campus, which we recently featured here on The Torch.

Check back with The Torch and visit FIRE's vimeo page for more video highlights from the conference over the next few weeks! Also, be sure to watch Jonathan Rauch's keynote, which has been highlighted recently by Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic and on The Huffington Post.

Target apologizes, but will stay in politics

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Why would two companies that received 100% ratings from the Human Rights Campaign's 2010 Corporate Equality Index give a combined $250,000 to a group backing a candidate with extreme anti-gay views? According to Target's CEO, the company was only trying to advance "policies aligned with our business objectives" when it contributed $150,000 to Minnesota Forward, a group whose sole purpose is to support the candidacy of State Rep. Tom Emmer, the Republican nominee for governor of Minnesota.

MN Forward is a creation of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Business Partnership, and its top priority is, of course, lowering the corporate tax rate. In fact, MN Forward is led by Brian McClung, who previously served as "government affairs director for the Twin West Chamber of Commerce" and ran the "group's political-action committee." Benefiting from the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, the organization already raised $1.1 million, much of it from corporate donors like Hubbard Broadcasting, Red Wing Shoe Co., Federated Insurance and Davisco Foods. Ultimately, MNForward hopes to obtain $2 to $5 million in order to run advertisements across the state promoting Emmer.

It's not a surprise that big business has rallied around Emmer, who repeatedly voted ...

N.Y. town board’s prayers OK with federal judge

Monday, August 9th, 2010

GREECE, N.Y. — A federal judge has ruled that a town board in upstate New York isn't doing anything unconstitutional by opening its meetings with a brief prayer.

The judge signed an order Aug. 5 tossing out a lawsuit filed by two residents of the town of Greece, a Rochester suburb, who had complained that prayers held at the start of town-council meetings favored Christians and violated the separation of church and state.

U.S. District Judge Charles Siragusa noted that government bodies throughout the country, including Congress, routinely invite religious leaders to make invocations at the start of public meetings. He said those prayers are acceptable as long as the town body isn't proselytizing or advancing any one faith at the expense of others.

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle quoted Siragusa as saying in his ruling that although many of the meeting prayers included references to Jesus Christ, "none of the allegedly sectarian Christian prayers disparaged other religions or attempted to convert anyone."

The town says it welcomes people of any faith to give the prayer.

Yahoo doesn’t have to reveal e-mailer’s identity

Monday, August 9th, 2010

A high school teacher cannot force Yahoo to reveal the identity of an anonymous individual who sent him disparaging e-mails, a New Jersey appeals court has ruled.

Tom Juzwiak, a high school teacher at Hightstown High School, received an e-mail on July 23, 2009, from someone called “Josh Hartnett” with the e-mail address jharthat@yahoo.com. The e-mail read in the subject line: “Hopefully you will be gone permanently.” The body of the message read: “We are all praying for that.” It was signed only “Josh.”

The anonymous person sent Juzwiak another e-mail on Aug. 11. The subject line read: “I hear Friday is ‘D’ day for you.” The body of the message began: “I certainly hope so. You don’t deserve to be allowed to teach anymore. Not just in Hightstown but anywhere … .”

Finally, the unidentified individual sent an Aug. 13 e-mail criticizing Juzwiak and his teaching abilities to many individuals in the community. Part of it read: “I am not urging anyone to speak out against Mr. J but I urge you to then be silent as we can not continue to allow the children of this school system nor the parents to be subjected to his evil ways.”

...

Ore. high court: Teacher should get jobless benefits

Monday, August 9th, 2010

SALEM, Ore. — A Klamath Falls teacher placed on administrative leave after an uproar over a film clip containing profanity has won an Oregon Supreme Court ruling saying he is entitled to unemployment benefits.

Robert McDowell was a probationary first-year high school language arts and drama teacher for the Klamath County School District when he showed his senior English classes a clip from the film “Glengarry Glen Ross,” based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Mamet.

The clip contained some profanity intended as a lesson about language use and misuse.

McDowell resigned on March 9, 2007, the day the school board was going to decide whether to fire him. The state denied him unemployment benefits, contending he voluntarily quit, a decision the Oregon Supreme Court overturned on Aug. 5.

In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Virginia L. Linder, the court decided McDowell resigned for “good cause,” meaning his situation was so dire he had no other reasonable alternative.

McDowell was less than six months into his job when he broke district policy by failing to get approval from the principal before showing the offending clip. McDowell had never been alerted to the policy and it was not contained ...

National parks can’t require permits for ‘expressive activities’

Monday, August 9th, 2010

National Park Service rules requiring a Minnesota man to get a permit before distributing religious materials at Mount Rushmore National Memorial are unconstitutional, a federal appeals court said in a decision released late last week.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said Aug. 6 that the government can’t require permits for “expressive activities within designated ‘free speech areas’ ” or other public forums at the 391 national parks.

“Within ‘free speech areas,’ the government has exceedingly little basis for hushing ‘lone pamphleteer[s]’ ... in the name of peace and tranquility,” a three-judge panel of the court said in Boardley v. Department of Interior.

Michael Boardley, of Coon Rapids, Minn., sued the U.S. Interior Department, National Park Service and five federal officials in November 2007 after he was told he would need a permit to distribute “gospel tracts” at the presidential monument in western South Dakota’s Black Hills. He said he later applied for a permit but did not get one until after he filed the lawsuit.

The appeals court said Boardley’s free-speech rights were violated, overturning a lower court ruling.

Messages left for National Park Service spokesmen in Washington and at Mount Rushmore were not ...

Kids with Nazi-inspired names to remain in state custody

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

TRENTON, N.J. — A New Jersey couple who gave their children Nazi-inspired names should not regain custody of them, a state appeals court has ruled, citing the parents’ own disabilities and the risk of serious injury to their children.

The state removed Heath and Deborah Campbell’s three small children from their home in January 2009.

A month earlier, the family drew attention when a supermarket refused to decorate a birthday cake for their son, Adolf Hitler Campbell. He and siblings JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell have been in foster care.

A family court had earlier determined that there was insufficient evidence that the parents had abused or neglected the children. That decision was stayed until the appeals court could review it. On Aug. 5, the three-judge appeals panel determined there was enough evidence and that the children should not be returned.

The panel sent the case back to family court for further monitoring.

A gag order remains in place and the parties refused to discuss the decision.

Heath Campbell told the Associated Press last year that he believed the children were taken because officials felt they were in “imminent danger.” He accused the state of removing ...

Thank You From EFF

Friday, August 6th, 2010

On behalf of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, we would like to thank all of you who contributed and supported our work at the Black Hat and DEF CON conferences in Las Vegas last week. In particular we would like to acknowledge Jeff Moss and the Black Hat and DEF CON organizers for their ongoing support of EFF each year.

The EFF members - first time donors and long time members alike - continue to impress us with their generosity. Thanks to all of you who attended our talks, gave kind words of support, joined EFF at our membership table, donated "just because," or used your own ingenuity to fundraise in our honor. This of course includes all of the Defcon 18 Getaway Contest participants (who raised nearly $10,000 together!), our contest sponsors: Tenable Network Security, iSEC Partners, and IOActive, as well as our prize donors: DEF CON, Vegas 2.0, iSEC Partners, and Ninja Networks.

The community support was stronger than ever this year. Cheers to the Vegas 2.0 crew for hosting an amazing sixth annual Summit party as an EFF fundraiser. Headlined by Dual Core and the MiniBosses, the Summit rocked the Top of the Riv ...

The Wrong Lesson To Learn From the Kagan Confirmation

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Over at The Atlantic, Max Fisher draws some conclusions from the Kagan confirmation, and I think he’s pulled together a pretty good summation of what folks in Washington are thinking—but that doesn’t mean they’re right.

Fisher argues that since 37 votes were cast against Kagan, and since the GOP could pick up Senate seats in November, Obama will be forced to nominate a “moderate.”

Not so fast.

The fact that 37 Senators voted against Elena Kagan is a sign that Senate Republicans will fight anyone who gets nominated to the high court, no matter how unobjectionable (a fact that’s borne out by their disgraceful treatment of lower court nominees.) If Republicans are willing to attack a Supreme Court nominee endorsed by Jack Goldsmith, Miguel Estrada, Ken Starr and Ted Olson, they’re not going to let anyone off without a food fight.

Will more Republicans mean a bigger fight next time? Maybe, but there’s nothing to be done about it. President Obama should consider himself free to nominate whoever he wants: if we’re going to fight, it might as well be a fight worth having.

Celebrating Elena Kagan’s Confirmation

Friday, August 6th, 2010

I'm just back from a reception at the White House celebrating the confirmation of Elena Kagan to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The mood was truly upbeat, with everyone thrilled at the reality of three women sitting on the Supreme Court. I got to congratulate soon-to-be Justice Kagan and tell her how truly excellent and inspiring I thought her testimony was.

 

At American University, Newspaper Theft Goes Unpunished, and Leaves Questions About Commitment to Free Speech

Friday, August 6th, 2010
A couple of weeks ago Adam wrote a blog post reviewing some of the most egregious acts of college press censorship from this past year. Among them was an instance of newspaper theft at American University (AU), sparked by the publication ofas is often the case with newspaper theftsa controversial student column. Some students responded to the column, published in the independent student newspaper The Eagle, by stealing and vandalizing hundreds of issues. Unfortunately, no studentsalthough it is now known that at least one of the perpetrators of the thefts was a student at AUappear to have been punished or investigated to date.

Though this incident has not been on The Torch aside from Adam's brief mention, it has been on FIRE's radar. FIRE recently stepped into the picture officially, writing to AU President Cornelius M. Kerwin with the question most people in the AU community either forgot to ask, figured had resolved itself, or (worst of all) never cared about in the first place: What about the rights of The Eagle?

The trouble began this past March 29 with the publication of a controversial column on "date rape" by student ...

Rights in the News: Victory at Hinds Resonates while New Speech Code of the Month Ridiculed

Friday, August 6th, 2010
Press coverage has continued for FIRE's recent victory at Mississippi's Hinds Community College (HCC), where FIRE successfully defended the rights of student Isaac Rosenbloom after he had been punished for a single instance of swearing outside of class. This week The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Miss.) ran a feature on the case, and Isaac was interviewed by WAPT 16, the ABC affiliate in Jackson. Be sure to read Jordan's post for a sampling of the wide range of public reactions to the case.

Meanwhile, Front Range Community College (FRCC) in Coloradoour August Speech Code of the Monthmaintains speech policies perhaps even more obnoxious than at HCC. Indeed, from reading its free speech zone policy, one might conclude that FRCC is bent on making it as difficult as possible for its students to say anything at all. FIRE's announcement has brought ridicule upon FRCCmost delectably by Popehat, as I wrote earlier this week. The policy has also raised eyebrows at Joanne Jacobs' Community College Spotlight blog and Washington Monthly. More sunlight, please!

This week, we also posted Jonathan Rauch's wonderful keynote address from this year's Campus Freedom Network conference, and Greg adds his thoughts on ...

Court Rejects Warrantless GPS Tracking

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Washington, D.C. - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit today firmly rejected government claims that federal agents have an unfettered right to install Global Positioning System (GPS) location-tracking devices on anyone's car without a search warrant.

In United States v. Maynard, FBI agents planted a GPS device on a car while it was on private property and then used it to track the position of the automobile every ten seconds for a full month, all without securing a search warrant. In an amicus brief filed in the case, EFF and the ACLU of the Nation's Capital argued that unsupervised use of such tactics would open the door for police to abuse their power and continuously track anyone's physical location for any reason, without ever having to go to a judge to prove the surveillance is justified.

The court agreed that such round-the-clock surveillance required a search warrant based on probable cause. The court expressly rejected the government's argument that such extended, 24-hours-per-day surveillance without warrants was constitutional based on previous rulings about limited, point-to-point surveillance of public activities using radio-based tracking beepers. Recognizing that the Supreme Court had never considered location tracking of such length ...

The Party of No Lives Up to Its Name

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Last night, in the latest episode of their passive-aggressive crusade to keep President Obama’s judicial nominees off the bench, the Senate GOP put on a mind-boggling display of obstruction.

As the Senate confirmed Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination, 21 other judicial nominees were waiting for Senate votes. More than half of these nominees had been approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee, and all had been waiting more than 100 days for confirmation.

After the Kagan vote, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell agreed to hold voice votes on four of the stalled nominees, and promised to agree to a vote on another—Jane Stranch, a Tennessee attorney who has been waiting more than a year for confirmation, despite having the support of both of her home state’s Republican senators-- in September.

The GOP sent five nominees back to the White House—meaning that the President will have to renominate them and start the process again.

That left eleven nominees in Senate limbo. Nine of them had received absolutely no opposition from either party in their Judiciary Committee hearings.

In an interview Monday, the National Journal asked McConnell about his party’s obstructionism. “Is the Senate broken?” the interviewer asked. McConnell answered:

No. Members ...

Stomping for Digital Civil Liberties

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Every year, people astonish and amaze us with the inventive ways in which they raise funds for EFF. EFF supporters have given away free games, shaved people's hair into mohawks, and drawn cartoons to show their support for digital civil liberties. For the second year in a row, Michael Wigren of WKID "Froggy" Radio in Vevay, Indiana, has chosen the potentially dangerous pastime of grape-stomping as the medium through which he demonstrates his devotion to EFF.

Wigren is participating in the 2nd Annual Media Celebrity Grape Stomp for Charity in Vevay, Indiana, where newscasters, radio personalities, and other local celebrities will go toe-to-toe in grape barrels to out-stomp the competition. Each of the top three celebrities will walk away with a check for their favorite charity organization. The event will take place on August 28th at noon, during the Swiss Wine Festival on the Paul Ogle Riverfront Park in Vevay, Indiana at the official grape stomping stage. If you are in the area, stop by to show your support for Wigren, WKID, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation!

Government Abuses Computer Crime Law to Boost Criminal Charges

Friday, August 6th, 2010

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers asked a federal appeals court Thursday to block the government's attempt to wrongly expand federal computer crime law, turning misdemeanor charges into felonies.

In an amicus brief filed in U.S. v. Cioni, EFF argues that federal prosecutors abused computer crime law when they brought felony charges against Elaine Cioni for accessing others' email. Under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), a first-time unauthorized access offense is a typically a misdemeanor. But in Cioni's trial, the government pushed for felony convictions, claiming that the CFAA violations were in furtherance of violations of the Stored Communications Act (SCA). However, the acts that they claimed violated the SCA were identical to acts that violated the CFAA.

"The government has piggybacked computer crime violations to punish misdemeanor conduct as two felonies," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "This misreading of the law would let the government charge anyone who accesses someone else's email with a felony. That was not Congress's intent when it created these statutes."

The CFAA is increasingly recognized as an overbroad statute that could be used to improperly criminalize a wide variety of ...

Conservatives Against Religious Tolerance

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Recently the right wing, including Sarah Palin and other prominent Republicans, has been loudly protesting the proposed construction of an Islamic center and mosque in the vicinity of Ground Zero. The center is intended to help build an interfaith community in downtown Manhattan. But to hear the National Republican Trust tell it, radical Islamic terrorist-supporters are planning to build a mosque next to the world trade center site in order to celebrate the 9/11 attacks. In one ad, the NRT Pac pairs disturbing images of 9/11 with this message:

"On Sept. 11, they declared war against us. And to celebrate that murder of 3,000 Americans, they want to build a monstrous 13-story mosque at Ground Zero. This ground is sacred. When we weep, they rejoice. That mosque is a monument to their victory and an invitation for more. A mosque at Ground Zero must not stand."

It’s hard to count everything that is wrong with this statement: there is no link between the organizers and extremist Muslim groups; the project is a community center, not just a mosque, complete with a swimming pool and art exhibition space; the building isn’t even visible from Ground Zero; and the list goes ...

Wis. candidate seeking controversial ballot description rebuffed

Friday, August 6th, 2010

MADISON, Wis. — A federal court has rejected a lawsuit filed by an independent candidate for the state Assembly who wants to use a racially charged phrase to describe herself on the ballot.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa said in the order filed Aug. 4 that Ieshuh Griffin's lawsuit must be dismissed because it was a habeas corpus action — a writ ordering a person in custody to be brought before a court — and those require the person filing it to be in custody.

Randa did not rule the merits of the lawsuit. Griffin is fighting a decision by the state Government Accountability Board barring her from using the phrase "NOT the 'whiteman's bitch'" to describe herself on the ballot.

The judge said Griffin's claims should be brought in a civil rights lawsuit.

Griffin instead filed a motion yesterday seeking to get Randa replaced, citing "judicial disability."

"He doesn't have the authority to tell me what to file or when to file," she said.

Griffin says she may file a civil rights lawsuit after the Nov. 2 election if she's not able to get the ballot language approved. In the meantime, she appealed the judge's decision rejecting her habeus ...

Lawmakers: Close SEC’s open-records loophole

Friday, August 6th, 2010

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation to make regulation of financial companies more transparent — and to close a major loophole in the sweeping financial overhaul enacted last month.

The bill would reverse language in the overhaul law that allows the Securities and Exchange Commission to reject many open-records requests. The SEC would not have to disclose any records related to its policing investigations of companies such as hedge funds and computer trading platforms.

A provision in the new Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which is now law, has raised eyebrows among some First Amendment and freedom-of-information advocates.

The federal Freedom of Information Act requires that government records be released to anyone who asks, unless they fall under one of nine exceptions to the law. The overhaul law broadened the SEC's ability to invoke these exemptions.

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism that the Dodd-Frank law appeared to give “third-party companies the same protection the company under investigation gets.”

The SEC has been criticized for failing to catch a number of high-profile frauds before the crisis, including a multibillion-dollar ...

1st Circuit: Maine can restrict prescription info

Friday, August 6th, 2010

PORTLAND, Maine — A federal appeals panel has upheld the constitutionality of a Maine law restricting medical data companies' access to doctors' prescription information.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ruled this week on Maine's law after previously upholding a similar New Hampshire law making doctors' prescription-writing habits confidential. Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to New Hampshire's law, allowing that statute to stand.

Three companies that collect, analyze and sell medical data for use in pharmaceutical companies' marketing programs challenged the law.

"The plaintiffs suggested that this law chills their commercial free speech. All our law does is protect the privacy of doctors who prescribe medications," Maine Attorney General Janet Mills said yesterday.

In IMS Health Inc. v. Mills, the three-judge panel found that the companies’ free-speech challenges failed because “the statute regulates conduct, not speech, and even if it regulates commercial speech, that regulation satisfies constitutional standards.”

Tom Julin, who represented the companies, said they wouldn't decide whether to file an appeal until after the 2nd Circuit rules on a similar law in Vermont. That decision is expected in a matter of days, he said.

The Maine law was aimed ...